BEIRUT (AP) — A video emerged Friday showing more than a dozen bloodied corpses in Syria, some of them piled on top of each other and in military uniforms, in what the government said was a "massacre" by rebels in the northern province of Aleppo.
The circumstances of the killings were not immediately clear. But in the video — which The Associated Press could not independently verify — the narrator said the dead were members of the "shabiha," or pro-regime gunmen.
Syria's state-run news agency, SANA, said terrorist groups had killed and mutilated at least 25 people in Daret Azzeh, a rebel-held area in the Aleppo countryside. The government refers to rebels as terrorists.
"The terrorist groups in Daret Azzeh committed a brutal massacre against the citizens, whom they had kidnapped earlier in the day," SANA said.
The report said at least 25 people were killed, but others were missing.
It was not clear whether the men were killed execution-style or died in clashes. An activist in the area, Mohammed Saeed, said rebels regularly collect the bodies of the dead from the government side and dump them by the side of the road so troops can come and collect them later.
Both sides in the conflict have become increasingly militarized as the country veers toward civil war and an internationally brokered peace plan has failed to take hold. Activists say more than 14,000 people have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime began in March last year.
The city of Aleppo, Syria's largest, has been relatively quiet, but towns and villages around it have witnessed intense clashes between troops and opposition fighters. Daret Azzeh has endured intense government shelling over the past two weeks as Assad's forces try to regain areas taken by rebels. The violence continued Friday, as Syrian troops shelled the area and used helicopter gunships in their attacks on rebels, Saeed said.
"The army has been trying to push through for days without success," Saeed said.
Government troops have been launching a major offensive on many areas throughout the country over the past two weeks in an attempt to regain ground captured by the opposition. Attacks have mostly concentrated on Aleppo, the suburbs of the capital Damascus as well as the central province of Homs, southern region of Daraa and the eastern city of Deir el-Zour.
On Friday, activists reported that thousands of people rallied to protest the regime following afternoon prayers in different parts of Syria, including Daraa, Aleppo, the northeastern region of Hassakeh and Damascus. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said troops opened fire at protesters in Aleppo and the Damascus neighborhood of Mazzeh. Several casualties were reported.
The uprising in Syria began with regular anti-regime protests, although they have lost momentum as the revolt turns into an armed insurgency.
Also Friday, the Observatory said four senior army officers have defected from the regime. The group provided a video purporting to show two brigadier generals and two colonels who declared they were joining the opposition.
The group said the defections came Thursday — the same day a Syria fighter pilot flew his MiG-21 warplane to neighboring Jordan, where he was given asylum.
Thousands of soldiers have abandoned the regime, but most are low-level conscripts. The Free Syria Army, the loosely linked group of rebel forces, is made up largely of defectors.