December 21, 2014
Syria killing accelerates as peace talks falter
Syrians have been dying in greater numbers than ever since peace talks began three weeks ago, activists said, as troops pounded rebel towns on the Lebanese border and negotiations faltered in Geneva.
More than 230 people have been killed every day in Syria since Jan. 22, when international mediators brought President Bashar al-Assad's government and its opponents together, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. That is more than in any other three weeks since the war began in 2011.
It is unclear how far the bloodshed is a consequence of the talks, as both sides seek to improve their bargaining positions by gaining territory. Today, Assad's army and fighters from Lebanese ally Hezbollah pounded the strategic border town of Yabroud where rebels prepared to resist a ground offensive.
The United Nations says more than 130,000 Syrians have been killed in nearly three years of fighting. Totalling at least 4,959, the three-week death toll compiled by the Observatory included 515 women and children. The group estimated about a third of all the dead were civilians.
"This is the highest average we have had," said Rami Abdelrahman of the Observatory as the group urged a suspension of negotiations at Geneva if there was no immediate ceasefire.
There was little sign of an early breakthrough on the third day of a second round of talks in the Swiss city.
The opposition, which has little sway over rebels fighting on the ground, called for a transitional governing body to oversee a UN-monitored ceasefire and expel foreign fighters in a paper that avoided any mention of Assad - whose departure the government delegation has refused to discuss.
The confidential paper, seen by Reuters, did not draw an immediate official response from the government, although the foreign minister said driving out foreign fighters could be worth discussing in time - rare common ground.
Foreign, anti-Western Islamists are a major force among the otherwise Western- and Arab-backed rebels. The opposition wants rid of Assad's Hezbollah and Iranian auxiliaries.