Bodies of 17 prisoners found in Syria
Amman - The bodies of 17 men arrested by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces during an armoured assault this week on the city of Hama were found dumped in the streets after being shot in the head, activists said on Saturday.
The reported killings mark an escalation in a five-month military crackdown on Hama, 240 km north of Damascus, where armed rebels are now backing protesters after tanks stormed the conservative Sunni Muslim city in August.
"They were killed execution style, mostly with one bullet to the head. Iron chains that had tied them were left on their legs as a message to the people to stop resisting," Abu al-Walid, an activist in the city, told Reuters by telephone.
Another activist said the bodies, their hands tied by plastic wire and some with their legs chained, were dumped in the streets of five Hama neighbourhoods on Thursday evening.
"They are of mixed ages. One was in his 60s, another in his 40s and several were in their 20s," he said, adding that only three had been identified, one of whom was a police deserter.
"They (Assad's forces) seem to have dumped the bodies of people from one neighbourhood in a completely different one, making it difficult to know who they are," he said.
Asked whether the bodies could be those of Assad loyalists killed by rebels, the activist said this was not possible.
"Hama is a military zone full of armoured vehicles and troops," he said. "Roadblocks and tanks have isolated districts from each other. The streets are empty and no one dares to drive a car unless he wants to be shot, let alone to move between different neighbourhoods and dump bodies."
There was no comment from the Syrian authorities, who tightly restrict independent media access to the country.