Activists say the Damascus killings reflect a new government strategy to deter support for the opposition Free Syrian Army by punishing and intimidating civilians living in areas under rebel control. Videos posted online and accounts from residents point to summary executions occurring on a scale unprecedented since the start of the 17-month-old uprising against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.
According to the Center for the Documentation of Violations in Syria, which lists victims of violence who have been identified, 730 civilians have been killed in Damascus this month and 529 in Aleppo, a disparity that has increased over the past week as the bodies have piled up in the Syrian capital.
Some of the deaths in the Damascus area have also been caused by shelling and helicopter bombardments, as the government pounds areas known to support the rebels. But most of the dead are civilians who have disappeared in the wake of offensives or have been seized at checkpoints and whose bodies have been discovered in groups of as few as a handful or as many as a several dozen, activists say.
In the most recent discoveries, 11 corpses were found Thursday in an apartment in Kfar Souseh, a day after 24 people were shot execution-style there, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Five were found in the Tadamon neighborhood. On Wednesday, several dozen bodies were discovered in the Qaboun suburb, tangled together along a roadside, covered in blood and with the throats slit, according to a graphic video posted on YouTube.
Grisly deaths on daily basis
The details of the killings are impossible to confirm, and activists and human rights groups say they are finding it difficult to verify the circumstances of the grisly deaths being recorded daily on videos posted online. Most of the victims depicted are men, some of them elderly and many bearing torture marks, and all appear to have died either from bullet wounds to the head or by having their throats cut.
“Clearly, while all the attention has been focused on Aleppo, there has been an increase in military operations around Damascus, and the number of people being killed in those battles is much higher than what is happening in Aleppo,” said Nadim Houry, a researcher at New York-based Human Rights Watch, speaking from Beirut.
Shelling and raids by government forces have hindered researchers’ access to the sites where bodies are being found, Houry said. On Thursday, troops intensified an assault on the southwestern Damascus suburb of Darayya, a longtime opposition stronghold, hammering the area with artillery before raiding homes. The attack killed at least 15 people, according to the opposition Local Coordination Committees network.