By Louis Charbonneau and Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS, March 27 (Reuters) - The United Nations said on Tuesday that more than 9,000 civilians have been killed in the Syrian government's yearlong assault on protesters opposed to President Bashar al-Assad, an increase of nearly 1,000 over its previous estimate.
"Violence on the ground has continued unabated, resulting in scores of people killed and injured," Robert Serry, the U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, told the 15-nation Security Council.
"Credible estimates put the total death toll since the beginning of the uprising one year ago to more than 9,000," he said. "It is urgent to stop the fighting and prevent a further violent escalation of the conflict."
The previous U.N. estimate was that more than 8,000 civilians had been killed.
Serry also referred to U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's announcement earlier on Tuesday that the Syrian government had accepted the former U.N. secretary-general's six-point peace plan.
"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," Serry said.
Britain's U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, president of the Security Council this month, told reporters that the council hoped to receive an update from Annan about Syria's acceptance of the peace plan soon.
"Obviously this is potentially a significant step and we are exploring the possibility of Kofi Annan coming to brief the Security Council later this week or early next week," he said, adding that Annan would likely address the council by video link.
In a rare moment of international unity, Russia and China joined the rest of the U.N. Security Council in throwing its weight behind Annan's efforts to end the conflict and endorsing his six-point peace plan.
Russia and China have twice vetoed resolutions condemning Assad's attempt to crush the opposition with military force but agreed to back last week's council statement in what Western diplomats said was a diplomatic blow to the Syrian government.
Morocco's U.N. Ambassador Mohammed Loulichki, the sole Arab envoy on the council, reacted cautiously to Annan's announcement.
"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," he told reporters.
German Ambassador Peter Wittig was skeptical.
"Syria has a history of credibility gaps," he said. "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," Wittig said.
Assad last year promised U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that he would halt military operations against civilian protesters but his security forces continued to crush anti-government demonstrations around the country.
BEFORE YOU GO
07/13/2012 1:00 PM EDT
Car Bomb In Damascus
Syrian policemen inspect the site of a car bomb explosion on Mazzeh highway in the capital Damascus on July 13, 2012. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/GettyImages)
07/13/2012 12:00 PM EDT
Susan Rice Condemns Killings
U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice tweets:
@ AmbassadorRice :
#Syria regime turned artillery, tanks and helicopters on its own men & women. It unleashed knife-wielding shabiha gangs on its own children.
07/13/2012 11:58 AM EDT
Russia Condemns Massacre
Russia says international envoy Kofi Annan will visit Moscow on Monday to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria. Russia also called for an inquiry into an alleged massacre that took place in the village of Tramseh on Thursday. "We have no doubt that this wrongdoing serves the interests of those powers that are not seeking peace but persistently seek to sow the seeds of interconfessional and civilian conflict on Syrian soil," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters. Moscow did not apportion blame for the killings.
Read more on Reuters.com.
07/13/2012 11:55 AM EDT
Footage Of Massacre Aftermath (WARNING: VIDEO CONTAINS DISTURBING IMAGES)
The Associated Press obtained a video that purports to show the aftermath of an alleged massacre in the village of Tramseh, near Hama.
07/13/2012 9:34 AM EDT
How Do Syrian Fighters Get Their Arms?
How do Syria's fighters get their arms? An overview put together by Reuters explains that there are three gateways to the country -- Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq.
Syrian rebels are smuggling small arms into Syria through a network of land and sea routes involving cargo ships and trucks moving through Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, maritime intelligence and Free Syrian Army (FSA) officers say.
Western and regional powers deny any suggestion they are involved in gun running. Their interest in the sensitive border region lies rather in screening to ensure powerful weapons such as surface to air missiles do not find their way to Islamist or other militants.
Read the full report here.
07/13/2012 9:10 AM EDT
Activists Report New Massacre (WARNING: GRAPHIC PHOTOS)
This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a victim wounded by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. The accounts, some of which claim more than 200 people were killed in the violence Thursday, could not be independently confirmed, but would mark the latest in a string of brutal offensives by Syrian forces attempting to crush the rebellion. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)
This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a man mourning a victim killed by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)
07/12/2012 6:50 PM EDT
Hama Revolutionary Council: More Than 220 Killed
According to the Hama Revolutionary Council, a Syrian opposition group, more than 220 people have been killed in a new alleged massacre in Taramseh. Earlier reports said more than 100 people were killed. "More than 220 people fell today in Taramseh," the Council said in a statement. "They died from bombardment by tanks and helicopters, artillery shelling and summary executions."
Fadi Sameh, an opposition activist from Taramseh, told Reuters he had left the town before the reported massacre but was in touch with residents. "It appears that Alawite militiamen from surrounding villages descended on Taramseh after its rebel defenders pulled out, and started killing the people. Whole houses have been destroyed and burned from the shelling," Sameh claimed.
Read more on Reuters.com.
07/12/2012 6:17 PM EDT
Syrian State TV: 'Large Numbers Of Terrorists Killed'
Syrian activist Rami Jarrah tweets that Syrian State TV has confirmed deaths in Tremseh. "Terrorists" is often the term used by the Syrian regime for opposition forces.
@ AlexanderPageSY :
Syrian State TV: clashes between security apparatus & terrorists in #Tremseh of #Hama leaves large numbers of terrorists killed #Syria
07/12/2012 5:36 PM EDT
Update: Death Toll In New Massacre Reportedly More Than 200
@ Reuters :
UPDATE: DEATH TOLL IN SYRIAN FORCES' ATTACK ON VILLAGE IN SYRIA'S HAMA REGION IS MORE THAN 200, MOSTLY CIVILIANS - OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS