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Dozens found 'executed' near Damascus

Dozens of bodies have been found in a besieged town near Damascus. Opposition activists say Syrian regime forces were responsible for the "execution-style" killings.

The bodies of 40 to 50 people were found near a mosque in Daraya, southwest of Damascus. The news agency Reuters cited activists saying as many as 79 bodies were found, bringing the death toll from a regime offensive on the town to 149. Media restrictions mean death tolls are impossible to verify.

According to the activist Mohammad Hur, 36 bodies of young men were found in one building along with several badly wounded people who could not be transferred to army-occupied hospitals. A further 12 bodies were found in the basement of another building, he added.

"We are in the process of identifying the bodies and documenting how they died," Hur told Reuters. "Initial evidence shows that they were mostly shot at close range in the face, neck and head, execution style."

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed that dozens of people had been found dead, but it had not yet ascertained how they were killed.

The Observatory added that Syrian troops had launched a major assault on Daraya in recent days in a bid to regain control of the outskirts of the capital. Syrian state television confirmed that Daraya was being "purified of terrorist remnants."

Most of the capital was retaken by forces loyal to President Bashar Assad in July. Free Syrian army fighters were forced into the nearby countryside, where they have regrouped to launch attacks on Assad's forces.

The fresh violence erupted a day after new international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi admitted he was "scared" of the enormousness of the task he faces to try to end the conflict. Brahimi takes over from former UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan next month.

According to UN estimates, at least 17,000 people have been killed since the crisis erupted in July last year.

ccp/mkg (AFP, Reuters)