Al-Nusra Front, the jihadist Syrian rebel group that has pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda, said on Sunday that its fighters attacked three villages in Syria's Homs province and killed dozens of Alawites five days earlier.
“The people's wall of fear has been broken, as this was the first time these villages were entered and such a high number was killed,” the group said in a statement published on a jihadist forum and quoted by the AFP news agency.
Al-Nusra said its fighters entered the villages of Massudiyeh, Maksar al-Hissan and Jab al-Jerah on Tuesday and killed 30 members of the Alawite community, to which President Bashar Al-Assad's clan belongs.
The statement said Al-Nusra members were urged by an Islamic jurist “to kill the Nusairis, enemies of God”, using a pejorative term for Alawites.
The attack was “in revenge for the killing in cold blood of Muslims and their women in Eastern Ghouta” near Damascus, where the opposition claims 1,400 people were killed in a chemical weapons attack on August 21.
The statement comes just several weeks after Al-Nusra vowed revenge strikes against villages from the Alawite community over the chemical weapons attack.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported this week on the attack, saying that 12 civilians were killed, before updating its toll on Sunday to 22 civilians killed in Maksar al-Hissan.
It said among them were 16 Alawites, including four above the age of 80 and four children aged between nine and 12, reported AFP.
The watchdog said five soldiers loyal to Assad were also killed.
The region, mostly home to Alawites and Bedouins, has been largely free of fighting over the past year.
Other areas of Homs province have seen some of the fiercest fighting in Syria's 30-month war.
Members of Al-Nusra and other rebel groups have committed atrocities during the Syrian civil war, including publicly beheading a Catholic priest who was accused of collaborating with Bashar Al-Assad’s regime.
Al-Nusra was once was the largest faction in the Islamist Front for the Liberation of Syria (ISIS), the 13-member rebel coalition that broke away from the main opposition force and has declared its own Islamic state in Aleppo.