Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in The Independent. We reprint in part here.
Last week fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, entered a village in Idlib province in the north-west of the country and shot dead at least 20 villagers from the Druze community. They had earlier forcibly converted hundreds of Druze to their fundamentalist variant of Sunni Islam.
The incident happened in the Druze village of Qalb Lawzeh in the Jabal al-Summaq region, a place where al-Nusra fighters have dug up historic graves and destroyed shrines in recent months, according to the pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. It says Nusra first tried to confiscate the house of a Druze government official and shot one villager dead. Another villager then seized a fighter’s weapon and killed him. Nusra then sent reinforcements into the village and they opened fire.
It was just one more massacre in a land that has seen thousands of atrocities by government and rebels over the past four years. But what gives the Qalb Lawzeh killings peculiar significance is that they happened at a moment when Nusra, and the rebel coalition it leads, had inflicted a series of defeats on the Syrian army in the north, leading to speculation that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad might be starting to crumble under multiple pressures. It has recently lost Idlib province in the north, Palmyra in the east, and is on the retreat in the south.