AMMAN (Reuters) - Syrian troops killed at least 35 people on Wednesday, mostly unarmed civilians, when they shelled and overran a suburb of the capital Damascus, residents and activist organizations said.
“The tanks and troops left around 4 p.m. When the streets were clear we found the bodies of at least 35 men,” a resident, who gave his name as Fares, said by phone from Jdeidet Artouz, southwest of Damascus.
“Almost all of them were executed with bullets to their face, head and neck in homes, gardens and basements,” he added, speaking of the troop action to crush opposition to President Bashar al-Assad.
Syrian state television said “dozens of terrorists and mercenaries surrendered or were killed” when the army raided Jdeidet Artouz and its surrounding farmlands.
“We launched a raid on a farm and we were surprised by the number of armed men who clashed with us - from up on the roof and from down here,” an army officer said from the area, adding his troops had seized bombs, mines, guns and uniforms.
Fares, who did not give his last name for fear of retribution, said soldiers from the Fourth Division, a praetorian guard unit under the command of Assad’s brother Maher, came into his house.
“They examined my ID and let me go. They seem to have been looking for activists or young men with a certain profile to execute,” he said.
He said the bodies were collected at the Omar bin al-Khattab mosque and buried in a mass grave dug by a bulldozer volunteered by the owner of nearby farmland.
“There are more bodies in al-Sahl area but we could not reach them because there is an army roadblock there,” he said.
Another resident of the suburb said the total number of dead was at least 50.
Rami Abdelrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said 26 of 35 bodies his organization tallied in Jdeidet Artouz have been identified and the victims were overwhelmingly civilians.
Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Amman newsroom; Editing by Michael Roddy and Jackie Frank