BEIRUT -- Gunmen loyal to President Bashar Assad swept through a mainly Sunni farming village in central Syria this week, torching houses and killing more than 100 people, including women and children, opposition activists said Thursday.
The reported slayings fueled accusations that pro-government militiamen are trying to drive majority Sunnis out of areas near main routes to the coast to ensure control of an Alawite enclave as Syria's civil war increasingly takes on sectarian overtones.
Activists said the attackers were from nearby areas dominated by Shiite Muslims and allied Alawites. Mr. Assad and most of the top regime officials belong to the minority Alawite sect, a Shiite offshoot.
The events in Haswiyeh, an impoverished farming area on the edge of Homs, unfolded Tuesday and Wednesday, but only came to light Thursday as the reported scale of the killings became apparent.
An amateur video posted online showed veiled women sitting on the floor surrounded by children as they described a horrific scene of gunmen killing people and burning bodies. "They slaughtered members of the same families, then turned the diesel heaters on them," one woman said, adding that some homes were robbed of money and jewelry. "We did not fight, and we had no gunmen. We are all workers trying to make a living."
Another video showed a charred room with what appeared to be two blackened bodies on the floor. A man could be heard weeping in the background. A caption said the video is from Haswiyeh.
The videos appeared genuine and corresponded to other Associated Press reporting on the events depicted, although exact details of what happened were unclear and could not be independently verified because of restrictions on independent media.
A government official in Damascus denied the reports, saying no such killings occurred in the area and accusing rebels of using civilians as "human shields." He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.
But the pro-government daily newspaper Al-Watan reported Thursday that Syrian troops advanced in the countryside of Homs, "cleansing the villages of Haswiyeh and Dweir as well as their fields" from gunmen. It did not elaborate.
The attacks come amid a spike in violence in Syria and a particularly bloody week.
Activists on Thursday night said a foreign journalist died while covering clashes between rebels and regime forces in the northern city of Aleppo. The Aleppo Media Center, an anti-regime activist network in the city, said the journalist was shot by a regime sniper positioned on the roof of the Aleppo central prison near the Museilmeh district. The claim could not be independently verified.
Twenty-eight journalists were killed in Syria in 2012, prompting the Committee to Protect Journalists to name Syria the most dangerous country in the world to work in last year.
The Haswiyeh assault, as described by several activists, bore a resemblance to the attack last May on the nearby area of Houla that killed 108 people and drew international condemnation of the Assad regime.
The opposition believes the mass killings that have occurred, mostly in overwhelmingly Sunni villages that lie near main routes into the Alawite sect's coastal strip, are meant to lay the groundwork for a breakaway enclave.
Sunnis compose the majority of Syria's 23 million people but have long complained of discrimination at the hands of the Alawite Assad dynasty.
The uprising against Mr. Assad erupted in March 2011 as the so-called wave of Arab Spring revolutions was sweeping the Middle East. It quickly evolved into a civil war, as the opposition took up arms against a regime crackdown. The United Nations says at least 60,000 people have been killed in the conflict.