Sky’s Foreign Affairs Editor has confirmed that Syrian Vice President Farouk al Sharaa has not defected from the Assad government – amid claims of a massacre by regime troops.
Tim Marshall spoke to Mr Sharaa in the Syrian capital and wrote on Twitter: “I am with the Syria Vice President. In Damascus. He has not defected.”
Officials had been forced to issue repeated denials amid rumours that Mr Sharaa – the most senior Sunni Muslim in the Damascus regime – had joined the opposition.
They met after the bodies of at least 200 people were found in a town close to Damascus after being killed “execution style” by Syrian troops, according to opposition activists.
The deaths would bring the toll from an offensive by President Bashar al Assad’s forces on Daraya to 270.
Activist Abu Kinan said most of the victims were found in houses and basements of buildings and had been shot by troops conducting house-to-house raids.
Pictures of Syrian army tanks said to be taken in the town also emerged.
“In the last hour, 122 bodies were discovered and it appears that two dozen died from sniper fire and the rest were summarily executed by gunshots from close range,” he said.
“Assad’s army has committed a massacre in Daraya.”
The Daraya Coordination Committee activists’ group said in a statement that among those found with shots to the head were eight members of the al Qassaa family: three children, their father and mother and three other relatives.
Their bodies were found in a residential building near Mussab bin Umeir mosque in Daraya, the group said.
Due to restrictions on non-state media, it is impossible to independently verify the accounts.
Video released by activists showed numerous bodies of young men side-by-side at the Abu Suleiman al Darani mosque in Daraya, many with what looked like gunshot wounds to the head and chest.
“A massacre,” said the voice of the man who appeared to be taking the footage.
“You are seeing the revenge of Assad’s forces from the people of Daraya: more than 150 bodies on the floor of this mosque.”
Mohammad Hur, another activist in the town, said 36 bodies of young men were found in the morning in one building, along with several badly wounded people who could not be transferred to hospitals in the area because the army had occupied them.
“We are in the process of identifying the bodies and documenting how they died. Initial evidence shows that they were mostly shot at close range in the face, neck and head, execution style,” he said.
The army overran Daraya, one of a series of large, mostly run-down Sunni Muslim towns that surround Damascus, on Saturday after three days of heavy bombardment that killed around 70 people.
The attack was part of an army campaign to regain control of the outskirts of the capital, a mixture of built up areas and farmland where rebels had regrouped and relaunched guerrilla attacks on Mr Assad’s forces.