Several hundred bodies were found in a town near Damascus after a ferocious assault by the Syrian army, a watchdog said yesterday, as activists accused government forces of another gruesome massacre.
A grisly video issued by opposition militants showed bodies lined wall-to-wall in a mosque complex in Daraya after a big offensive by troops battling to crush insurgents who have regrouped on the outskirts of the capital.
At least 320 corpses were found on Saturday and yesterday, the victims of a five-day onslaught on rebel fighters in Daraya, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The Local Co-ordination Committees, a network of activists on the ground in Syria, described it as a massacre by the regime of President Bashar alAssad and said people in Daraya had been summarily executed and their bodies burnt.
"Shabiha [pro-regime] militias ... have turned into generic killing machines," it charged, also showing a video of victims being buried in mass graves.
Human rights groups have accused the regime of committing many atrocities since the uprising against Assad's government first erupted in March last year, and a UN panel said earlier this month the regime was guilty of crimes against humanity.
Militants posted a video on YouTube entitled "Massacre at the Abu Sleiman Addarani mosque in Daraya" showing dozens of bodies in dimly lit rooms. "An odious massacre committed by the gangs of the Assad regime in Abu Sleiman Addarani mosque. More than 150 innocent martyrs fell in a brutal campaign by the criminal gangs against the city," said the audio with the video, whose authenticity could not be verified.
State television said Daraya, a mainly Sunni Muslim town of some 200,000 people, was being "purified of terrorist remnants".
Yesterday, Vice President Faruq al-Shara - the regime's top Sunni Muslim official - made his first public appearance in over a month, following rumours that he had tried to defect and was under house arrest.
Shara and Assad held talks with the head of the Iranian parliament's foreign policy committee, Aladin Borujerdi, who vowed that Tehran will "stick by our Syrian brothers".
"We see Syria's security as our security," he said, Iran's state-owned IRNA news agency said.
The army claimed to have retaken most of Damascus last month, after about two weeks of intense fighting. Most rebel Free Syrian Army fighters were forced out into the nearby countryside, but have since resumed hit-and-run operations, activists say.
Assad's Alawite-led regime insists it is fighting foreign "terrorists" aided by its Sunni Muslim rivals in the region and the West.
Reports by activists cannot be independently confirmed because of severe restrictions on media operating in Syria.