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Violence Escalates in Rebel-Government Fight Over Control of Damascus

January 4, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: The war in Syria reached another grim milestone this week. The United Nations estimated that the death toll from the almost two-year-long conflict has reached more than 60,000.

Ray Suarez has our report.

RAY SUAREZ: A pro-government TV station in Damascus played a patriotic dirge today over video from an early-morning car bombing in a mainly Sunni neighborhood. The blast killed at least 11 people, and wounded many more, as they stood in line at a gas station.

A similar explosion on Wednesday killed 30. The government blamed terrorists, its term for the rebels. The opposition claimed the Assad regime planted the bomb in a disputed neighborhood. Elsewhere in the capital, Syrian air force fighter-bombers streaked overhead. As day broke, one dropped its payload on the northeastern suburb of Duma.

It was all evidence of the escalating fight for Damascus. The rebels now hold suburbs on the southern and eastern outskirts of the city. And to the north, a rebel assault on a key government air base in IdlibProvince continued today.

That attack is being led, in part, by Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaida-linked militant group the U.S. has declared a terrorist organization.

And amid the combat this week came a grim updating of the carnage.

MARTIN NESIRKY, United Nations: The U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, said that, as there has been no letup in the conflict since the end of November, we can assume that more than 60,000 people have been killed by the beginning of this year, 2013. She said that the number of casualties is much higher than expected.

RAY SUAREZ: In a bid to keep the killing from crossing the Turkish border, American soldiers in street clothes arrived at Gaziantep in southern Turkey. They will help deploy NATO Patriot missile batteries.