Syria toll tops 136,000; future talks uncertain

February 02, 2014 - 4:45:33 am
DAMASCUS: The death toll in Syria’s civil war has topped 136,000 after January saw one of the conflict’s bloodiest months, an NGO said yesterday, as violence claimed even more lives.

But the prospects of a peaceful outcome looked dim after 10 days of talks in Geneva yielded no tangible results and the regime said it was unsure whether it would return to the negotiating table.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the death toll at the end of January was at least 136,227.

The Britain-based group’s director, Rami Abdel Rahman, said “January was among the bloodiest months since the beginning of the conflict” in March 2011.

Among the dead were 47,998 civilians, including more than 7,300 children.

The Observatory said the real toll could be much higher because of the extreme secrecy of rebels, jihadists and the regime about their casualties.

At the end of December the toll was 130,433, but fighting between rebels and the regime, as well as between them and jihadists, has claimed nearly 6,000 lives since then. The conflict began after a regime crackdown on peaceful anti-government demonstrations, prompting people to take up arms against President Bashar Al Assad.

In addition to the dead and a much larger number of wounded, millions of people have been displaced internally and as refugees in neighbouring countries.

There was no let-up in the bloodletting on Saturday, with at least nine people killed when regime helicopters dropped barrel bombs on the northern city of Aleppo, the Observatory said.

At least another seven died in a double car bombing carried out by the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant targeting a rebel headquarters in Aleppo. Moderate and Islamist opposition fighters have been battling ISIL since early January, after accusing the group of a spate of abuses against civilians and rebels.

Meanwhile, in the central province of Hama, the Observatory said at least 12 government fighters were killed around the town of Morek.

The group said rebels, including from the Al Qaeda-linked Al Nusra Front, had seized Morek overnight, cutting a strategic regime supply line from Hama city to two military bases in neighbouring Idlib province.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA said it had distributed aid for a third consecutive day to the Yarmuk refugee camp, which has been under a choking siege that the Observatory says has left 88 people dead from starvation and lack of medical care. On the diplomatic front, the two sides and world powers were assessing the 10 days of talks in Switzerland last month which showed few results, and with prospects of a follow-up meeting uncertain.

Syria’s foreign minister Walid Muallem said yesterday his delegation had rejected a US request for direct talks unless Secretary of State John Kerry apologised for his remarks at the Geneva II talks.

“The Americans asked us to negotiate directly with them in Montreux,” Walid Muallem told Syrian state media on the plane home from 10 days of peace talks in the Swiss cities of Montreux and Geneva.

“But we refused to do so before Secretary of State John Kerry apologised for what he said at the conference,” Muallem added, in remarks carried by state news agency Sana.

Syria’s government and opposition began the so-called Geneva II talks on January 22, with the participation of dozens of nations, including Russia, which backs the regime, and the United States, which supports the opposition.

In his opening remarks at the conference, Kerry said Syria’s President Bashar Al Assad “will not be part” of any transitional government.

“There is no way, not possible in the imagination, that the man who has led the brutal response to his own people could regain legitimacy to govern,” Kerry said.

Muallem also dismissed the “coalition of the so-called ‘opposition’” in his comments yesterday.

Muallem was blunt after the final session on Friday, saying “we have not reached tangible results”. Despite persistent pressure from UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, and co-sponsors Russia and the United States, regime and rebel delegations failed to agree on a single point.AFP