By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Syrian activists say dozens of people have been killed by an air strike on a gas station in the outskirts of Damascus.
Local residents said that they saw burning bodies and horrific scenes after the attack near the town of Maliha.
According to activists, the attack sparked a huge explosion in which up to 70 people died.
The deadly incident came hours after the United Nations human rights office released a new study, which suggests that more than 60,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said the number of casualties was “much higher than we expected, and is truly shocking.”
The report, “Preliminary Statistical Analysis of Documentation of Killings in Syria,” was commissioned by the United Nations. It took data from sources including the Syrian government and opposition groups.
The UN says the analysis was completed in five months after identifying victims by their first and last names in a combined list of nearly 148,000 reported killings.
The study points out that 76 percent of the reported victims were identified as male, but it doesn’t say whether those who died were civilians, rebels or soldiers.
The UN figure is a third more than the 45,000 deaths reported by Syrian groups opposing the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency says about 84,000 people fled Syria in December alone, bringing the total number of those displaced since the beginning of the conflict to around a half-million.
The agency says Turkey hosts the largest number of registered Syrian refugees, totaling almost 150,000 as of January 1.
Some 130,000 Syrians have fled to Lebanon, and another 120,000 to Jordan. Iraq hosts about 68,000 refugees from Syria.
In other news, the family of an American journalist says he has been missing in Syria after being kidnapped by unidentified gunmen six weeks ago.
A statement released online on January 2 by the family of freelance journalist James Foley said he was kidnapped in the northwestern Idlib Province on November 22.
Foley, 39, has worked in a number of conflict zones, including Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya.
No group has so far publically claimed responsibility for his kidnapping.
Several journalists have been abducted in Syria during the 21-month-old uprising.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 28 journalists were killed in Syria last year.