The UN's human rights office has raised its tally of people killed during seven months of unrest in Syria to over 2,900.

A spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said Thursday the figure is based on "reliable sources" inside and outside the country.

Rupert Colville said the names of the dead have all been confirmed and likely include some members of the security forces.

The figure represents an increase of at least 200 since the beginning of September.

Since mid-March, Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria has cracked down on protesters leading movements similar to those that have ousted other Arab autocrats this year.

The UN's announcement Thursday comes the same day the European Union moved to widen its sanctions against Syria because of the Arab state's brutal crackdown on protesters, EU officials said.

Syria's largest commercial bank is a target.

The EU moves would come after the failure by the U.S. and European allies to pass a UN Security Council resolution threatening sanctions against Syria. Russia and China vetoed Tuesday's measure, which would have been the first legally binding council resolution against since the Syria uprising began.

The 2,900 killings have already prompted the 27-nation EU to expand sanctions against Syria several times.

Canada also toughens sanctions

The latest sanctions will likely not be ready yet for EU foreign ministers to endorse during Monday's monthly council meeting. But a high-ranking EU official said they should be pushed through "in the coming days."

In August, the U.S. took action against the bank by freezing any assets the firm has in U.S. jurisdictions and banning Americans from doing business with it. The EU sanctions would likely be similar.


A man holds a sign that reads "Death Instead of Humiliation" during a protest march against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad organized by the Syrian minority in Bucharest on Sept. 2. ((Radu Sigheti/Reuters))

Over the past month, the EU has banned investment in Syria's oil sector and put a ban on Syrian crude oil imports on top of an arms embargo. Additional measures include travel and visa bans on 56 officials linked to Assad's regime.

Earlier this week, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird announced Canada is toughening and expanding its sanctions against Syria.

The new sanctions freeze the assets of 27 more people and 12 entities in the country. The expanded measures include travel restrictions, and a prohibition on dealings with members of the regime and those who provide it with support.

On Monday, the EU foreign ministers are set to call again on Assad to step down and allow for a political transition.

Troops storm villages

On the ground in Syria on Thursday, Syrian troops stormed villages close to the border with Turkey, hunting armed military defectors who fought back in clashes that left at least four soldiers and three others dead, activists said.

The fighting in the country's restive northern region of Jabal al-Zawiya, where Syrian military defectors are active, was the latest sign of a trend toward growing militarization of the uprising.

The Syrian opposition had until recently focused on non-violent resistance. But since late July, a group calling itself the Free Syrian Army has claimed attacks across the country and emerged as the first significant armed challenge to Assad's regime.

The opposition has mostly welcomed the armed group's formation, and the movement could propel the Syrian revolt by encouraging senior officers to desert the regime.

But the escalation could also backfire horribly, giving the regime a new pretext to crack down even harder than it already has.

The sectarian divide in Syria, where a regime composed mostly of the Alawite offshoot of Shiite Islam rules over Sunnis and others, also means that any insurgency could escalate quickly into civil war.

With files from CBC News