By Kim Sengupta in Idlib province
"The houses looked abandoned, windows and doors locked, a broken shutter clattering in the wind. Then, one by one, they began to appear from their hiding places, mainly women and children, a few elderly people. The residents of this village had learned to their cost that being caught unawares in this violent conflict could have lethal consequences.
The raid by the secret police – the Mukhabarat – and the Shabbiha militia had come at dawn. The killings had been cold-blooded and quick, three men shot dead as, barely awake, they tried desperately to get away. A search for others had proved fruitless; they had fled the day before. The damage to homes vented the frustration of the gunmen at missing their quarries.
"They were working from a list. But they made mistakes. One of them was the wrong person. They did not even have the right name of the man they killed," said Qais al-Baidi, gesturing towards the graves on a sloping hillside. "But none of them deserved this. They were not terrorists. They had just taken part in some demonstrations. These Assad people are vicious. They have no pity. They like killing." [One day they will be hauled to the International Criminal Court.]
The three killings were among the many that had followed the ferocious onslaught launched by Bashar al-Assad against the uprising. Two centres of opposition in the north of the country had been taken after bloody clashes, Jisr al-Shughour early in the week, Maaret al-Numan falling on Friday. This village was among a cluster that had been subjected, according to a regime commander, to a "cleaning-up" operation.
The offensive had led to a terrified exodus of much of the local population, with 12,000 huddled in squalid conditions on the Syrian side of the border. Another 10,000 had made it across to Turkey, only to be herded into holding centres, locked away from the outside world, the government in Ankara making it clear that these people will be sent back at an opportune time....."