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Death toll seen soaring in Syria

By David Enders, McClatchy Newspapers –

ANTAKYA, Turkey — The number of people killed in violence in Syria has skyrocketed since U.N. efforts to broker a peace agreement fell apart in June, with the total number of dead, including both government loyalists and opponents, now likely surpassing 30,000 since demonstrations against President Bashar Assad began nearly 18 months ago, according to recently available statistics.

The pace of killing grew by 55 percent in July and then another 48 percent in August, according to numbers gathered by the Syrian Network for Human Rights, which documents rebel and civilian deaths.

While the increase in violence has been obvious — the rebels launched assaults on the country’s capital, Damascus, and its business center, Aleppo, in July, and the government counterattacked in August — the speed with which the violence has surged, as captured by the numbers, is breathtaking.

During April and May, the two months when the U.N.’s Syria envoy, Kofi Annan, was actively trying to find an accommodation between Assad and his opponents, the death toll dropped 36 percent from its previous high, in March, when the Syrian Network for Human Rights recorded 2,101 deaths. In May, that number had fallen to 1,344.

But once the rebels declared an end to the cease-fire and the U.N. pulled back its observers in mid-June, deaths shot up quickly — by 78 percent, to 2,336, in June; up another 55 percent, to 3,643, in July, and then up nearly 48 percent in August, to 5,384, a record high. The last U.N. monitor left Syria on Aug. 23.

Those totals do not include the deaths of Syrian soldiers, police and government sympathizers killed by the rebels. The Syrian government news service, SANA, last reported casualty counts for its forces in late June, when at least 649 had died so far that month.

Altogether, however, the likely death toll is now in excess of 30,000 since the uprising began in March 2011, with the Syrian Network for Human Rights saying it had recorded more than 24,000 civilian and rebel deaths, and the government reporting a total death toll of 7,928 as of July 9, according to a U.N. report released last month.

How many of the dead are combatants is impossible to know. The Syrian Network for Human Rights said 596 women and children died in July and 784 in August.

The rising violence also has driven more people from their homes, with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees reporting that more than 200,000 Syrians have sought refuge outside Syria. Thousands more are waiting to do so but have not been allowed to cross borders, as neighboring countries have tightened border controls in anticipation of a surge of refugees.

It’s difficult to say who has the upper hand in the fighting. August saw major offensives by the Syrian government to dislodge rebel fighters from areas they had taken in July, particularly in Damascus. But despite heavy shelling and the government’s troops overrunning one rebel stronghold in the southern part of the city, fighting continues in many of the same places where the government has been battling rebels since mid-June. Rebels also have continued their campaign of bombings in the capital, striking government security offices on Sunday.


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