Army accused of massacre near Damascus


SCORES OF bodies have reportedly been discovered in Darayya, the focus of an army operation against rebels holed up in the belt of strategic suburbs and satellite towns south of Damascus.

Accusing the army of committing a massacre, the opposition Local Co-ordination Committees put the toll for Darayya at more than 200.

The group said that while some had died in shelling in basement shelters and homes or had been shot by snipers, young men had been executed by shots to the head. Activists provided video images of bodies laid out in rows at the Abu Suleiman al-Darani mosque in Darayya.

The Co-ordination Committees put the death toll for Saturday alone at 440 and the Britain-based opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the toll was 370, including 174 civilians. However, these figures, which cannot be verified, apparently included those slain in Darayya over the previous five days.

Syrian state television showed footage of Darayya residents welcoming troops and the official news agency Sana reported: “The armed forces cleared the town of Darayya in Damascus countryside of terrorists . . . eliminating a large number of them.”

The campaign in Darayya and the strategic southern outskirts of the capital was launched after rebel forces regrouped there after being driven from central districts of Damascus in July. Rebel-infiltrated areas of Aleppo also come under bombardment.

Saudi-owned satellite channel al-Arabiya claimed that Jamil Hassan, head of Syrian airforce intelligence, was assassinated by an aide affiliated with Ahfad al-Rasul, or Grandchildren of the Prophet Brigade. But this claim could not be confirmed.

Humanitarian organisations have expressed concern over the treatment accorded to captured soldiers and regime supporters in prisons run by rebels in northern schools and public buildings. Rebels have exchanged prisoners with the army and asked ransom from families of conscripts but have also executed soldiers and pro-government shabbiha militiamen said to have blood on their hands, they say.

An Iranian delegation visiting Damascus headed by senior legislator Alaeddin Boroujerdi was received by the three leading figures in the Syrian regime. President Bashar al-Assad told the Iranians that the “Syrian people will defeat the conspiracy” directed at Syria and the whole region.

“Syria is continuing its strategy of resistance . . . despite the joint efforts by western and some regional countries to make it change its stance.”

The Iranians were also greeted by vice-president Farouk al-Sharaa who, the opposition claimed, had defected. Mr Sharaa had not been seen in public since mid-July. Foreign minister Walid Muallem said the government would negotiate with the opposition only after “purging Syria of armed groups”.

Mr Boroujerdi said, “Fortunately today . . . Russia, China and . . . Iran . . . are completely opposed to imposed policies on Syria and foreign interference.”

In Cairo, Arab League secretary general Nabil al-Arabi said both sides in the conflict should halt the fighting and begin talks. “Those who want to achieve a victory in the ongoing conflict in Syria are putting Syria in a big war . . . We hope . . . reason prevails and that both sides accept mediation efforts.”

In New York, envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who is due to take over from Kofi Annan next month, held discussions with senior UN figures as Damascus daily Al-Thawra warned Mr Brahimi not to follow Mr Annan’s example by “bowing to US and western pressure”.

Gunfire and sniping continued between the pro-Syrian Jebel Mohsen and anti-Syrian Bab al-Tabaneh districts of the Lebanese port city of Tripoli, bringing the death toll to 17. Hussein Ali Omar, one of 11 Lebanese Shia pilgrims kidnapped in Syria in May by a rebel faction, returned home to Beirut.