AMMAN, Jordan ó Sunni extremists blew up a Shiite mosque in a village in eastern Syria stormed by rebels earlier this week, another sign of the sectarian hatred growing in the countryís civil war, activists said Sunday.
They said that the demolition was carried out by al-Qaidaís affiliate in Syria and shows the determination of extremists to drive Shiites out of the village of Hatla in the Deir el-Zour region near Iraq. Last Tuesday rebels battled pro-regime militiamen there, killing more than 60 Shiite fighters and civilians according to activists.
In amateur videos of the latest incident, fighters walked into the mosque in Hatla and trampled on books, some with covers showing pictures of Shiite clerics. It then showed an explosion that brought down the building, but its dome remained intact.
Sundayís video posted on the Internet appeared genuine and corresponded with other Associated Press reporting from the area.
Rami Abdurrahman, founder of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said that the mosque was demolished Friday, three days after the battle. Other videos that emerged earlier have showed rebels cursing Shiites and suggested fighters had burned Shiite homes.
ďItís clear that they want to root out Hatlaís Shiite inhabitants,Ē he told The Associated Press.
The town was home to several thousand people, about 30 percent of them Shiites. It was considered a pro-regime community in the Euphrates River valley, where rebels ó including the al-Qaida-linked group Jabhat el-Nusra ó have taken over much of the territory.
The Syrian uprising began more than two years ago with peaceful protests against President Bashar Assad, but later grew into a civil war that has killed nearly 93,000 people.
Most of the armed rebels in Syria are from the countryís Sunni majority, while Assad has retained core support among the minorities, including his own Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, along with Christians and Shiites.
In the past year, sectarian bitterness has grown in the conflict. Each sect has been accused of massacres against the other, and Sunni and Shiite fighters from other countries have increasingly joined the battle.
Washington has expressed concern over last Tuesdayís attack on Hatla.
Meanwhile, Assadís Jordanian neighbor and onetime Egyptian friend have grown frustrated with him.
Jordanís King Abdullah II told graduating military cadets Sunday that this key U.S. ally was ready to fend off any Syrian threats.
Abdullah said Jordan ďwill emerge victorious in the face of all challenges, the way we always have in the past.Ē
Should the worsening Syrian crisis ďbecome a threat to our country, we are capable at any time of taking the necessary measures to protect our country and peopleís interests,Ē added Abdullah, whose country hosts more than 500,000 Syrians who fled the war.
Jordan, which backs the rebels against Assadís rule, is worried that the Syrian president may ultimately attack his neighbors with chemical weapons or that they may fall into the hands of militants if the regime collapses.
Jordan is hosting multinational military exercises involving thousands of U.S. troops. The U.S. has also agreed to install Patriot missiles along Jordanís 233-mile border with Syria and is allowing a squadron of 12 to 24 F-16 fighter jets to remain after the exercises.
Also Sunday, a Syrian official said Egyptís decision to cut off diplomatic ties with his country is ďirresponsibleĒ, accusing Islamist President Mohammed Morsi of joining a U.S.-Israeli conspiracy to divide the region.
The officialís statement broadcast on Syriaís state TV came a day after Morsi told supporters in Cairo that his country is severing ties with Damascus, and closing its embassy in the Syrian capital. Morsiís decision was made amid growing calls from hardline Sunni clerics in Egypt and the region to launch ďa holy warĒ against Assadís regime.
Morsi also called for a no-fly zone over Syria. The unnamed official said Morsiís call is a violation of Syriaís sovereignty ďand serves the goals of Israel and the United StatesĒ in the region.MORE IN Wire NewsPROVIDENCE, R.I. ó Donít call them hot dogs and donít ask for ketchup. Full StoryFORT BRAGG, N.C. ó The Army captain who has accused Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Full Story
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