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Syria denies existence of mass grave at Daraa

Syrian authorities today denied the existence of a mass grave in the southern town of Daraa, which the army had raided to put down anti-regime protests, while acknowledging that the bodies of five people had been found in the flashpoint town.

world Updated: May 17, 2011 19:42 IST

Syrian authorities on Tuesday denied the existence of a mass grave in the southern town of Daraa, which the army had raided to put down anti-regime protests, while acknowledging that the bodies of five people had been found in the flashpoint town.

"This information is totally false," an interior ministry official told the state news agency, referring to reports about the mass grave.

"These reports are part of a campaign of incitement and lies against Syria," the official added.

The SANA agency, quoting a local official in Daraa, said five bodies had been discovered in the town on Sunday and that the local attorney general had launched a probe.

It did not specify how the bodies were found or how the victims died.

But rights activist Ammar Qurabi maintained his account of the existence of a mass grave in Daraa, at the heart of protests roiling the country for two months and virtually shut off from the outside world.

Qurabi, head of the National Organisation for Human Rights in Syria, said the mass grave he spoke about on Monday had nothing to do with the five bodies discovered by authorities.

"Two mass graves were found on Sunday in close proximity of each other," Qurabi said by telephone. "One contained 24 corpses and the other seven corpses, including the five mentioned by authorities as well as an unidentified woman and her child."

He identified the five victims as Abdel Razzaq Abazid and his four sons, in their 20s and 40s.

Qurabi said his organisation was not accusing any party for the killings and urged authorities to launch a probe.

Rami Abdel Rahman, of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, challenged Qurabi's account and insisted that only one mass grave existed, containing the bodies of Abazid and his sons.

"The five went missing from Daraa on April 25, as they were fleeing the army assault on the town for fear of arrest," Rahman said by telephone.

"Family members were informed last Sunday by local residents of a foul smell emanating from a hilltop some 150 metres (yards) from his home," he added. "They discovered the bodies and alerted authorities."

Rahman also urged authorities to set up an investigative commission.

Syria has been roiled by unprecedented protests for two months that have threatened the authoritarian regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

More than 850 people, including women and children, have been killed in the unrest and at least 8,000 arrested, according to rights groups.

The authoritarian regime has blamed the violence on "armed terrorist gangs" backed by Islamists and foreign agitators.