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70 bodies found in eastern Syrian city; rebels blame regime

By Raja Abdulrahim, Los Angeles Times –

BEIRUT — More than 70 bodies have been discovered in an eastern Syrian city, in what opposition activists say was a massacre committed by government forces three weeks ago.

The victims, including women, children and elders, were found Friday night scattered across a cemetery on the southern edge of Dair Alzour, a regular target of shelling and mortar fire from government helicopters and planes, activist Muhammad Younis said.

Many of the bodies had been burned and showed signs of torture, he said, and for some their hands were tied behind their backs. Photos from the city showed rows of charred and disfigured bodies.

Younis’ account could not be verified; the conflict in Syria has been marked by claims and counterclaims of mass killings.

The discovery came as Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations and Arab League envoy to Syria, arrived in the capital, Damascus, to meet with government officials and opposition members in an attempt to reach a cease-fire for the upcoming Muslim holiday of Eid Al-Adha.

Brahimi has been meeting with leaders of neighboring countries and Syria’s regional ally, Iran, to garner support for the four-day cease-fire. But there are serious doubts that it will be successful; previous efforts have failed and the violence across Syria continues.

Younis said security forces raided two neighborhoods that were under government control in Dair Alzour three weeks ago, going home to home and executing people in the streets. Phone and Internet lines were cut, so little was known at the time about what was happening.

As some residents fled to other parts of the city, they reported seeing bodies in the streets. An activist group in the city said the people were killed as they were trying to flee the neighborhoods.

On Thursday, residents leaving the city through a smuggling route that cuts through the cemetery smelled decomposing bodies. The next day, activists returned and discovered dozens of bodies throughout the graveyard.

Because many of the bodies are decomposing or burned, only about a dozen have been identified, Younis said.

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