BEIRUT

Middle East

Death toll reaches new grim milestone

  • People stand along a damaged street in Bustan al-Basha district in Aleppo May 19, 2014. REUTERS/Hosam Katan

BEIRUT: The death toll in Syria’s three-year conflict has climbed past 160,000, a anti-regime group of activists said Monday, a harrowing figure that reflects the relentless bloodletting in a civil war that appears no closer to being resolved.

The grim tally, however, only presents one facet of the tremendous suffering that Syrians have endured since the revolt against President Bashar Assad erupted in March 2011. The crisis has also uprooted some 6.5 million people from their homes, forced 2.7 million to flee the country, laid waste to cities and towns alike and unleashed sectarian hatreds that have rippled across the region.

The government has presented Syria’s June 3 presidential election, which Assad is widely expected to win, as a means to end the conflict. The Syrian opposition and its Western allies have denounced the vote as a farce aimed solely at lending Assad a veneer of electoral legitimacy.

It also remains unclear how the government can hold a credible vote when the nation is engulfed in fighting and a significant chunk of the country is in opposition hands.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Monday it has documented 162,402 deaths in the conflict, including civilians, rebels and members of the Syrian military. That figure also contains militiamen, such as those from Lebanon’s Hezbollah, who have been fighting alongside Assad’s forces, as well as foreign fighters among the opposition forces.

The Observatory remains one of the sole organizations providing a reliable tally of Syria’s war dead and unlike several Syria-based networks of pro-opposition activists, it includes counts of the killed and wounded among the regime’s forces and its paramilitary allies.

The United Nations has stopped updating its own tally of the Syrian dead, saying it can no longer verify the sources of information. The world body’s last count in late July was 100,000 killed.

The Observatory bases its figures on information it obtains from a network of activists inside Syria. Its numbers are based on the names of those killed, collected by activists who document the dead in hospitals, morgues and identify them from video materials.

Civilians comprised about a third, or 53,978, of the Observatory’s new toll. Those deaths include 8,607 children and 5,586 women.

The uprising also has killed 26,858 rebel fighters and 37,685 Syrian soldiers, the Observatory said. It said 25,147 pro-government fighters also have died on the battlefield, including 438 Hezbollah militants, and 1,224 Shiite foreign fighters and Palestinian militants.

The Syrian government does not publicize the number of its casualties.

The Observatory counted 13,529 deaths among foreigners and other fighters who have sided with the rebels, including members of an Al-Qaeda-linked group and other hard-line Islamic groups. There are also 2,891 unidentified bodies, and 2,314 identified bodies of Syrian army troops who have crossed over to the opposition side to fight the regime.

The Observatory considers its tally a rough estimate and said the overall figure of those killed was higher than the sum of subcategories.

On the opposition side, Islamist extremists, including foreign fighters and Syrian rebels who have taken up hard-line Al-Qaeda-style ideologies, have played an increasingly prominent role in the armed opposition, dampening the West’s support for the rebellion.

Daily casualty tolls tallied by the Observatory have periodically topped 200 people in recent weeks, a figure that includes civilians, and fighters from the various groups.

In Monday’s fighting, the Observatory said that 10 aircraft strikes pounded the Damascus suburb of Mliha, two days after the commander of Syria’s air defense forces was fatally wounded by rebel forces.

Airstrikes also targeted the southern province of Deraa, where government troops have been trying to win back territory lost to rebels in recent weeks. There were “confirmed” regime casualties in clashes near the Deraa town of Nawa, the Observatory said.

Helicopters dropped a number of crude “barrel bombs” on Nawa and other areas in the province, it added.

In the city of Damascus, 10 mortar bombs fell on the Christian neighborhood of Qassaa and several other nearby districts, although casualty figures were unavailable. A mortar bomb strike also targeted Umayyad Square, near a number of military facilities and the headquarters of state TV, without causing any casualties.

Clashes also raged in Aleppo, pitting regime troops and paramilitary allies against an array of rebel groups, in the neighborhood of Rashidin and on the outskirts of the city.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 20, 2014, on page 8.
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Summary

The death toll in Syria's three-year conflict has climbed past 160,000, a anti-regime group of activists said Monday, a harrowing figure that reflects the relentless bloodletting in a civil war that appears no closer to being resolved.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Monday it has documented 162,402 deaths in the conflict, including civilians, rebels and members of the Syrian military.

The uprising also has killed 26,858 rebel fighters and 37,685 Syrian soldiers, the Observatory said. It said 25,147 pro-government fighters also have died on the battlefield, including 438 Hezbollah militants, and 1,224 Shiite foreign fighters and Palestinian militants.

The Syrian government does not publicize the number of its casualties.

In Monday's fighting, the Observatory said that 10 aircraft strikes pounded the Damascus suburb of Mliha, two days after the commander of Syria's air defense forces was fatally wounded by rebel forces.


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