Syrian death toll has passed 45,000: watchdog

‘FLURRY’ OF DIPLOMACY::Figures relased by a rights group point to an escalation of the conflict, as the UN’s peace envoy is ‘stonewalled’ by Damascus, a diplomat said

AFP, DAMASCUS and MOSCOW

Fri, Dec 28, 2012 - Page 6

The death toll in Syria’s civil war has passed 45,000, a watchdog said on Wednesday, as UN peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi looked to Russia for help in his faltering bid to find a negotiated settlement.

“In all we have documented the deaths of 45,048 people,” Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told reporters.

More than 1,000 people had been killed in the past week alone, he added.

The Observatory relies on a network of medics and activists on the ground. It said the real number of those killed since an uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad erupted in March last year could run as high as 100,000, with both sides concealing many of their casualties.

The grim statistics added gravity to a UN warning that the humanitarian situation is rapidly deteriorating.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees “estimates that if fighting in Syria continues, the refugee figure could reach 1.1 million by June 2013,” a report said.

Brahimi arrived in Syria on Sunday to push a new initiative aimed at ending the bloodshed and getting the regime and opposition to the negotiating table.

However, a UN Security Council diplomat said the veteran Algerian diplomat had received no support from any of the warring parties.

“Al-Assad appears to have stonewalled Brahimi again, the UN Security Council is not even close to showing the envoy the kind of support he needs and the rebels will not now compromise,” the diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

Opposition activists also attacked Brahimi.

“Brahimi’s arrival in Damascus to discuss a new political initiative to solve the crisis caused by the regime ... has not put a stop ... to massacres,” said the Local Coordination Committees, a grassroots network of anti-regime activists.

Yesterday, a Syrian government delegation led by Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad held talks at the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs as Moscow denied the existence of a joint plan with the US to end the crisis.

Muqdad held talks in the morning at the ministry in Moscow, ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said, adding that the results would be announced later in the day.

“The meeting has taken place. We will announce the results later,” he told reporters.

It was not immediately clear who was present at the closed-door meeting, but the ITAR-TASS news agency on Wednesday said Muqdad’s visit would include talks with Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov.

The meeting came amid a flurry of end-of-year diplomacy in Russia over the Syrian crisis that will also see talks between UN-Arab League Syria peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and Lavrov on Saturday.

Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohamed Amr was also due in Moscow later yesterday for a visit scheduled to include talks and a news conference with Lavrov today.

Lukashevich reiterated that Russia’s Syria policy was still based on an accord with world powers made in June for an inter-Syrian dialogue.

Russia has always insisted it will not prop up al-Assad’s regime, but has also emphasized that Moscow will not seek to persuade the al-Assad to step down, saying that that is up to the Syrian people.