Forty to 50 bodies were found in the town of Daraya, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group with a network of activists inside Syria. The town had already sustained heavy shelling, and bodies have been turning up there for days in the wake of army raids, leading activists to count more than 100 dead since Wednesday.
Most of the victims were found Saturday in a basement, activists said, and according to activists with the Daraya Coordination Committee, the dead included eight members of a family, including three children and their mother.
The cause of death, and the number of people killed, could not be determined. Some activists put the death toll at more than 70 and said the victims had been shot execution style
In a video that activists posted Saturday, which they said showed the dead, many of the corpses appeared to have been burned, suggesting that they might have died in shelling possibly days ago.
The violence in Daraya fit with a pattern of deaths that has begun to emerge after raids by government forces in several suburbs of Damascus.
Over the past week, activists repeatedly reported that Syrian soldiers have invaded towns where rebels had control, only to leave bodies behind. In most cases, according to photos and video from activists, the victims have been young men who appear to have been shot in the head, but there have also been cases in which victims appeared to have been killed by shelling.
According to the Observatory’s tally, August has been among the most deadly months of the 17-month-old conflict, and Daraya seems to have suffered an especially brutal campaign. Activists said the town held an important rebel armory, and a warehouse full of food — which appear to have alarmed the Syrian troops, causing them to blame the entire community for what they see as supporting the opposition.
The government, in statements through its state news agencies, did not specifically mentioned Daraya on Saturday, but its usual explanation for raids involves what it describes as efforts to ‘‘clean’’ communities of ‘‘terrorists’’ — its most common label for insurgents and their supporters.
Experts have said extrajudicial killings are a particularly Syrian brand of counterinsurgency, in which fear is the dominant tool.
Fighting continued Saturday in Aleppo, but the war’s reach into Lebanon appeared to be receding. Rebels also suspect the government hopes the population will eventually tire of the conflict and turn against the rebels, blaming them for setting up in communities and putting noncombatants in danger.
On Saturday, a Shi’ite family that had abducted dozens of Syrians inside Lebanon said that it would let all but a few of the captives go, and Syrian rebels released one of 11 Lebanese pilgrims kidnapped in May.
It was not clear if the releases were connected, but they both brought calm to a crisis that had seemed destined to escalate.