Activists opposing the Syrian government are accusing President Bashar al-Assad’s forces of carrying out a massacre of more than 200 people in a town not far from the Syrian capital, which the army had just reclaimed from followers of the rebellion. The bodies were found in houses and basements in Daraya, a town to the south of Damascus largely populated by middle-class Sunni Muslims. It is alleged that most of the dead bodies found were the result of “execution-style” killings carried out by al-Assad’s troops. Because of restrictions on non-state media in Syria, there was no way to confirm the accounts of how the bodies were killed. The United Nations Security Council is concerned about the violence in Syria, but as of yet has no firm solution.
An activist going by the alias of Abu Kinan reported the matter to Reuters by telephone.
“Assad’s army has committed a massacre in Daraya. In the last hour, 122 bodies were discovered and it appears that two dozen died from the sniper fire and the rest were summarily executed by gunshots from close range.”
Kinan claims to have witnessed firsthand the death of 8-year old Asma Abu al-Laban as she was shot by army snipers while riding in a car with her parents.
“They were trying to flee the army raids. Three bullets hit her in the back and her parents brought her to a makeshift hospital. Nothing could be done for her.”
Contrasting reports claiming the situation was a massacre, the official state news agency released a statement defending the Syrian forces, which stated “Our heroic forces cleansed Daraya from remnants of armed terrorist groups who committed crimes against the sons of the town and scared them and sabotaged and destroyed public and private property.”
It has been reported by the Local Co-ordinations Committee, an activist organization, that Assad’s forces killed 440 people throughout Syria on Saturday, one of the highest single-day death tolls since the uprising against his rule emerged in March of last year.
Video footage compiled by these activists shows scores of bodies of young men next to each other at the Abu Suleiman al-Darani mosque in Daraya. The footage seems to reveal that the young men were killed by shots to head and chest. According to opposition forces, most of the dead were civilians.
It is estimated by the United Nations that upwards of 18,000 people have been killed in this conflict involving a mostly Sunni opposition to the rule of the Assad family, which has been definitively in place for a half century. The report by the United Nations points out that both sides have committed war crimes in the form of ‘summary executions,’ though Assad’s troops loyal militia have carried out many more such offenses than the rebels. The sectarian nature of the conflict — pitting Shi’ites against Sunnis — has already had a ripple effect of sorts on neighboring countries.
The United Nations Security Council has disputed how it should respond to the continuing escalation of violence; Russia has resisted Western and Arab pressure for action to be taken against Assad. Algerian diplomat Lakhdir Brahimi, who serves as a new U.N. envoy, has expressed that he is simultaneously humbled and terrified at the task of seeking a peaceful solution to the ongoing Syrian crisis.