BEIRUT – The bodies of at least 65 people, some with hands tied behind their backs, were found in Syria's northern city of Aleppo Tuesday as the government and rebels trying to overthrow it blamed each other for the latest mass killing.
Also Tuesday, a bomb wounded former legislator and once governor of the central province of Hama, Abdul-Razzak Qtini, as he was in his car, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and a neighbor of Qtini said. The neighbor, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said Qtini is receiving treatment in a Damascus hospital.
The bodies, almost all of men in their 20s and 30s, were discovered in the contested neighborhood of Bustan al-Qasr, the director of the Britain-based Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdul-Rahman said. Intense clashes between rebels and government troops have raged in the district since opposition forces launched an offensive on Aleppo in July.
Abdul-Rahman said the identities of the dead were unknown, and it was not clear who was behind the killings or when they occurred. A government official told The Associated Press in Damascus that the dead were residents of Bustan al-Qasr who were kidnapped and later killed.
Syrian state TV said the men were killed by members of Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaida-linked group that the Obama administration has labeled as a terrorist organization. It said the men were killed after they demanded members of the group to leave their areas.
Another activist group, the Local Coordination Committees, put the number of bodies found at 80. It blamed government forces for the killing.
Such exchanges of accusations over killings have been common in Syria since the country's conflict began in March 2011. With lawlessness and joblessness now rife in many areas, kidnappings for ransom are not uncommon.
An amateur video posted online showed dozens of bodies placed in rows on the ground and wrapped in blue blankets. A crowd of men, many covering their noses with scarves, walk among the dead, apparently trying to identify them.
A voice in the background says "number them," while another says "pray for them." At one point, a man stops at a body and breaks down into tears, shouting: "he's my brother."
The video appeared genuine and corresponded to other AP reporting on the events depicted.
The Observatory said a total of at least 160 people were killed in Syria Tuesday, while the LCC put the figure at 162. They numbers included the bodies of the men found in Aleppo.
The violence came a day ahead of a donors conference for the Syrian opposition headed by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon in the oil-rich Gulf state of Kuwait.
In Washington, President Barack Obama authorized an additional $155 million in humanitarian aid for the Syrian people Tuesday, as his administration grapples for a way to stem the violence without direct U.S. military involvement.
The fresh funding brings the total U.S. humanitarian aid to Syria over two years to $365 million, according to the White House. Officials said the money was being used to immunize one million Syrian children, purchase winter supplies for a half million people, and to help alleviate food shortages.
The U.S. has long called for Syrian President Bashar Assad to leave power and says the fall of his regime is inevitable. In addition to the humanitarian aid, the White House has also ratcheted up economic sanctions on Assad's regime and recognized the rebel-led Syrian Opposition Council as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.
Also, EU humanitarian aid Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva said the EU committed another 100 million euros ($134 million) in help, bringing the overall EU total so far to 360 million euros.
Earlier in the day, Syrian rebels stormed a government intelligence complex in the oil-rich east of the country, freeing at least 11 people held in a prison at the facility, activists said.
After five days of heavy clashes around the intelligence compound in the city of Deir el-Zour, rebels finally overran the complex early Tuesday, the Observatory said. It was not immediately clear whether those freed from the compound's prison Tuesday were fighters or activists.
The activists said the compound was run by the Political Security Department, one of Syria's four most powerful intelligence agencies.
Amateur videos showed rebels raising an Islamic flag on top of the three-story building as fighters carted away rifles and boxes of ammunition.
Deir el-Zour has been the scene of heavy fighting since the uprising against Assad began in March 2011. The province, which goes by the same name as the city, is located along Syria's border with Iraq and includes several oil installations that the rebels have repeatedly targeted.
The aid group Doctors Without Borders said last month that government forces are shelling and bombing Deir el-Zour almost daily. It said tens of thousands of Syrians, many of them wounded, remain trapped in the city.
Also Tuesday, regime warplanes also carried several airstrikes on rebel positions in restive towns and villages around Damascus, including eastern Ghouta and Yalda, the Observatory said. The group relies on reports from activists on the ground.
After capturing several major army bases and government outposts, the rebels control large swathes of land in northeastern Syria. Assad's troops, however, continue to hold a tight grip on the capital after nearly two years of conflict.
The areas on the capital's doorstep have been rebel strongholds since early on in the revolt. In recent months, the rebels have used them as a base from which they have been trying to push into central Damascus, the seat of Assad's power.
Back on the front line in Aleppo, a veiled female sniper who identified herself as Givara told the AP that when she decided to fight against Assad's troops people used to tell her that it would be difficult as a woman.
"No it's not difficult ... I want to defend my life," she said, adding that her husband is proud of her and that she was fighting because she didn't want to see her children reduced to "pieces of flesh" by government attacks.