We issue our regular monthly report on Syrian war dead from the NCF's chief Syria analyst, Shree Wood. We recorded 2,739 as having been killed based on our data from the month of May of whom 831 were pro government combatants and just over 900 were rebels. Shree's report follows below.
The line graph below is a timeline which helps to depict the rise and decline in the death figures over the last 12 months from June 2013 to May 2014. During this 12 month period the total for civilian dead was 17,632; the total for rebel dead was 9,756; and the total for government dead was 9,098. This gives an overall total of 36,486 killed in the Syrian civil war during the past year.
The NCF has been collecting data from six secondary sources since May 2012. The methodology for 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 the VDC, Syrian Shuhada, Syrian Observatory, Syrian Network for Human Rights 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. 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. However for the last couple of months the Syrian Network for Human Rights has ceased publishing full figures and the Local Coordination Committee have not updated their website since December 2013.
The Syrian government doesn't release casualty figures for the military, and paramilitary organizations that are playing a wider part in the war now than they did at its outset.
Figures for March and May are the lowest so far this year. Civilian figures have been steadily declining as rebel and government soldier numbers continue to fluctuate erratically. Fighting in the months of March and April seem to be steadily increasing due to increased fighting between rebel factions (rather than with the government). The government forces managed to take back several cities successfully such as Zara, a strategic town in Homs province, further blocking rebel supply routes from Lebanon.
The fighting carried on with both rebels and army soldiers fighting for key towns. On the 12th of April, rebels in Aleppo stormed the government-held Ramouseh industrial district in an attempt to cut the Army supply route between the airport and a large Army base next to district. The rebels also took the Rashidin neighbourhood and parts of the Jamiat al-Zahra district,
On 7th May, a truce went into effect in the city of Homs. The terms of the agreement include safe evacuation of Islamist fighters from the city, which would then fall under government control, in exchange for release of prisoners and safe passage of humanitarian aid for Nubul and Zahraa, two Shiite enclaves besieged by the rebels.
Then on the 18th of May, the head of Syria's Air Defense, General Hussein Ishaq, died of wounds sustained during a rebel attack on an air defense base near Mleiha the previous day. Syria's air defence chief was killed during an offensive by President Bashar al-Assad's forces against rebels east of Damascus, Islamist rebels and a monitoring group said. They said General Hussein Ishaq died from wounds suffered during an assault by Assad's forces on the town of Mleiha which appeared aimed at expanding the president's control around the capital before the June 3 election.
Ishaq is one of the most senior military officials to be killed in three years of conflict. The last high-ranking casualty was Hilal al-Assad, a cousin of the president and regional head of the National Defence Force militia, who was killed two months ago in the Mediterranean province of Latakia.
On Election Day, rebels threatened attacks to disrupt the polls. The civilian death toll from shelling from the rebel side was at least twelve. Syrian government warplane shelling continued while elections were held.
The joint U.N.- Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, stood down on 31st May after trying for nearly two years to overcome "almost impossible odds" to end a civil war that has claimed more than 150,000 lives. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon blamed the failure of the peace effort on the warring parties, but especially the Syrian government. He also blamed the deeply divided Security Council and countries with influence on the fighting sides. Ban pledged to keep working to achieve peace and urged all involved to rethink what they can do to bring hope to the Syrian people.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said he will appoint a successor when news of Brahimi’s resignation broke. Thus far however, Ban Ki-Moon has utterly failed to honour his promise though a number of names are being mooted including Algerian opposition leader Ali Benflis. Syria waits impatiently for him to act.
Brahimi is the second U.N.-Arab envoy to quit after failing to achieve a breakthrough in the more than 3-year-old conflict between the government of President Bashar Assad and rebel groups. When Brahimi took over from his longtime friend, former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan, he said it would be "an extremely complicated and very, very difficult mission." He also indicated he could see no end in the near future to the bloodshed.
"I'm sure that the crisis will end — but the question is how many more dead? How much more destruction?" Brahimi said. "It's very sad that I leave this position and leave Syria behind in such a bad state."
Brahimi managed to get government officials and opposition to two rounds of peace talks in Geneva, but they ended without an agreement.
We are comparing the months of March 2013 and 2014 as March 2013 was the deadliest month in the entire Syrian conflict and March 2014 has one of the lowest casualty figures, according to NCF data. In one year, how much has changed in terms of the ratio of casualties and the dynamics of fighting.
March 2013 was the deadliest month as rebels pressed home their offensive throughout the country, seizing a provincial capital for the first time and launching attacks on other fronts.
Between March 2013 and March 2014, there is a decrease of 61.2% in the total casualty number. In that period civilian death numbers have dropped by 69% and this change in the ratio of civilian to combatant deaths reflect the dynamics of a population on the run. As of May 2014, the total number of Syrian refugees stands at 2,853,975. Majority of refugees are in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. Roughly 6.5 million Syrians are displaced within Syria (though this is clearly the roughest of estimates - there is no possibility at all of calculating an accurate figure).
March’s numbers also reveal the extent to which better-equipped rebels on the offensive have changed the war’s complexion. This also dramatically changed the ratio of civilian to combatant deaths and government forces suffered far greater casualties.
The most dramatic sign of that increase was rebel deaths, a likely reflection of the new aggressiveness with which they assaulted government positions in Syria’s north and east.
March 2014 saw the Syrian army capture Ras al-Ain near Yabrud, after two days of fighting and al-Husn in Homs province, while rebels in the Daraa Province captured Daraa prison, and freed hundreds of detainees. ISIS forces also completely retreated from the Idlib province. Hence much of the fighting took place between rebels and government troops. With town and cities laid empty, civilian casualty figures remained low.