BEIRUT — Syria has entered a state of civil war with more than 4,000 people dead and an increasing number of soldiers defecting from the army to fight President Bashar Assad's regime, the U.N.'s top human rights official said Thursday.
Civil war has been the worst-case scenario in Syria since the revolt against Assad began eight months ago. Damascus has a web of allegiances that extends to Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah movement and Iran's Shiite theocracy, raising fears of a regional conflagration.
The assessment that the bloodshed in Syria has crossed into civil war came from the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay.
The conflict has shown little sign of letting up. Activists reported up to 22 people killed Thursday, adding to what has become a daily grind of violence.
"We are placing the (death toll) figure at 4,000, but really the reliable information coming to us is that it's much more than that," Pillay said in Geneva.
International intervention, such as the NATO action in Libya that helped topple longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, is all but out of the question in Syria. But there is real concern that the conflict in Syria could spread chaos across the Middle East.
Syria borders five countries with whom it shares religious and ethnic minorities and, in Israel's case, a fragile truce.
Recent economic sanctions imposed by the European Union, the Arab League and Turkey were aimed at persuading Assad to end his crackdown. On Thursday, the EU announced a new round of sanctions against Syrian individuals and businesses linked to the unrest.
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