Wrapped in white shrouds, the corpses of scores who died on what may have been the bloodiest day of the Syrian conflict were buried in a Damascus suburb yesterday on the eve of a crucial summit to discuss a transition to end the bloodshed.
Videos posted online showed bodies of purported victims laid out on a street in Douma, the area hardest hit by Thursday's violence. Nationwide, the clashes claimed up to 190 lives, according to activist groups opposed to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. They said 59 Douma residents were buried yesterday morning.
In one video a man holding the limp corpse of a young girl cries: "This is another massacre of the massacres by Assad and his secret police."
The images will be at the forefront of the minds of diplomats meeting in Geneva today to discuss a plan for a transitional unity government proposed by the United Nations-Arab League envoy, Kofi Annan. Mixed signals from Russia have already cast doubt over the plan's future before it even reaches the negotiating table.
The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, were due to meet in St Petersburg last night in an effort to reach an agreement before today's meeting, which will be attended by foreign ministers representing the permanent members of the UN Security Council and other key regional players. Russia and the US are split over Assad's role in any transitional body, with Russia arguing that the international community has no right to "meddle" and exclude him.
Violence in Syria has surged since UN observers were withdrawn for security reasons, dealing a fatal blow to Mr Annan's six-point peace plan agreed in April. And now the rebels have heavier weapons they have been able to inflict increasing losses on government forces trying to regain control of opposition-held areas.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Thursday's death toll of 190 made it the bloodiest day in Syria this year, and possibly since the beginning of the 16-month uprising. Activist groups gave conflicting details of the assault on Douma. The local Syrian Revolution Co-ordination Committee claimed, after heavy shelling, that several residents were killed in their homes, including a family of 10. Others claimed at least 20 members of one family had been stabbed.
The observatory said 41 Douma residents died in total, including three children and five members of a single family. The inconsistencies and timing were jumped upon by government supporters, who accuse the rebels of staging a "massacre" every time there is a large international meeting, in order to further their cause.
However, there was little doubt of the widespread destruction, and the pro-regime Al Dunya TV channel said a "surgical" campaign was under way to "eliminate all terrorists" in the Damascus suburb.
"Today in Douma they buried 59 in the morning, but the shelling has been going on non-stop for a week and most people have fled the area," said one resident. "Douma has been destroyed."