A 3-year-old Syrian girl plays beside the tent her family set up in a shelter near the Turkish border.
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DARAYA, Syria -- Mass burials in this Damascus suburb on Sunday showed the carnage of the past few days in gruesome detail: scores of bodies lined up on top of one another in long thin graves moist with mud.
In what is unfolding as one of the deadliest and focused short-term assaults by the Syrian military since the uprising started nearly 18 months ago, witnesses and activist groups say hundreds have been killed in Daraya in the past week alone. Residents described how the Syrian Army first closed off the city, keeping civilians from fleeing, then methodically began a campaign of heavy shelling and house-to-house searches ending with executions.
A video of what activists described as the fifth and latest mass grave to be filled showed two small children near the edge. Up close, in the field where there were more bodies than people to wash and prepare them for burial, the scent of decay swirled and gunshot wounds could be seen in the heads of many men.
"The Assad forces killed them in cold blood," said Abu Ahmad, 40, a resident of Daraya, where the Syrian government has waged a campaign it described as a "cleansing." "I saw dozens of dead people, killed by the knives at the end of Kalashnikovs, or by gunfire. The regime finished off whole families, a father, mother, and their children. They just killed them without any pretext."
Even as many of the details are still difficult to verify or determine -- the exact number killed, how many were executed or died from shelling -- evidence of what activists described as a massacre continues to mount.
Fatimah Ali fled her home in Aleppo with her family and took refuge in a school in Suran, Syria. Thousands of displaced Syrians are struggling to find safe shelter.
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The death toll, rising all week, grew again on Sunday. A day after two activist networks, the Local Coordination Committees and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said that more than 200 bodies had been found in the town, activists said 15 more bodies were discovered in the basement of a home in the area. That put the death toll for the week at more than 630 in the city, said the Local Coordination Committees, including 300 people reported executed.
Activists posted a video of what they said was the latest find. It showed a pile of bodies in the corner of a basement of what appeared to be a large home. Pools of blood darkened the gray concrete floor beneath a half dozen bodies. Several others were splayed out behind nearby walls.
Two other videos posted Saturday showed lineups of corpses as well, with activists declaring that the largest discovery occurred late Saturday night in the basement of a mosque. The Local Coordination Committees said around 150 bodies had been discovered there. Most were men killed execution style, activists said, though they also noted that among the dead found all over the city, there were also several women and children.
At the grave site, the bodies of a few children could be seen, but it was unclear whether there were women as well.
Since the uprising, Daraya, a city of several hundred thousand residents, has been reported as a mainstay of opposition support. Its location is also critical: It abuts the Mezze military airport, a major base for Syrian forces.
The government operation began early last week. Troops first surrounded Daraya and set up checkpoints, blocking food and other supplies from entering, residents said. The electricity was cut, then the Internet and phone service.
Shelling -- intense and relentless -- started midweek and that was followed by hundreds of Syrian soldiers entering the town, backed by tanks and pickup trucks with mounted machine guns. Residents reported that the soldiers and government militiamen known as shabiha initially faced strong resistance from the Free Syrian Army. But by late Friday or early Saturday, they said the Syrian military seemed to be in control of most of Daraya.
House-to-house searches accelerated. People were not allowed to leave.
One woman, found Sunday wearing all black and grieving, said that her son had tried to leave Friday but was refused by government forces. "They told him, 'Go back to your town and die there,' " she said. "And now he's dead."