Mass killing uncovered in Aleppo

Bound bodies of at least 65 fished from river in embattled city

The Washington Post, AP, AFP-JIJI

The bodies of least 65 people shot in a mass killing were found in the Syrian city of Aleppo on Tuesday, opposition activists said.

A video posted online the same day showed many of the victims lying on the muddy banks of the Quweiq River in the Bustan al-Qasr neighborhood of southwestern Aleppo with their hands bound. Most appeared to have been shot in the head, and some of the victims appeared to be teenagers.

Bustan al-Qasr has been the site of heavy fighting in recent days, with the Syrian military launching several attacks to retake the neighborhood from rebel control.

Opposition activists said it was not clear who carried out the mass killing, when it happened or why. Since the bodies were fished out of the river, it was possible that the victims were shot somewhere outside the city, they said.

As the nauseating stench of death lingered, a nurse at the scene noted that some of the men could have been killed up to three days ago. “There are those who drowned because they were shot in the legs or abdomen before being thrown into the water,” the nurse added.

Some activists said the killing was probably carried out by the Syrian military or the progovernment “shabiha” militia and surmised that the victims could have been political detainees.

“We have a fear that they might be political prisoners from the central prison of Aleppo,” a reporter with the opposition Shaam News Network who goes by the name Majed Abdul Nour said in a Skype interview from Aleppo. “This river where we found them passes by the central prison.”

Syrian state TV said the men were killed by members of Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaida-linked group that the U.S. has labeled as a terrorist organization. It said the men were killed after they demanded members of the group leave their areas.

Another activist group, the Local Coordination Committees, put the number of bodies found at 80. It blamed government forces for the killing. Abu Seif, a rebel fighter, said that 30 more bodies were still in the water but were out of reach because of the threat of regime snipers.

News of the massacre surfaced as U.S. President Barack Obama pledged an additional $155 million in humanitarian aid for Syria on Tuesday.

“We’re under no illusions. The days ahead will continue to be very difficult,” Obama said in a statement. “But what’s clear is that the regime continues to weaken and lose control of territory.”

The announcement of increased aid came a day before the International Pledging Conference for Syria is scheduled to be held in Kuwait. The conference, to be chaired by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, aims to raise funds to address the dire humanitarian needs of Syrian civilians inside the country as well as the tens of thousands of refugees who have escaped the fighting.

In New York, meanwhile, Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. special envoy to Syria, delivered a grim report on the situation in the country to the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday.

“The tragedy does not have an end,” Brahimi said, adding that Assad’s legitimacy has been “irreparably damaged,” but warned that the regime could still cling to power and perpetuate the bloodshed indefinitely.

“I’m sorry if I sound like an old broken record,” he added, according to diplomats. “The country is breaking up before everyone’s eyes. Only the international community can help, and first and foremost the Security Council.”

Assad’s forces have become more repressive, he said, while insisting that both the regime and the rebels were committing “equally atrocious crimes.”

Brahimi told the council he was very worried about countries around Syria, which face a growing risk of “contamination” from the conflict.

The U.N. recently announced that at least 60,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in March 2011. But the international body’s inability to stop that killing has angered some opposition activists.

“The United Nations doesn’t do anything,” said Rami Abdul-Rahman, the director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group. “They should investigate these bodies in Bustan al-Qasr. We gave them a lot of evidence of other killings, too, but they don’t act.”