Wed January 2, 2013
U.N.: More Than 60,000 Syrians Killed During Civil War
Originally published on Wed January 2, 2013 6:51 pm
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In Syria today, an airstrike by a government fighter jet on a gas station killed dozens of people. The attack happened in the capital city, Damascus. And it came as the United Nations released a detailed study documenting the deaths of almost 60,000 people since the Syrian uprising began nearly two years ago. NPR's Kelly McEvers is monitoring the conflict from Beirut.
KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights says it's compiled a list of more than 59,000 names of people who've been killed in Syria since March 2011. That's when a mass protest movement across the country was met by a brutal government crackdown. Protesters and their supporters eventually took up arms, too, and the conflict now looks a lot like a civil war. The U.N. says this massive loss of life could have been avoided if the Syrian government had chosen a different path than what the U.N. calls the ruthless suppression of peaceful protests.
U.N. officials said they were shocked the death toll was so high. And the report doesn't include the tens of thousands of people who activists and human rights groups say have been detained for opposing the government and the millions of people now displaced from their homes by the fighting. Today was another bloody day in Syria, as activists say a government airstrike at a gas station just outside the capital, Damascus, killed at least 70 people.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)
MCEVERS: This video shows rebel fighters racing to the scene only to find cars and bodies on fire. Activists say the dead were all civilians, but at least one survivor in this video is wearing camouflage, suggesting he might be a rebel fighter. The attack came in Eastern Ghouta, a suburban area that's a known base for rebel fighters who recently launched an offensive at Damascus aimed at trying to take the capital's main airport. One activist inside Syria, who goes by the name Susan Ahmad, says the scene of the attack was horrific.
SUSAN AHMAD: Pieces of people, blood, burnt bodies and even people who are still alive but with burnt faces and burnt bodies.
MCEVERS: Ahmad says in another attack in Damascus today, 27 people were killed when two bakeries and a residential building were bombed by government aircraft. Syrian state media made no mention of either attack. There has been a flurry of diplomatic activity in recent days to try to find a solution to the Syrian conflict, but most reports coming out of these meetings are not optimistic that any deal can be reached. Speaking to reporters recently in Cairo, joint U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi says that's because the two sides in this conflict have two completely different world views. He says you can't solve a problem when the two sides can't even agree on what the problem is.
LAKHDAR BRAHIMI: On the one side, the government says we are doing our duty protecting our people against terrorists who are mostly foreigners. On the other side, people are saying this is an illegitimate government. This is a family that has been ruling our country for 40 years, and it's time for them to leave. So they are not talking about the same problem. They are talking about two different problems.
MCEVERS: Kelly McEvers, NPR News, Beirut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.