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Mass grave reportedly discovered in Syria

The grave, which may contain the bodies of as many as 40 antigovernment protesters, is found near the city of Dara, where Syria's unrest began. Activists also say security forces continue to attack the city of Tall Kalakh.

May 16, 2011|By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Beirut — A mass grave allegedly filled with the bodies of as many as 40 antigovernment protesters killed by Syrian forces was discovered Monday near the southern city of Dara, where an uprising began two months ago, according to activists and accounts from others.

Video posted to the Internet showed men wearing protective gear and operating backhoes digging up bodies in an area called Zemla Mohammad Sari Hill, southeast of Dara. The dead included women and children. Some of the video was gruesome, showing mangled, decomposing and half-clothed corpses.

Inspired by uprisings throughout the Arab world, Dara residents took to the streets after the detention and alleged torture in March of a group of teenagers accused of writing political graffiti. The unrest spread throughout the country, which has long been ruled by President Bashar Assad and a clique of relatives who dominate politics, the economy and security forces. The 4th Armored Division, led by Assad's brother Maher, laid siege to Dara, firing from tanks and arresting people in house-to-house raids.

The alleged mass grave will probably intensify international attention on the Assad regime at a time when Western diplomats are seeking ways to apply pressure because of its alleged human rights violations. Activists said the bodies included those identified by relatives as Abdulrazaq Abdulaziz Abazeid and four of his children, who disappeared in the recent wave of protests against the Assad family's 41-year rule.

Abazeid's wife suffered a fatal heart attack Monday after learning of the deaths of her husband and children, according to Radwan Ziadeh, director of the Syria-based Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies.

"We don't know how many people exactly are in the grave," Ziadeh said in a telephone interview from Washington. "According to two sources, maybe 40 people were in there. The victims had gunshot wounds, and some of the bodies were without limbs."

As word of the discovery spread, Syrian security forces surrounded the rural area and began chasing bystanders suspected of taking cellphone video.

Activists also said Syrian security forces continued to attack the city of Tall Kalakh, near Lebanon's northern border. According to activists gathering witness accounts, clashes have broken out between members of the armed forces who refused to fire on protesters and pro-government shabiha, bands of armed men recruited from the ruling elites' Alawite Muslim sect.

Independent confirmation of the accounts was not possible because international news media are barred from Syria.

As many as 1,000 people have been killed and 10,000 arrested in the nearly nine weeks of unrest, activists said.

daragahi@latimes.com

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