The Two-Way
1:27 pm
Thu December 1, 2011

U.N. Says Death Toll In Syria Has Surpassed 4,000

Despite international condemnation and tough sanctions from the Arab League, the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad has continued clashing with protesters.

The United Nation's top human rights official said today that the death toll during the eight-month conflict has reached at least 4,000 and he characterized the conflict as a civil war.

The AP reports:

"'As soon as there were more and more defectors threatening to take up arms, I said this in August before the Security Council, that there's going to be a civil war,' [U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi] Pillay told reporters in Geneva. 'And at the moment that's how I am characterizing this.'

"The scathing criticism from Pillay comes as the pressure piles on Assad from home and abroad. On Thursday, the European Union imposed fresh sanctions on Damascus, and the Syrian opposition called a general strike inside the country.

"The recent spate of economic sanctions from the EU, the Arab League and Turkey are punishing Syria's ailing economy, a dangerous development for the government in Damascus. Syrian business leaders have long traded political freedoms for economic privileges in the country, where the prosperous merchant classes are key to propping up the regime."

According to Reuters Pillay also said "there is need for prosecution of perpetrators at the highest level for crimes against humanity."

In related Syrian news, the BBC reports that two major opposition groups have decided to join forces. The Syrian National Council, the main opposition group and the Free Syrian Army (FSA), made up of Syrian army defectors, said the FSA would cut down on its attacks on government forces and use force only to protect civilians.

That's an important move, says the BBC, because it could stop the conflict from sliding into all-out civil war.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.