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Syria toll passes 100,000 as peace meet prospects fade

Syrian villagers stand around a mass grave in Taftnaz, on April 6, 2012
A picture released on April 6, 2012, by the Local Coordination Committees in Syria (LCC) shows villagers standing around a mass grave in Taftnaz, in northwestern Idlib province. More than 100,000 people have been killed in Syria since the beginning of the

More than 100,000 people have been killed in Syria, a watchdog said in a new toll on Wednesday, as diplomats said a proposed peace conference in Geneva will likely be delayed.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists, lawyers and doctors on the ground in Syria, said the death toll was now 100,191 people.

That figure includes at least 36,661 civilians, more than 3,000 of them women and more than 5,000 of them children under the age of 16.

On the regime side, the group reported the deaths of at least 25,407 army soldiers, 17,311 pro-regime militia and 169 members of the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, which has dispatched fighters to battle alongside the Syrian army.

The group counted another 2,571 unidentified people killed in the fighting throughout the war-torn country up until June 24.

The figures are a testament to the levels of violence wracking the country, which has been ravaged by a civil war that began with peaceful demonstrations calling for regime change.

The new toll came after the United States and the UN's peace envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi said a timeline for a proposed peace conference in Geneva would almost certainly slip.

The conference to discuss a political resolution to the Syrian conflict has been backed by the United States and Russia, despite their support for opposing sides in the war.

But the initial optimism over the proposal has given way to increasingly scepticism.

The meeting was initially expected to take place in June, a date then pushed back to July, but Brahimi said Tuesday that further delays were likely.

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

In Washington, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said the United States was eager for the meeting to go ahead but could not "put a timeline on it."

"We want to have this as soon as possible, we've been clear about that," Ventrell said.

"Clearly, the situation on the ground, clearly, the regime's continued avoidance of this real discussion, are serious impediments."

"I'm just not going to put a timeline on it, but we think that it's an important process, and we'll continue to pursue 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 President Bashar al-Assad will not resign.

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

Syria's government meanwhile lashed out on Wednesday at Saudi Arabia, after the kingdom urged global action against Assad's regime, saying the Syrian war had turned into a "genocide."

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

Syria's conflict has left the country with few allies in the Middle East, and spilled over its borders, particularly into neighbouring Lebanon, where the fighting has raised tensions.

On Wednesday, at least 20 Syrians were injured when they were attacked by men armed with knives in an eastern neighbourhood of Beirut.

"Three cars with tinted windows intercepted a minibus carrying 25 Syrians in the Jisr al-Wati neighbourhood. Eight men attacked the passengers with knives, injuring 20 of them," a police source told AFP.

The National News Agency said the group was headed to a studio to record Syrian folklore music.

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