Violence in Syria reportedly killed nearly 3,000 people in June, making it the bloodiest month since rebels took up arms against the country’s government more than a year ago. The statistics also appeared to bear out the argument that the violence is moving closer to the Syrian capital, Damascus.
The fighting seems to be spreading rather than simply migrating: Provinces such as Homs and Idlib, two centers of the rebellion, remained violent as fighting broke out in areas around Damascus.
It was impossible to know for sure whether this was part of an offensive that some rebel groups fighting the government of President Bashar Assad claimed that they were planning months ago.
June’s death toll of 2,336 rebels and civilians is based on reports compiled by the London-based Syrian Network for Human Rights. According to the Syrian government press agency SANA, rebels killed 649 soldiers and security personnel in June, more than in any previous month.
On Thursday, the leader of a United Nations monitoring mission in the country that was suspended last month said it would remain on hold because of the increased violence.
“The escalation of violence, allow me to say, to an unprecedented level, obstructed our ability to observe, verify, report as well as assist in local dialogue,” Norwegian Maj. Gen. Robert Mood said.
The death toll is largely a result of increased rebel attacks and organization and a ham-fisted government response that relies on sweeping arrest campaigns and punishing artillery barrages against areas taken over by the rebels.
Neither side ever abided by an April cease-fire that the United Nations had called for. The rebels kept arming, and the government continued to shell and attack to try to prevent the rebels from rearming and taking more territory.
Some areas remain in a tense stalemate as Syrian troops strike deals with local rebels. The army often is pinned into its positions, choosing to shell and snipe from small outposts rather than patrol. Both sides say rebels in large parts of the country north of Homs have forced the military for months to deliver even basic supplies to its soldiers in heavily armored convoys.
One of the places that fit that description of wavering detente is Khan Sheikhoun, a rebellious city north of Hama. On Wednesday and Thursday, fighters there said the army was attempting to break such a stalemate. Khan Sheikhoun lies along the country’s main highway between Damascus and Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and its economic hub. Activists in Khan Sheikhoun said six people had been killed by shelling and fighting there since the beginning of the month.
June ended with a campaign by the military to retake Douma, a suburb of Damascus that’s been the scene of fighting since last year. The military shelled parts of Douma heavily, killing a number of civilians, activists there said. The government also is accused of executing a number of fighters and civilians in Douma.
Helicopters also were used in the Douma assault, part of what appears to be a pattern of wider use of Assad’s air power across the country. Though the helicopter strikes are frequently inaccurate, the sight of helicopters overhead sends people scattering, afraid that the pilots might attack any gathering in a rebel-held area and, in some places, any moving vehicle.
According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, the most violent province in June was the Damascus countryside. That area includes large suburbs of the capital, such as Douma, that have become war zones. Douma is home to more than 100,000 people.
The human rights network relies on activists and others in Syria to report deaths and attempts to corroborate them by identifying victims and collecting video evidence when available. Many of the reporters are anti-government activists, and sometimes it’s unclear whether the dead were engaged in armed struggle or were simply bystanders.
The Syrian government reports state burials of soldiers and other security personnel killed by rebels, but it doesn’t provide specific information about when or where they were killed.
The network has recorded more than 16,000 deaths since the uprising against Assad’s government began in March 2011. Those numbers don’t include military deaths. According to the Syrian government, more than 5,000 military and security personnel have died since the uprising began.
Enders is a McClatchy special correspondent.