AL QAA, Lebanon, March 29 (UPI) -- Syrian refugees say government violence against civilians, particularly Sunni Muslims, has spread into obscure villages and started to take a sectarian tone.
Civilians affiliated with President Bashar Assad's Alawite religious sect are reported to be shooting at their former Sunni neighbors, who say they feel the government appears to be trying to end the violence by removing any opposition -- either by death or displacement, The New York Times reported.
There are at least 6,000 Syrian refugees living in eastern Lebanon who said they felt threatened as Sunnis, the newspaper said. Several of the refugees said the government has armed residents of Alawite villages.
While most Syrians are Sunni Muslims, the minority Alawite sect dominates the government. The Times said sectarian tensions have been inflamed by Assad's assertion the government is trying to defend the country's Christian and Alawite communities from Sunni Islamists. Assad has described opposition activists as "terrorists."
Refugees say many people are afraid to flee the country for Lebanon, which is seen as supporting Assad's regime. The Syrian Red Crescent says more than 200,000 people are displaced within Syria.
The Times said it is impossible to verify the refugee accounts because of restrictions Syria has placed on journalists.