At least 60 Shiites, the majority of them militiamen loyal to the regime of Bashar Assad, were killed in combat with rebels in a town in the northeastern Syrian province of Deir ez-Zor, the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Fighting broke out Tuesday in the town of Hatla, which has a Shiite minority, after pro-government militiamen attacked a nearby rebel position, killing two insurgents and wounding eight others, the group said.

The insurgents took control of the town and killed 60 residents, the majority of them pro-Assad militiamen.

Ten rebels also died in the fighting, the group said.

Some Hatla residents fled to nearby towns to get away from the fighting and shelling.

Two videos released Tuesday show rebel fighters celebrating their victory in Hatla.

There are reports that the government has armed Shiite residents in Deir ez-Zor in the past few weeks, the observatory said.

Hezbollah, a Shiite militant group based in Lebanon and supported by Iran, is backing the Assad regime in its battle against Sunni rebels.

More than 70,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising against the Assad regime started in March 2011. EFE