Syria crisis: 'Bodies of executed men' found

DAMASCUS - The bodies of dozens of young men, all apparently summarily executed, have been found in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, rebels and activists say.

At least 65 bodies were found on the banks of the Quwaiq river in the western district of Bustan al-Qasr, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported.

Most had their hands tied behind their backs and gunshot wounds to the head.

Video footage of the gruesome discovery was posted by activists on YouTube.

It showed a large number of bodies strewn in and around the banks of the Quwaiq, which skirts the western side of Aleppo.

The bodies were caked in grey mud and showed signs of rigor mortis. There were also signs of blood having poured from many of the heads.

Rigor mortis, a stiffening of the limbs of a corpse, begins around three hours after death, peaks at around 12 hours and is completely dissipated some two days later.

A captain in the rebel Free Syrian Army said some of those who had been killed were just teenagers.

He told the AFP news agency that many bodies were still in the water and the death toll might rise to 100.

One volunteer helping to load bodies on to a lorry said there was no identification on the bodies.

People were gathering at the bank to see if they could find their missing relatives, AFP reported.

"My brother disappeared weeks ago when he was crossing [through] the regime-held zone, and we don't know where he is or what has become of him," said Mohammed Abdul Aziz.

Activists say the victims had been killed after being arrested by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

A Syrian government source said that many of the victims had been kidnapped but accused "terrorists" - the term officials use to describe the rebels - of carrying out the kidnappings and killings.

"They were kidnapped by terrorist groups... and executed last night in a park in Bustan al-Qasr under their control," the source told AFP.

"Now these terrorist groups are creating a media campaign, showing the bodies being recovered from the Quwaiq river in an area under their control."

The river's source is in Turkey, but it flows through both government- and rebel-held territory in Syria.

The district of Bustan al-Qasr has been hotly contested since fighting broke out in Aleppo last July, the BBC's Jim Muir reports from Beirut.

Aleppo had largely been spared the conflict until that point.

Since July, the city has been more or less divided equally between government and rebel forces, with neither side apparently able to push the other out, despite constant clashes, our correspondent adds.

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