Syria starts new year with air strikes and shelling of civilians
President Assad is apparently going to use the only advantage he has over the rebels; his air power and artillery.
Syrians woke on New Year's Day to countrywide aerial bombardment, while President Bashar al-Assad's forces and rebels fighting to topple him clashed on the outskirts of the capital.
Residents of Damascus entered the new year to the sound of artillery hitting southern and eastern districts that form a rebel-held crescent on the outskirts of the capital, the centre of which is still firmly under government control.
In the centre, soldiers manning checkpoints fired celebratory gunfire at midnight, causing alarm in a city where streets were largely deserted.
"How can they celebrate? There is no 'Happy New Year'," Moaz al-Shami, an opposition activists who lives in the capital's central Mezzeh district, said over Skype, his voice trembling with anger.
He said rebel fighters attacked one checkpoint in the district of Berzeh early on Tuesday. Opposition groups said mortar bombs hit the southwest suburb of Daraya, where the army launched a military offensive on Monday to retake the battered district.
Assad's air force pounded Damascus's eastern suburbs, as well as rebel-held areas in the second city Aleppo, and several rural towns and villages, opposition activists said.
The UN has upped its estimate of war dead substantially:
The overall death toll in devastated Syria has surpassed an estimated 60,000 people, the United Nations said Wednesday, a dramatic figure that could skyrocket as the civil war persists.
To put it in perspective: 60,000 people is roughly the population of Terre Haute, Indiana; or Cheyenne, Wyoming. It's how many people would fit in Dodger Stadium, and it's more than the 50,000-plus U.S. combat deaths in Vietnam.
The figure is about 15,000 higher than the death toll CNN had cited from a collection of sources.
It's "truly shocking" and shameful, said U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who blamed the international community for inaction.
"Collectively we have fiddled at the edges while Syria burns," she said. "While many details remain unclear, there can be no justification for the massive scale of the killing highlighted by this analysis."
The closer the Assad regime comes to collapsing, the more it will lash out at civilians, adding to the butcher's bill and making any post-Assad political environment a welcome scene of chaos for the jihadists in the rebel army.