Sectarian tensions rise: 'hundreds' kidnapped in northern Syria
Syrian rebels fire a mortar towards regime forces stationed at Kwiriss airport in Al-Bab, 30 kilometres from the northeastern Syrian city of Aleppo, on Thursday. (AFP Photo/Edouard Elias)
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More than 300 Syrians from different sectarian backgrounds may have been kidnapped in a rural area in northern Syria in just a few days, activists in the area told AFP on Saturday.
Reports of the number of Shiites and Sunnis kidnapped in neighboring villages in Idlib province varies, ranging from a few dozen to more than 300.
The kidnappings will raise fears of a prolonged communal conflict, which could stretch on after the fall of the regime in Damascus, if President Bashar al-Assad is eventually forced to leave office.
The activists speaking to AFP said tensions in the area between Alawites - an offshoot of Shia Islam which Assad belongs to - and Sunnis were rare in the area before the crisis began in March 2011.
The recent wave of kidnappings was started when unknown armed men stopped a bus carrying Alawite civilians, taking hostage all its passengers, including women and children.
"Before, it was all militiamen catching rebels. It was all part of the war," activist Bahaideen Abdel-Razaq in the village of Sarmeen told AFP via Skype. "But kidnapping of women and children had never happened before."