DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — The number of dead in Syria's civil war has passed 100,000, the U.N. chief said Thursday, calling for urgent talks on ending 2½ years of violence even as President Bashar Assad's government blasted the United States as an unsuitable peace broker.
In the latest example of the relentless carnage, a car bomb killed at least 10 people and wounded 66 in a pro-regime, residential area near the capital.
All international attempts to broker a political solution to the Syrian civil war have failed. Despite a stalemate that has settled in for months, both sides still believe they can win the war and have placed impossible conditions for negotiations.
The international community has been unable — and some say, unwilling — to intervene sufficiently to tip the balance in favor of either the Assad regime or the rebels.
"There is no military solution to Syria," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters at the United Nations. "There is only a political solution, and that will require leadership in order to bring people to the table."
He spoke ahead of talks with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who said the death toll had risen from nearly 93,000 just over a month ago to more than 100,000. Syrian opposition groups had made that same estimate a month ago.
The uprising against Assad's rule began in March 2011 and deteriorated into an insurgency with growing sectarian overtones.
Ban called on the Syrian government and opposition to halt the violence, saying it is "imperative to have a peace conference in Geneva as soon as possible."
The U.S. and Russia are working to convene a conference, along with the United Nations, to try to agree on a transitional government based on a plan adopted in Geneva a year ago.
No official date has been set because the opposition refuses to attend any talks that are not about Assad's departure. Syrian government officials say participation in the conference should be without preconditions, but add that Assad's departure before his term expires in 2014 is not negotiable. Assad has also said he has the right to run for elections again.
Kerry said he talked to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Wednesday and that both countries remained committed to bringing the warring parties together to further peace efforts.
"We will try our hardest to make that happen as soon as is possible," Kerry said.
He said after a meeting with the leader of Syria's Western-backed opposition group that the talks were "very, very constructive." He said the opposition agreed to work over the next few weeks to pinpoint the conditions under which a Geneva conference "can work."
Ahmad Al-Jarba, the Syrian National Coalition's newly elected president, called the situation in Syria "desperate" and urged the United States to quickly supply promised weapons to prevent a military victory by Assad.
The U.S. government opposed providing any lethal assistance to Syria's rebels until last month but is moving ahead now with sending weapons to vetted rebels after securing the approval of the House and Senate Intelligence committees.
President Barack Obama and his national security team have yet to say publicly what weapons they'll provide and when they'll deliver them. There has also been concern in the West that U.S. weapons could end up in the hands of al-Qaida-linked groups.
Al-Jarba said the coalition "fully understands" those concerns but "we need American direct support to save democracy in Syria and to lead the world to force Assad at last to stand down."