BEIRUT (Reuters) – The bodies of six men captured during fighting in Sweida in southern Syria were found in the city centre on Friday, a war monitor and a local media outlet reported, raising to 23 the death toll from a rare outbreak of violence in the area.
Located within government-held Syria, the Druze-majority province of Sweida has remained mostly shielded from the war that has splintered the country since 2011, but sporadic rallies have taken place over deteriorating economic conditions.
This week’s violence has pitted armed residents against gangs aligned with Syrian government security agencies, according to activists and local media.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based organisation that reports on the war, said the six people whose bodies were found on Friday were members of a pro-government gang and they had been killed by gunfire.
Suwayda24, a local media outlet, also cited information that they were members of the pro-government gang who had been captured by groups that have being clashing with it this week. Nobody had claimed responsibility for the killings, it said.
Reuters could not independently verify the reports.
The main frontlines in the Syrian conflict have been largely frozen for years. Syria is splintered three ways, with the government backed by Iran and Russia holding the bulk of the territory, Turkey-backed rebels in control of areas near the northern border, and Kurdish-led groups backed by the United ydb
G raStates holding much of the northeast and east.
Suwayda24 has described the Sweida violence as an uprising against gangs aligned with the security agencies.
Last weekend, the detention of one resident prompted others to set up informal roadblocks, detain members of government-backed gangs and besiege their bases, it reported.
Residents have grown increasingly frustrated at government-backed fighters carrying out arbitrary detentions, random roadblocks and kidnappings for ransom, Rayan Maarouf, an activist and head of the Suwayda24 local media outlet, told Reuters on Wednesday.
The Syrian government has not commented on the violence.
(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Mark Heinrich)