Russia has rebuffed western attempts to increase the pressure on the Syrian regime, led by Bashar al-Assad, as new United Nations figures show at least 2,600 people have been killed since anti-government protests erupted in March.
Britain, the US and France have been pushing for tougher action by the UN but have met opposition from Russia and China, veto-wielding permanent members of the security council, and others.
The latest UN casualty figures – 400 more than previously given – were announced on Monday by the UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, who called the situation “dire” and again complained that Syria had refused access for a UN humanitarian assessment team.
Syria has banned almost all journalists from entering the country but new images have emerged of killings, injuries and funerals of victims.
One clip, [WARNING: Contains explicit images] posted by the Local Co-ordination Committees, appeared to show the final moments of a 14-year-old boy, Izzat al-Babidi, reportedly shot in the head during a demonstration in the Damascus suburb of Douma on Monday morning.
Other pictures showed hundreds of people attending the funeral of another boy, Subhi Salam, who was fatally wounded by a sniper during protests last Friday.
Pillay’s figure of 2,600 dead was immediately contradicted by a senior aide to Assad, Bouthaina Shaaban. “There are 700 casualties among the army and the police, and 700 among the rebels,” she said in Moscow. “We have a list [of the victims’ names], and we can provide it.”
Shaaban’s visit was part of an attempt by Syria to stave off any danger that its Russian ally would abandon it. Medvedev appeared to show that he would stand firm, calling for a “well-balanced position between both parties to the conflict, the Syrian government and the rebels”. This was a far cry from the now firm western position that Assad has lost all legitimacy. Russia’s support brought a call from Syrian opposition activists for a “day of anger”.
Al-Arabiya TV quoted opposition sources as claiming that Syrian military aircraft had been flying low over the central city of Homs, where many have died in recent weeks. Syrian activists describe fighting in the nearby Rastan area between army defectors and loyalists, and an incipient “low-intensity civil war”, with Islamists smuggling in weapons from abroad.
The Saudi-owned channel also reported three clergymen from the Assad family’s Alawite sect in Homs as distancing themselves from the “atrocities” carried out by the regime. This week, opposition figures plan to unveil the final makeup of the Syrian National Council, a broad coalition of different anti-Assad groups.