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U.N. says nearly 93,000 killed in Syrian civil war

Olivier Knox, Yahoo News
The Ticket

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Free Syrian Army fighters sit at an entrance of a tunnel as they wait for a fellow fighter in Deir al-Zor June …

Syria’s bloody civil war has left at least 92,901 people dead, the U.N. Human Rights Office said Thursday in a new report sure to give ammunition to lawmakers urging President Barack Obama to escalate the U.S. role there.

“Unfortunately, as the study indicates, this is most likely a minimum casualty figure. The true number of those killed is potentially much higher,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a statement.

So far, Obama has directed humanitarian aid to rebels looking to topple President Bashar Assad, but has rebuffed bipartisan calls from Congress to send arms to moderate segments of an opposition that also includes al-Qaida-affiliated fighters. The issue is certain to arise at the upcoming Group of Eight Summit in Northern Ireland, where the president will come face to face with world leaders like French President François Hollande who have urged a more aggressive international role.

In the statement from its home base in Geneva, the U.N. Human Rights Office said that a study conducted on its behalf documented 92,901 people killed in Syria between the start of the uprising in March 2011 and the end of April 2013. A previous estimate had set the death toll at around 70,000.

“The constant flow of killings continues at shockingly high levels—with more than 5,000 killings documented every month since last July, including a total of just under 27,000 new killings since 1 December,” Pillay said.

Obama had been expected to huddle this week with top foreign policy advisers to discuss the conflict, which has sent millions of refugees spilling into neighboring Turkey and Jordan, and threatens Lebanon's stability. All three are U.S. allies. The president has called for Assad to step down but, to date, has taken a pragmatic (some might say cold-blooded) view of U.S. national security interests in the area. Some Obama aides note that Russia and China are opposed to greater Western involvement in Syria, and warn that the United States will likely need their help if the escalating face-off with Iran over its suspect nuclear program leads to a military confrontation.

"We are constantly evaluating the situation in Syria and the options available to the president when it comes to encouraging a transition there—as well as supporting the opposition so that that transition can take place," White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Wednesday. "I have no announcements to make, but this is something that is obviously a serious matter. It’s something that we discuss regularly—certainly not just this week but for two years now."

Carney added, "The president has made clear that he rules no option out, although he has also made clear that he does not envision a scenario that would lead to putting American boots on the ground in Syria. But setting aside that, he rules no option out and he’s constantly evaluating his policy options."

The U.N. said its analysis could not reliably differentiate between combatants and noncombatants. In 3 out of 4 cases, they could not pin down the age of the person killed.

Still, “the killings of at least 6,561 minors, including at least 1,729 children under ten years old—have been documented,” Pillay said. “There are also well-documented cases of individual children being tortured and executed, and entire families, including babies, being massacred—which, along with this devastatingly high death toll, is a terrible reminder of just how vicious this conflict has become.”

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