The Assad regime was accused by the United Nations on Wednesday of perpetrating the worst massacre of the Syrian civil war before August's chemical weapons attack - the slaughter of hundreds of civilian men, women and children in and around the town of Baniyas in May.
In a detailed summary of human rights abuses in the war in just the three months from April to June this year, a UN commission of inquiry into Syria states that it has "confirmed to its evidentiary standards" that the regime was responsible for the Baniyas slaughter and six other large-scale massacres - with rebels responsible for one.
According to estimates cited by its report, between 300 and 450 people were killed when the Syrian army and locally recruited militias stormed into two districts of Baniyas, near the north-west coast, on May 2 and 3. Photographs posted online but considered by most media too gruesome to publish showed the corpses of scores of women and children, some still bleeding from fresh wounds.
"Testimonies of those who witnessed the aftermath described bodies lying in the streets for days before the inhabitants could safely return to collect them," the report says of the scene in the second district. "Some of the bodies appeared to have been hit with heavy or sharp objects, especially in the face and head area." The report makes gruesome reading. It will confirm both the fears of those who believe military intervention by America and its allies will embroil them in a bloodbath from which escape would be difficult, and the determination of those who believe that some way must be found of putting a stop to the conflict. "The Syrian Arab Republic is a battlefield," it says.
"Its cities and towns suffer relentless shelling and sieges. Massacres are perpetrated with impunity. An untold number of Syrians have disappeared." It blames both the regime and rebels.
The former, it says, has committed "gross violations of human rights and the war crimes of torture, hostage-taking, murder, execution without due process, rape, attacking protected objects and pillage". The charge sheet against the rebels is slightly shorter, but not much - "murder, execution without due process, torture, hostage-taking and attacking protected objects".
Both sides have shelled civilian areas indiscriminately. Its analysis of nine individual massacres - it counts those in the two Baniyas districts separately - conforms to previous analysis that while both sides have committed atrocities, the majority of those targeting civilians have been carried out by the regime. It says that there was no military objective in the Baniyas killings, though the regime may have been trying to pursue a group of activists encouraging defections from the regime army.
On the first day, troops and members of the National Defence Force, a militia, moved into the Sunni district of al-Bayda, arresting and executing people it found there, some where they were, others in the square. On the second day, as news filtered out, residents of another Sunni enclave, Ras al-Nabe', tried to flee, but were turned back by troops who then started to shell. After an hour, troops and the militia moved in again, capturing and executing those they found, including children.
Children and the elderly were also victims in other massacres described. In Khirbet Al-Teen, near Homs, on April 10, an extended Bedouin family, the Qadrous, were slaughtered, including eight children between the ages of two and 18. Three of the children had their throats slit. In Baba Amr, a district of Homs that has seen some of the worst fighting in the war, four women and three men from the same family, the Bzazi, between the ages of 50-88 were captured and shot on March 27.
The younger residents had all fled. In the one rebel massacre chronicled, jihadist rebels in June attacked a Shia district of a Sunni-majority town called Hatla in the north-eastern, rebel-controlled province of Deir al-Zour. Thirty men, women and children were killed.
That mass killing was widely reported at the time as being the strongest evidence to date of the nakedly sectarian turn the war was taking. The report calls for a return to the so far unimplemented Geneva peace plan, which proposed a ceasefire and a transitional government, and for an end to weapons supplies to either side in the conflict.
In comments published with the report, the commission said the alleged use of chemical weapons made the question of how to act only more urgent. Six million people had fled in the face of "previously unimaginable crimes", each with their own "story of devastation and loss". It added: "A society has been ripped apart."