27 young men and 2 journos shot dead

AMMAN - Syrian troops and militia loyal to President Bashar al-Assad captured and then shot dead 27 young men in northern villages and two foreign journalists were killed in shelling of the besieged city of Homs, activists said yesterday.

The two Western journalists were killed yesterday when shells hit the house they were staying in, activists and witnesses said.

They were named as Marie Colvin, an American working for Britain's Sunday Times newspaper, and French photographer Remi Ochlik.

A witness told Reuters by phone that shells hit the house where the journalists were staying and a rocket hit them as they were escaping.

Several YouTube videos taken by local activists in Idlib, which could not be independently confirmed, showed the bodies of young men with bullet wounds and hands tied lying dead in the streets.

The men, all civilians, were mostly shot in the head or chest on Tuesday in their homes or in streets in the villages of Idita, Iblin and Balshon in Idlib province near the border with Turkey, the Syrian Network for Human Rights said.

"Military forces chased civilians in these villages, arrested them and killed them without hesitation. They concentrated on male youths and whoever did not manage to escape was to be killed," the organisation said in a statement.

"Responsibility for this massacre lies with the general commander of the military and armed forces, Bashar al-Assad," the statement said, adding that only one youth survived the shootings. One video shows the bodies of three youths, one visibly shot in the chest, on the floor of a house in Balshon.

"This is martyr Hassan Abdel Qadi al-Saeed, his brother Hussein and (their relative) Bashir Mohammad al-Saeed. They were liquidated by Assad's forces in the February 21 massacre," a voice of a man showing the bodies says, with the sound of women wailing in the background.

The raids came as the United States appeared to open the door to eventually arming the Syrian opposition, saying if a political solution to the crisis was impossible it might have to consider other options.

The comments, made by officials at the White House and the US State Department on Tuesday, marked a shift in emphasis by Washington, which so far has stressed a policy of not arming the opposition and has said little about alternatives.

"We still believe in a political solution," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

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