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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

#Syria Dozens of Syrians Killed in Explosions Around Damascus

Dozens of Syrians Killed in Explosions Around Damascus
Andoni Lubaki/Associated Press
Rebel fighters patrol a neighborhood in Aleppo on Wednesday.
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BEIRUT, Lebanon — Dozens of Syrians were killed or wounded in an explosion at a gas station east of Damascus, the Syrian capital, on Wednesday, and explosions in another Damascus suburb killed at least six people and wounded many more, including women and children, according to videos and reports from antigovernment activists.
The violence came as the United Nations released a study showing that more than 60,000 people had been killed in Syria’s 22-month-old conflict, a third higher than estimates by antigovernment activist groups.
Also on Wednesday, the family of James Foley, a reporter for the Global Post Web site, announced that Mr. Foley had been kidnapped on Nov. 22 by unidentified gunmen in northwest Syria. Mr. Foley had survived an abduction in Libya while covering the conflict there.
A recent flurry of diplomatic activity by Russia, the United Nations’ special envoy and others aimed at finding a political solution appeared to founder in recent days as neither Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, nor his opponents expressed a willingness to make concessions to end the bloody conflict.
The explosion near Damascus, which witnesses blamed on an airstrike, took place in a heavily contested suburban area. It hit a gas station where scores of people had lined up for fuel, which had just become available there after about a month, residents said. Videos posted by antigovernment activists showed charred bodies.
One man, using the nickname Abu Fuad, said in a telephone interview that he had just filled up his gas tank and was driving away when he heard the screech of fighter jets.
He was less than a quarter mile away when he heard the explosions, he said.
“There were many cars waiting their turn,” he said. “Yesterday, we heard that the government sent fuel to the gas station here, so all the people around came to fill up their cars.”
In a sign of the depth of distrust the conflict has spawned, Abu Fuad suggested that restocking the station was a government ruse. “They sent fuel as a trap,” he said.
In northern Syria, rebels used rockets to attack the Taftanaz military airport, a long-contested area in the province of Idlib, activists reported. Rebels have also stepped up attacks on airports in the neighboring province of Aleppo, trying to disrupt the warplanes and helicopters that government forces increasingly rely on for attacks, and even for supply lines, in the north.
The United Nations study suggested that the human toll of the war was even greater than previously estimated. Two days ago, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a rebel group that tracks the war from Britain, reported 45,000 deaths, mostly civilian, since the conflict began in March 2011.
“The number of casualties is much higher than we expected, and is truly shocking,” the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, said in a statementafter her agency released the study.
“We must not compound the existing disaster by failing to prepare for the inevitable — and very dangerous — instability that will occur when the conflict ends,” she added. To avoid repeating the experience of collapsed states like Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, she said, “serious planning needs to get under way immediately, not just to provide humanitarian aid to all those who need it, but to protect all Syrian citizens from extrajudicial reprisals and acts of revenge.”
The study’s surprisingly high death toll reflected only those killings in which victims had been identified by their full name, and the date and location of their death had been recorded, leaving the possibility of many more dead.
Independent researchers compiled reports of more than 147,000 killings in Syria’s conflict from seven sources, including the government. When duplicates were removed, there remained a list of 59,648 people killed between March 2011 and the end of November.
Meanwhile, John Foley, James Foley’s father, stressed that his son was an “objective journalist” and issued a plea to his captors to contact the family so that they can work for his release.
“We want Jim to come safely home, or at least we need to speak with him to know he’s O.K.,” John Foley said. “Jim is an objective journalist and we appeal for the release of Jim unharmed. To the people who have Jim, please contact us so we can work together toward his release.”
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