Wednesday, March 12, 2014


We issue our regular monthly report on Syrian war dead from the NCF's chief Syria anaylst, Shree Wood. We recorded 3,347 as having been killed on the last month we have data from the month of January of whom 842 were pro government combatants and just over 800 were rebels. Shree's report follows below. Full background data in detail as complied by the NCF analysing all available  source data on a day to day basis can be found on this link.

The line graph below is a timeline which helps to depict the rise and decline in the death figures over the last 13 months from January 2013 to January 2014. 

January 2013 

The figures for January 2013 again were much higher than that of the January 2014 as intense fighting took place during that month in 2013. On the 3rd of January, a car bomb exploded at a crowded petrol station in the Barzeh al-Balad district in Damascus killing 11 people and injuring at least 40 others. It was the 2nd petrol station to be hit that week. Rebel fighters also attempted to storm the Taftanaz air base located near the highway which links Aleppo and Damascus, Syria's two main cities.

Another northern air base near Minakh was also surrounded by rebels where a fierce battle between rebels and Syrian forces ensued for days. There were also nightly bombardments in the town of Azaz which saw thousands killed or injured. By January 2013, the death toll had risen to 60,000, according to the UN and various organisations.

January 2014

The NCF has been collecting data from six secondary sources since May 2012. The methodology for the data collection for these casualty figures has been revised several times during that time to reflect feedback from experts and NCF members on the Syrian conflict. In order to present the most reliable figures, the NCF will only resource information and data from well documented sites that remain consistent with its data such as VDC, Syrian Shuhada, Syrian Observatory, LCC and Damascus Centre for Human Rights. The NCF works out the figures by taking the average of civilians, rebels and government figures from their websites to tally up a monthly figure. However, the LLC have not updated their casualty figures since late November 2013.

By presenting the figures in the form of a bar and line graph, the NCF hopes to demonstrate the pattern of fighting and deaths in the different regions in Syria over a period of a year.

The UN has also stopped updating their casualty figures from the conflict as it can "no longer verify the sources of information that led to its last count of at least 100,000 people in July last year". According to Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the UN Office of the High Commissioners for Human Rights, said that the organisation lacked feet on the ground in the country and that it was unable to verify "source material" from those with access. He also added that the UN could not endorse counts put forward by other bodies, including the widely quoted Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

2014 started off on a low note with fresh fighting, this time amongst rebel groups. More than a 1,000 people have been killed since the start of the New Year in clashes between al-Qaeda affiliated ISIS, al-Nusra and rival rebel groups. According to the Syrian Organisation of Human Rights, a 1,069 people lost their lives, of which 130 are children.

The figures show that civilian numbers have dramatically reduced due to civilians being evacuated due to intense fighting between ISIS, other rebel groups and Syrian forces.

In late January Damascus was hit by an airstrike that was reportedly caused by forces loyal to President Assad's regime. Meanwhile, the head of an al-Qaeda linked rebel group in Syria called for a ceasefire between opposition forces, have clashed for five days in the most violent infighting since the civil war began. The leader of the Nusra front also said in a  recording that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant group is to blame for the bloodshed. Experts have been unable to verify the authenticity of the recording.

Syrian forces and rebels have also reportedly been using barrel bombs. These are usually home-made, an oil barrel or cylindrical container filled with petrol, nails and other bits of scrap metal along with explosives. These are then rolled out of a helicopter. These barrel bombs have been used as far back as August 2012 but there has been very little media attention regarding their use and the devastation they cause. A handful of netizens and bloggers such as Brown Moses have been monitoring them closely. The use of these weapins in populated civilian areas is constituted as a war crime.

By the time the Geneva II talks began on January 22 in Switzerland, more than 1,500 people had lost their lives across Syria. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 1, 870 people died across Syria during the nine days of conference.

The talks began in Montreus before moving to Geneva. At the conference, US Secretary of State, John Kerry stated that Assad is obliged to step down as part of any transitional Syrian administration: "There is no way, no way possible, that a man who has led a brutal response to his own people can retain legitimacy to govern". Syrian National Coalition leader Ahmed Jarba called on the government to immediately transfer power to a transitional authority.

In response to Kerry's statement, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem stated, "no one in the world has the right to confer or withdraw the legitimacy of a president, a constitution or a law except the Syrian themselves." He also accused several stated of supporting terrorism and deliberately attempting to destabilise Syria.. The second round of Geneva II talks took place on 10-15 February 2014. A third round of talks is expected but no dates have been confirmed. 

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

World Affairs Council talk on Syria

Secretary General of the Next Century Foundation, William Morris, as well as NCF Trustee Ambassador Mark Hambley were recently in the United States giving a talk for the World Affairs Council on events in Syria at present.

Click here for a video stream of the hour-long discussion.

Click here for more information on the World Affairs Council.

Monday, February 03, 2014


We issue our regular monthly report on Syrian war dead from the NCF's chief Syria analyst, Shree Wood. We recorded 3,301 as having been killed on the last month we have data from, the month of December, of whom 644 were pro government combatants and just over 600 were rebels. Shree's report follows below. Full background data in detail as compiled by the NCF analysing all available source data on a day to day basis can be found on this link

The line graph below is a timeline which helps to depict the rise and decline in the death figures over the last 13 months from December 2012 to December 2013.

The graph compares the casualty figures for December 2012 and December 2013. It shows that a total of 5,708 people were killed in December 2012. The number of actual combatants (rebel and government forces) killed in December 2012 were more than double of those killed in December 2013.

The high civilian death figures for December 2012 were because of air strikes by Syrian forces. One such air strike in Halfaya in central Hama province saw dozens being injured. Videos showing the aftermath of the attack with bodies strewn on the street were also posted on-line. Syrian state TV claimed, "an armed terrorist group" was responsible for the attack and not the Syrian government. 

The rebel and government death figures for December 2013 are much lower than previous months, though it is incredibly hard to differentiate clearly between combatants and non-combatants. The lack of analysts on the ground clearly affects the accuracy of casualty figures. Air attacks, shelling, tank fire, bombs and face-to-face combat have all contributed to the rising toll. The tolls were higher in Homs, Damascus province, Idlib, Aleppo, Daara and Hama. More than three-quarters of the victims are men. 

In early December 2013, the Syrian air force bombarded the Northern city of Aleppo as fighting between government forces and rebels continued (much of northern Syria fell to opposition fighters over the past year). At least 76 people were killed in the air strikes.

More than 500 people were killed including 151 children in an air raid during the last week of December. There were also un-confirmed reports of Syrian government helicopters hitting Aleppo with barrel bombs which are oil drums filled with explosives or even mails and scrap metal. 

With the conflict showing no signs of easing off, the plight of Syrian refugees continues to worsen. With the onset of winter, many refugees are without proper shelter, heating or warm clothing. 

The leader of the UK Independence Party, Nigel Farage has called on the West to take in Syrian refugees. He stated that "Western countries should take on an allocation." The UK has not taken Syrian refugees to date. Now it is reconsidering. The Swedish government, by way of contrast, opened its doors to all Syrian refugees without reservations. 

Saturday, February 01, 2014

First Round of Talks in Geneva Ended with No Tangible Solution on the Homs Siege

The first round of Geneva peace talks between the Syrian government and the Western backed faction of the opposition known as the Syrian National Coalition have concluded without any tangible outcome. The Western promoted  deal to allow humanitarian aid into the besieged central section of Homs and evacuate civilians who want to leave the Old City remains stalled, amid a deadlock between two sides over the transition of power.

Despite UN Mediator Lakhdar Brahimi’s statement on Sunday that the Syrian government had consented the transfer of women and children from Homs through safe corridors, there has been no tangible action. The Syrian state news agency SANA said that Homs governor Talal al-Barazi gave assurance that all measures for the evacuation of civilians were put in place, awaiting a response from the UN representative.

The Old City of Homs has been under under siege since June 2012. Homs used to have a population of three quarters of a million of whom about half were Arab Sunni (the balance being predominantly Alawite and Christian). Now only about 500 Arab Sunni families are left. Of these about 4,000 people, some of whom are rebel fighters but the bulk of whom are civilians, are said to be currently living in dire conditions, without proper supplies of water, food and medicine. Activists in Homs issued a plea on Tuesday, urging the opposition delegates to insist on lifting of the 600-day siege. They asserted that, without any concrete steps towards ending the siege, “all solutions will be futile, and will do nothing to end this tragedy”.

The Position in International Law:

Under international humanitarian law (IHL), parties to an armed conflict are under an obligation to protect people who do not take part in the fighting (civilians, medics, aid workers) and those who can no longer fight (wounded, sick and prisoners of war). The protection afforded to the first category finds its origins in the principle of distinction, a norm of customary international law, which suggests that parties to the conflict must at all times distinguish between civilians and combatants.

The armed violence across Syria is currently being described as an armed conflict of a non-international character which paves the way for the application of Common Article 3 to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, Additional Protocol II and customary international humanitarian law. Although Syria is not a party to the Additional Protocol II and accordingly its provisions are not directly applicable, Common Article 3 and the customary IHL provide a sound legal basis for the protection of civilians trapped in Homs via humanitarian aid and evacuation. According to Rule 24 of the ICRC Study on Customary IHL, which originates from “a general practice accepted as law”, “Each party to the conflict must, to the extent feasible, remove (evacuate) civilian persons and objects under its control from the vicinity of military objectives”. In its Kupreškić  judgement, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) also affirmed the customary nature of this duty.

Speaking to the reporters in Geneva on Thursday, UN Mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said that he was “extremely disappointed” with the delay in delivery of humanitarian assistance to Homs. Describing the talks as “tense but rather promissing”, Brahimi expressed his hope that when the talks reconvene for a second round, they will be able to have a “more structured discussion”. Brahimi has called for the resumption of the talks on 10th February and is waiting for confirmation that this is acceptable from the Syrian government.

One of the Board members of the NCF sent us this comment on the talks:

As peace conferences go, the effort to begin discussions to end the horrific Syrian civil war is on somewhat wobbly ground. William Morris, head of the Next Century Foundation quite aptly characterized the atmosphere in Geneva as "cautiously pessimistic."

The big cloud over these talks was the absence of participation of key players in these talks. These include Iran -- which was invited and disinvited in one of the more embarrassing public displays of international discord surrounding these talks.

Other key absences include the secular opposition such as those supporting former Vice President Rifaat al-Asad. (Curiously, Dr. Rifaat was spotted in Geneva, and his presence undoubtedly raised questions among those government and Islamist opposition present as to what this might signify.)

Other notable absentees were key internal opposition elements ranging from the Islamist jihadist to the Kurdish coalition which has established an autonomous zone of eight Syrian districts in the north eastern part of the country. 

On the more positive side, representatives of the two sides met face to face alone for the first time on Saturday with the UN seated between them. This session was not attended by any of the principal leaders of either the government or the the opposition teams in attendance at this meeting due to what one might call "protocolular hubris." Jarba would not attend, so neither did the three top Syrian government representatives.
Not that this really mattered.

They all spoke through UN Envoy Lakhdar Ibrahimi and not to each other (which may have been a good thing as it reduced insults and personal invective to a minimum.

Thankfully, other back channel and back room discussions of other mechanisms to advance this process forward are in play. Perhaps this is why Dr. Rifaat is in the vicinity. It is too early to tell if these still confidential proposals have traction, but it is clear that some thinking "outside the box" will be necessary if the Syrian question is to move away from a killing field and towards some kind of more positive resolution.