May 19, 2014 7:22 am

Activists say death toll in Syria’s war tops 160,000

This photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center (AMC), which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows buildings which were destroyed from a Syrian government airstrike in Aleppo, Syria, Saturday, May. 17, 2014.

(AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center AMC)

BEIRUT – The death toll in Syria’s three-year conflict has exceeded 160,000, an activist group said Monday, a harrowing figure that reflects the country’s relentless bloodletting that appears no closer to a resolution.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it has documented 162,402 deaths since the uprising against President Bashar Assad’s government began in March 2011.

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The figure includes civilians, rebels and members of the Syrian military, the Observatory said. It also includes militiamen, such as Lebanese Hezbollah members, who have been fighting alongside Assad’s forces, and foreign fighters battling with the rebels for Assad’s ouster.

The Observatory remains the sole organization providing a reliable tally of Syria’s dead.

The U.N. has stopped updating its own tally of the Syrian dead, saying it can no longer verify the sources of information. The world body’s last count in late July was 100,000 dead.

The Observatory bases its tally on information it gets from a network of activists on the ground in Syria. The figures are based on the names of those killed, collected by activists who document the dead in hospitals, morgues and identify them from video materials.

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Of the 160,402 people that Observatory said have died in the conflict so far, about a third — or 53,978 — were civilians. Those deaths include 8,607 children and 5,586 women.

The uprising has also claimed the lives of 26,858 rebel fighters and 37,685 Syrian soldiers, the Observatory said.

The Syrian government does not publicize the number of its casualties.

In addition, the Observatory said 25,147 pro-government fighters have also died on the battlefield, including 438 Hezbollah militants, and 1,224 Shiite foreign fighters and Palestinian militants.

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From among foreign and other fighters who have sided with the rebels, 13,529 were killed, including members of the al-Qaida-linked group and other hard-line Islamic and Islamic leaning groups. There are also 2,891 unidentified bodies in the conflict and 2,314 identified bodies of Syrian army troops, who have crossed over to the opposition side to fight the government.

Syria’s uprising began with largely peace protests against Assad’s rule. It has since then evolved into a civil war with sectarian overtones, pitting predominantly Sunni Muslim rebels against Assad’s government that is dominated by Alawites, a sect in Shiite Islam.

On the opposition side, Islamic extremists, including foreign fighters and Syrian rebels who have taken up hard-line al-Qaida-style ideologies, have played an increasingly prominent role among fighters, dampening the West’s support for the rebellion to overthrow Assad.

© The Canadian Press, 2014

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