Syria Crackdown Death Toll Approaches 5,000: UN

Posted December 12th, 2011 at 7:45 pm (UTC-5)
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The United Nations says the death toll from Syria's unrest has gone beyond 5,000.

U.N. rights chief Navi Pillay said her office has received credible reports from a variety of sources that indicate the death toll since Syria's unrest began in March “probably exceeds 5,000.” She released the statement shortly after a meeting Monday with U.N. Security Council representatives in New York.

Pillay also warned that sources fear a major assault on the flashpoint city of Homs may be imminent.

Meanwhile, Syrians voted Monday in municipal elections amid a general strike and an escalating crackdown on anti-government protesters, The elections cover more than 17,000 seats on local councils across the country's 14 provinces. Witnesses say turnout was low.

The opposition does not consider the vote a legitimate concession by President Bashar al-Assad's government, which has promised a series of political reforms to appease demonstrators.

Fierce clashes between Syrian security forces and army defectors continued in several parts of the country Monday.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also said seven people were reported killed Monday in the flashpoint regions of Homs and Idlib.

A general strike continued for a second day in several regions across Syria as activists push for an end to Mr. Assad's rule through a campaign of civil disobedience.

The opposition Local Coordination Committee has urged citizens to gradually escalate the protests by holding sit-ins, closing facilities and refusing to work in the public sector.

In Homs, an opposition leader said the government has warned protesters to hand in weapons and surrender defecting military members by Monday night or face bombardment.

CNN quoted Lieutenant Colonel Mohamed Hamdo of the Free Syrian Army as saying the 72-hour warning was given Saturday.

Also Monday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said it is preparing for an influx of refugees to Jordan as the number of Syrian asylum seekers increases and violence in neighboring Syria shows no sign of abating.

Mr. Assad has been facing mounting international pressure to end a crackdown on dissent that the United Nations says has claimed more than 4,000 lives.

The uprising has turned increasingly violent in recent months, with defecting soldiers fighting back against the army and once-peaceful protesters taking up arms to protect themselves.