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Syria death toll tops 100,000: UN leader

DAMASCUS--More than 100,000 people have now been killed in the Syrian civil war, U.N. leader Ban Ki-moon said Thursday, as he appealed for new efforts to convene a peace conference.

The U.N. chief and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters at the United Nations there could be no military solution to the 28-month-old conflict, which began as peaceful protests inspired by the Arab Spring but rapidly boiled over into an all-out war.

“More than 100,000 people have been killed, millions of people have either been displaced or become refugees in neighboring countries,” Ban said.

“We have to bring this to an end. The military and violent actions must be stopped by both parties, and it is thus imperative to have a peace conference in Geneva as soon as possible.”

Violence continued to rage in the flashpoint city of Homs while a car bombing in Damascus killed 17 people, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The United States and Russia vowed in May to press for a follow-up to a peace conference held in Geneva last year that set out a transition plan.

However, divisions in the international community and disagreements between the Syrian regime and the fractured opposition have stymied efforts to convene the meeting.

As the U.N. chief pressed for peace efforts, the main Syrian opposition group again demanded U.S. arms, saying the situation had grown “desperate” following recent regime advances.

President Bashar al-Assad is “pursuing a military victory using indiscriminate weapons ranging from chemical weapons to cluster bombs,” Opposition Syrian National Coalition President Ahmad Jarba said after meeting with Kerry.

“To deny us the right to self-defense is to risk that the regime will survive: thousands will be executed, the repression will continue without end.”

Kerry declined to comment on any U.S. military aid, saying he remained focused on trying to launch peace talks.

“There is no military solution to Syria, there is only a political solution. That will require leadership in order to bring people to the table,” Kerry said.

He said he spoke on Wednesday with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov of Russia — Assad's main international backer — and that both Washington and Moscow were committed to pressing ahead with the Geneva process.

Ban has previously said he would like a peace conference in September. But many UN diplomats now doubt the two sides can be brought to the negotiating table at all.

“The chances of a meaningful peace conference are now zero, but the U.S. and U.N. can't admit that,” said Richard Gowan of New York University's Center for International Cooperation.

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