- Associated Press - Sunday, September 2, 2012

BEIRUT (AP) — At least 1,600 people were killed last week in Syria in the deadliest seven days since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began in March 2011, UNICEF, the U.N. children’s fund, said Sunday.

In addition, two Syrian activist groups said about 5,000 people were killed in Syria in August, making it the deadliest month in the 17-month uprising.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Sunday that 5,440 people, including 4,114 civilians, were killed. The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, said 4,933 civilians were killed in August.

The civil war witnessed a major turning point in August when Mr. Assad’s forces began widely using air power for the first time to crush the revolt. The fighting also reached Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, which had been relatively quiet for most of the 17-month-old revolt.

Last week, activists reported that between 300 and 600 people were killed in the Damascus suburb of Daraya during days of shelling and a killing spree by troops who stormed the town after heavy fighting.

Over the past week, activists had been reporting daily death tolls for the entire country averaging from 100 to 250, attributed in part to the increasingly heavy use of air power in different areas and daily rounds of shelling and clashes in Aleppo.

UNICEF spokesman Patrick McCormick provided the death toll of 1,600 and said it included some children. He did not immediately explain how he arrived at the figure, but there have been many reports from activists and witnesses of civilians killed in airstrikes that hit homes or residential areas.

Activists have been estimating for the past month a death toll of around 20,000 since the uprising began, but that figure did not take into account the deadly month of August, when the toll rose sharply.

While the military largely has been able to quell the offensive rebels launched in Damascus in July, it is still struggling to stamp out a rebel push in the northern city of Aleppo.

In the latest violence on Sunday, the Observatory for Human Rights said the military pounded rebel holdouts in Aleppo, the country’s largest city and commercial capital. There was also fighting in the central city of Homs; in Idlib province, on the border of Turkey; and in suburbs near Damascus.

The Observatory said several people were killed in the violence, but it did not have any figures.

Two bombs exploded near the offices of the Syrian military’s joint chiefs of staff in central Damascus, lightly wounding four army officers and damaging buildings and cars, state television reported. The twin blasts in the posh Abu Rummaneh district were the latest in a wave of bombings to hit Damascus in recent months as clashes between government troops and rebels reached the tightly controlled capital.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombings, which government officials said appeared to target a building under construction near the offices of the joint chiefs of staff. The building, which is officially known as the Guards Battalion and was empty at the time of the blast, serves as a base for army officers who guard the joint chiefs of staff offices some 200 yards away.

Several past bombings have targeted the security establishment in Damascus, most notably a July blast that killed four senior security officials, including the defense minister and his deputy, who was Mr. Assad’s brother-in-law.

The government officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media, said the wounded Sunday were army officers and they had minor injuries.

Footage broadcast on state TV showed a damaged building with debris strewn across the street. The blasts punched a hole in one of the building’s walls and blew out the windshield and windows of an SUV parked nearby.

The twin bombings were the second in recent weeks to hit Abu Rummaneh. On Aug. 15, a bomb attached to a fuel truck exploded outside the Dama Rose hotel, where U.N. observers stayed before ending their mission to Syria. That blast, which hit a military compound parking lot, wounded three people.

Late Saturday, a car bomb near a Palestinian refugee camp in a suburb of Damascus killed at least 15 people, according to the state news agency, SANA. It said Sunday the explosion in the suburb of al-Sbeineh also wounded several people and caused heavy damage to buildings in the area.

The agency blamed the blast on an “armed terrorist group,” the term the regime uses to describe the rebel Free Syrian Army seeking to topple Mr. Assad.

When Syria’s unrest began, the country’s half-million Palestinians at first struggled to remain on the sidelines. But in the past months, young Palestinian refugees — enraged by mounting violence and moved by Arab Spring calls for greater freedoms — have been taking to the streets and even joining the rebels.

Associated Press writer Albert Aji in Damascus contributed to this report.

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