BEIRUT — Syrian troops ambushed a large group of rebels trudging through what once was a secret route through a desert road northeast of Damascus on Wednesday, killing more than 60 fighters in a barrage of machine-gun fire and leaving their bodies in the sand.
State television claimed those killed came from an Al Qaeda-linked group that has joined the battle against President Bashar Assad, whose troops are trying to drive opposition forces from areas surrounding his seat of power in the capital.
There were conflicting reports on the attack in Adra, which lies on a supply route between Damascus and rebel-held areas to the east that is often the scene of heavy clashes between the two sides. The dawn attack dealt another heavy blow to opposition troops following a string of recent regime successes.
Syrian state-run media showed footage of bloodied corpses lying on the ground, some wearing camouflage gear with their weapons scattered around in the sand. One picture showed gas masks next to the weapons.
The state-run SANA news agency said ‘‘dozens’’ of rebels were killed in the ambush as they were on their way to attack an army post near Damascus. SANA identified the dead as members of the Al Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra, and said some were foreign fighters.
Some activists disputed the account, saying those killed were Syrian fighters from a mix of brigades delivering aid to besieged areas.
Mohammed Saeed, an activist based near Damascus, told the Associated Press that 65 rebels were on their way from Damascus’s eastern suburbs to Qalamoun nearby. Saeed said rebels walked the 19-mile route because it is dangerous to drive in the area as it is watched by Assad’s forces.
‘‘It seems that the regime discovered the secret road that the rebels were using,’’ Saeed said via Skype. ‘‘The regime forces riddled them with heavy machine gun fire.’’
He said 62 died and three escaped to Qalamoun.
In the north, a missile struck the rebel-held city of Raqqa, killing three people and wounding dozens including children, the Local Coordination Committees activist group said. The Observatory said that two children were among the three killed.