Syria death toll reaches 60,000 according to UN figures

Petrol station strike comes as shocking authoritative figure is released

More than 60,000 people have died in Syria's uprising and civil war, the United Nations has said, 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 1 pm (1100 GMT) 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 15 March 15, 2011 and 30 November, 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 higher.

Muleiha, the target of today'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 raid.

"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 phone.

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 today 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-Qa'ida-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 said.

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.

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 minutes.

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 supporters.

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 militia.

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.

Reuters

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Lena Dunham posing for an official portrait at Sundance 2015
people
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea