At least 60,000 people have been killed in Syria's civil war, with monthly casualty figures steadily increasing since the conflict began almost two years ago, according to new figures released today by the United Nations.
The death toll is a third more than the 45,000 given by activists opposed to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad – the first time that the global body's estimate is higher.
It comes as activists report that a Syrian warplane blasted a petrol station near Damascus yesterday, killing and wounding dozens of people and igniting a huge fire in what could be one of the bloodiest attacks in weeks during the 22-month conflict.
Independent experts compared 147,349 killings reported by seven different sources – including the government – for the study, which was commissioned by the UN human rights office.
After removing duplicates they were left with a list of 59,648 individuals killed between the start of the uprising on 15 March 2011 and 30 November 2012.
In each case, the victim's first and last name, the date and the location of his or her death were known.
"Given 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," the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said in a statement.
"The number of casualties is much higher than we expected, and is truly shocking."
The real death toll is likely to be even greater because reports containing incomplete information were excluded and a significant number of killings may not have been documented at all by the sources available.