This report prepared by Gaanashree Wood, our Chief Syria Research officer, is the latest in out series on Syria. When we call these “casualties” we are being euphemistic. These reports are of numbers killed. They represent the latest complete figures we have available. At a time when much of the Muslim world has just celebrated Nowraz, the Jewish world is celebrating Passover and the Christians about to celebrate Easter it seems untimely but it is ready so we send it. Full background figures can be found on our Syria blog and we commend it to those of you who are specialists.
Many accuse us of inflating figures. We try to do the reverse. We are very cautious with both government and opposition sources, trying to use only the most reliable and even then, minimising their claims which are often grossly inflated. We revise our methods and sources regularly and will do so again but we recognise that these figures are best used for COMPARISON rather than read as an accurate death toll.
We expect civilian death tolls to fall in coming weeks because of the continuing increase in numbers of refugees fleeing the fighting. We do not expect the Syrian civil war to be resolved quickly in the absence of a negotiated settlement, and certainly not within the year.
Monthly Casualties from July 2012 to February 2013
There seems to be little or no prospect of a peaceful resolution of the Syrian civil war as the conflict enters its third year. For now, the only silver lining is that civilian casualty figures have “stabilised” and are no longer rising. This is because of the steady emptying of the cities and countryside as the people flee the fighting to take refuge in neighbouring states. Meanwhile, rebel figures are on a slight rise and government figures seem to constantly fluctuate. To date, over 70, 000 have been killed and over 2 million displaced within Syria.
The total number of Syrian refugees officially passed 1 million in March. According to the UN, this would be equivalent to the entire population of Birmingham, UK leaving. Everyday there are thousands of Syrians fleeing across the border into Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey. Many of these refugees are families who forced to live in confined tents or rooms with no working toilets, electricity or running water. Most of the refugees are destitute and struggle to support themselves. In the past weeks, there have been horrific stories about Syrian women being forced to prostitute themselves in order for their families to survive. With little or no income, prostitution is the only way for them to survive. As the number of refugees increases so do their desperation.
Andrew Harper, chief of the U.N. refugee commission in Jordan stated that, "We have seen no evidence of prostitution in the refugee camps, but we have heard rumors of it," said "Given the vulnerability of women, the camp's growing population and the lack of resources, I'm not surprised that some may opt for such actions."
Having been forced to abandon and flee their homes with their families, refugees are now being forced to pay exorbitant rents to landowners in Lebanon. Refugees are charged to pitch their tents as Lebanese landowners cash in on the influx.
Syrian children have also been severely affected by this conflict. With over a million refugees, almost half are children under the age of 11. Many of them had to flee their homes and watched their families get killed in front of them. According to Save the Children, three quarters of children have experienced the death of a relative or close friend.
The $1.5 billion pledged by the international community towards humanitarian aid has failed to materialise. The money was promised at a conference in Kuwait at the beginning of the year. Officials say they barely received a fifth of the aid money. The money reaching those who need it is very slim. Hospitals especially are overwhelmed and desperately need medical supplies. Without the aid money, they are struggling to help the sick and injured. Recently US Secretary of State John Kerry promised $60 million aid.
The announcement was made at a “Friends of Syria” meeting in Rome on 28th February. In his announcement, Kerry said the extra aid was designed to "strengthen the organizational capacity of the Syrian Opposition Coalition." How is this money going to be spent? The Department of State provided a detailed breakdown to Congress. It includes:
· $10 million for Middle East Partnership Initiative programming to support local councils inside Syria.
· $30 million to create a SOC Support Program within the USAID Office of Transition Initiatives. The OTI Syria program was established with a $5 million reprogramming in late 2012.
· $7 million for USAID "repair and maintenance" programs to improve services (may refer to opposition controlled areas and presumably includes water, electricity, and/or public health)
· $6 million for State's Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations to support the their training programs for the SOC and media programs with the opposition
· $7 million spread over various programs to support mine and unexploded ordinance safety training, transitional justice programs, and counter-sectarianism program
In light of the recent aid announcements, Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib announced his resignation on 24thMarch stating frustration over the inactivity of the international community and internal struggles as reasons. Following his announcement, the Syrian National Coalition was invited to assume the Syria’s seat in the Arab League in a 2-day summit in Qatar, hosted by the Emir of Qatar.
The al-Assad government was “enraged” that the Arab League offered seat to “bandits and thugs.” Moaz al-Khatib’s resignation came days after US-based Islamist Ghassan Hitto was elected by the opposition to be prime minister of an alternative administration that could govern rebel-held areas from inside Syria. However, Russia criticised the Arab League for offering Syria’s official seat to the opposition coalition. In a statement, Moscow described the move as "yet another anti-Syrian" step and illegal under international law.
During his recent trip to Israel, President Obama made it clear that the US will not hinder any countries’ decision to provide arms to Syrian rebel groups, following Britain’s and France’s decision to urge fellow EU states to life the current arms embargo. However, they faced strong resistance from Germany and other EU states. Despite the prolonged violence, rising number of refugees and high casualty rates, there is little support amongst the public for direct military intervention or of providing “non-lethal support” to rebels. The decision to lift the arms embargo will come under review again in May.