Smoke rises after what activists said were missiles fired
by a Syrian Air Force fighter jet loyal to President Bashar
al-Assad in Binsh near Idlib. REUTERS/Muhammad Najdet
Qadour/Shaam News Network
More than 60,000 people have died in Syria's uprising and
civil war, the United Nations says, dramatically raising the
death toll in a struggle that shows no sign of ending.
In the latest violence, dozens were killed in a rebellious
Damascus suburb when a government air strike turned a petrol
station into an inferno, incinerating drivers who had rushed
there for a rare chance to fill their tanks, activists said.
"I counted at least 30 bodies. They were either burnt or
dismembered," said Abu Saeed, an activist who arrived in the
area an hour after the raid in Muleiha, a suburb on the
eastern edge of the capital.
UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay said in Geneva that
researchers cross-referencing seven sources over five months
of analysis had listed 59,648 people killed in Syria between
March 15, 2011 and November 30, 2012.
"The number of casualties is much higher than we expected and
is truly shocking," she said. "Given that there has been no
let-up in the conflict since the end of November, we can
assume that more than 60,000 people have been killed by the
beginning of 2013."
There was no breakdown by ethnicity or information about
whether the dead were rebels, soldiers or civilians. There
was also no estimate of an upper limit of the possible toll.
Previously, the opposition-linked Syrian Observatory for
Human Rights monitoring group put the toll at around 45,000
confirmed dead but said the real number was likely to be
FATAL RUSH FOR PETROL
Muleiha, the target of Wednesday's air strike, is a
residential and industrial area in the eastern Ghouta region
of Damascus that also houses a Syrian air defence base.
Video footage taken by activists showed the body of a man in
a helmet still perched on a motorcycle amid flames engulfing
the scene. Another man was shown carrying a dismembered body.
The video could not be verified. The government bars access
to the Damascus area to most international media.
The activists said rockets were fired from the base at the
petrol station and a nearby residential area after the air
"Until the raid, Muleiha was quiet. We have been without
petrol for four days and people from the town and the
countryside rushed to the station when a state consignment
came in," Abu Fouad, another activist at the scene, said by
In Damascus, President Bashar al-Assad's forces fired
artillery and mortars at the eastern districts of Douma,
Harasta, Irbin and Zamlaka, where rebels are active,
activists living there said.
Assad's forces control the centre of the capital, while
rebels and their sympathisers hold a ring of southern and
eastern suburbs that are often hit from the air.
The Observatory said a separate air strike killed 12 members
of a family, most of them children, in Moadamiyeh, a
southwestern district near the centre of Damascus where
rebels have fought for a foothold.
The family of an American freelance journalist, James Foley,
39, said on Wednesday he had been missing in Syria since
being kidnapped six weeks ago by gunmen. No group has
publicly claimed responsibility for his abduction.
Syria was by far the most dangerous country for journalists
in 2012, with 28 killed there.
The conflict began in March 2011 with peaceful protests
against four decades of Assad family rule and turned into an
armed revolt after months of government repression.
Insurgents trying to topple Assad see his air power as their
main threat. They hold swathes of eastern and northern
provinces, as well as some outlying parts of Damascus, but
have been unable to protect their territory from relentless
attack by helicopters and jets.
In the north, rebels, some from Islamist units, attacked the
Afis military airport near Taftanaz air base, firing
machineguns and mortars at helicopters on the ground to try
and make a dent in Assad's air might, the Observatory said.
The al Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham Brigade and
other units in northwestern Idlib province were attacking the
base, which is near the main north-south highway linking
Damascus to Aleppo, Syria's biggest city, the Observatory
In recent months, rebel units have besieged military bases,
especially along the highway, Syria's main artery.
The Observatory's director, Rami Abdelrahman, said the attack
was the latest of several attempts to capture the base. A
satellite image of the airport shows more than 40 helicopter
landing pads, a runway and aircraft hangars.
Syrian state media gave no immediate account of the Damascus
air strikes or the fighting in the north.
"FOR GOD'S EYES"
Both sides have been accused of committing atrocities in the
21-month-old conflict, but the United Nations says the
government and its allies have been more culpable.
In the latest evidence of atrocities, Internet video posted
by Syrian rebels shows armed men, apparently fighters loyal
to Assad, stabbing two men to death and stoning them with
concrete blocks in a summary execution lasting several
Reuters could not verify the provenance of the footage or the
identity of the perpetrators and their victims. The video was
posted on Tuesday but it was not clear where or when it was
filmed. However it does clearly show a summary execution and
torture, apparently being carried out by government
At one point, one of the perpetrators says: "For God's eyes
and your Lord, O Bashar," an Arabic incantation suggesting
actions being carried out in the leader's name.
The video was posted on YouTube by the media office of the
Damascus-based rebel First Brigade, which said it had been
taken from a captured member of the shabbiha pro-government
The perpetrators show off for the camera, smiling for
close-up shots, slicing at the victims' backs, then stabbing
them and bashing them with large slabs of masonry.
Syria's civil war is the longest and deadliest conflict to
emerge from uprisings that began sweeping the Arab world in
2011 and has developed a significant sectarian element.
Rebels, mostly from the Sunni Muslim majority, confront
Assad's army and security forces, dominated by his
Shi'ite-derived Alawite sect, which, along with some other
minorities, fears revenge if he falls.