Syria Crackdown Death Toll Surpasses 5,000: Diplomats

Posted December 12th, 2011 at 5:40 pm (UTC-5)
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Syrians voted Monday in municipal elections held amid a general strike and an escalating crackdown on anti-government protesters, as diplomats in New York said the death toll from Syria's unrest has gone beyond 5,000.

Diplomats speaking after a meeting with U.N. rights chief Navi Pillay said she told U.N. Security Council representatives Monday that the death toll likely exceeds 5,000.

The latest news comes as Syrians voted in elections that 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 said the latest fighting between soldiers and defectors is taking place in northwestern Idlib province and in southern Daraa province. The observatory 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.

Syria on Monday denied involvement in last week's attack that wounded four French peacekeepers in southern Lebanon. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Damascus was likely behind the assault, although he had no evidence.

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 as defecting soldiers fight back against the army and once-peaceful protesters take up arms to protect themselves.