BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrians in the city of Douma have recovered mutilated corpses and sifted through trash for body parts hacked off by death squads who swept through anti-government districts after the army drove out rebel fighters, activists said on Wednesday.
Video shot by opponents of President Bashar al-Assad in the city about 15 km (10 miles) north of Damascus on Tuesday displayed gory scenes in homes they said had been overrun by pro-government “shabbiha” paramilitary gangs, after army shelling over the weekend forced rebel fighters to retreat.
The state news agency SANA, reporting on a ministerial tour of Douma, painted a totally different picture which made no mention of killing or death. It did say that essential services had been damaged and that many Douma citizens had fled to the countryside to escape “terrorism”.
“Minister of Health Wael al-Halqi stressed that the Ministry and Damascus Countryside Health Directorate are working hard to rehabilitate Douma Hospital to resume provision of medical services to the people in Douma and its surroundings after its equipment was sabotaged by the armed terrorist groups,” it said.
Given obstacles to independent media coverage in Syria, there was no way of verifying the authenticity of the activist video or the information conveyed. One resident named Ziad told Reuters by telephone that 90 percent of Douma citizens had fled the city of around 110,000 inhabitants.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it had stepped up humanitarian work in Douma, delivering a month’s food supplies to 118 families there, enough for some 600 people, ICRC spokesman Bijan Farnoudi told Reuters in Geneva.
SANA published photographs of well-dressed officials touring tidy streets. Activist video, by contrast showed what it said was the aftermath of carnage by feared militiamen.
“These are pieces of our children we’re pulling out of dumpsters ... We found these body parts and we are still looking for more. These are burned human body parts,” said a man picking through an overturned garbage bin.
“These are male reproductive organs,” he said.
Video clips showed rotting corpses lying in dried pools of blood in dark hallways, their faces covered with flies. One showed a woman and her child prone in a living room. The activist narrating the video said they had been stabbed.
A third video displayed pieces of charred flesh which activists said were severed genitals.
”There was more here yesterday,“ said a man wearing plastic gloves.” “But the dogs were taking them.”
Activists said there were explosions and clashes in several suburbs of the capital Damascus at dawn. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported heavy fighting in the town of Jaramana in an area near a branch of Air Force Intelligence, one of the most feared units of the secret police.
There was no information on casualties and initial attempts to contact residents of Jaramana by mobile telephone failed.
The observatory said two people were killed by shelling in the southern province of Deraa, where the revolt against Assad began 16 months ago. Opposition leaders and Western governments say over 15,000 people have been killed. The government says “terrorist gangs” have killed several thousand troops and police.
In the northern province of Idlib, activists said four rebels were killed overnight in a security forces ambush.
SANA quoted the health minister as saying that the emergency and outpatient clinics in Douma would be back into service quickly while other services would be restored gradually.
The ministry would provide free health services to “those who were forced to move to another province due to the current circumstances and terrorist acts in their provinces”, it said.
Officials had also “inspected the situation of the service facilities and the ongoing rehabilitation and maintenance works for the electricity, water and telephone departments”.
The water supply was back to normal and the electricity network was being repaired, the agency added.
Food baskets were to be distributed during the day to needy residents, SANA quoted the minister as saying. He called on the residents of Douma to return to their homes “since the city is now safe and all the necessary services have been restored”.
“If the government lets them back the rebels will move on to another area to fight,” said Douma resident Ziad. “If not they’ll do to Douma what they did to Homs,” he added, referring to the central city which has seen prolonged urban war.
Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva. Writing by Douglas Hamilton.; Editing by Diana Abdallah