Syria: Assad regime blamed as 65 bodies found in Aleppo

Bashar Assad. Picture: AP
Bashar Assad. Picture: AP
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At LEAST 65 men have been found shot dead with their hands bound, their bodies washed up on the muddy banks of a small river in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo.

Opposition campaigners blamed the government, but it was impossible to confirm who was responsible. President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and rebels have been fighting in the city since last July and both sides have been accused of carrying out summary executions.

State media did not mention the incident.

More than 60,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the Syrian war since it began almost two years ago .

The UN refugee agency said yesterday the fighting had forced more than 700,000 people to flee. World powers fear the conflict could spread, ­further destabilising an already explosive region.

Opposition activists posted a video of a man filming at least 51 muddied male bodies alongside what they said was the Queiq River in Aleppo’s rebel-held Bustan al-Qasr neighbourhood.

The bodies had bullet wounds in their heads. Some of the victims appeared to be young, possibly teenagers, dressed in jeans, shirts and trainers.

A voice in the background says “number them,” while another says “pray for them”.

At one point, a man stops at a body and breaks down in tears, shouting: “He’s my brother.”

Aleppo-based opposition activists blamed pro-Assad militia fighters. They said the men had been executed and their bodies dumped in the river to float downstream into the rebel area.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which provides information about casualties on both sides from a network of monitors, said the footage was evidence of a new massacre and the death toll could rise as high as 80.

“They were killed only because they are Muslims,” said a bearded man in another video said to have been filmed in Bustan al-Qasr after the bodies were removed from the river.

A pick-up truck carrying a pile of corpses was seen parked behind him.

Rebels are stuck in a stalemate with government forces in Aleppo – Syria’s most populous city and its commercial hub – which is divided roughly in half between the two sides.

In the eastern city of Deir al-Zor, insurgents including Islamist fighters linked to al-Qaeda captured a security agency after days of heavy fighting, according to an activist video issued yesterday.

Some of the fighters were shown carrying a black flag with the Islamic declaration of faith and the name of the al-Nusra Front, which has ties to al-Qaeda in neighbouring Iraq.

The war has become heavily sectarian, with rebels who mostly come from the Sunni Muslim majority fighting an army whose top generals are mostly from Mr Assad’s Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. Mr Assad has framed the revolt as a foreign-backed conspiracy and blames the West and Sunni Gulf states.

Fighting also took place in the northern town of Ras al-Ain, on the border with Turkey, between rebels and Kurdish militants, the Observatory said.

In Turkey, a second pair of Patriot missile batteries sent by Nato countries are operational, a German security official said.

The US, Germany and the Netherlands each committed to sending two batteries and up to 400 soldiers to operate them after Ankara asked for help to bolster its defences against possible missile attack from Syria.

About 712,000 Syrian refugees have registered in other countries in the region or are awaiting processing, the UN refugee agency said.

“We have seen an unrelenting flow of refugees across all borders. We are running double shifts to register people,” Sybella Wilkes, spokeswoman for the UN high commissioner for refugees, told reporters in Geneva.