Syria death toll tops 100,000, rebels lose border town

BEIRUT Wed Jun 26, 2013 8:22pm BST

1 of 2. Members of the Free Syrian Army walk down the stairs holding their weapons in Aleppo's Salaheddine district June 25, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Hamid Khatib

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces have retaken a town on the Lebanese border as they press an offensive against rebels in a conflict that has now cost more than 100,000 lives, activists said on Wednesday.

The army took full control of Tel Kalakh, driving out insurgents and ending an unofficial truce under which it had allowed a small rebel presence to remain for several months.

The fall of Tel Kalakh, two miles (3 km) from the border with Lebanon, marks another gain for Assad after the capture of the rebel stronghold of Qusair this month, and consolidates his control around the central city of Homs, which links Damascus to his Alawite heartland overlooking the Mediterranean coast.

Like Qusair, Tel Kalakh was used by rebels in the early stages of the conflict as a transit point for weapons and fighters smuggled into Syria to join the fight against Assad.

Pro-Assad websites showed video footage of soldiers patrolling the town in armoured cars and on foot.

"Terrorist groups infiltrated and terrorised the local people," an army officer said in the video. "In response to the request of the local people, the army entered Tel Kalakh to cleanse the area and restore security."

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-opposition monitoring group, said rebels left the town on Tuesday, retreating towards the nearby Crusader fort of Crac des Chevaliers. Three rebels were killed as the army moved in.

Six months ago, Assad's opponents were challenging the president's grip on parts of Damascus, but are now under fierce military pressure there, while their supply lines from neighbouring Jordan and Lebanon have steadily been choked off.

DEATH TOLL TOPS 100,000

In response to Assad's gains, achieved with the support of Lebanon's pro-Iranian Hezbollah fighters who spearheaded the assault on Qusair, Western and Arab nations pledged at the weekend to send urgent military aid to the rebels.

Hezbollah's involvement has highlighted the increasingly sectarian dynamic in the Syrian conflict. Hezbollah and Tehran back Assad, whose Alawite minority is an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, while Sunni Muslim states such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have stepped up support for the mainly Sunni rebels.

Radical Sunni militants from abroad, some of them linked to al Qaeda, are also coming in to fight alongside the rebels.

Jordan's King Abdullah said the war could ignite conflict across the Middle East unless global powers helped to convene peace talks soon.

"It has become clear to all that the Syrian crisis may extend from being a civil war to a regional and sectarian conflict...the extent of which is unknown," the monarch told Asharq al-Awsat newspaper in an interview.

"It is time for a more serious Arab and international coordination to stop the deterioration of the Syrian crisis. The situation cannot wait any longer," he added.

But prospects for proposed "Geneva 2" peace talks look bleak. Talks on Tuesday between the United States and Russia, which support opposing sides in Syria, produced no agreement on who should attend the conference or when it should be held.

Saudi Arabia, which views Shi'ite Iran as its arch-rival, has stepped up aid to Syrian rebels in recent months, supplying anti-aircraft missiles among other weapons.

"Syria is facing a double-edged attack. It is facing genocide by the government and an invasion from outside the government," Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said on Tuesday. "(It) is facing a massive flow of weapons to aid and abet that invasion and that genocide. This must end."

The Observatory, which monitors violence through a network of security and medical sources in Syria, said the death toll from two years of conflict had risen above 100,000 - making it by far the deadliest of the uprisings to have swept the region.

It said the figure included 18,000 rebel fighters and about 40,000 soldiers and pro-Assad militiamen. But the true number of combatants killed was likely to be double that due to both sides' secrecy in reporting casualties, it said.

In addition to the casualties, it said, 10,000 people had been detained by pro-Assad forces and 2,500 soldiers and loyalist militiamen had been captured by the rebels.

The United Nations has put the death toll from the 27-month-old conflict at 93,000 by the end of April.

The violence has fuelled instability and sectarian tensions in Syria's neighbours, particularly Iraq and Lebanon.

At least 40 people were killed this week in the Lebanese city of Sidon in clashes between the army and gunmen loyal to a firebrand Sunni cleric who backs the Syrian rebels and has urged Sunnis to challenge Hezbollah's military might in Lebanon.

On Wednesday, unidentified attackers stabbed at least five passengers on a bus carrying Syrians in Beirut, security sources said. None of the victims was seriously wounded, they said.

(Editing by Alistair Lyon)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (3)
Raymond.Vermont wrote:
Syria death toll tops 100,000, rebels lose border town…

As the article alludes to, somewhat more Syrians have died in the fight to remain loyal to their govt system and country than havent.

The UK should be offering aid to loyalist and non-loyalist Syrian civilians alike and without prejudice.

Jun 26, 2013 2:45pm BST  --  Report as abuse
Raymond.Vermont wrote:
Al Qaeda, (anarchic sunni salafism) has done an exceptional job of neutralizing (as central govt commanded states) not only Iraq, but also Syria.

Exceptional work for ten years of religious ideological anarchy.

Jun 26, 2013 8:34pm BST  --  Report as abuse
Wvandamme wrote:
King Abdullah is just a puppet whose strings are manipulated by Israel and its friends in de US, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. He shouldn’t complain but make sure his country gains its independence. He is part of the problem allowing his country to be a conduit for jihadists to fight in Syria and Iraq. Therefore he is guilty of those things he complains about.

Jun 27, 2013 9:18am BST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.