At least 93,000 people have been killed in Syria since peaceful protests against President Bashar al-Assad more than two years ago sparked a civil war, the United Nations said in an analysis of casualties.
An update of the UN’s inaugural January study listed 92,901 unique killings and showed that on average more than 5,000 people have died every month since July 2012.
The “true” number is “potentially much higher” because almost 38,000 cases were excised for insufficient information. There is also “a strong likelihood that a significant number” of deaths weren’t reported at all, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a statement from Geneva today.
Participation of neighboring Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah militia to back Assad has transformed civil strife between an Alawite-led minority and mostly Sunni rebels into a broader regional conflict along sectarian lines. The capture last week by forces loyal to Assad of a strategic stronghold has been described as a key turning point for the turmoil to his favor.
Yesterday, a Syrian military helicopter fired rockets on Lebanon’s mostly Sunni Muslim town of Ersal, targeting members of “terrorist” groups who had sought refuge there, Syria’s state-run SANA news agency reported, citing an Army statement. While Syrian warplanes and helicopters have fired missiles on the outskirts of Ersal before, the assault was a rare attack on a Lebanese urban center.
In Lebanon, President Michel Suleiman said the “repeated shelling of Ersal by Syrian helicopters was a violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty,” the official National News Agency said.
Suleiman called for an end to the attacks, saying Lebanon has the right to take measures to defend its sovereignty and protect its people, including filing complaints with the UN and the Arab League.
Today, two mortars fired by “terrorists” fell near Damascus airport, SANA said. A mortar hit the edge of the airport near the runway, delaying the landing of two flights from Kuwait and the Syrian city of Lattakia and the departure of a flight to Baghdad, state-tv said, citing Transport Minister Mahmoud Said. He said a worker was injured.
The UN examined seven datasets of killings between March 2011 and April 2013 provided by rights groups and one by the government that document deaths up to March 2012. The study incorporated only fully identified fatalities, which include the victim’s name, date and location of the death, the UN said.
While the analysis was not able to differentiate between combatants and non-combatants, civilians are “bearing the brunt” of the conflict as Assad uses strategic missiles and thermobaric bombs, Pillay said. Opposition forces are also bombing residential areas, though with less fire-power.
The greatest number of killings was in rural areas outside Damascus where 17,800 were reported, followed by 16,400 in Homs, 11,900 in Aleppo and 10,300 in Idlib, according to the study jointly conducted by Pillay’s office and Human Rights Data Analysis Group, a non-profit organization specializing in statistical analysis of data on human rights violations.
Rural Damascus and Aleppo reported the sharpest increase in casualties since November 2012, with 6,200 and 4,800 new documented killings respectively, according to the study.
While the majority of the reported cases did not include the victim’s age, killings of at least 6,561 minors and 1,729 children under the age of 10 were documented, the study said.
“There are also well-documented cases of individual children being tortured and executed, and entire families, including babies, being massacred – which, along with this devastatingly high death toll, is a terrible reminder of just how vicious this conflict has become,” Pillay said. “Nobody is gaining anything from this senseless carnage.”