The death toll in the Syrian uprising has now exceeded 19,000 according to the Syrian Observatory For Human Rights. The London-based organization said that, if the current rate of killing continues, July will prove the deadliest month in the 16-month conflict. According to the Observatory’s chief, Rami Abdul-Rahman, 2,752 people (1,933 civilians, 738 government troops and 81 rebels) were killed in the first 21 days of July.
On Sunday, heavy fighting between the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and government troops continued near Aleppo, Syria’s second-largest city and helicopter gunships attacked parts of the capital, Damascus, to drive out rebels. Aleppo, with a population of 3 million, had so far mostly escaped the conflict; opposition forces are reportedly now heading to the city from rural areas, where they have gradually established more and more control. The regime of President Bashar al-Assad had so far maintained control of the cities at least during the day but the FSA has been capturing a number of border posts near Turkey and Iraq.
In an understatement, the Guardian comments that diplomatic efforts, including the extension of the mission for a team of United Nations monitors for 30 days, have been “largely overtaken by events.” While Russia and China have called for continued efforts for a diplomatic solution, Western allies including the US, the UK and European nations are demanding a “political transition” and for Assad to step down. European Union ministers have voted on imposing harsher sanctions on supporters of Assad and on searching airplanes and ships that are suspected of containing weapons or banned equipment meant for Syria.
On Sunday, the US agreed to give Jordan an additional $100 million to help refugees fleeing from Syria. Thousands of Syrians are now also living in refugee camps in Turkey and have also crowded border crossings in Lebanon.
Syria has said that it will not use its store of chemical weapons and missiles — of weapons of mass destruction — on the opposition fighters and would only use them in the event of an “external attack.” Nonetheless, Israel has said it will “consider action” to make sure that Syria’s Shia Islamist ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah, does not acquire its store of chemical weapons and missiles.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar have both called for arming the rebel fighters. After an emergency meeting in Qatar, foreign ministers of the Arab League also called on Assad to step down, offered his family safe passage out of Syria and called on the Syrian opposition to form a transition government.
But the BBC’s Jim Muir says that these calls have “fallen on deaf ears” as Assad reportedly held a meeting with his new army chief of staff, who has only just been appointed following the killing of four top leaders of his military-security command last week in an explosion in Damascus.
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