The United Nations gave a grim new count Wednesday of the human cost of Syria’s civil war, saying the death toll has exceeded 60,000 in 21 months — far higher than recent estimates by anti-regime activists.
The day’s events illustrated the escalating violence that has made recent months the deadliest of the conflict: As rebels pressed a strategy of attacking airports and pushing the fight closer to President Bashar Assad’s stronghold in Damascus, the government responded with deadly airstrikes on restive areas around the capital.
A missile from a fighter jet hit a gas station in the suburb of Mleiha, killing or wounding dozens of people who were trapped in burning piles of debris, activists said.
As the rebels have grown more organized and effective, seizing territory in the north and establishing footholds around Damascus, the government has stepped up its use of airpower, launching daily airstrikes. The escalating violence has sent the death toll soaring.
The U.N.’s new count of more than 60,000 deaths since the start of the conflict is a third higher than recent estimates by anti-regime activists. One group, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, says more than 45,000 people have been killed. Other groups have given similar tolls.
The U.S. and many European and Arab nations have demanded that Assad step down, while Russia, China and Iran have criticized calls for regime change.
The new death toll was compiled by independent experts commissioned by the U.N. human rights office who compared 147,349 killings reported by seven different sources, including the Syrian government.
After removing duplicates, they had a list of 59,648 individuals killed between the start of the uprising on March 15, 2011, and Nov. 30, 2012. In each case, the victim’s first and last name and the date and location of death were known. Killings in December pushed the number past 60,000, she said.
The total death toll is likely to be even higher because incomplete reports were excluded, and some killing may not have been documented at all.