BEIRUT — Scores of muddied and waterlogged gunshot victims, most of them men in their 20s and 30s, were found dead in a suburb of Syria’s contested northern city of Aleppo on Tuesday. Insurgents and the government accused each other of carrying out the killings in what appeared to be the latest civil war atrocity.
Video posted by opponents of President Bashar Assad seemed to show that many had been shot in the back of the head while their hands were bound.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist organization based in Britain with a network of contacts in Syria, said at least 50 bodies had been located, some scattered along the banks of a small river in the Bustan al-Qasr neighborhood, which is mostly under rebel control. Later reports put the tally much higher.
Al-Jazeera quoted a commander from the insurgent Free Syrian Army, identified as Capt. Abu Sada, as saying there could be more than 100 bodies, with many still submerged in the river’s murky water, and that all the victims had been “executed by the regime.”
Syria’s state news agency, SANA, later posted a report on its website that blamed the insurgent Islamist fighters of the Al Nusra Front, and said the killings added to “a series of brutal massacres perpetrated by the terrorist groups against unarmed civilians.”
The videos emerged as the United Nations reported a sharp increase in the number of refugees known officially to have fled Syria, increasing the total in neighboring countries to more than 700,000 from 500,000 in December.
At the same time, rebel fighters seeking Assad’s overthrow appeared to have made advances in the east of the country, raiding a security office in the eastern city of Deir el-Zour, where government forces have seemed to reduce their presence to concentrate on the center, giving rebels more freedom to maneuver and in some cases siphon fuel from gas and oil fields there.
Activists said the insurgents in Deir el-Zour included Islamist fighters from the Al Nusra Front, which the United States regards as a terrorist organization. The rebels freed 11 detainees and captured a tank and three armed personnel carriers, according to the Local Coordination Committees, an anti-Assad activist network in Syria.
The Syrian conflict began in March 2011 as a peaceful protest but has since spiraled into civil war.
In Geneva, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said Tuesday that there had been an “unrelenting flow of refugees” across Syria’s borders, principally into Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey.
The highest numbers were in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, but smaller numbers had been registered in Egypt and North Africa, said Sybella Wilkes, a spokeswoman for the refugee agency.
The total now exceeds 700,000, made up of around 580,000 registered and the rest waiting to be registered as refugees.