Syria’s army yesterday pounded parts of the eastern belt of Damascus, where rebels claim to have downed an army helicopter, a watchdog said, as world outrage mounted over a “massacre” near the capital.
Syrian military helicopters also dropped hundreds of leaflets over Damascus and its suburbs urging rebels to hand over their weapons or face inevitable death.
The leaflets were signed by the armed forces and the army’s general command.
They said the Syrian army is determined to “cleanse every inch of Syria” and that “gunmen” have no choice but to give up their weapons or face “inevitable death.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported fierce shelling before dawn of the eastern neighborhoods of Zamalka, Qaboon, Jubar and Ein Tarma, while a rebel commander said the army’s new focus was the rural Ghuta area east of Damascus.
The latest violence follows a bloody Monday in which 190 people were killed across Syria, according to the Britain-based Observatory, and comes amid growing global concern over the plight of civilians caught up in the brutal civil war.
The chorus of criticism is being led by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who on Monday demanded an independent inquiry into the killings of hundreds of civilians in the Syrian town of Daraya last week.
The UN chief was “shocked” by the reports of hundreds of bodies found in Daraya, southwest of Damascus, that was subjected to a five-day assault by pro-government forces last week, his spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
“The secretary general is certainly shocked by those reports and he strongly condemns this appalling and brutal crime,” Nesirky told reporters.
“Where hundreds of civilians have been killed in Daraya, this needs to be investigated immediately in an independent and -impartial fashion,” the spokesman added.
The Observatory yesterday said that another seven unidentified bodies were found in Daraya, bringing to around 340 the number of corpses retrieved from the town after what activists described as brutal five-day onslaught of shelling, summary executions and house-to-house raids by pro-government forces.
The Sunni Muslim town of some 200,000 people is seen as a stronghold of opposition to the minority Alawite-led regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Grisly videos issued by opposition activists showed dozens of charred and bloodied bodies lined up in broad daylight in a graveyard in Daraya, and others lying wall-to-wall in rooms in a mosque.
State media said the operation had “purified terrorist remnants” in Daraya, while pro-government television al-Dunia said “terrorists” had carried out the killings.
The White House said the reports of the Daraya massacre were the latest evidence of al-Assad’s “wanton disregard for human life.”
Britain said it would be “an atrocity on a new scale” and the EU said it was “totally unacceptable.”
In a new front in east Damascus, rebels from the Free Syrian Army on Monday claimed to have downed a military helicopter in the Qaboon district, where activists reported shelling, heavy fire by combat helicopters and fierce clashes between troops and rebels.
State television said the aircraft crashed near a mosque.
Activists say around 25,000 people have been killed since the uprising against al-Assad’s rule broke out in March last year, while the UN says at least 200,000 people have fled to neighboring countries and another 2.5 million are in need inside Syria.
Underscoring the growing humanitarian crisis, Turkey, which is struggling to cope with an influx of 80,000 refugees, said another 9,000 were now massed at the border waiting for more camps to open.