BEIRUT

Middle East

Army storms Damascus suburb, nearly 100 dead

A young Syrian boy poses for a picture between destroyed houses in the northern Syrian town of Azaz on April 21, 2013. Syria's National Coalition head Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib has refiled his resignation and an interim leader is being sought, a fellow member and a source close to the main opposition group said. AFP PHOTO / MIGUEL MEDINA

BEIRUT: Activists said Sunday they were still counting corpses discovered after Syrian troops stormed an area of Damascus suburbs, killing some 100 people amid a stepped-up government offensive against opposition rebels.

Bodies found in field hospitals and the streets in Jdeidet al-Fadl, southwest of Damascus, were disfigured and burnt activists said, with some showing evidence of execution-style killings. The dead included women and children.

“They are still counting the bodies,” said an opposition activist with the Syrian Revolutionary General Command using the pseudonym Enas.

“Activists reported that 28 new corpses have just been found in one of the hospitals inside the town. Among these 28 martyrs are three women and three children,” said a statement from the group, adding that lack of access and communication was hindering documentation.

The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 80 people had been killed in the town in five days of violence.

“Regime troops have taken complete control over the town of Jdeidet al-Fadl and its surroundings,” the Observatory saud, adding that the death toll could rise and calling for an investigation by the International Red Cross. Jamal al-Golani, a member of the Revolution Leadership Council opposition group, told Reuters the number of dead might be higher than 250, mostly shot at close range.

“Jdeidet al-Fadl was militarily a lost cause from day one because it was surrounded by the army from every direction. There are almost no wounded because they were shot on the spot,” he said.

Syria’s state news agency said the military “inflicted big losses on terrorists in Jdeidet al-Fadl and destroyed weapons and ammunition and killed and wounded members of the terrorist groups.”

The report comes as forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad step up an offensive to regain control of rebel strongholds, particularly in the southern suburbs of Damascus and strategic corridors linking the capital to the northern coastal areas and the Lebanon border.

Loyalist troops made advances Sunday on the rebel stronghold town of Al-Qusair, near the border with Lebanon.

Activists said the army, backed by pro-regime militia and Hezbollah fighters, was aiming to crush insurgents in villages surrounding Al-Qusair, in preparation for an assault on the town itself.

Among the villages taken were Radwaniyeh, seized Saturday, Burhaniyeh and Tal al-Nabi Mando. The army also secured the road linking the Lebanese-Syrian border along the Orontes river to the west of Al-Qusair.

Syria’s pro-regime Al-Watan newspaper said that the army now controls villages around Al-Qusair. “There is a big change in the army’s tactics. It has become more precise in securing its objectives,” it said.

The intensified fighting comes as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. would double its nonlethal aid to opposition forces in Syria to $250 million.

Kerry stopped short of a U.S. pledge to supply weapons to rebels, but he said that the rebels’ foreign backers were committed to continuing support and had decided to channel all future aid through the insurgents’ Supreme Military Council.

Speaking at the conclusion of the “Friends of Syria” meeting, Kerry said the Syrian crisis was in a “critical moment.”

“The stakes in Syria couldn’t be more clear: Chemical weapons, the slaughter of people by ballistic missiles and other weapons of huge destruction. The potential of a whole country, a beautiful country with great people, being torn apart and perhaps breaking up into enclaves [with the] potential of sectarian violence which this region knows there is too much of.

“What we are trying to do is to avoid all of that,” he said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 22, 2013, on page 1.

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