THE bodies of at least 79 men and teenage boys, each with a single bullet hole to the head, were found in a river in Aleppo yesterday in the biggest mass murder of the country's two-year civil war.
Some had been killed so recently that blood still flowed from their wounds. Other bodies had clearly lain in the stagnant water for days.
The hands of each victim had been tied roughly with string or wire. Each had a circular wound in their forehead or eye. The large exit wounds at the backs of their heads suggested they had been shot at close range.
Family members arrived in their hundreds to identify missing sons, saying many had disappeared after crossing from rebel-held territory in Aleppo into regime areas on the other side of the river.
Of those identified, at least half the total by nightfall were from rebel-held districts, and local people blamed government checkpoints on the other side of the river.
"These are my sons," said Abu Mohammed (73) as he shuffled towards the corpses laid out in a schoolyard.
A relative held his arm as he stared at the exposed faces of the victims. His legs buckled as he recognised two young men as his sons. They had travelled to central Aleppo, which is in the hands of Bashar al-Assad's government, 20 days before.
"They thought they had nothing to fear from the government, so they went to renew their identity cards. But they didn't come back," he said.
The toll was at least 79, the highest for any single group of victims summarily executed in Syria. There have been bigger tolls in the conflict, but in assaults on villages.
Most of the dead were young men, some dressed in military fatigues, and others in civilian clothes. Two boys, no older than 11 and 15, were among them.
They were pulled from a narrow, filthy strip of the Oweq River at a point where it edges on to Aleppo's rebel-held district of Bustan al-Qasr.
The regime front line was visible a few hundred yards away on the other side of the water.
"We saw the first bodies at 8am, and we started to take them away," said one resident.
Yesterday's discovery was on a different scale. Mamnoud Hassoun (26) a rebel fighter, said there were still at least 30 bodies further upstream.
Meanwhile, Ireland has pledged to provide €4.7m in emergency funding aid for victims of the bloody civil war. Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore and Minister of State for Trade and Development, Joe Costello, approved the funding which will be provided through Irish Aid. More than 700,000 refugees are seeking to escape the escalating violence in the country. (©Daily Telegraph, London)