A report released by the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights at the beginning of October tallied the overall death toll from the Syrian conflict at more than 115,000 people. To date, it is the most detailed breakdown of casualties since the fighting began in March 2011.
The numbers were confirmed on October 16 by Israeli intelligence sources, which were cited by Israeli Homeland Security, a local think tank.
“Israel is doing a lot to know what is going on in Syria, for many reasons,” a member of the think-tank, who asked not to be named, told The Media Line. “Israel has the resources to know what is going on there."
However, members of other international organizations said that it is hard to know what is really happening in Syria and to verify the number of deaths from the war.
“The bottom line is I don’t think anybody knows,” Nadim Shehadi, an associate fellow at the non-profit independent research firm Chatham House, told The Media Line. “There are several factors. The government has been inflating the figures of its own casualties. And when you have 80,000 defectors, and some of the defectors are killed ... they [can be] counted as government forces.”
One of the main issues is accurate reporting in the dangerous environment of the conflict. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) last gave an updated figure for Syria in July, when UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reported that more than 100,000 people had been killed in the conflict.
“It’s a very complex situation in Syria, and it’s more and more difficult to find figures,” said Cécile Pouilly, a media officer for the office of the OHCHR. “Its heavy statistical work. … We’ve never gone into this level of detail because some sources are not making a differential between combatants and noncombatants.”
According to the Observatory’s figures, 40,146 civilians, including 6,087 children and 4,079 women, have been killed in the conflict. Rebels lost 19,247 fighters, compared with 47,032 regular soldiers and pro-regime militiamen. The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah has reportedly lost 174 fighters within Syria.
The Observatory said in the report that it believes the overall number is a low estimate because both sides routinely under-report losses.
These figures paint a different picture from what has been seen in the last two and a half years of fighting, during which Syrian President Bashar Assad’s well-armed troops, who control many of the urban centers, have pounded the positions of the lightly armed rebels, who hold large swaths of Syria’s countryside and parts of some major cities. The Free Syrian Army (FSA), a coalition of disparate rebel groups, has been pleading to the world to send advanced weapons so that it can defeat Assad’s technologically superior forces.
The inclusion of Islamist militants into the conflict has blurred the lines considerably. Recent fighting between the Islamists and the FSA has taken a toll on both sides and has damaged the image of the rebel movement. Some don’t believe that these opposition groups even have a common enemy.
“It is a confusing situation,” Shehadi said. “I consider the Islamist component of what is called the rebels largely a creation of the regime to divert attention from the revolt that the regime is facing. The regime created its own enemy by releasing all these Islamists from prison and getting them to form units. It’s still doing business with them. It doesn’t bomb them; it bombs the FSA. The oil still flows from the regions controlled by the al-Qaida types to the regime, and the regime pays for it.”
The Observatory report comes at a time when the FSA has been fighting pitched battles with other rebel Islamist militant groups. President Assad has increased the pressure on the rebels and his military uses tanks, artillery and warplanes against the small arms and rocket-propelled grenades of the opposition.
A chemical weapons attack in August brought the United States to the brink of using missile strikes against Assad’s forces. The strikes were avoided when Russia made an agreement that United Nations members would enter the country and eliminate Syria’s chemical stockpile by November.
The West has refused to supply substantial aid to the FSA, instead giving the rebels so-called “non-lethal aid” in the form of communications equipment and body armor.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights did not return The Media Line’s calls.
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