Syrian war leaves over half a million dead

War, conflict fuel arms imports to Middle East, Asia


KAFR BATNA, Syria: A wounded Syrian man is seen at a makeshift hospital following government bombardment in Kafr Batna in the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta yesterday. —AFP

BEIRUT: The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based war monitor, said yesterday about 511,000 people had been killed in the Syrian war since it began seven years ago. The Observatory, which tracks death tolls using a network of contacts inside Syria, said it had identified more than 350,000 of those killed, and the remainder were cases where it knew deaths had occurred but did not know the victims’ names.

The conflict began after mass protests on March 15 2011, dragging in regional and global powers and forcing millions of people – more than half the pre-war population – to flee their homes. About 85 percent of the dead were civilians killed by the forces of the Syrian government and its allies, the Observatory said. The Syrian military, joined by its ally Russia since 2015, has used air power extensively. As the war approaches its eighth year, intense fighting continues in several areas, including eastern Ghouta near the capital Damascus and Afrin near the Turkish border.

Meanwhile, Syria’s rebel-held city of Douma faces a “catastrophic” situation after becoming the main haven for thousands of people fleeing advances by government forces into eastern Ghouta, its local council said yesterday. Hundreds of people have been killed in the Syrian army’s fierce air and artillery bombardment of eastern Ghouta since Feb 18 as President Bashar al-Assad’s government seeks to crush the last major rebel stronghold near the capital Damascus. Government forces have now captured more than half of the rebel enclave and have entirely besieged Douma, the largest urban centre in eastern Ghouta, cutting it off from neighbouring areas with advances on Saturday and Sunday.

The opposition-run council in Douma said thousands of families were now sheltering in open streets and public gardens as existing basements and shelters were already overcrowded. “After more than 20 days of the barbaric campaign and mass annihilation of eastern Ghouta.. this has led to a deterioration of the humanitarian and food situation to a catastrophic level,” it said in a statement. One man cowering in a heavily damaged shelter in Douma said: “It is completely uninhabitable. It is not even safe to put chickens in. There is no bathroom, just one toilet, and there are 300 people.” He declined to give his name for fear of reprisals if the army retakes the area.

The Douma council appealed for international help, saying even burials of the dead at the main city cemetery had been suspended due to the intensity of aerial strikes. At least 70 people were buried in a public park in Douma as the aerial strikes made it difficult to reach the main burial grounds on the outskirts of the city.

Arms imports
Weapons imports to the Middle East and Asia have boomed over the past five years, fuelled by war and tensions in those regions, a new study showed yesterday. In the period between 2013 and 2017, arms imports to the conflict-ridden Middle East more than doubled, jumping by 103 percent compared with the previous five-year period, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) calculated.

And the Middle East accounted for 32 percent of all arms imports worldwide. SIPRI, an independent institute, monitors arms deliveries by volume over periods of five years in order to iron out short-term fluctuations. Saudi Arabia-which is waging a war against Shiite Houthi rebels backed by its regional rival Iran-is the world’s second largest importer of arms after India, SIPRI said. The United States accounts for 61 percent of arms imports to Saudi Arabia and Britain for 23 percent. On Friday, Britain signed a preliminary multi-billion-pound order from Saudi Arabia for 48 Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets, military equipment maker BAE Systems announced.

The deal sparked heated debate and protests in the UK where the NGO, Save the Children, placed a life-size statue of a child near parliament “to draw attention to the violence that is being fuelled, in part, by British-made bombs.” “Widespread violent conflict in the Middle East and concerns about human rights have led to political debate in Western Europe and North America about restricting arms sales,” said senior SIPRI researcher Pieter Wezeman. “Yet the US and European states remain the main arms exporters to the region and supplied over 98 percent of weapons imported by Saudi Arabia.”

Growing demand in India
Nevertheless, Asia and Oceania was the biggest region for arms imports, accounting for 42 percent of the global total between 2013 and 2017, the institute calculated. And India was the world’s largest weapons importer, with Russia its main supplier accounting for 62 percent of its imports. At the same time, arms deliveries to India from the US, the world’s top weapons exporter, increased more than six-fold in the five-year period, SIPRI calculated.

“The tensions between India, on the one side, and Pakistan and China, on the other, are fuelling India’s growing demand for major weapons, which it remains unable to produce itself,” another SIPRI researcher Siemon Wezeman said. “China, by contrast, is becoming increasingly capable of producing its own weapons and continues to strengthen its relations with Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar through arms supplies,” he added.

Beijing, whose weapons exports rose by 38 percent in the five-year period, is the main arms supplier for Myanmar, accounting for 68 percent of imports. It also accounted for 71 percent of weapons imports to Bangladesh and for 70 percent of imports to India’s nuclear-armed rival, Pakistan. Myanmar’s violence against the Rohingya Muslim minority has caused some 700,000 of the people to flee over the border to Bangladesh since August, taking with them horrifying testimony of murder, rape and arson by soldiers and vigilante mobs. The atrocities have triggered international condemnations, including EU and US sanctions, against Myanmar. – Agencies

This article was published on 12/03/2018