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Syria Death Toll Rises as Kuwait Offers to Host Donor Conference

The Syrian death toll rose again today as a mortar shell hit a building in central Damascus. More than 60 people were killed in violence across the country, Al Arabiya television said, citing activists.

The shelling occurred as leaders from the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council, meeting in Manama today, said the Syrian opposition should be supported as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. Kuwait said it would host an international donors conference for Syria next month.

The humanitarian situation in Syria is “dire,” said Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Al Khalifa at a news conference following the meeting of GCC heads of state. GCC Secretary-General Abdel Latif al-Zayyani said the Kuwait conference will be held on Jan. 30.

The violence continued a day after UN Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi met with President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, saying afterward that he found no indication of progress toward a negotiated settlement. The bombing of a bakery in Helfeya this week by government warplanes killed 94 people, according to opposition groups. More than 44,000 people have died in the conflict since March 2011, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Pope Benedict XVI in a Christmas address decried the slaughter of the “defenseless” in Syria, according to the Associated Press.

Heavy Weapons

International efforts to end the civil war have failed to prevent the rising death toll as the government uses heavy weapons to halt the rebellion. Russia and China have blocked two UN Security Council resolutions to force an end to the fighting.

Syrian rebels said they captured a northern town, Harem in Idlib province, early today after weeks of siege and heavy fighting, the AP said, citing the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“Harem is fully liberated now,” the AP quoted Mohammed Kanaan, an Idlib-based activist, as saying. Kanaan said the last post to be taken in the town, close to the Turkish border, was the historic citadel that the army had turned into a military post, AP reported.

Syria’s former Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi fled to the U.S. and was cooperating with American intelligence officials, the Guardian reported today. Makdissi provided information on the decision-making process in the top ranks of the Syrian regime, the U.K. newspaper said, adding that the U.S. had helped Makdissi escape to Washington.

Al-Manar TV, the mouthpiece of Lebanon’s Iranian-backed Hezbollah group, said Makdissi had been fired for making statements that didn’t align with the government’s position. Al Arabiya said Makdissi defected.

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