U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay said in Geneva that researchers, who cross-referenced seven sources over five months of analysis, had listed 59,648 people killed in Syria between March 15, 2011 and Nov. 30, 2012.
“The number of casualties is much higher than we expected and is truly shocking,” she said. “Given that there has been no let-up 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.”
The toll does not breakdown the deaths by ethnicity or by whether those killed were civilians, opposition fighters or Syrian regime soldiers.
Previously, the opposition-linked Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group had put the toll at around 45,000 confirmed dead but said the real number was likely to be higher.
In reference to the U.N. figure, Pillay said Wednesday that “although this is the most detailed and wide-ranging analysis of casualty figures so far, this is by no means a definitive figure.”
“We have not been able to verify the circumstances of each and every death, partly because of the nature of the conflict and partly because we have not been allowed inside Syria since the unrest began in March 2011.”
The U.N. High Commissioner added that “once there is peace in Syria, further investigations will be necessary to discover precisely how many people have died, and in what circumstances, and who was responsible for all the crimes that have been committed.”
The analysts cited by the U.N. official noted that 60,000 was likely to be an underestimate of the actual number of deaths, given that reports containing insufficient information were excluded from the list, and that a significant number of killings might not have been documented.
The analysis - which the U.N. High Commissioner stressed is “a work in progress, not a final product” - shows a steady increase in the average number of documented deaths per month since the beginning of the conflict, from around 1,000 per month in the summer of 2011 to an average of more than 5,000 per month since July 2012.
The greatest number of reported killings have occurred in Homs (12,560), rural Damascus (10,862) and Idlib (7,686), followed by Aleppo (6,188), Daraa (6,034) and Hama (5,080).
In the latest violence, dozens were killed in a rebellious Damascus suburb when a government air strike turned a petrol station into an inferno, incinerating drivers who had rushed there for a rare chance to fill their tanks, activists said.
“I counted at least 30 bodies. They were either burnt or dismembered,” said Abu Saeed, an activist who arrived in the area an hour after the 1 p.m. (1100 GMT) raid in Muleiha, a suburb on the eastern edge of the capital, he told Reuters news agency.
It was not immediately clear if the bomb blasts caused the storage tanks to explode, but the scene was engulfed in fire, which suggests that was the case.
“MIG warplane strikes on Eastern Ghuta! Dozens of martyrs!” a man shouted out as he and a fellow cameraman raced toward plumes of smoke to survey the damage in a gruesome video posted on YouTube.
A man stood wailing to God as he held what was left of his friend, a head and a shredded torso with a bloodied shirt still hanging on flaps of skin.
A fire extinguisher lay in the street as dozens of men rushed to dig out any survivors from beneath heaping piles of metal and steel I-beams as fires raged beside them.
One man, his face covered in blood, was helped out from the rubble.
The camera panned to show the body of another man on the hood of a car, charred from head to toe, his severed leg splayed out beside him as a fire ravaged the right side of his body.
Another man was still atop a motorcycle in the middle of the fire, his body engulfed in flames.
Some bystanders stood in shock, staring into space, surrounded by scattered burning vehicles, heaps of metal and pools of blood still wet on the pavement.
In another video, a man’s leg is charred down to the bone. The camera continues to show his entire burned and mutilated body, ending at his face. The man was still conscious and coughing up blood.
The authenticity of the video could not immediately be verified.
Meanwhile 12 members of the same family, most of them children, were killed in an air raid in Moadamiyet al-Sham, a town southwest of Damascus which is partly held by rebels, the Observatory said.
Warplanes also attacked insurgent strongholds across other parts of the capital.
The Observatory gave an initial toll of 59 people killed nationwide on Wednesday.
In the north, rebels launched a major attack to take a military airport, and said they had succeeded in destroying a fighter plane and a helicopter on the ground.