By Patrick Worsnip
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The death toll in Syria's nine-month crackdown on an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad has now passed 5,000, United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay told the Security Council on Monday.
The figure represents a sharp increase over the more than 4,000 that she cited just 10 days ago.
"Today I have reported that the figure exceeds 5,000," Pillay told reporters after briefing the council in closed session on what she called the "intolerable situation" in Syria.
The figure included civilians, defecting soldiers and those executed for refusing to shoot civilians, but did not include members of the military and other security forces killed by opposition forces, she told the council.
More than 14,000 people were reportedly in detention, at least 12,400 had sought refuge in neighboring countries and tens of thousands had been internally displaced, she said, also citing "alarming reports" of moves against the city of Homs.
"Independent, credible and corroborated accounts demonstrate that these abuses have taken place as part of a widespread and systematic attack on civilians," Pillay said, according to briefing notes seen by Reuters.
She told the council her information was based on information from more than 230 witnesses, participants said.
Pillay repeated suggestions that the actions of the Syrian government could constitute crimes against humanity and issued a fresh call for the council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court.
Western envoys on the council, frustrated by Russian and Chinese blocking of action by the 15-nation body on Syria, lined up after the briefing to tell journalists they were shocked by what they had heard.
"It was the most horrifying briefing that we've had in the Security Council over the last two years," British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said after the session, which was arranged despite opposition from Russia, China and Brazil.
French Ambassador Gerard Araud said, "It is scandalous that the council, because of opposition from some members and the indifference of others ... has not been able to act to exert pressure on the Syrian authorities."
The Western envoys, who also included ambassadors from the United States, Germany and Portugal, gave no indication of how they would seek to revive the issue in the council. Lyall Grant said any action would depend on the outcome of Arab League meetings to be held in coming days.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said he too was troubled by the "tragic developments in Syria" and that "there is more in fact in the council that unites us than divides us," but he gave no sign of a change of approach by Moscow.
He repeated accusations that Western countries had gone into "regime-change mode," adding, "The tragedy is that if things were allowed to degenerate and to go in the direction of further provocation, of fanning further confrontation, then maybe (there would be) hundreds of thousands dead."
Asked what action Moscow might agree to, Churkin said, "There are no proposals."
Western countries say their proposed measures, such as sanctions, have been stymied by veto-holders Russia and China, which have already killed one resolution.
Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari said Pillay should never have been brought before the council and that the session was part of a "huge conspiracy concocted against Syria since the beginning."
He charged that Pillay "is not objective, is not fair, she is not genuine ... in the report she presented." She had "trespassed her mandate, she allowed herself to be misused in misleading the public opinion," he told reporters.
(Editing by Philip Barbara)