Scores of muddied and waterlogged gunshot victims, most of them men in their 20s and 30s, were found dead in a suburb of Syria's contested northern city of Aleppo on Tuesday. Insurgents and the government accused each other of carrying out the killings in what appeared to be the latest civil war atrocity.
People gathered at the banks of a small canal coming from a government-controlled suburb of Aleppo, Syria, to view dozens of bodies on Tuesday.
Videos posted by opponents of President Bashar al-Assad seemed to show that many had been shot in the back of the head while their hands were bound. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist organization based in Britain with a network of contacts in Syria, said at least 50 bodies had been located, scattered along the banks of a small river in the Bustan al-Kaser neighborhood, which is mostly under rebel control. Later reports put the tally much higher.
Al Jazeera quoted a commander from the insurgent Free Syrian Army, identified as Capt. Abu Sada, as saying there could be more than 100 bodies, with many still submerged in the river's murky water, and that all had been "executed by the regime."
Syria's state news agency, SANA, later posted a report on its Web site that blamed the insurgent Islamist fighters of the Al Nusra Front, and said the killings added to "a series of brutal massacres perpetrated by the terrorist groups against unarmed civilians."
The videos emerged as the United Nations reported a fresh upsurge in the number of refugees known officially to have fled Syria, increasing the total in neighboring countries to more than 700,000 from 500,000 in December.
At the same time, rebel fighters seeking Mr. Assad's overthrow appeared to have made advances in the east of the country, raiding a security office in the eastern city of Deir al-Zour, where government forces have seemed to reduce their presence to concentrate on the center, giving rebels more freedom to maneuver and in some cases siphon fuel from gas and oil fields there.
Activists said the insurgents in Deir al-Zour included members of the Al Nusra Front, who are considered highly effective fighters although the United States regards the group as a terrorist organization. The rebels freed 11 detainees and captured a tank and three armed personnel carriers, according to the Local Coordination Committees, an anti-Assad activist network in Syria.
The Syria conflict began in March 2011 as a peaceful protest but has since spiraled into civil war.
In Geneva, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported an "unrelenting flow of refugees" across Syria's borders, principally into Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey.
The highest numbers were in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon but smaller numbers had been registered in Egypt and North Africa, said Sybella Wilkes, a spokeswoman for the refugee agency.
The fighting has long ceased to be a straight contest between government and rebel forces. In the northern town of Ras al-Ain on the border with Turkey, rebels have fought Kurds. and in Deir al-Zour, rivalries among the groups claiming to have overrun the security office showed the contest between them to attract arms and recruits.
Omar Abu Layla, an activist documenting the fighting, said local and Al Nusra groups had joined in the fighting.
"Al Nusra are good in suicide attacks, but our battalions are better than them at storming," he said.
Source: The New York Times | HANIA MOURTADA and ALAN COWELL