DAMASCUS

Syrian troops Friday bombarded areas of the Mediterranean city of Banias, a monitoring group said, warning of a new “massacre,” as Washington said for the first time it was looking at arming rebels.

The opposition National Coalition earlier denounced a “large-scale massacre” by troops and militiamen on Thursday in a village near Banias, a new front in Syria’s war, citing witness reports of civilians being stabbed to death.

“The Coalition calls on the Arab League and the United Nations to act rapidly to save the civilians of Bayda, Banias and other villages across Syria,” it said in a statement, accusing the regime of “war crimes and genocide”.

The official SANA news agency said troops killed “terrorists” - the regime term for insurgents - and seized arms in an operation targeting rebels. Regular forces were supported by pro-regime “shabiha” militiamen, said the Observatory, which relies on a network of sources on the ground for its information.

On Friday, the army bombarded areas of Banias as heavy gunfire rocked southern parts of the city, the Observatory said. Elsewhere, rebels fired two rockets at Damascus international airport, hitting an aircraft and a fuel dump and sparking a massive fire, SANA said.

Rebels have claimed several times to have fired at Damascus airport but it was the first such report from the official media. With the Syrian conflict that has cost more than 70,000 lives now in its third year, the United States said Thursday it was taking a fresh look at whether to arm the outgunned rebels.

After having rejected the idea previously, President Barack Obama’s deputies were weighing the option of providing weapons to the rebels, Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters. Asked whether the US government was rethinking its opposition to arming the rebels, Hagel replied with a firm “Yes.” But Hagel said no decision had been reached.

Asked about Hagel’s comments later, Obama said they represented the view he has expressed for “months”. “As we’ve seen evidence of further bloodshed, potential use of chemical weapons inside of Syria, what I’ve said is that we’re going to look at all options,” he said in Mexico. But, Obama added, “We want to make sure that we look before we leap and that what we’re doing is actually helpful to the situation, as opposed to making it more deadly or more complex.”

Meanwhile, the family of a US journalist missing in Syria said he is believed to be in the hands of government intelligence agents at a detention centre near Damascus. James Foley, a 39-year-old freelancer who has filed reports for GlobalPost, Agence France-Presse and other outlets, has been missing in Syria for nearly six months.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the UNSC is not entitled to give the green light for inspections of Syrian refugee camps in Jordan, seeing it as an attempt to prepare “foreign intervention”.