New Syria death toll shows civilians make up one-third of casualties

McClatchy Foreign StaffApril 1, 2014 

Mideast Syria

Jan. 29, 2013 - a man walks past dead bodies in front of a river in the neighborhood of Bustan al-Qasr in Aleppo, Syria.

ABDULLAH AL-YASSIN — AP

— The Syrian civil war has claimed the lives of at least 150,344 people, most of them rebel or government fighters, as it enters its fourth year, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights announced Tuesday.

According to the observatory, an organization based in Great Britain that collects information from monitors deployed around Syria, 51,212 civilians have died since the violence started in March 2011. That’s 34 percent of the total.

The remainder of the dead are rebel fighters or Syrian government troops and militia.

The Syrian Arab Army, the official armed forces of the regime, has taken the most deaths from among the combatants, with 35,601. An additional 21,910 dead were members of the National Defense Forces. The observatory also said that 364 members of the Lebanese Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah and 605 fighters from Iranian special forces and Iraqi Shiite militias had died fighting for the government. Those numbers bring the total of pro-government combatants dead to 58,480.

Rebel dead totaled at least 37,781. Of those, 26,561 were Syrians, the observatory said, including 2,286 who’d defected from the army. At least 11,220 foreigners have died fighting with the rebels, 29 percent of the total rebel dead. They included members of the Nusra Front, al Qaida’s Syrian affiliate, and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the al Qaida-inspired group that recently has clashed with its fellow rebels over its imposition of harsh fundamentalist practices in the areas of Syria it rules.

The observatory said it hadn’t been able to identify an additional 2,871 people whose bodies had been shown in videos posted on the Internet.

The observatory said it also didn’t know the fates of 18,000 people who either had been detained by the government or might have died in government-controlled areas that couldn’t be reached for independent verification, or of 8,000 people whom rebels had detained or who’d disappeared in rebel-controlled areas.

The total also doesn’t include an estimated 1,500 people who’ve died in fighting between Kurdish militia groups and Islamist rebel groups that are battling for control of strategic corridors connecting rebel-held eastern Syria with rebel-sympathetic portions of Iraq, the observatory said.

The number of people dead is a contentious issue in Syria, where there’s no official tally of those killed in the violence. The United Nations stopped tallying the dead because it came to think its information wasn’t accurate.

Two years ago, the Syrian government stopped reporting funerals for its dead or publishing in official news media the names of those killed in combat, making it difficult to easily determine how many government supporters had been killed, and with the exception of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, no group attempts to separate civilian deaths from military deaths in its tabulations.

Prothero is a McClatchy special correspondent. Twitter: @mitchprothero

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