BEIRUT (Reuters) - Opposition activists and Syrian state media traded blame on Wednesday for the killing of at least 25 people, including women and children, in the town of Douma near Damascus.
“There was a horrible massacre in Douma last night,” the media office of the opposition network in Douma said in a statement. “More than 20 civilians have been slaughtered by (pro-government militia) shabiha who were at a checkpoint and then stormed into a residential building nearby.”
Mahmoud Doumany, an activist living in Douma, said that he had the names of 20 of the dead but that 10 were too disfigured to be identified.
“People now are scared and very angry. Some of the martyrs were killed with knives, others were shot,” he told Reuters.
Syrian state television said 25 people had been killed by “terrorist members of the so-called ‘Liwa al-Islam.’” State media labels opposition members as “terrorists.”
The Syrian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the Syrian army was not present in the area.
Opposition video showed images of corpses wrapped in blankets and of the bodies of women and children, one of whom had a hole in his head and another had part of his face missing.
“God is great,” said a man off screen, his voice trembling as he walked around the house, filming bodies on several floors of a residential building.
It was not possible to verify what happened due to Syria’s restrictions on media access.
More than 32,000 people have been killed in Syria’s conflict, which began with peaceful pro-democracy protests in March 2011 and escalated into civil war as repression increased.
Global and regional powers have been unable to stop the violence, with the West condemning President Bashar al-Assad but shying away from arming the rebels, and Russia, China and Iran sticking by the embattled autocrat.
Syria, whose leadership comes from the Alawite sect linked to Shi’ite Islam, says it is fighting Islamist hardliners backed by Sunni Muslim states like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.
Reporting by Oliver Holmes and Mariam Karouny; Editing by Mark Heinrich