Syrian war claimed 20,000 lives in 2018, says monitor

US military vehicles pass through a checkpoint in Manbij, Syria, on Sunday. (AFP)
Updated 31 December 2018
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Syrian war claimed 20,000 lives in 2018, says monitor

  • A total of 19,666 people were killed this year as a result of the conflict
  • Assad has consistently said that his forces would seek to reconquer the entire Syrian territory

BEIRUT: Syria’s nearly eight-year-old conflict saw its lowest annual death toll in 2018 as the regime reasserted its authority over swathes of territory, a war monitor said on Monday.

A total of 19,666 people were killed this year as a result of the conflict, which erupted in 2011, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group reported.

“2018 was the lowest annual toll since the start of the conflict,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

The Britain-based monitor relies on a vast network of sources across Syria to document the war that broke out after the brutal repression of nationwide anti-regime protests in 2011.

The death toll for 2017 stood at more than 33,000 and the highest annual figure was reached in 2014 — the year Daesh proclaimed a “caliphate” over large parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq — when 76,000 people were killed.

Among those killed in 2018 were 6,349 civilians, 1,437 of them children, Abdel Rahman said.

“Most of those killed during the first part of the year were killed in regime and Russian bombardment of opposition areas, including Eastern Ghouta,” Abdel Rahman said. “The majority of those killed in the second half of the year were killed in coalition airstrikes,” he added.

The first months of 2018 were marked by major Russian-backed government operations to retake opposition bastions in and around the capital Damascus. The bloodiest of them was an assault on Eastern Ghouta, a densely populated area east of Damascus that remained besieged for years.

Battle against Daesh

The most active front of the past few months has been the battle against the remnants of Daesh in eastern Syria.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), backed by a US-led coalition carrying out airstrikes, launched an offensive on Sept. 10.

Militants defending the last rump of their once sprawling proto-state, near the Iraqi border along the Euphrates River, have put up fierce resistance but seem close to collapsing. While fighting has ended or is winding down in several parts of the country, 2019 could see its share of military flare-ups.

Besides the continued threat posed by Daesh sleeper cells even after it loses its last pocket in eastern Syria, two other areas remain of concern.

Turkey has threatened a major offensive against the Kurdish militia that controls regions along its border in northeastern Syria.

The announcement made by US President Donald Trump two weeks ago that he had ordered a full troop pullout from Syria left the US-led coalition’s Kurdish allies more exposed.

Thousands of opposition fighters also remain in Idlib, a northern province where many of them were transferred as a result of deals to end government assaults on other areas across the country.

Under an agreement reached in Russia, Turkey was tasked with disarming some of the groups active in Idlib but little progress has been achieved.

President Bashar Assad has consistently said that his forces would seek to reconquer the entire Syrian territory.

According to the Observatory, the government and its allies now controls 60.2 percent of Syrian territory, while the SDF hold 28.8 percent.

The Kurds last week asked for the regime’s help against the threat of a Turkish offensive, a move that will put pay to their ambitions of increased autonomy.

By comparison, the US-based Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project puts the number of conflict-related deaths in Afghanistan at more than 40,000 this year.


Palestine, Egypt offer air support as Israel battles wildfires

A firefighting aircraft flies over a forest near Kibbutz Harel, which was damaged by wildfires during a record heatwave, in Israel May 24, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 25 May 2019
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Palestine, Egypt offer air support as Israel battles wildfires

  • Thousands of people were evacuated from their homes on Thursday as fires raged
  • The fires were fueled by high temperatures and dry condition

JERUSALEM: Egypt and four European countries sent aircraft to help Israel battle wildfires that have forced the evacuation of some small towns, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday, as a record heatwave looked set to worsen conditions.
At an emergency briefing, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel had appealed for international help to combat the fires, and that firefighting planes were coming in from Greece, Croatia, Italy and Cyprus.
Egypt, on the orders of President Abdel-Fatah El-Sisi, had also sent two helicopters to assist Israel, Netanyahu told reporters.
The Palestinian Authority and Russia had also offered help, Netanyahu said.
Israel braced for wildfires on Friday amid a major heat wave that shows no signs of abating.
Israel “really appreciates” the help, Netanyahu said, singling out El-Sisi for sending aid.
“I am deeply thankful for the readiness of neighbors to help us in a time of crisis, just as we help them,” Netanyahu said.
Israel’s Fire and Rescue Service said blazes in a key corridor between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv were mostly under control but difficult weather remained a conflagration risk.
“As of this moment, this (containment) is being done in the best possible way, but the challenge is yet ahead of us given the weather conditions, the winds and the extreme heat,” Netanyahu said.
Some 3,500 residents of small towns in the path of the fires were evacuated on Thursday, officials said. Dozens of homes have burned down.

Evacuations
Thousands of people were evacuated from towns and dozens of homes were burned on Thursday as fires raged, fueled by high temperatures and dry conditions. Over 500 acres of woodland have burned, said Nitai Zecharya, an Israeli official from the Jewish National Fund, known for planting forests in the country.
Zecharya said that while firefighters had brought most of the blaze under control, officials remained “very stressed” about strong winds fanning flames and “spreading fires to other fronts.”
The cause of the fires remains unclear, but they erupted following the Jewish festival of Lag Ba’Omer, which observers mark with bonfires.
A sweltering heat wave is pushing temperatures in parts of the country up to 110 degrees Fahrenheit, or 43 Celsius.