Syria’s Mind-Boggling Numbers

There are more than 150,000 ‘documented’ deaths in the civil war. The real number is likely much higher

Wall Street Journal

They arrive every day, the body counts from Syria, consistent and painful: 141, 201, 152, 81 (a lucky day, that last one). But somewhere along the way we stopped paying attention. Perhaps it’s because it’s no longer clear who’s pulling the trigger; who is killed and who remains at large, kidnapped by another pro-regime battalion or the latest murderous jihadi group.The world is getting tired of this war, and the Syrians appear to be tired from fighting. Last week was a relatively “quiet” week, by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights’s count. Nineteen civilians, including 11 children and two women, were killed by aerial bombardment in Om al-Amad. A child was killed by sniper fire in the Jam’iah al-Zahraa area and a woman in al-Wafdin. Another child was killed by a mortar in the al-Neirab camp, and two children and a woman were killed by the regime’s bombardment of Soran. A dozen other tragedies of this sort add up to a weekly death rate in the low 30s—a decent “weather” report in Syria.April’s count, which marked the third year of the Syrian uprising, was much bloodier. Take the last week of April: A Syrian government missile slammed into the Ein Jalout elementary school in the eastern part of Aleppo, according to Al Jazeera, killing at least 19 people, including 10 children. This happened as teachers and students were preparing an exhibit of children’s drawings depicting Syria at war. A day earlier, al Nusra claimed responsibility for twin car-bombings that killed at least 79 civilians in Homs. Another 21 fighters from the government-funded, Alawite-manned National Defense Force were killed in other battles.In the previous week, Tarek Ghrair, aged 15, was killed when a mortar exploded near the Homs football stadium. Nine people in total were reportedly killed in the blast. Tarek was a promising young footballer and so the Syrian Football Association published its condolences. As for the others, it seems that no one found the time to mention their names.Then there was Frans van der Lugt, a Dutch priest, who become a well-known figure in the old city of Homs for his insistence on staying with “his people” in the besieged city. He was, the BBC reported, the last European to remain behind in the old city, where he’d served and lived over the last 50 years and where he welcomed people of all faiths. He was gunned down by an unknown man just before the siege ended.Tracing the dead is a daunting task in a grieving country strewn with wreckage. The U.N. announced in January that it had stopped counting the dead, citing an inability to accurately monitor the casualty figures due to the wartime chaos. Others, like those at the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, still try. And then there are the families of those who perished, vanished, or who were left without a home, an arm or an eye, who seek to leave at least a memory behind. But the numbers remain elusive, and there isn’t enough energy left to count and update the daily toll of carnage.There are more than 150,000 documented deaths in Syria. This means that there is a record, a name, a picture and sometimes even a comment in a large database about the way that particular life has ended. But those who count, in the U.K.-based Observatory, believe the actual figure is closer to 220,000.

There were approximately 22 million people living in Syria when the revolution began in 2011. Since then, roughly five million have left and a similar number became and remain homeless and displaced inside the embattled country. The latest report by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees counted more than nine million Syrians uprooted as a result of the conflict. Every fourth person in Lebanon is now a Syrian. Every fifth person in Jordan is a Syrian as well, mostly women and children, as men were left behind to fight or be buried.

Refugee women have it hardest of all. Many fled the horrific war, only to be raped on the way. “The conflict in Syria is increasingly marked by rape and sexual violence employed as a weapon of war,” Erika Feller, a senior U.N. official, told the Human Rights Council in Geneva last year. Zein, a recent widow at a refugee camp in Lebanon, complained to the Associated Press this month that she doesn’t have enough money to bribe those who are supposed to provide the U.N.-donated aid.

This desperate situation is forcing some displaced Syrian parents to marry off their young daughters as child brides. Dominique Hyde, the U.N. Children’s Fund representative in Jordan, says some refugee girls are being married off as early as 12 or 13, for the price of about $1,000. Thousands of such cases are reported.

There are many stories behind the numbers, and too few are told. The Syrian catastrophe won’t end on its own, and the world must wake up before nothing will be left behind.

Mr. Boms is the co-founder of He is a research fellow at the Dayan Center for Middle East Studies.


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