Civilian death toll in Syria above 7,500, says UN

Syrian forces have killed more than 7,500 civilians since a revolt against President Bashar al-Assad began, a UN official said, aa Hilary Clinton suggested the Syrian leader may be a war criminal.

The military again bombarded opposition strong- holds, killing at least 25 people, Syrian activists said.

“There are credible reports that the death toll now often exceeds 100 civilians a day, including many women and children,” UN under- Secretary-General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe told the UN Security Council. “The total killed so far is certainly well over 7,500 people.”

Syria’s government said in December that “armed terrorist groups” had killed more than 2,000 soldiers and police.

As world dismay mounted over the bloodshed, France said the Security Council was working on a Syria resolution and urged Russia and China not to veto it, as they have previous drafts.

Secretary of State Clinton told the US Senate it could be argued that Assad is a war criminal, but said using such labels “limits options to persuade leaders to step down from power”.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé had said it was time to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court and warned Assad that he would face justice.

However, Tunisia, where a revolt toppled a president last year, would be willing to offer Assad asylum if this would help stop the bloodshed in Syria, a senior Tunisian official said.

Juppé told the French parliament that work had begun at the Security Council on a resolution that “could order an immediate halt to the hostilities and [allow] humanitarian access while also renewing support for the Arab League plan”.

“I solemnly call on Russia and China not to block this Security Council resolution,” he said.

Russia and China vetoed a draft resolution on Feb 4 that would have backed an Arab League call for Assad to step down.

Russia’s foreign ministry said the US ambassador to Moscow had discussed Syria’s “acute humanitarian issues” with a Russian deputy foreign minister — an indication they may have explored a potential UN Security Council resolution.

The Cairo-based Arab League will host an international conference to co-ordinate humanitarian aid to Syria on Mar 4, said Laila Nagm, an Arab League official.

Opposition groups say hundreds of civilians have been killed or wounded in the siege of Baba Amro and other rebellious districts in Homs, where terrified residents are enduring dire conditions, without proper supplies of water, food and medicine.

The Syrian military’s latest bombardment of Baba Amro was the heaviest in a 24-day assault, activists said, adding that tanks from an elite armoured division, led by Assad’s brother Maher, had moved into Homs overnight.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 16 people were killed in Homs yesterday, a day after 84 were killed in the city, out of an overall death toll of 122 civilians across Syria. The British-based group said 29 security force members had been killed in clashes with rebels on Monday.

In Hama province, security forces bombarded the town of Helfaya, a centre of anti-Assad protests, killing 20 people.

The reports could not be independently confirmed as media access to the country is tightly controlled.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it delivered food and other aid to Homs and Idlib, but called for a “humanitarian ceasefire” to improve access.

Assad, projecting an aura of normality in a land ravaged by conflict over his right to power, promulgated a new constitution after officials said nearly 90% of voters had endorsed it in a referendum two days earlier.

Opposition groups and Western leaders seeking Assad’s removal denounced Sunday’s vote as a charade that diverted attention from the violence in Homs and elsewhere.

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