Syria death toll 'over 60,000'
At least 60,000 people have died in Syria's conflict, UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay said today, citing an "exhaustive" UN commissioned study.
Over five months of analysis, researchers cross-referenced seven sources to compile a list of 59,648 people reported killed between March 15th, 2011, and November 30th, 2012.
"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," Ms Pillay said. "The number of casualties is much higher than we expected, and is truly shocking."
Among the latest deaths were a number of civilians who died when Syrian warplanes bombed a petrol station in a suburb on the eastern edge of Damascus today.
"I counted at least 30 bodies. They were either burnt or dismembered," said Abu Saeed, an activist who arrived at the area in the Muleiha suburb of Damascus an hour after today's raid.
Another activist, Abu Fouad, said warplanes had bombarded the area as a consignment of fuel arrived and crowds packed the station.
Video footage taken by activists, which could not be independently verified, showed bodies engulfed in flames, apparently hit while in a line of vehicles waiting for petrol. A man was also shown carrying a dismembered body.
Muleiha is one of a series of Sunni Muslim suburbs ringing the capital that have been at the forefront of the 21 month revolt against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad, who belongs to the Shia-derived Alawite minority sect.
Government forces control the centre of Damascus and have been pounding the suburbs from the air.
Meanwhile, Syrian rebels, some from Islamist units, fired machine-guns and mortars at helicopters grounded at a northern military air base near the main Aleppo-Damascus highway today, a monitoring group said.
The al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham Brigade and other units operating in Syria's northwestern province of Idlib were attacking the Afis military airport near Taftanaz, the pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
There was no immediate account of the fighting around the air base from Syrian state media.
Insurgents trying to topple
Dr Assad see his air power as their main threat. They hold swathes of eastern and northern provinces, as well as a crescent of suburbs around the capital, Damascus, but have been unable to protect rebel-held territory from relentless attack by helicopters and jets.
In recent months, rebel units have besieged several military installations, especially along Syria's main north-south artery from Aleppo, its most populous city, to Damascus.
The Observatory's director, Rami Abdelrahman, said today's 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.
The Syrian conflict began in March 2011 with peaceful protests against four decades of Assad family rule but turned into an armed revolt after months of government repression.
In Damascus, Dr Assad's forces fired artillery and mortars at the eastern districts of Douma, Harasta, Irbin and Zamlaka, where rebels have a foothold, activists living there said.
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.
UN-led diplomatic peace efforts have stumbled. Western and many Sunni Arab states demand Dr Assad's immediate removal, an idea resisted by Russia, China and Syria's Shia ally Iran.
The rebels say they will not negotiate unless Dr Assad, who has vowed to fight to the death, leaves power.
More than 110 people, including at least 31 of Dr Assad's soldiers and militiamen, were killed in Syria yesterday, according to the Observatory, which tracks the conflict from Britain using a network of contacts inside the country.