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Associated Press
This image purports to show victims killed by pro-government militiamen being buried in a mass grave in Daraya, Syria. Reports of the death toll range from 300 to as many as 600.

Reports of massacre emerging in Syria

– Row upon row of bloodied bodies wrapped in colorful blankets laid out on a mosque floor in a Damascus suburb.

Long narrow graves were tightly packed with dozens of victims. Nestled among them, two babies were wrapped in a single blood-soaked blanket, a yellow pacifier dangling beside them from a palm frond.

Evidence mounted Sunday of a new massacre in Syria’s deepening civil war, with activists reporting a killing spree by government forces after they seized the suburb of Daraya from rebel control three days ago. Reports of the death toll ranged from more than 300 to as many as 600.

Video footage posted by activists showed lineups of corpses, many of them men with gunshot wounds to their heads. During mass burials Sunday, bodies were sprayed with water from hoses – a substitute for the ritual washing prescribed by Islam in the face of so many dead.

The gruesome images appeared to expose the lengths to which the regime of authoritarian President Bashar Assad was willing to go to put down the rebellion that first broke out in March last year.

In an ominous commentary, Assad was quoted by his official media as saying his regime would carry on fighting “whatever the price.”

“It is clear that was collective punishment,” Khaled Al-Shami, an activist from Damascus, said of the killings in Daraya. “I am certain that the coming days will reveal more massacres, but by then others will have taken place and people will forget about Daraya.”

The video footage and death toll were impossible to independently verify because of severe restrictions on media coverage of the conflict.

Most of the killings, according to activists, took place Friday and Saturday. But the extent of the carnage only began to be revealed Sunday.

The British-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 45 more dead bodies were found in the streets of Daraya on Sunday and that they had been killed by “gunfire and summary executions.” Among them, it said, were three women and two children. It said the toll for the past week was at least 320.

Britain’s Mideast minister, Alistair Burt, said Sunday that if confirmed, the Daraya killings “would be an atrocity on a new scale requiring unequivocal condemnation from the entire international community.”