More than 93,000 people, including over 6,500 children, have been killed in Syria’s civil war, which has grown increasingly deadly over the past year, a United Nations study said on Thursday.
The skyrocketing death toll, along with documented cases of children tortured and entire families massacred, “is a terrible reminder of just how vicious this conflict has become,” UN rights chief Navi Pillay said in a statement.
The study comes amid reports of a new massacre in an eastern Syrian town. Dozens of people, mostly Shia, were reportedly gunned down on Tuesday by Islamist rebels in the town of Hatla, near Deir Ezzor.
Describing the killings over the two year conflict as “senseless carnage,” Pillay said that the UN’s latest toll figure “is most likely a minimum casualty figure. The true number of those killed is potentially much higher.”
The number of people killed in Syria has skyrocketed over the past year, with the average monthly toll since July 2012 standing at more than 5,000, compared with 1,000 in the summer of 2011, the study said.
“This extremely high rate of killings, month after month, reflects the drastically deteriorating pattern of the conflict over the past year,” Pillay said, adding that nearly 27,000 people have been killed since December 2012 alone.
“Civilians are bearing the brunt of widespread, violent and often indiscriminate attacks which are devastating whole swathes of major towns and cities, as well as outlying villages,” she added.
The study, running from the outbreak of the conflict in March 2011 to the end of April this year, updates the toll of 60,000 which the UN gave in a November 2012 document.
Pillay slammed both sides, pointing to government shelling and air attacks on urban areas, and the rebels’ pounding of residential areas and bombings in the heart of cities, notably the capital Damascus.
Some 82.6 percent of the documented victims were male, while 7.6 percent were female, and the gender was not indicated in the remaining cases.
The analysis was not able to differentiate consistently between combatants and noncombatants, and around three-quarters of the reported killings did not record the victim’s age.
But the deaths of at least 6,561 children – 1,729 of them under 10 years old – were documented.
“There are also well-documented cases of individual children being tortured and executed, and entire families, including babies, being massacred — which, along with this devastatingly high death toll, is a terrible reminder of just how vicious this conflict has become,” Pillay said.
Meanwhile dozens of Shias were reportedly killed in a vicious attack believed to have been undertaken by Al Nusra Front militants earlier this week in Syria’s eastern town of Hatla.
Islamists entered the town on Tuesday and fought members from the Popular Committee – a group of militias formed by the Syrian government, a witness affiliated with a monitoring group said.
“The clashes continued for several hours and the members of the Popular Committee were not able to withstand the attack after the army failed to arrive and running out of ammunition. This led to the death of many of them,” a resident of the village working with the Syrian Media Center said.
“[The attackers] broke into houses and killed the remaining family members and did not leave anything without burning it. They burned tens of houses to the ground,” the villager said.
In one of the videos, around 12 armed men are seen in the courtyard of the house, unveiling a corpse under a cover with a gunshot wound to the head.
In another video, around 10 gunmen are shown firing their weapons into the air to celebrate the killings. The cameraman said: “Behold, the mujahideen are celebrating entering the Shia homes. God is the greatest. All the apostates’ houses were burnt.” The video also shows some houses on fire.
It was not possible to independently verify these accounts.
Activist Karam Badran, who spoke to Reuters from nearby Deir Ezzor, said some people had been killed in Hatla while others had been taken hostage by the rebels.
“Three of the men killed were three Shia clerics. They were executed and hung on the gates of the town,” Badran said, adding that the dead also included Sunnis who had joined the pro-government local committees.
(AFP, Al-Akhbar, Reuters)