The rebel fighters were walking near the industrial city of Adra when government forces opened fire with antiaircraft machine guns, said Musab Abu Qatada, spokesman for a key rebel group, the Damascus Military Council. He said 65 were killed and three survived, though other sources gave slightly differing numbers.
Abu Qatada said the fighters were attempting to deliver flour and medicine to rebel-controlled eastern suburbs of Damascus known as the Ghouta Shariqa, which have been largely cut off since the beginning of the year, part of the government's strategy to isolate rebel enclaves. Roads leading into the suburbs have been blocked and vehicles carrying food and medicine are prevented from entering, he said. Residents have been living off what can be grown in yards and fields.
But state news media reported that the group was attempting to infiltrate the area to attack a military checkpoint. All of the fighters, among them foreigners, were killed and their weapons were seized, the reports said.
Photos on the Syrian Arab News Agency's website showed dozens of dead bodies splayed on the ground, bloodied and some partly undressed.
Adra is an important infiltration point for rebels coming from the north and has several government and military sites including a major prison. The city is divided between rebel and government control, Abu Qatada said.
The opposition identified the fighters as members of the Free Syrian Army, but state media said they were with the Nusra Front, a group affiliated with al-Qaida that fights alongside the FSA.
Abu Qatada said this was the third time opposition fighters had tried to deliver aid to the besieged suburbs only to be ambushed by government forces. In late July, dozens of rebels were also killed.
Another opposition activist, Abu Yazen, said the rebels had tripped mines in a field they were crossing, which alerted the government forces. Abu Qatada said they were spotted with the use of night-vision goggles.
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