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Assad's forces kill 85 in Damascus suburb, activists say

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

AMMAN (Reuters) - Syrian forces and militiamen loyal to President Bashar al-Assad killed at least 85 people when they stormed a Damascus suburb after five days of fighting, opposition activists in the area said on Sunday.

There was no immediate confirmation of the activists' account of what they described as a "massacre", including of women and children, at Jdeidet al-Fadel. Syrian authorities have banned most independent media since the uprising began in 2011.

Syria's Sana state news agency said the military "inflicted big losses on terrorists in Jdeidet al-Fadel and destroyed weapons and ammunition and killed and wounded members of the terrorist groups".

Jamal al-Golani, a member of the Revolution Leadership Council opposition group, said the number of dead may be higher than 250, mostly shot at close range, but the presence of army patrols made documenting all of them difficult.

"Jdeidet al-Fadel was militarily a lost cause from day one because it was surrounded by the army from every direction. There are almost no wounded because they were shot on the spot," he said.

The killings happened over several days when pro-Assad forces stormed an area where there were up to 270 rebels, Golani said, adding that he had counted 98 bodies in the streets and 86 people who he said had been summarily executed in makeshift clinics where they were lying wounded.

The working class district, part of Sunni Muslim towns surrounding the capital that have been at the forefront of the uprising against Assad, is situated near hilltop bases for elite loyalist forces, who mostly belong to Assad's minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam that has dominated the country since the 1960s.

Abu Ahmad al-Rabi', an activist in the adjacent district of Jdeidet Artouz, said: "We documented 85 summarily executed, including 28 shot in a makeshift hospital after Assad's forces entered Jdeidet al-Fadel. We fear that the victims of the massacre are much higher."

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition monitoring group operating from London, said it documented 80 names of people killed, including three children, six women and 18 rebel fighters.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights said the International Committee for the Red Cross should be allowed to evacuate civilians from the district after credible reports of "extrajudicial killings and summary executions inside homes and tens of cases of sexual violence".

Syrian state television showed troops in a pickup truck patrolling the dusty town and several bodies of dead men which a commander described as "terrorists" in front of a building that appears to have been wrecked by gunfire.

Video footage taken by activists showed three bodies of young men lying next to each other and apparently hit by bullets, and bodies in what they described as a makeshift clinic, two of which hit in the face.

In a pattern seen in other towns and neighborhoods overrun by Assad's forces, activists said shops in Jdeidet al Fadel were looted and torched.

Assad's forces have been accused of massacring hundreds of Sunni in areas they stormed in Hama and Homs provinces and Damascus suburbs, while international rights groups say rebel forces have also committed atrocities, although on a smaller scale.

(Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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