Toll in Syria conflict over 42,000

BEIRUT, Dec 6, (Agencies): At least 42,000 people have been killed in violence since an uprising broke out against the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in March last year, a monitoring group said on Thursday.
“At least 29,455 civilians have been killed, as have 1,426 troops who defected to the opposition and 10,551 soldiers,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
“An additional 652 people whose identity we have been unable to identify have been killed in the conflict,” Abdel Rahman said. “A total of 42,084 people have died in the past 21 months.”
The conflict started as a peaceful protest movement but escalated into an armed rebellion when the authorities used deadly force against demonstrators.
The Observatory counts non-army combatants who have taken up arms against the regime as civilians.
“When the crisis comes to an end, it is likely that we will find many more have been killed, because many thousands are missing in Syria’s jails,” Abdel Rahman said.
In addition, neither the army nor the rebels are willing to reveal their full casualty lists, he said. “That is part of their propaganda war.”
Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts to end Syria’s civil war moved forward Thursday with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton joining Russia’s foreign minister and the UN peace envoy to the Arab country for extraordinary three-way talks that suggested Washington and Moscow might finally unite behind a strategy as the Assad regime weakens.
In Washington, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said intelligence reports raise fears that an increasingly desperate Syrian President Bashar Assad is considering using his chemical weapons arsenal – which the US and Russia agree is unacceptable. It was unclear whether he might target rebels within Syria or bordering countries, but growing concern over such a scenario was clearly adding urgency to discussions an ocean away in Ireland’s capital.
On the sidelines of a human rights conference, Clinton gathered with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and mediator Lakhdar Brahimi to look for a strategy the international community could rally around to end Syria’s 21-month civil war. The former Cold War foes have fought bitterly over how to address the conflict, but Clinton stressed before the meeting that they shared a common goal.
“We have been trying hard to work with Russia to try to stop the bloodshed in Syria and start a political transition for a post-Assad Syrian future,” Clinton told reporters in Dublin.
“Events on the ground in Syria are accelerating and we see that in many different ways,” she said. “The pressure against the regime in and around Damascus seems to be increasing. We’ve made it very clear what our position is with respect to chemical weapons, and I think we will discuss that and many other aspects of what is needed to end the violence.”
Earlier Thursday, Clinton and Lavrov met separately for about 25 minutes. They agreed to hear Brahimi out on a path forward, a senior US official said. The two also discussed issues ranging from Egypt to North Korea, as well as new congressional action aimed at Russian officials accused of complicity in the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.
Washington and Moscow have more often publicly chastised each other than cooperated on an international strategy for Syria. The US has criticized Russia for shielding its Arab ally. The Russians have accused the US of meddling by demanding Assad’s downfall and ultimately seeking an armed intervention such as the one last year against the late Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi.
But the gathering of the three key international figures suggests possible compromise in the offing. At a minimum, it confirms what officials describe as an easing of some of the acrimony that has raged between Moscow and Washington over the future of Syria, an ethnically diverse nation whose stability is critical given its geographic position in between powder kegs Iraq, Lebanon and Israel.
Panetta said Thursday that the US fears Syria is thinking of using its chemical weapons.
“The intelligence that we have raises serious concern that this is being considered,” he told reporters. Other administration officials in recent days have spoken about Syrians preparing weapon components of sarin gas. The new activity, coupled with fears that rebel advances are making Assad more desperate, have led to the fear that he is deploying the weapons.
On Thursday, Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad accused the United States and Europe of using the issue of chemical weapons to justify a future military intervention against Syria. He warned that any such intervention would be “catastrophic.”
It’s unclear what new approach Brahimi may outline. One possibility would involve resuscitating, with US and Russian support, the political transition strategy both countries agreed on in Geneva in June.
That plan demanded several steps by the Assad regime to de-escalate tensions and end the violence that activists say has killed more than 40,000 people since March 2011. It would then have required Syria’s opposition and the regime to put forward candidates for a transitional government, with each side having the right to veto nominees proposed by the other.
If employed, the strategy would surely mean the end of more than four decades of an Assad family member at Syria’s helm. The opposition has demanded Assad’s departure and has rejected any talk of him staying in power. Yet it also would grant regime representatives the opportunity to block Sunni extremists and others in the opposition that they reject.

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