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.


Turkey orders detention of 144 over Gulen links

Updated 13 min 46 sec ago
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Turkey orders detention of 144 over Gulen links

  • More than 77,000 people have been jailed pending trial since the coup and widespread arrests are still routine
  • Authorities have suspended or sacked 150,000 civil servants and military personnel

ISTANBUL: The Istanbul chief prosecutor said on Friday it had ordered the detention of 126 suspects employed in the judicial system with alleged links to the network of Fethullah Gulen, a cleric who Turkey says orchestrated a July 2016 coup attempt.
About 250 people were killed in the failed putsch, in which Gulen, a former ally of President Tayyip Erdogan, has denied involvement. Gulen has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999.
Turkey says that along with its military and state institutions, its judiciary was infiltrated by members of Gulen’s network. Since the coup, thousands of prosecutors and judges have been dismissed.
The prosecutor’s office said the suspects had lived in houses where the network trained individuals for work in the judicial system. The network then sought to place those who passed the exam in the judicial system as prosecutors or judges, while the rest became part of the network’s lawyer organization.
Of the 126 suspects, 108 were lawyers on active duty, eight were judge or prosecutor candidates who were previously removed from their positions and one was a judge or prosecutor candidate on active duty, the prosecutor’s office said.
Addresses of 12 of the suspects could not be determined or records showed they had left the country, it said, adding that operations spread over 37 provinces to detain the remaining 114 people were continuing.
In a separate operation on Friday, Ankara chief prosecutor’s office said it ordered the detention of 18 suspects accused of links to Gulen who were working as engineers for the defense industry company Havelsan.
More than 77,000 people have been jailed pending trial since the coup and widespread arrests are still routine. Authorities have suspended or sacked 150,000 civil servants and military personnel.
Turkey’s Western allies have criticized the crackdown, with Erdogan’s critics accusing him of using the putsch as a pretext to quash dissent. Turkish authorities say the measures are necessary to combat threats to national security.