AMMAN - Security forces shot dead 17 people in Syria on Tuesday and rebels killed seven police in an ambush, activists said, after the UN human rights chief put the death toll from nine months of protest against President Bashar Assad at 5,000.The latest figure reported to the UN Security Council by Navi Pillay is 1,000 higher than the one she announced just 10 days ago. The toll includes civilians, army defectors and those executed for refusing to shoot civilians, but not soldiers and other security personnel killed by opposition forces, she said.RELATED:German FM: Syria death toll reaches 5,000Syria votes, activists say polls a sham West warns Syria against storming rebel city Syrian defectors rally in Turkey, plot Assad's end The Syrian government has said more than 1,100 members of the army, police and security services have been killed.A wave of largely peaceful protests against four decades of Assad family rule erupted in Syria in mid-March, inspired by popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya. A violent security crackdown failed to halt the unrest, which has turned bloodier in the last few months as defecting soldiers join armed civilians in fighting back in some areas. One flashpoint region is the central province of Homs, where an explosion set a gas pipeline on fire on Monday, the second reported pipeline blast in the area in a week. "The fire lit the night sky," said a resident who gave his name as Abu Khalaf.
The explosion occurred near the restive town of Rastan, the scene in late September of one of the first battles between army defectors and security forces. The insurgents have since opted for hit-and-run attacks on patrols and security compounds.Despite the spiralling violence, the Syrian authorities held local elections on Monday as part of what they say is a reform process, but Assad's critics described the voting as irrelevant.Monday was also the second day of the opposition's "Strike for Dignity," but its success was hard to gauge in some cities where violence has kept many residents in their homes.Though the strike has found support in protest strongholds around the country, it has not taken hold in central parts of the capital Damascus or the business hub of Aleppo.