The United Nations says new and exhaustive analysis shows that more than 60,000 people have died in Syria's civil war, a figure that surpasses Syrian opposition estimates by about one-third.
U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay, in a study released Wednesday in Geneva, said death reports from seven separate sources were cross-referenced by experts to arrive at the new toll. She said the number of casualties is much higher than expected, and is truly shocking.
Estimates from the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights had placed the death toll in the nearly two-year conflict at about 45,000.
The U.N. report said researchers who studied data for months could not distinguish between civilian and combat deaths. But Pillay said she fears thousands more will die or “suffer terrible injuries” unless there is a quick resolution to the conflict.
Near Damascus, opposition activists said Wednesday that government warplanes bombed a gasoline station, killing dozens of people as they waited for fuel.
Activists say the strike occurred in the eastern suburb of Mleiha — an area partly under rebel control. The blast ignited a huge fire that sent black smoke billowing into the air. Amateur video posted online showed dismembered bodies at the scene.
Separately, the French news agency reported that armed men in northern Syria kidnapped one of its freelance contributors six weeks ago.
The family of U.S. journalist James Foley — who previously had asked media groups not to report the abduction — asked Wednesday for his release.
AFP says Foley last supplied the agency with video material on November 21, the day before he disappeared in the town of Taftanaz. No one has claimed responsibility.
A brutal civil war between rebel groups and the Assad government has shaken Syria since evolving from peaceful anti-government protests in March 2011.