Syrian opposition activists accused President Bashar Assad's forces on Sunday of committing a massacre of scores of people in a town close to the capital that the army had just retaken from rebels.
The Local Coordination Committees, an activists' organization, said Assad's forces killed 440 people across Syria on Saturday, including dozens of women and children, in one of the highest death tolls since the uprising against his rule broke out in March last year.
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The organization, which monitors Assad's military crackdown, said 310 people were killed in Damascus and its environs, including Daraya, 40 in the northern province of Aleppo and 28 in Syria's Sunni tribal heartland region of Deir al-Zor.
The rest were reportedly killed in the Idlib, Deraa, Hama and Homs, outlying provinces where poverty and discontent with Assad's minority Alawite rule have been building up since bloody repression by Assad's father, the late President Hafez al-Assad, killed tens of thousands of people in the 1980s.
Due to restrictions on non-state media in Syria, it was impossible to independently verify the accounts.
"Assad's army has committed a massacre in Daraya," said Abu Kinan, an activist in the town, using an alias to protect himself from reprisals.
"In the last hour, 122 bodies were discovered and it appears that two dozen died from sniper fire and the rest were summarily executed by gunshots from close range," Abu Kinan told Reuters by telephone.
The official state news agency said: "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 United Nations Human Rights Council said that more than 200,000 Syrians have fled into neighboring countries and are in dire need of aid.
The United Nations estimates that more than 18,000 people have been killed in the conflict that pits a mainly Sunni opposition against a ruling system dominated by the Assad family for the last five decades.
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