Syrian tragedy in numbers: 465,000 killed or missing, 4.9m refugees

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A child pulls a crate carrying water bottles in the once opposition-held Shaar neighborhood in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. (AFP)
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Syrians children play during a sandstorm in the once rebel held Karm Al-Jabal neighborhood in the northern city of Aleppo on March 10, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 14 March 2017
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Syrian tragedy in numbers: 465,000 killed or missing, 4.9m refugees

BEIRUT: The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said on Monday there are so far about 465,000 people killed and missing in Syria’s civil war.
The war began six years ago with protests against President Bashar Assad’s regime. It has since dragged in global and regional powers, allowed Daesh to grab huge tracts of territory and caused the biggest refugee crisis since the World War II.
The Observatory said it had documented the deaths of more than 321,000 people since the start of the war and more than 145,000 others had been reported as missing.
Among those killed are more than 96,000 civilians, said the Observatory, which has used a network of contacts across the country to maintain a count of casualties since near the start of the conflict.
It said regime forces and their allies had killed more than 83,500 civilians, including more than 27,500 in airstrikes and 14,600 under torture in prison.
Opposition shelling had killed more than 7,000 civilians, the Observatory said.
Daesh has killed more than 3,700 civilians, airstrikes by the US-led coalition have killed 920 civilians and Turkey, which is backing opposition fighters in northern Syria, has killed more than 500 civilians, it added.
The Syrian regime and Russia both deny targeting civilians or using torture or extrajudicial killings. Most opposition groups and Turkey also deny targeting civilians. The US-led coalition says it tries hard to avoid civilian casualties and always investigates reports that it has done so. 
In a country with a pre-war population of 23 million, the UN estimates that 6.6 million people have been internally displaced by the fighting.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says 4.7 million people live either in besieged cities or hard-to-access areas.
The war has forced 4.9 million people to flee Syria, according to the UNHCR.
Neighboring Turkey, the main host country, has taken in more than 2.9 million Syrian refugees.
It is followed by Lebanon, which the UN says hosts around 1 million Syrians — one in four of the Lebanese population. The Lebanese government says as many as 1.5 million Syrians are in the country.
In Jordan, where the UNHCR says it has registered 630,000 Syrians, the government says it is hosting 1.4 million.
At least another 225,000 Syrians have taken refuge in Iraq and 137,000 in Egypt, the refugee agency says.
It adds that around 90 percent of Syrian refugees are living in poverty and at least 10 percent are considered “extremely vulnerable.”
In February, Amnesty International said Syrian authorities hanged around 13,000 people between 2011 and 2015 at the infamous Saydnaya prison near Damascus.
It said a further 17,700 people had died in custody since the conflict began.
The Observatory says at least 60,000 people have died from torture or harsh conditions in regime prisons since 2011.
The monitor says half a million people have spent time in regime jails since the start of the conflict.
Several thousand have died over the same period in prisons run by opposition groups or extremists, it says.
In February 2016, UN investigators accused the regime of “extermination” in its jails and detention centers.
Experts say the conflict has set Syria’s economy back by three decades and devastated its infrastructure.
The education and health systems are in ruins.
By 2015, 83 percent of Syria’s electric grid was out of service, according to a coalition of 130 non-governmental organizations.
More than four-fifths of the population lives in poverty, according to an April 2016 study by the UN and Britain’s Saint Andrews University.
The study also said that Syrian business activity shrank by 55 percent between 2010 and 2015.


Turkey, US at odds again over Ankara’s ouster from F-35 program

Updated 35 min 18 sec ago
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Turkey, US at odds again over Ankara’s ouster from F-35 program

  • ‘F-35 fighter jet program cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence collection platform’

ANKARA: The US announced it was formally removing Turkey from its F-35 fighter jet program on Wednesday, following the delivery of the first part of a Russian S-400 missile defense system to Ankara. 

“F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities,” the Pentagon said in a statement, adding that the removal would be completed by March 2020. 

Ankara, which has been cultivating closer ties with Moscow on defense procurement, had invested in the F-35 program, with Turkish defense companies producing 937 parts of the plane, and 100 of the jets expected to be bought by the Turkish military.

To fill the vacuum created by Turkey’s removal from the program, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov announced that Russia was ready to sell combat aircraft to Ankara. 

Dr. Can Kasapoglu, a defense analyst at the Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy, an Istanbul-based think tank, said the F-35 and the S-400 were mutually exclusive defense acquisitions, not only technically but also politically, and that this had been a very well-known fact for a long time. 

“Militarily, it means that Turkey is cut off from a state-of-the-art fifth generation combat aircraft project that fits perfectly for network-centric warfare and gaining information superiority in the complex battle spaces of the 21st century,” he told Arab News.

“Although many in Turkey talk about ‘alternatives’ like the Russian Su-57, for now, there is no tangible ground for any co-production or tech-transfer ventures. Besides, the F-35 is an air-superiority asset and a situational awareness node. The Russian military aviation prioritizes very different features such as super-maneuverability and kinematic edge. These are completely distinct design philosophies.”

There are now questions over whether or not Washington will bring Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA ) sanctions against Turkey over its decision to purchase the Russian missile system.

“One should grasp the content of the CAATSA sanctions spectrum. There are some harmless articles such as cutting off the sanctioned entities from US export-import loans. Yet, if the US opted for following the Chinese precedent, namely sanctioning Turkey’s main procurement body, then Turkey could face hard times in its defense transactions,” Kasapoglu said. 

US Deputy Undersecretary of Defense David J. Trachtenberg told reporters at the Pentagon: “The US greatly values our strategic relationship with Turkey — that remains unchanged.

“As long-standing NATO allies, our relationship is multilayered and extends well beyond the F-35 partnership. We will continue our extensive cooperation with Turkey across the entire spectrum of our relationship.”

However, for Kasapoglu, it is a lose-lose situation for Turkish-US ties, while the ultimate geopolitical victor is Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

“He knows what he is doing, and there is no match for the Kremlin’s strategic calculus in the West. It is another unfortunate cold fact for the transatlantic strategic community. The S-400 has managed to do this without firing one single interceptor,” he said. 

Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East program at the US-based Foreign Policy Research Institute, thinks the negative repercussions of the S-400 have only just started and that the US-Turkish relationship may worsen. 

“Even with the F-35, CAATSA looms, and it is almost certain sanctions will be implemented,” he told Arab News. 

“Turkey has lost the aircraft it intended to build its future air force around. There is no real way Ankara can address this issue, other than to try and finish building its own fighter, a tremendously expensive endeavor dependent on foreign engines, or purchase aircraft from Moscow.”

In a press release the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated: “This unilateral step contradicts the spirit of alliance and does not rely on any legitimate justification,” and criticized Washington for leaving unanswered its proposal to form a working group on the issue.