BEIRUT — An online video showed more than a dozen bloodied corpses, some of them piled atop each other and in military uniforms, dumped beside a road in northern Syria in what the government Friday called a mass killing by rebel forces.
The circumstances of the deaths were not immediately clear, with the state-run news agency saying at least 25 men were killed. In the video — which The Associated Press could not independently verify — the narrator said the victims were members of the "shabiha," or pro-regime gunmen.
If confirmed, the video is yet another sign of the brutality of the Syrian conflict, which began in March 2011. As the fighting grinds on, Syria is descending into a civil war where gunmen prowl the streets and gruesome massacres are growing increasingly common.
The government has used heavy weapons and unleashed snipers and loyalist fighters, but rebels, too, have been accused of bloody attacks.
Civilians have been caught in the crossfire; activists estimate that more than 14,000 people have been killed since the start of the uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime.
In a desperate bid to end the violence after an earlier peace plan failed to do so, U.N. envoy Kofi Annan said that Iran — one of Syria's most loyal allies — should be part of the solution to the conflict.
Syria's state-run news agency, SANA, said the dead found in the rebel-held area of Daret Azzeh near Aleppo were killed and their bodies mutilated by terrorist groups. The government refers to rebels as terrorists.
The amateur video showing the corpses appeared to back up the allegation of a mass killing.
"The terrorist groups in Daret Azzeh committed a brutal massacre against the citizens, whom they had kidnapped earlier in the day," SANA said.
The report said at least 25 people were killed, but others were missing.
It was not clear whether the men were killed execution-style or died in clashes. An activist in the area, Mohammed Saeed, said rebels regularly collect the bodies of the dead from the government side and dump them by the side of the road so troops can collect them later.
The city of Aleppo, Syria's largest, has been relatively quiet, but towns and villages around it have seen intense clashes. Daret Azzeh has endured withering government shelling in the past two weeks as Assad's forces try to regain areas taken by rebels. The violence continued Friday, as Syrian troops shelled the area and used helicopter gunships in their attacks on rebels, Saeed said.
"The army has been trying to push through for days without success," Saeed said.
Government troops have been launching a major offensive on many areas throughout the country in the past two weeks to try to regain ground captured by the opposition. Attacks have mostly concentrated on Aleppo, the suburbs of the capital of Damascus, the central province of Homs, the southern region of Daraa and the eastern city of Deir el-Zour.
Activists reported that thousands of people demonstrated against the regime following Friday prayers in different parts of Syria, including Daraa, Aleppo, the northeastern region of Hassakeh and Damascus. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said troops opened fire at protesters in Aleppo and the Damascus neighborhood of Mazzeh. Several casualties were reported.(AP)