AMMAN (Reuters) - The bodies of at least 200 people were found in a town close to Damascus on Saturday, according to activists who said most appeared to have been killed by Syrian troops “execution style”.
The deaths would bring the toll from an offensive by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces on Daraya, a working class Sunni Muslim town on the southwestern edge of Damascus, to 270, according to a tally by opposition activists in the capital.
Abu Kinan, an activist in Daraya, said most of the victims were found in houses and basements of buildings and had been shot by troops conducting house-to-house raids.
Due to restrictions on non-state media, it was impossible to independently verify the accounts.
“In the last hour, 122 bodies were discovered and it appears that two dozen died from sniper fire and the rest were summarily executed by gunshots from close range,” Kinan said.
“Assad’s army has committed a massacre in Daraya.”
The Daraya Coordination Committee activists’ group said in a statement that among those found with shots to the head were eight members of the al-Qassaa family: three children, their father and mother and three other relatives.
Their bodies were found in a residential building near Mussab bin Umeir mosque in Daraya, the group said.
Video released by activists showed numerous bodies of young men side-by-side at the Abu Suleiman al-Darani mosque in Daraya, many with what looked like gunshot wounds to the head and chest.
“A massacre,” said the voice of the man who appeared to be taking the footage.
“You are seeing the revenge of Assad’s forces from the people of Daraya: more than 150 bodies on the floor of this mosque.”
Mohammad Hur, another activist in Daraya, said 36 bodies of young men were found in the morning in one building, along with several badly wounded people who could not be transferred to hospitals in the area because the army had occupied them.
“We are in the process of identifying the bodies and documenting how they died. Initial evidence shows that they were mostly shot at close range in the face, neck and head, execution style,” Hur said by telephone.
“Female members from at least two families say that soldiers shot their brothers in front of them,” he added.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is based in Britain and headed by dissident Rami Abdelrahman, said it had received reports of dozens of bodies found in Daraya, but it had not yet ascertained how they were killed.
The army overran Daraya, one of a series of large, mostly run-down Sunni Muslim towns that surround Damascus, on Saturday after three days of heavy bombardment that killed 70 people, according to opposition sources and residents who said most of the dead were civilians.
The attack on Daraya was part of an army campaign to regain control of the outskirts of the capital, a mixture of built up areas and farmland where rebels had regrouped and relaunched guerrilla attacks on Assad’s forces.
Assad belongs to Syria’s minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam that has dominated power in Syria for the last five decades. Members of the country’s Sunni majority are at the forefront of the uprising.
Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Amman newsroom; Editing by Robin Pomeroy