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Dozens of corpses found along river in Aleppo, Syria

January 29, 2013|By Patrick J. McDonnell | This post has been updated. See the note below for details.

BEIRUT -- The bodies of dozens of young men, apparently victims of summary execution, were found along a small river in the war-ravaged northern Syria city of Aleppo, opposition activists said Tuesday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based pro-opposition group, said it had managed to document the names of at least 17 of the 65 men whose corpses were pulled from along the waterway in the city’s Bustan al-Qasr district.

Amateur video purported to be from the scene showed mud-caked bodies and streaks of blood along the riverbank. People were seen collecting bodies and placing them in a truck, according to the unverified video.

The observatory group cited sources saying the toll could rise to as many as 80 “since there are still bodies floating in the river.”

The victims, who appeared to be between the ages of 20 and 30, were killed with gunshots to the head, execution style, the group said. Some had their hands tied, the group added.

There was no immediate comment from the Syrian government.

[Updated, Jan. 30, 12:05 a.m.: State-run media put the blame for the "mass execution" on the "terrorist groups of Jabhat al-Nusra," referring to an Islamist opposition force that Washington has designated as a terrorist organization.

Opposition activists and people who came to identify the bodies after some remains were placed in a school courtyard in Aleppo blamed the killings on pro-regime paramilitaries known as shabiha, a loose confederation of loyalist gunmen that Washington has also labeled as a terrorist group.

In New York, meanwhile, Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations-Arab League special envoy for Syria, reportedly told the Security Council on Tuesday that Syria had plunged into "unprecedented levels of horror," and urged the world body to act.

"Syria is being destroyed," he said.

The United Nations has failed to reach any consensus on how to end the spiraling violence in Syria.]

Human rights monitors have accused both government forces and rebels of committing extrajudicial executions during the almost 2-year-old Syrian conflict. The perpetrators of most previous such killings have not been established because there are few if any independent investigations.

More than 60,000 people have died in the Syrian conflict, according to a United Nations estimate. As many as 3 million people have been displaced from their homes, according to estimates. Armed rebels are seeking to oust the government of President Bashar Assad.

Aleppo, an ancient Silk Road terminus that was once Syria’s vibrant business center, is gradually being destroyed by the two sides, who have been fighting for supremacy since July. Many streets have been reduced to rubble-strewn debris fields.

Many, if not most, residents are believed to have fled a metropolis that was once home to more than 2 million people. The city’s historic ancient souk, parts of which date to medieval times, has been scorched by fire and pounded by shelling, gun battles and sniper fire.

The report of the latest mass killings in Aleppo comes two weeks after a pair of explosions struck Aleppo University, killing more than 80 people, including students, passersby and displaced people who had found shelter in school dormitories. Each side has blamed the other for the twin blasts.

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