The five-day onslaught by regime forces on a Damascus suburb has reportedly left hundreds dead. Opposition activists claim that scores were massacred in their homes in door-to-door "execution-style" killings.
An offensive by Syrian government forces against the southwest Damascus suburb of Daraya has left at least 320 people dead over the past five days, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Meanwhile, Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa has made his first public appearance in a month. He met a delegation from regional ally Iran in Damascus, according to several news agencies. That would seem to end rumours by Syria's opposition that al-Sharaa had defected from President Bashar Assad's government. In recent months, several high-profile members had defected, including former premier Riad Hijab.
The Observatory said that many of bodies of the dead discovered in Daraya over the weekend lay in houses and basements. Around 200 of the bodies had been identified, but it remained unclear when many of the victims had perished, the opposition monitoring group said.
The Local Coordination Committees (LCC) accused the regime of President Bashar Assad of committing a "massacre" in Daraya. The LCC is a network of opposition activists on the ground in Syria that documents the violence.
"The criminal regime imposed a blockade and cut off necessary supplies to the town, then subjected it to indiscriminate shelling with heavy weapons and warplanes," the group said in a release. "Afterwards the gangs of killers entered the town and carried out summary executions, before dismembering and setting fire to the bodies."
'Armed terrorist groups'
The Syrian government, for its part, has claimed that it is fighting terrorist groups in Daraya, a satellite of Damascus with a population of 200,000. The official state news agency SANA said the town had been purged.
"Our heroic armed 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," the state news agency said.
Battles for Damascus, Aleppo
In late July, the Assad regime claimed to have largely subdued Damascus and pushed insurgents out of the capital, after they had killed five senior government security officials in a bomb attack and launched an offensive in the city.
The rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) withdrew to the countryside, but reportedly regrouped and began launching hit-and-run attacks against government forces in Damascus. Daraya is supposedly the site of rebel holdouts.
The news agency AFP has reported that government forces on Saturday launched renewed attacks with tanks and helicopter gunships against rebel forces in Aleppo, Syria's most populous city and its commercial hub.
Reports from Syria are nearly impossible to independently verify due to heavy restrictions imposed by the government on foreign journalists in areas of unrest.
slk,ipj /tj (AFP, Reuters, dpa)