Twelve people were killed in clashes between soldiers and deserters in villages of Idlib province in northwest Syria on Thursday, a human rights group said.
“Seven soldiers and five deserters or civilians were killed in the clashes in villages west of Jabal al-Zawiya,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, adding that dozens of people were wounded, according to AFP.
The Observatory and the Local Coordination Committees, an anti-regime activist network, said soldiers and security forces raided the villages backed by tanks.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, meanwhile, said that more than 2,900 people have been killed in the six months since the beginning of a crackdown on anti-government protests in Syria.
“According to the detailed list of names of individuals we’ve been keeping, the total number of people killed since protests began in Syria now stands at more than 2,900,” Commission spokesman Rupert Colville told AFP in Geneva.
Colville said that figure could rise because “quite a lot more people” have been reported missing in Syria since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s government in mid-March, and the U.N. has yet to verify their whereabouts.
On Friday the U.N. Human Rights Council will discuss the situation in Syria, after Russia and China on Tuesday vetoed a European-backed draft U.N. Security Council resolution that would have threatened possible action against Assad. Non-permanent members South Africa, Brazil, India, and Lebanon abstained.
In the wake of the veto, human rights groups called on the Human Rights Council to denounce the Syrian government over its heavy-handed methods.
“We call on all countries to denounce the gravity, the scope and the systematic nature of human rights violations in the repression of Syria's largely peaceful protest movement,” Philippe Dam of Human Rights Watch told AFP.
“The Human Rights Council has already adopted two resolutions on the current repression in Syria and the fact that the Syrian government has done nothing to respond to them and to allow international investigations should worry all U.N. members,” he said.
The Council had on Aug. 23 ordered its second probe into violations committed by the Syrian regime during its crackdown on popular protests, but an investigating team has yet to be allowed into the country.
The first team formed by the Council in April was blocked from entering Syria and had to base its investigation on interviews of people in and out of the country, as well as on videos, photos and written communications.
Syria, meanwhile, rejected allegations by Amnesty International that the government has harassed Syrians living abroad to deter them from criticizing President Assad.
“There have been concerted efforts recently by individuals and the media to spread lies and distortions regarding the embassy of Syria,” Syria’s mission in Washington said in an e-mailed statement in response to an Oct. 4 report by the London-based human-rights group. “These preposterous allegations claim that the embassy is involved in targeting or intimidating Syrian expatriates in the U.S., which is absolutely untrue.”
Amnesty alleged that Syrian activists in the U.S., as well as in Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden and the U.K., have faced intimidation by Syria’s diplomatic officials and that some of their relatives in Syria have been harassed, detained and tortured. Syria has been gripped by an uprising that started in March, with protesters demanding Assad’s ouster.