U.N.: Syria death toll ‘well over’ 7,500

By CNN News

As the total death toll in Syria climbed past 7,500, according to U.N. estimates, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could be tried for war crimes. However, Clinton said Tuesday, pursuing charges against al-Assad might hinder efforts to persuade him to cede power.

The United Nations has credible reports that “the death toll now often exceeds 100 civilians a day, including women and children. The total is certainly well over 7,500.” Opposition activists and world leaders believe thousands of Syrians have died since March in a sustained government crackdown on dissenters.

At least 102 people, including three women and two children, were killed across Syria on Tuesday alone, said the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, a network of opposition activists.

The deaths include 50 in the opposition stronghold of Homs, which has been pummeled by government forces for more than three weeks. Of those, 26 died in “another massacre” in the city’s Baba Amr neighborhood, the LCC said. Thirty-five others died in the suburbs of Hama, where hundreds were also injured in a fifth day of shelling.

Another opposition group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said five members of the Syrian army were killed in predawn clashes with defected soldiers in Daraa province. The deaths followed a grim day Monday, when 144 people died nationwide, the LCC said.

CNN and other media outlets cannot independently verify opposition or government reports because Syria has severely limited access to the country by foreign journalists. But the vast majority of reports from the ground indicate that government forces are killing citizens in an attempt to wipe out civilians seeking al-Assad’s ouster.

Al-Assad’s regime has “subjected residents in several cities to indiscriminant bombardment by tank and rocket fire,” Lynn Pascoe, the U.N.’s undersecretary general for political affairs, told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday.

Clinton, asked at a Senate Appropriations Committee whether al-Assad should be viewed as a war criminal, said, “I think that based on definitions of war criminal and crimes against humanity, there would be an argument to be made that he would fit into that category.”

Asked about making that argument before the world community, Clinton said, “I think people have been putting forth the argument, but I also think from long experience that could complicate a resolution of a difficult, complex situation because it limits options to persuade leaders perhaps to step down from power.”

Earlier Tuesday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem insisted that no regime cares more about its citizens than that of Syria. “We are not happy to see brothers killing each other,” he said. No one in Syria is dying from hunger or illness, he said, and the government is providing all necessary services despite an “economic international boycott.”

The LCC said about 9,000 people have been killed since the government launched its crackdown on dissidents in March. The Syrian government says that more than 2,000 members of its security forces have been killed by “terrorists” during that same period.

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