BEIRUT, June 19 (Reuters) - They call it the "Sunni market" - a comic term with a dark undertone.
As rockets and gunfire crackle in the central city of Homs, hardline loyalists from President Bashar al-Assad's Alawite sect steal goods from the shattered neighbourhoods of Sunni Muslims, the majority population that led the revolt against him.
Grocery stores and thrift shops become loot markets.
"Maybe I'll nab a bargain," says a 50-year-old woman wandering through a supermarket that now trades in looted furniture. "I found a really nice kitchen table set made of gorgeous old wood. But he wants $200 dollars for it!"
Furniture usually goes for around $50 or less. Clothes and shoes are $5 to $20. Everything is open to negotiation.
The woman haggles with the shopkeeper. "These are the spoils of war. It's our right to take them," she says.
Even shopping now has a sectarian dimension in Homs, heart of the 15-month-old revolt against Assad, where killings and kidnappings based on religion became common.
Some in the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam and the dominant force in the Syrian elite, say they are only defending themselves. They say Sunnis want to crush them, not establish a democracy as activists say.
"This isn't stealing, it is our right. Those people support terrorism and we have to finish them off," says Ayman, a 25-year-old youth wearing pointed black shoes and a studded belt.
Outside the shop, he helps young men with slicked back hair and tight jeans unload television sets from vans.
After security forces pound rebel areas in Homs and Sunni residents flee, pro-Assad Alawite gangs called "shabbiha" sweep in behind them to salvage goods from the rubble.
"The other day our boss sent us to a place near the cultural centre. It was an electronics store - TVs, fridges, stuff like that," said Ayman.
"We worked it for three hours, taking stuff and putting it in storage. We got 10,000 lira ($147), plus a TV. So why not?"
Not everyone is impressed, says Mahmoud, an old vegetable vendor outside the loot store, his wrinkled face set in a frown.
"They are the dregs of society. Now, Alawites will be seen as thieves," he said.
But with the conflict ravaging Syria's economy, some Alawite vendors say they are happy to find a way to scrounge some cash.
"Last week a businessman came from (the port of) Tartous and bought 3 million lira of stolen goods, happy for the deal," said furniture dealer Hasan. "At the end of the day, I'm a businessman, and people are buying." (Writing by Erika Solomon; editing by Ralph Boulton)
BEFORE YOU GO
07/13/2012 1:00 PM EDT
Car Bomb In Damascus
Syrian policemen inspect the site of a car bomb explosion on Mazzeh highway in the capital Damascus on July 13, 2012. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/GettyImages)
07/13/2012 12:00 PM EDT
Susan Rice Condemns Killings
U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice tweets:
@ AmbassadorRice :
#Syria regime turned artillery, tanks and helicopters on its own men & women. It unleashed knife-wielding shabiha gangs on its own children.
07/13/2012 11:58 AM EDT
Russia Condemns Massacre
Russia says international envoy Kofi Annan will visit Moscow on Monday to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria. Russia also called for an inquiry into an alleged massacre that took place in the village of Tramseh on Thursday. "We have no doubt that this wrongdoing serves the interests of those powers that are not seeking peace but persistently seek to sow the seeds of interconfessional and civilian conflict on Syrian soil," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters. Moscow did not apportion blame for the killings.
Read more on Reuters.com.
07/13/2012 11:55 AM EDT
Footage Of Massacre Aftermath (WARNING: VIDEO CONTAINS DISTURBING IMAGES)
The Associated Press obtained a video that purports to show the aftermath of an alleged massacre in the village of Tramseh, near Hama.
07/13/2012 9:34 AM EDT
How Do Syrian Fighters Get Their Arms?
How do Syria's fighters get their arms? An overview put together by Reuters explains that there are three gateways to the country -- Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq.
Syrian rebels are smuggling small arms into Syria through a network of land and sea routes involving cargo ships and trucks moving through Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, maritime intelligence and Free Syrian Army (FSA) officers say.
Western and regional powers deny any suggestion they are involved in gun running. Their interest in the sensitive border region lies rather in screening to ensure powerful weapons such as surface to air missiles do not find their way to Islamist or other militants.
Read the full report here.
07/13/2012 9:10 AM EDT
Activists Report New Massacre (WARNING: GRAPHIC PHOTOS)
This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a victim wounded by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. The accounts, some of which claim more than 200 people were killed in the violence Thursday, could not be independently confirmed, but would mark the latest in a string of brutal offensives by Syrian forces attempting to crush the rebellion. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)
This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a man mourning a victim killed by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)
07/12/2012 6:50 PM EDT
Hama Revolutionary Council: More Than 220 Killed
According to the Hama Revolutionary Council, a Syrian opposition group, more than 220 people have been killed in a new alleged massacre in Taramseh. Earlier reports said more than 100 people were killed. "More than 220 people fell today in Taramseh," the Council said in a statement. "They died from bombardment by tanks and helicopters, artillery shelling and summary executions."
Fadi Sameh, an opposition activist from Taramseh, told Reuters he had left the town before the reported massacre but was in touch with residents. "It appears that Alawite militiamen from surrounding villages descended on Taramseh after its rebel defenders pulled out, and started killing the people. Whole houses have been destroyed and burned from the shelling," Sameh claimed.
Read more on Reuters.com.
07/12/2012 6:17 PM EDT
Syrian State TV: 'Large Numbers Of Terrorists Killed'
Syrian activist Rami Jarrah tweets that Syrian State TV has confirmed deaths in Tremseh. "Terrorists" is often the term used by the Syrian regime for opposition forces.
@ AlexanderPageSY :
Syrian State TV: clashes between security apparatus & terrorists in #Tremseh of #Hama leaves large numbers of terrorists killed #Syria
07/12/2012 5:36 PM EDT
Update: Death Toll In New Massacre Reportedly More Than 200
@ Reuters :
UPDATE: DEATH TOLL IN SYRIAN FORCES' ATTACK ON VILLAGE IN SYRIA'S HAMA REGION IS MORE THAN 200, MOSTLY CIVILIANS - OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS