BEIRUT, Lebanon --The United Nations said Wednesday that more than 60,000 people have died in Syria’s bloody internal war, surpassing the Syrian opposition’s estimates by one-third. The head of the United Nations Human Rights office, which released the numbers, faulted the entire international community, including the U.N., for having “fiddled around the edges while Syria burns.”
Meanwhile, close to 100 people were reported killed around Damascus in air raids, including 72 people at a gas station Wednesday, according to a rebel activist spokesperson. There was no confirmation from the Syrian government.
The U.N. report, from High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, blamed both sides for Syria’s violence and expressed alarm that the conflict’s turn into a sectarian dispute, pitting the largely Sunni rebel movement against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s Shiite-offshoot Alawite minority, makes it all the harder to stop.
“Unless there is a quick resolution to the conflict, I fear thousands more will die or suffer terrible injuries as a result of those who harbor the obstinate belief that something can be achieved by more bloodshed, more torture and more mindless destruction,” Pillay said. “Those people carrying out these serious crimes should understand that they will one day be brought to justice. The case against them will only be strengthened by adding more crimes to those already committed.”
Pillay described the toll as evidence of the devastation the war has visited on ordinary Syrians. “As the situation has continued to degenerate, increasing numbers have also been killed by anti-government armed groups, and there has been a proliferation of serious crimes including war crimes, and -- most probably -- crimes against humanity, by both sides,” Pillay said. “Cities, towns and villages have been, and are continuing to be, devastated by aerial attacks, shelling, tank fire, bomb attacks and street-to-street fighting.”
Rebel activist groups have previously estimated the death toll at over 45,000.
The U.N. said it could not make a distinction between civilian and combat deaths. It billed its research as “exhaustive” and starting from the beginning of the Syrian uprising in March 2011 when largely peaceful demonstrations were suppressed by Assad’s security forces, through the opposition’s metamorphosis into an armed rebel movement.
The researchers examined data of 147,349 deaths from seven separate sources and then struck away deaths reported twice, leaving a total of 59,648 deaths through the end of November.
“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,” Pillay said. “The number of casualties is much higher than we expected, and is truly shocking.”
The U.N. estimated 76% of the deaths were those of males, and 7.5% were those of females. The remainder was not clear.
In the latest developments on the ground, rebel activists reported a MiG jet shelling a fuel station Wednesday with cluster bombs in the Damascus neighborhood of Mleiha. Rebel spokeswoman Susan Ahmed, based in Damascus, said at least 72 people were killed and dozens more wounded, with casualties expected to rise.
There was no confirmation of the incident from the Syrian government. A video posted online showed vehicles on fire, plumes of black smoke and bodies.
“The regime targeted the petrol station with cluster bombs when cars were in line for diesel,” Ahmed said.
The government had delivered diesel fuel to the area after sealing off the neighborhood for several days, so people had gone to get fuel for their houses and vehicles, she added. The video showed at least one person being pulled from the scene bleeding, dressed in camouflage. Mleiha is in eastern Ghota, a large suburban area surrounding the city. It has been a hub for rebels and a launching pad for last month’s attacks on the Damascus airport.
In the suburb of Mudhamiya, two bakeries and a house were shelled from the air, killing 27 people, Ahmed reported. The Syrian government had no confirmation.
Special correspondent Lava Selo contributed to this report