(DAMASCUS, Syria) — Syrian opposition groups are now alleging that the massacre of civilians in the village of Daraya is the bloodiest mass killing since government forces began their offensive against pro-democratic activists in March 2011.
The death toll in Daraya, southwest of Damascus, was put at 400, nearly doubling the initial estimates from last Saturday when bodies of civilians were found dumped in graves.
According to witnesses, both soldiers and their militia allies raided neighborhoods multiple times by first ordering food from their captives and then killing them.
The United Nations has ordered an investigation into what happened in Daraya, while Syria’s government-run media alleges that those killed in the village were terrorists and most residents welcome the military offensive to eliminate them.
In other developments Tuesday, the Syrian military dropped leaflets from helicopters over Damascus and its suburbs, urging rebels to give up their battle to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.
The message read in part, “The Syrian army is determined to cleanse every inch in Syria and you have only two choices: Abandon your weapons…or face inevitable death.”
It’s estimated that between 21,000 and 23,000 have died in fighting over the past 18 months, while the U.N. reported on Tuesday that the number of refugees who have fled to Turkey is approaching 200,000.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Ralph Ellis and Eliott C. McLaughlin, CNN
Chieu Luu and Huizhong Wu, CNN