Al-Qaida-linked militants have massacred at least 20 members of Syria's minority Druze community during a standoff at a village in northwestern Idlib province on Wednesday, and signals the first mass violence directed at a neutral religious minority, leading to deepening sectarianism in the crisis-hit country. The massacre is the deadliest against the Druze sect, which has been split between supporters and opponents of President Bashar Assad since Syria's crisis began in March 2011. The Druze minority is an ethno-religious group living in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel. The Druze have so far largely stayed out of the conflict in Syria, but the developments in Idlib and Sweida have brought the community into the heart of the Syrian conflict, triggering calls to carry arms in self-defense. Before the crisis erupted in Syria in 2011, the Druze community made up about 5 percent of the country's 23 million population.
The Syrian National Coalition on Thursday condemned the deaths of 20 Druze in clashes with the al-Nusra Front in a village in Idlib province. The coalition denounced in a statement all internal fights that serve other powers and the "sectarian regime" - referring to Bashar al-Assad's regime - and called on all sides to overcome sectarianism.