x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Syria forces accused of massacre with hundreds of bodies found

Activists accuse the Syrian army of a ferocious five-day assault at Daraya.

DAMASCUS // Hundreds of bodies have been found in a town outside Damascus after a ferocious five-day assault by the Syrian army, a watchdog said on Sunday, as activists accused government forces of a "massacre".

At least 320 people have been killed during the offensive by government troops in Daraya, a town of some 200,000 people to the south-west of the capital, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Local Coordination Committees, a network of activists on the ground in Syria, described it as "the regime's massacre" in "peaceful Daraya".

"The criminal regime imposed a blockade and cut off necessary supplies to the town, then subjected it to indiscriminate shelling with heavy weapons and warplanes," it said.

"Afterwards the gangs of killers entered the town and carried out summary executions, before dismembering and setting fire to the bodies."

Activists had described the onslaught against Daraya as a new bid to crush "once and for all" the insurgency in the capital after rebel fighters regrouped to the southern outskirts following an army offensive in the heart of the city last month.

The reports by the activists cannot be independently confirmed because of severe restrictions on media operating in Syria.

At least 183 people were killed nationwide yesterday, the Observatory said, as the brutal conflict that has convulsed Syria for 17 months showed no signs of abating in the face of deep divisions among world powers.

Combat helicopters and tanks also pounded rebel-held areas of the battered northern city of Aleppo, an AFP journalist and monitors said, as the army pressed on with its war against fighters seeking to topple President Bashar Al Assad.

Militants posted a YouTube video titled "Massacre at the Abu Sleiman Addarani Mosque in Daraya" showing dozens of bodies on the ground.

The video, whose authenticity could not be verified, had a commentary saying: "An odious massacre committed by the gangs of the Assad regime in the Abu Sleiman Addarani Mosque. More than 150 innocent martyrs fell in a brutal campaign by the criminal gangs against the city."

State television had said on Saturday that Daraya, a mainly Sunni Muslim town, was being "purified of terrorist remnants".

The army claimed to have retaken most of Damascus in late July, after about two weeks of intense fighting across the capital's southern belt.

Most rebel Free Syrian Army fighters were forced out into the nearby countryside, but have since resumed hit-and-run operations, according to activists.

Saturday's bloodletting erupted a day after new international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi admitted he was "scared" of the enormity of the task he faces to try to end the increasingly ferocious conflict, now in its 18th month.

Mr Brahimi, who takes over from former UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan next month, held talks with UN leaders in New York on Friday, saying the Syrian people "will be our first masters".

Mr Annan, the former UN chief, quit earlier this month after the failure of his six-point plan to try to bring peace, which was left in tatters by the relentless bloodshed and divisions among world powers over how to tackle the conflict.