UN admits 400,000 have died in Syria war

UN admits 400,000 have died in Syria war
The real death toll caused by Bashar al-Assad's military campaign in Syria is almost double the last official figures, the UN's Staffan De Mistura admitted on Saturday.
3 min read
23 April, 2016
Aftermath of airstrikes on residential areas in Tariq al-Bab neighborhood of Aleppo on Saturday [Anadolu]

Up to 400,000 people have been killed in Syria since the rebellion against the regime of Bashar al-Assad began in 2011.

Staffan De Mistura, the UN special envoy for Syria, said that the the death toll is likely to be double the latest official figures, as peace talks and a partial ceasefire look set to collapse.

De Mistura said the death toll was based on his own estimate and was not an official UN statistic.

"We had 250,000 as a figure two years ago," said de Mistura. "Well, two years ago was two years ago."

The UN no longer keeps track of the death toll due to the inaccessibility of many parts of Syria and the complications of navigating conflicting statistics put forward by the Syrian regime and armed opposition groups.

De Mistura also appealed to all involved parties to help revamp negotiations between President Bashar al-Assad's regime and opposition groups.

The envoy said he planned to continue peace talks next week, despite the "worrisome trends on the ground", adding that he would seek clarity from government negotiators about their interpretation of political transition. 

Damascus - which says the future of Assad is not up for discussion in Geneva - says that political transition will come in the shape of a national unity government including current officials, opposition, and independent figures. The regime also selectively uses the term opposition, usually for reformist groups that operate in Syria and often do not oppose Assad's rule.

But opposition negotiators have rejected any proposal which leaves Assad in power. They have also accused the government of violating a February "cessation of hostilities" agreement, pointing to air raids on rebel-held areas which have killed dozens of people this week.

At least 27 civilians were killed Saturday in the government bombardments on rebel-held areas across the country.

De Mistura's remarks comes as government airstrikes on Friday and Saturday killed dozens of civilians, in what activists decried as the bloodiest such attacks in months. 

At least 27 civilians were killed on Saturday following regime bombardments on rebel-held areas across the country.

Twelve civilians were killed in Aleppo, according to a local civil defense official. It was the second day of deadly strikes on Aleppo, after 25 civilians were killed and another 40 wounded in airstrikes Friday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 13 others died in shelling on the rebel town of Douma, east of Damascus.

Two men were also killed in government airstrikes on Talbisseh in Homs province, local sources said.

Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said the escalating violence meant the ceasefire in Syria had effectively collapsed.

"Most of the areas that were under the ceasefire are now seeing fighting again," he said.

The ceasefire deal brokered by Russia and the United States saw Damascus and opposition agree to halt attacks while pursuing peace talks.

Violence had dropped across the country, including in Aleppo city.

Fire engulfes old Damascus bazaar

On the same day, a huge fire broke out in an ancient, well-known trade center in the old quarter of the capital Damascus, as some anti-regime activists claimed the fire was deliberately set off by the government to punish the owners who refused to evacuate the bazaar.

"The owners of those shops were exhausted by the taxes and fined imposed by Assad's regime. Millions of Syrian Pounds were offered to them to evacuate the shops through intermediaries; and when they refused, Assad turned them into ashes," according to Syrian activists on social media.

The huge fire sent dark plums of smoke over old Damascus, after gutting over 50 shops in the al-Assroniyah marketplace, which is located between the historic citadel and the famous al-Hamidiyah Souk in the old walled city of Damascus.

Syrian state news said a short circuit caused the fire, adding that firefighters have succeeded to control the blaze in the 150-year-old bazaar.