- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 2, 2013

BEIRUT (AP) — The United Nations estimated Wednesday that more than 60,000 people have been killed in Syria’s 21-month-old uprising against authoritarian rule, a toll one-third higher than what anti-regime activists had counted. The U.N. human rights chief called the toll “truly shocking.”

Opposition activist groups had been estimating the death toll at more than 45,000 and this was the first time that the U.N. estimate was higher.

“Given there has been no letup in the conflict since the end of November, we can assume that more than 60,000 people have been killed by the beginning of 2013,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a statement. “The number of casualties is much higher than we expected, and is truly shocking,” she added.

“The failure of the international community, in particular the Security Council, to take concrete actions to stop the blood-letting, shames us all,” Pillay said. “Collectively, we have fiddled at the edges while Syria burns.”

A regime airstrike on a gas station in a Damascus suburb on Wednesday pushed that death toll in the civil war even higher. Anti-government activists said dozens were killed and wounded when the strike ignited an inferno and left behind a gruesome trail of charred bodies. It may be one of the bloodiest attacks in weeks.

Mohammed Saeed, an activist who visited the site in the eastern suburb of Mleiha, said the missile struck as drivers waited in line with their cars at the station. Syria is facing a fuel crisis and people often wait in line for hours to get gas.

An amateur video posted online showed the carnage at the scene, where black smoke billowed from the fire.

In northern Syria, rebels clashed with government troops near at least three airports, part of their push to cut into the government’s air power.

A number of rebel groups, including the Islamic extremist Jabhat al-Nusra, attacked a helicopter base near the village of Taftanaz in Idlib province. Videos posted online showed them blasting at targets inside the airport with heavy machine guns mounted on the backs of pick-up trucks.

The videos appeared to be genuine and corresponded to other AP reporting on the issue.

Rebels also clashed with government forces near the Mannagh airport in Aleppo province and near the Aleppo international airport, shutting down air traffic for a second straight day, activists said.

In another blow to the regime and Syria’s economy, a Philippine-based container port operator says it has pulled out of Syria and withdrawn all of its Filipino workers from a key port because of the civil war.

The move by Manila-based International Container Terminal Services Inc., through its Syrian subsidiary Tartous International Container Terminal, could effectively derail cargo services in the northwest port city of Tartus, Syria’s largest port.

The family of American journalist James Foley revealed Wednesday that he had been missing in Syria for more than one month. He was providing Agence France-Press with videos and his family said he was kidnapped by unknown gunmen on Thanksgiving day.

The family called on those holding him to contact them.

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