Syrian death toll now tops 30,000: activist group

BEIRUT Wed Sep 26, 2012 11:15am EDT

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BEIRUT (Reuters) - At least 30,000 people have died in Syria's 18-month-old uprising, a British-based Syrian monitoring group said on Wednesday, and more than half of the victims counted were killed in the past five months.

The uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, which began in March 2011 as peaceful protests, has descended into civil war since rebels took up arms against a security force crackdown.

Rami Abdulrahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 30,716 people were killed. Most of them - at least 21,534 - were civilians. But his network of activists, who are based around Syria, do not divide their civilian death count between unarmed residents and those who have joined the rebels.

The pro-opposition Observatory said 7,322 soldiers fighting for Assad were killed, while at least 1,860 army defectors died fighting for the opposition.

"By looking through our figures, we noticed that the toll has been rising. Between 50 and 60 percent of those killed died in the past five months," Abdulrahman said.

Syrian authorities have said in the past that more than 2,600 members of the security forces have been killed, but have not given a casualty figure for several months.

Despite the rapidly rising death toll, international powers are stuck in a diplomatic stalemate. Western powers and Gulf Arab states back the opposition, while Russia, China and Iran are backing Assad.

The violence spiked rapidly in recent months as rebel forces spread, taking the fight across the country and into Syria's two major cities, the capital Damascus and business hub Aleppo.

Assad, who says his opponents are "terrorists" backed by foreign powers, has responded with heavy bombardment, including the use of fighter jets and helicopter gunships.

(This story corrects figure in headline)

(Reporting by Erika Solomon; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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