GENEVA // The United Nations said yesterday that the death toll in Syria's 22-month conflict is 60,000 as activists reported that an air strike near Damascus killed dozens of people.
Over five months of analysis, UN researchers cross-referenced seven sources to compile a list of 59,648 individuals reported killed between March 15, 2011, and November 30 of last year.
In each case, the victim's first and last name, the date and the location of their death were known.
"Given there has been no let-up in the conflict since the end of November, we can assume that more than 60,000 people have been killed by the beginning of 2013," the UN human rights commissioner, Navi Pillay, said yesterday. "The number of casualties is much higher than we expected, and is truly shocking."
The toll is far higher than the figure of 45,000 given by activists opposed to the regime of president Bashar Al Assad.
Yesterday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels were engaged in "intense" clashes with government forces at a military airfield in the northern region of Idlib.
Meanwhile, the British-based watchdog said that the air strike on a service station south-east of the capital yesterday killed at least a dozen people, burning many of the victims.
The attack took place near the town of Maliha in the partly rebel-held Eastern Ghuta region of Damascus, it said.
"There are 12 bodies that have been found at the scene, but it is not yet clear whether they were civilians or rebels or if the gas station was the target," said the observatory director, Rami Abdel Rahman.
The Local Coordination Committees, a grassroots network of activists, estimated that at least 50 people were killed and dozens of others wounded.
It said the toll was likely to rise because bodies were still being pulled from the rubble, adding that "it is extremely difficult to count the dead because most of the bodies have been immolated".
It was not immediately clear if the bomb blasts caused the storage tanks to explode, but the scene was engulfed in fire, suggesting that was the case.
"MiG warplane strikes on Eastern Ghuta. Dozens of martyrs," a man shouted out as he and a fellow cameraman raced toward plumes of smoke to survey the damage in a gruesome video posted on YouTube.
Syrian rebels, including an Islamist group branded a terrorist organisation by the United States, engaged in "intense" clashes with Mr Al Assad's forces at a military airfield in the northern region of Idlib.
Opposition fighters appeared to be attempting to storm the Taftanaz air base following heavy shelling, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The clashes left at least four rebels dead and one helicopter damaged, the group said.
The opposition group said Jabhat Al Nusra, designated a terrorist group by the US last year because of ties to Al Qaeda, had joined the attack.
Mr Al Assad's military lost barracks, airfields, heavy weaponry and oilfields across the country during the last quarter of last year.
Fighters engaged in a struggle to topple the government in Damascus also have control of mainly Sunni Muslim towns and suburbs stretching from the north-east outskirts of the capital to the south-west of the city.
More than 44,000 people have been killed in violence that has pitted the mainly Sunni Muslim opposition against Mr Assad's Alawite-dominated security forces, the observatory estimates.
The UN special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, warned last week that the war in Syria was spiralling into "hell" that was giving power to regional warlords.
"The situation is bad and it's getting worse," Mr Brahimi said in Cairo. "I can't see anything other than these two paths: Either there will be a political solution that will meet the ambitions and legitimate rights of the Syrian people, or Syria will turn into hell."
* Reuters, Agence France-Presse, Associated Press and Bloomberg News