Is Assad engaging in ethnic cleansing?

If he is, it is making intervention by the west that much more likely.


Hundreds of Sunni Muslim families fled the Syrian coastal town of Banias on Saturday after fighters loyal to President Bashar al-Assad killed at least 62 people overnight and left bloodied and burned corpses piled in the streets, activists said.

A pro-opposition monitoring group posted a video online showing the mutilated bodies of 10 people, half of them children, it said were killed in a southern district of Banias.

Some lay in pools of blood and one toddler was covered in burns, her clothes singed and her legs charred.

Pictures posted separately on social media by other activists showed piles of bodies of men, women and children dumped in stone alleyways.

The reports and images from Banias, a Mediterranean coastal town lying beneath green hills, could not be independently verified as the Syrian government restricts access to independent media.

The killings took place two days after state forces and pro-Assad militias killed at least 50 Sunnis in the nearby village of Baida. Activists said the Baida death toll was likely to rise to over 100 and possibly 200.

The U.S. government said on Saturday it was horrified by the report of the Baida massacre and said the Syrian government was stepping up violence against civilians.

The two-year-old uprising against four decades of Assad family rule has been led by Syria's Sunni Muslim majority, and sectarian clashes and alleged massacres have become increasingly common in a conflict that has killed more than 70,000 people.

Minorities such as the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, have largely stood behind Assad, an Alawite. They argue that they are protecting Syria from Islamist militants.

Others say they begrudgingly support the regime out of fear they would become victims of a Sunni backlash after more than 40 years of rule by Alawite-dominated elites.

Banias is a Sunni pocket in the midst of a large Alawite enclave on Syria's Mediterranean coast, and activists in the area accuse militias loyal to Assad of ethnic cleansing. 

Some opposition members are speculating that Assad is preparing the way for his exit by cleansing the alawite region of Syria of Sunnis so that he can set up a separate state made up entirely of his co-religionists. Iran would certainly back him and Hezb'allah would support the new state as well.

But it isn't likely that any new Syrian government would allow Assad that luxury. The war will continue until he is dead, captured, or in exile. That's what the opposition has wanted all along and they seem determinedto achieve it.