January death toll in Syria rises as talks remain stalled

McClatchy NewspapersFebruary 1, 2013 

Mideast Syria

Syrian citizens bury bodies of those who were found dead next to a river last Tuesday and who were not identified by their relatives, in Aleppo, Syria.


— Syrian human rights activists recorded a slight increase in deaths in January compared with December, but still fewer than what so far has been the peak of the violence in the country last summer.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights recorded at least 3,857 deaths in January, roughly the same number recorded in November. Nearly half the casualties – 1,906 – were listed as civilians. Rebel fighters, Syrian government soldiers and militia made up the rest in approximately equal numbers.

The observatory announced Monday that its casualty count had topped 50,000 overall. A study commissioned by the United Nations and released at the beginning of the year put the number of deaths at more than 60,000, while some groups argue that the total is even higher.

August and September remain the deadliest months of the war, with one human rights group recording 5,605 casualties in August and 4,690 in September.

The sustained violence has prompted Syrians to continue to flee the country in large numbers. The Jordanian government said that more than 20,000 people crossed its border from Syria in a single week in January.

Toward the end of the month, Syrian and rebel news accounts suggested that the military had succeeded in entering Busra al Harir, a city near the border that rebels had taken over in previous months.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations envoy to Syria, told the U.N. news agency Thursday that he had no plans to return to Syria. Though both sides have set conditions for talking to each other, neither side is likely to accede to the other’s demands as a prerequisite for talks.

Brahimi is the second U.N. envoy to Syria since the conflict began. A monitoring mission overseen by Kofi Annan last year led to a decrease in violence before the monitors withdrew from the country. The violence rose dramatically after they did.

The bloodiest province in the country remained the region around Damascus, as it has been since fighting broke out there in June. Though rebels claimed to have increasingly taken space around the city of Aleppo, that area remained the second most violent of the country’s 14 provinces.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights reported that 1,079 rebels and civilians were killed in Damascus in January.

Rebels have claimed to have prevented the government from carrying out as many air attacks in Aleppo as it has in previous months, and they’ve continued to besiege air bases in the area after overrunning a major one in January. However, deaths in the province rose slightly from 594 in December to 652 in January, according to the network. Deaths in Aleppo had dropped steeply from 940 in October to 435 in November, a low since the fighting began there.

Aleppo was also the site last week of a gruesome discovery: dozens of male corpses floating in a canal, apparently executed by government forces. Though each side has blamed the other for the executions, the fact that journalists working in rebel-controlled areas had access to the funerals of some of the victims suggests that they’d been killed by the government. The identities of many of the victims remained unknown.

The ratio of civilians to fighters killed across the country remained roughly 1 to 1, according to the statistics provided by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Enders is a McClatchy special correspondent. Email: denders@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter @davidjenders

McClatchy Washington Bureau is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service