Syria toll passes 100,000 as peace meet prospects fade

DAMASCUS (AFP) - More than 100,000 people have been killed in Syria's uprising, a watchdog said on Wednesday, as a proposed Geneva peace conference looked set to be delayed, dimming hopes for an end to the bloodshed.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists and officials on the ground for its information, said the death toll from the civil war was now 100,191 people.

The toll is a testament to the levels of violence wracking the country, which has been ravaged by the conflict that broke out in March 2011 with peaceful demonstrations calling for regime change.

Despite the violence, a US-Russian proposal dubbed Geneva 2 that would bring rebels and regime representatives to the negotiating table has yet to bear any fruit.

In Geneva, the international peace envoy to Syria, Mr Lakhdar Brahimi, said the talks were likely to be delayed, though they were initially slated to start in June.

"Frankly, I doubt that the conference will take place in July," Mr Brahimi told reporters ahead of a meeting with diplomats, including US and Russian representatives.

A diplomatic source close to the talks said the United States and Russia still maintain irreconcilable positions over President Bashar al-Assad's fate in a future transitional government.

The United States insists a transitional government should exclude President Assad, while Russia believes it should include representatives of his regime.

After hours of discussion, the two states - which support opposite sides in Syria's war - have found no common ground, said the source.

Despite its support for the opposition, the United States said there would be no military solution for Syria.

"This is not Libya. It is very different in many, many ways," Mr Kerry told reporters in Kuwait City in response to a question on why there had been no military intervention in Syria as during Libya's 2011 armed uprising.

In Washington, the State Department said the United States was eager for Geneva 2 to go ahead but cannot "put a timeline on it".

The Syrian regime has said it is willing to attend any peace meeting, but has insisted it will not be going to Geneva to hand over power and that Assad will not resign.

President Assad's resignation is a key rebel demand, and the opposition has said it will not attend unless certain conditions are met, including the withdrawal of Lebanese Hezbollah fighters from Syria.

Violence raged on the ground, with forces loyal to President Assad pushing into the countryside near the central city of Homs, said the Britain-based Observatory.

In Damascus, troops pounded the district of Qadam, home to pockets of rebel resistance. They also kept shelling northeastern Qaboon, while rebels clashed with troops in Barzeh in northern Damascus.

Savage rights violations continued to come to light, with a video distributed by the Observatory showing non-Syrian jihadists beheading with a knife two men suspected of collaborating with Assad's regime.

"Such barbaric violations are just as bad as the regime's. This needs to stop," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP, adding the amateur video had been shot in northern Syria.

The Observatory's new death toll includes at least 36,661 civilians, more than 3,000 of them women and more than 5,000 of them aged under 16.

Also among the deaths were at least 25,407 soldiers, 17,311 pro-regime militia and 169 members of Hezbollah who are fighting alongside Syria's army.

Another 2,571 unidentified people were killed.

Syria kept up its tirade against states that back the rebellion, lashing out at Saudi Arabia after the kingdom urged global action against Assad's regime and said the war had turned into "genocide".

"The violence in Syria is being caused by Saudi arms, Saudi money and terrorists linked to Saudi Arabia," said Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi.

The conflict has left Syria with few allies in the Middle East, and spilled over its borders.

In the capital of neighbouring Lebanon, men armed with knives attacked a group of Syrians, injuring 20 of them.

And in a surprise development, a Russian daily reported key Assad ally Moscow has withdrawn all its military personnel from Syria, leaving its strategic Tartus naval centre unstaffed because of escalating insecurity.