The bodies of more than 30 civilians, some of them women and children, were today found in the streets of the Syrian town of Daraya south-west of Damascus, activists said.
It brought the death toll in Daraya, where President Bashar Assad’s forces have been waging a fierce assault against rebels, to more than 120 in the past week alone.
The British-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 32 dead bodies were found in the streets and they had been killed by “gunfire and summary executions”.
Among them were three women and two children, the group said.
Regime forces also used combat helicopters and tanks to pound rebel-held areas in the northern city of Aleppo and the southern town of Daraa along the Jordanian border.
The Observatory said it had reports of fatalities, but did not have exact numbers.
Activists say more than 20,000 people have died in 17 months of fighting in Syria, as an uprising that started with peaceful protests against Assad’s rule has morphed into a civil war.
In Damascus, Syrian vice president Farouk al-Sharaa appeared in public for the first time in several weeks for a meeting with a senior Iranian official, ending rumours that he had defected.
Reporters saw him get out of his car and walk to his office for a meeting with Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of Iran’s powerful parliamentary committee on national security and foreign policy.
There have been a series of high-level defections from the Assad regime in the past few months.
Mr al-Sharaa was last seen at the funeral of four top security officials killed in a blast in Damascus on July 18. Since then, there had been rumours that he had defected to Jordan, though Mr al-Sharaa’s office and Jordan repeatedly denied he had defected.
He was seen at the door of his office, shaking hands with Mr Boroujerdi, according to a reporter at the scene. He said Mr al-Sharaa looked serious and steered away from reporters covering the meeting. He did not make a statement.
Pan-Arab satellite channel Al Arabiya reported that air force intelligence chief Maj Gen Jamil Hassan had been assassinated, but a senior government official denied it.
In neighbouring Jordan, officials said the country is bracing for a mass exodus of Syrians in the wake of intensified fighting.
Jordan appealed for increased international assistance to 160,000 Syrian refugees it is hosting.
Information minister Sameeh Maaytah said the refugee influx has swelled even further, with more than 2,300 Syrians crossing into Jordan on Friday – the largest arrival in a single day since the outbreak of the Syrian uprising in March 2011.
“The number of refugees is growing and our limited resources are thinning,” the minister said. “The international community should come to the aid of the Syrian refugees.”