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Civil war in Syria as death toll rises above 4,000

Syria was said to be in a state of civil war by the United Nations yesterday as its leading human rights official dramatically increased the death toll in the conflict to "much more" than 4,000.

As Syria's exiled government-in-waiting announced it had formed an alliance with army defectors, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, dramatically raised the estimated death toll since protests began on a Day of Dignity on March 15.

"We are placing the figure at 4,000, but really the reliable information coming to us is that it is much more than that," Mrs Pillay said. "I have said that as soon as there were more and more defectors threatening to take up arms, I said this in August before the Security Council, there was going to be a civil war. At the moment that's how I am characterising this."

An independent report cataloguing the toll of abuse President Bashar al-Assad has inflicted on the population is to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council debate today.

With armed groups clashing on both sides, diplomats believe that the death toll is running at hundreds a week.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the main source of information on murders, said that 10 people were killed yesterday, including six during an army assault on the town of al-Trimsa near the opposition stronghold of Hama.

The Observatory's running tally of deaths has recorded 4,530 victims. A spokesman for Mrs Pillay said its figures were collated from sources and were likely to be "conservative".

Representatives of the Syrian National Council, the exiled opposition's political front, disclosed it had formed a committee to oversee resistance against the regime with the Free Syria Army.

Burhan Ghalioun, the head of the SNC, formed a pact with Riyadh al-Asaad, a colonel who leads a force of deserters from the Syrian military based in Turkey's Hatay province.

Mr Assad's forces claim to have carried out attacks on the security forces but the political opposition has been keen to maintain a peaceful challenge to the regime.

Diplomats have reported that the leadership of the SNC has had difficulties establishing communications with the Free Syria Army command. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent