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Syria war death toll hits 93,000, UN says. A spur to US to aid rebels?

The new UN figure for lives lost in the Syria war is 30,000 higher than in November's report. A possible battle for the city of Aleppo could drive it higher still. Obama's security team met Wednesday about how to help Syrian rebels, but no decision was apparent.

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At the same time, however, White House spokesman Jay Carney cautioned against expectations of quick decisions from the president on what to do next to help the rebels. The White House continues to worry that US-provided arms – especially the anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons the rebels seek – could fall into the hands of the Islamist extremist groups who are also fighting Assad.

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Administration officials are concerned that weapons such as shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, which could be a potent force against Assad’s intensifying air war, might also end up turned against US interests and Israel, America’s closest ally in the region. Advocates of providing US weaponry, including Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, say rebel factions can be vetted before receiving US arms.

As the Washington debate continues, the UN is painting a picture of a war that is taking a terrible and increasingly devastating toll on Syria’s children. At least 1,700 children under age 10 have died in the war, according to High Commissioner Pillay.

A separate UN report issued Thursday about the war’s impact on children says government forces torture children suspected of having links to the rebels. But it also accuses both sides of using children as suicide bombers and human shields, and to prepare and transport weapons.

Syria’s children are suffering “the heaviest toll” of anywhere in the world, the report says, noting that safe zones for children are shrinking as the war expands.

Videos uploaded to the Internet show children crushed in buildings blasted by Assad’s air force, or crying over the lifeless bodies of mothers and other family members.

Yet even as such scenes feed the image of Assad as a ruthless tyrant ready to sacrifice his people to retain power, other stories out of rebel-held areas hardly offer a brighter picture for children.

One such story concerns a 14-year-old coffee vendor, killed Sunday in Aleppo by Islamist rebels for allegedly blaspheming the name of the Prophet Muhammad.

Mohammad Qataa, selling cups of coffee from a stand to help support his family, incurred the wrath of Islamist extremists after he refused to give one of them a cup of coffee on credit, allegedly saying, “Even if Muhammad came down from heaven, I would not give you this coffee on credit."

Infuriated, the men threw Mohammad in a car, according to wire reports, later returning him to his coffee stand badly beaten. Then with Mohammad’s helpless mother present, the men, condemning the boy for “blasphemy,” shot him in the head.

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