Members of Syrian war reconciliation group killed

Associated Press
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In this image taken from leaked video obtained by Ugarit News and posted on Monday, July 15, 2013, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, purports to show forces loyal to President Bashar Assad firing rockets into Homs, Syria. After seizing the momentum in recent months in Syria's civil war, President Bashar Assad's forces are on the offensive against the rebels on several fronts, including in Idlib province along the border with Turkey. Government forces are in firm control of the provincial capital of same name, while dozens of rebel brigades control the countryside.(AP Photo/Ugarit News via AP video)

BEIRUT (AP) — Pro-government gunmen killed seven members of a local Syrian reconciliation group near the central city of Homs, activists said Tuesday, as troops shot dead nine people including a child at a checkpoint in a suburb of the capital.

The latest killings coincide with an offensive by President Bashar Assad's troops in Damascus and its surrounding suburbs, as well as in the strategic province surrounding Homs.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the seven men, including two retired army officers, were Sunni Muslims working to convince gunmen to drop their weapons and return to normal life. They were killed Monday in the village of Hajar Abyad, where residents are known to be regime supporters, it said.

Assad's troops have captured several nearby rebel-held areas in recent weeks including the towns of Qusair and Talkalkh near the border with Lebanon. Late last month, they launched an attack to try to capture rebel-held areas of Homs, Syria's third largest city.

They have also made headway against fighter brigades on the edge of Damascus and eastern suburbs.

The uprising against Assad's rule began in March 2011 and has deteriorated into an insurgency with increasingly sectarian overtones. Rebels, who are overwhelmingly Sunni, have been assisted by foreign fighters, while government forces have been bolstered by guerrillas from the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah.

The killing came three days after rebels attacked a nearby army checkpoint, killing seven people including members of the military. It was not immediately clear if Monday's killings were in retaliation for Friday's ambush.

A Syrian activist, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said the gunmen who attacked the checkpoint had already been cleared by the committee as they have surrendered their arms.

The Observatory said the dead included two retired army officers, a mosque preacher and a former mayor.

In the Damascus suburb of Qarah, troops shot dead nine people including a child at an army checkpoint in the area, the Observatory said.

It was not clear whether those killed were fighters or civilians. An amateur video showed seven dead men, some of them with beards, and a boy with a bloodied face. The dead appeared to have suffered bullet wounds, some to the head.

"These are Bashar's crimes during Ramadan," a man could be heard saying in the video referring to the Muslim holy month that began last week.

The Observatory also reported fighting in the town of Qahtaniyeh on the edge of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads the Observatory, said regime forces were attacking rebels in the town.

More than 93,000 have been killed and millions uprooted from their homes in the conflict.