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UN: Syrian Death Toll Crosses 9,000 Mark

Mounting death toll in Syria is causing great concern to the United Nations which says that more than 9,000 people have been killed in security crackdowns on anti-Assad protesters since unrest broke out in the Arab country a year ago.

"Violence on the ground has continued unabated, resulting in scores of people killed and injured," U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East peace process Robert Serry told the 15-nation Security Council on Tuesday.

"Credible estimates put the total death toll since the beginning of the uprising one year ago to more than 9,000," he said and called for an immediate halt to security crackdowns on protesters to prevent further escalation of violence.

Referring to Syria accepting U.N.-Arab League special envoy for Syria Kofi Annan's six-point peace plan to end the crisis, Serry said "immediate steps are needed now from the Syrian government to act on their commitments and demonstrate to the Syrian people that they are ready for a cessation of violence and a political process, issues on which (Annan) will also engage the Opposition." Annan is expected to brief the Council on Monday by video conference.

Russia and China, which had twice vetoed resolutions condemning the Assad regime for the violence, joined rest of the Council in supporting Annan in his efforts to find a solution to the Syrian conflict.

Cautiously reacting to Annan's announcement about the Assad regime accepting his peace plan, Morocco's U.N. Ambassador Mohammed Loulichki, the sole Arab envoy on the Council, said "if Mr. Kofi Annan said that he has received a positive answer we have to see this answer, and I think everybody will assess that."

Casting doubt on President Bashar al-Assad accepting Annan's peace plan, German Ambassador Peter Wittig said that "Syria has a history of credibility gaps. The Presidential Statement we adopted last week, contains a very clear call on the Syrians to halt the violence, to stop the forward movement, the use of heavy weapons and to start to pull back. This we have not seen on the ground."

Meanwhile, moves are afoot for forging unity in the Syrian Opposition ranks to put up a joint platform in the fight against the Assad regime and to provide an effective and credible alternative in the event of Assad's exit from power.

Over 300 members of various Opposition parties, including Ammar Quarabi, head of National Change Current, a coalition of Opposition groups which have refrained from joining the Syrian National Council (SNC), met in the Turkish metropolis of Istanbul on Tuesday for unity talks ahead of the April 1 meeting of "Friends of Syria," a coalition of more than 130 countries bent on curbing violence in Syria,

According to Turkish media reports, the SNC, Syria's largest political Opposition bloc, has redoubled its efforts to ally with minority Opposition groups at the Friends of Syria meeting.

by RTTNews Staff Writer

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