At least 5,000 people estimated dead in Syrian crackdown
Local news agency plays up local elections; witnesses say they see no such activity
"This situation is intolerable," Navi Pillay said in a briefing for the United Nations Security Council. Explosions and gunfire continue to rock Syria. Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights has raised the death toll from the Damascus government's crackdown on anti-regime activists to close to 5,000 people.
SANA noted that more than 3,000 candidates are vying for seats in the Homs region alone. It billed the elections as part of the 'process of building institutions, promoting democracy and achieving the comprehensive reform process led by President Bashar al-Assad.'
Pillay added that "the nature and scale of abuses" indicate that Syrian forces likely committed "crimes against humanity." Citing reliable sources, she said more than 300 of the dead have been children "killed by state forces."
Several defectors from military and security forces report that they got orders "to shoot unarmed protesters without warning," according to Pillay.
"Independent, credible and corroborated accounts demonstrate that these abuses have taken place as part of a widespread and systematic attack on civilians," she said.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and a resident of Homs has reported that a gas pipeline exploded near the city, followed by gunfire and circulating military airplanes.
While the Syrian Arab News Agency, or SANA, pointed towards local elections as an expression of "democracy and free will," one Homs resident said there was no evidence of voting in that city, seeing little more than nonstop shooting and bombardments.
Syrian media continues to paint a picture of normalcy, with reports of local elections under way across the country.
SANA noted that more than 3,000 candidates are vying for seats in the Homs region alone. It billed the elections as part of the "process of building institutions, promoting democracy and achieving the comprehensive reform process led by President Bashar al-Assad."
In the meantime, the Syrian government has consistently blamed the violence on "armed terrorist" gang members and denied any efforts to target peaceful civilians.
The city Homs has been a regular flash point for violence. Opposition figures say the government had warned people in Homs to stop anti-government protests, hand in weapons and surrender defecting military members by Monday night . or face attack by government forces.
There are widespread concerns about a repeat of what happened in 1982, when Syria's military, acting under orders from then-President Hafez al-Assad, father of current Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad launched an assault on the city of Hama, with thousands killed.
"People are very afraid," said Wissam Tarif, a human rights activist in Beirut, Lebanon, with the organization Avaaz, who is in touch with people in Syria.
© 2011, Catholic Online. Distributed by NEWS CONSORTIUM.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: Syria, crackdown, elections, state-run media
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