Human rights chief calls situation “intolerable” as violence and nationwide strikes overshadow municipal elections.
More than 5,000 people are now believed to have been killed in the Syrian government’s crackdown on protests, the United Nations rights chief has told the UN Security Council.
The UN’s Navi Pillay said on Monday there were reports of increased attacks by opposition groups on President Bashar al-Assad’s security forces but highlighted “alarming” events in the besieged protest city of Homs, according to diplomats in the closed meeting.
More than 14,000 people are estimated to have been detained and at least 300 children are among the dead, Pillay told the 15-nation council, according to diplomats.
She estimated that at least 12,400 have fled into neighbouring countries since the anti-government protests erupted in March.
Pillay noted that the last time she briefed the council on Syria, in August, the death toll was at about 2,000.
With hundreds more killed in December in Assad’s crackdown “it is my estimation that the total number of people killed since the protests began earlier this year is now likely to exceed 5,000. This situation is intolerable,” she was quoted as saying.
The Security Council held a private briefing on Syria with Western nations stepping up pressure for the body to condemn the violence. Russia and China vetoed a resolution on the Syria crisis in October.
After meeting with Pillay, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told reporters: “I think it is necessary that those countries in the Security Council which are still hesitating change their mind.
“I am really shocked about what I heard about the atrocities in Syria.” “We owe this to those who lost their lives,” he said.
Among the council members, Russia, China, India, South Africa, and Brazil opposed or had strong reservations about any formal resolution which they said could be a first step to a Western campaign for regime change.
At the meeting, France’s UN ambassador Gerard Araud said “history will judge the silence of some and the indifference of others” and that “the honor of the Security Council is at stake,” French diplomats said.
Pillay told the meeting that the Syrian protesters had remained largely peaceful.
“However, reports of armed attacks by opposition forces, including the so-called Free Syrian Army, against Syrian forces have increased,” she told UN envoys.
TheÂ death toll did not include Syrian security forces, she stressed. The Syrian government says more than 1,000 police and troops have been killed in the unrest.
EarlierÂ on Monday, Syrians voted in municipal electionsÂ and many closed their businesses and kept children home from school in several parts of the country in a show of civil disobedience against the government.
The head of the elections committee, Khalaf al-Ezzawi, said “voting is proceeding in a democratic spirit,” and that the turnout was “good”. There were no further details.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 15 people were killed in the restive regions of Homs and Idlib, adding toÂ the newly issued UN toll for the number of people who have died in the nine-month crackdown on dissent.
On the ground, meanwhile, strikes were observed near Damascus and in Daraa, cradle of the protests against Assad’s regime, as part ofÂ the nationwide campaign launched on Sunday.
But despite the uprising and strike action, theÂ government pressed ahead with the municipal elections, in which 14 million Syrians can vote for 2,889 candidates vying for 17,588 seats.
Adnan Mahmud, Syria’s information minister,Â told the AFP news agencyÂ the elections were part of a package of promised democratic reforms and would be followed by legislative polls in February.
“These elections are taking place on time in line with a reform programme,” Mahmud told reporters.
Activists, meanwhile, mocked the election on their Facebook page.
“The election farce organised by the authorities was a failure in the city of Deir Ezzor where we think the turnout was no more than one per cent. The roads were empty the whole day,” an activist said of the vote in the eastern city.
The Britain-based Observatory said authorities “forced dozens of people” in Idlib to vote despite raging violence in the northwestern province where forces killed three people in an early morning raid.
It also reported army deserters have been locked in heavy clashes since dawn with regular troops in two Idlib villages and that similar fighting was also raging in Daraa province.
The opposition Syrian National Council said the “dignity” general strike launched Sunday was widely observed in 12 provinces against “all expectations”.
The Observatory said the strike was observed for the second consecutive day in Daraa and also in the restive Damascus suburb of Douma. A resident of Homs, the epicenter of the uprising, said only shops selling essential goods were open on Monday.
Opposition activists say the ongoing strike, if widely heeded, could place added economic pressure on the governmentÂ at a time when it is already struggling with growing international sanctions and isolation.
The opposition wants the strike to remain in force until the governmentÂ pulls the army out of cities and releases thousands of detainees.
Al Jazeera’s Nisreen El-Shamayleh, reporting from near the Jordan-Syria border, said that troops loyal to Assad were taking revenge against boycotting business owners.
“We heard reports that troops burned down at least 178 stores and shops in Deraa to try and take revenge against civillians who have shut down their stores and shops and are basically observing this general strike,” she said.
Residents in the capital, Damascus, said business continued as usual on Sunday and Monday with shops, schools and other businesses operating normally.