Questioning the Syrian “Casualty List”

A Free Syrian Army (FSA) gunman stands guard as demonstrators pray on a street in Reef Damascus, north of Damascus, early 4 February 2012. (Photo: REUTERS - Stringer)

By: Sharmine Narwani

Published Tuesday, February 28, 2012

“Perception is 100 percent of politics,” the old adage goes. Say something three, five, seven times, and you start to believe it in the same way you “know” aspirin is good for the heart.

Sometimes though, perception is a dangerous thing. In the dirty game of politics, it is the perception – not the facts of an issue – that invariably wins the day.

In the case of the raging conflict over Syria, the one fundamental issue that motors the entire international debate on the crisis is the death toll and its corollary: the Syrian casualty list.

The “list” has become widely recognized – if not specifically, then certainly when the numbers are bandied about: 4,000, 5,000, 6,000 – sometimes more. These are not mere numbers; they represent dead Syrians.

But this is where the dangers of perception begin. There are many competing Syrian casualty lists with different counts – how does one, for instance gauge if X is an accurate number of deaths? How have the deaths been verified? Who verifies them and do they have a vested interest? Are the dead all civilians? Are they pro-regime or anti-regime civilians? Do these lists include the approximately 2,000 dead Syrian security forces? Do they include members of armed groups? How does the list-aggregator tell the difference between a civilian and a plain-clothes militia member?

Even the logistics baffle. How do they make accurate counts across Syria every single day? A member of the Lebanese fact-finding team investigating the 15 May 2011 shooting deaths of Palestinian protesters by Israelis at the Lebanese border told me that it took them three weeks to discover there were only six fatalities, and not the 11 counted on the day of the incident. And in that case, the entire confrontation lasted a mere few hours.

How then does one count 20, 40, or 200 casualties in a few hours while conflict continues to rage around them?

My first port of call in trying to answer these questions about the casualty list was the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which seemed likely to be the most reliable source of information on the Syrian death toll – until it stopped keeping track last month.

The UN began its effort to provide a Syrian casualty count in September 2011, based primarily on lists provided by five different sources. Three of their sources were named: The Violations Documenting Center (VDC), the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) and the Syrian Shuhada website. At that time, the lists varied in number from around 2,400 to 3,800 victims.

The non-UN casualty list most frequently quoted in the general media is the one from the Syrian Observatory – or SOHR.

Last month, SOHR made some headlines of its own when news of a rift over political viewpoints and body counts erupted. Two competing SOHRs claimed authenticity, but the group headed by Rami Abdul Rahman is the one recognized by Amnesty International.

OHCHR spokesman Rupert Colville stated during a phone interview that the UN evaluates its sources to check “whether they are reliable,” but appeared to create distance from SOHR later – during the group’s public spat – by saying: “The (UN) colleague most involved with the lists...had no direct contact with the Syrian Observatory, though we did look at their numbers. This was not a group we had any prior knowledge of, and it was not based in the region, so we were somewhat wary of it.”

Colville explains that the UN sought at all times “to make cautious estimates” and that “we have reasonable confidence that the rounded figures are not far off.”

While “also getting evidence from victims and defectors – some who corroborated specific names,” the UN, says Colville, “is not in a position to cross-check names and will never be in a position to do that.”

I spoke to him again after the UN decided to halt its casualty count in late January. “It was never easy to verify, but it was a little bit clearer before. The composition of the conflict has changed. It’s become much more complex, fragmented,” Colville says. “While we have no doubt there are civilian and military casualties...we can’t really quantify it.”

“The lists are clear – the question is whether we can fully endorse their accuracy,” he explains, citing the “higher numbers” as an obstacle to verification.

The Casualty Lists Up Close: Some Stories Behind the Numbers

Because the UN has stopped its casualty count, reporters have started reverting back to their original Syrian death toll sources. The SOHR is still the most prominent among them.

Abdul Rahman’s SOHR does not make its list available to the general public, but in early February I found a link to a list on the other SOHR website and decided to take a look. The database lists the victim’s name, age, gender, city, province, and date of death – when available. In December 2011, for instance, the list names around 77 registered casualties with no identifying information provided. In total, there are around 260 unknowns on the list.

Around that time, I had come across my first list of Syrians killed in the crisis, reportedly compiled in coordination with the SOHR, that contained the names of Palestinian refugees killed by Israeli fire on the Golan Heights on 15 May 2011 and 5 June 2011 when protesters congregated on Syria’s armistice line with Israel. So my first check was to see if that kind of glaring error appears in the SOHR list I investigate in this piece.

To my amazement, the entire list of victims from those two days were included in the SOHR casualty count – four from May 15 (#5160 to #5163) and 25 victims of Israeli fire from June 5 (#4629 to #4653). The list even identifies the deaths as taking place in Quneitra, which is in the Golan Heights.

It also didn’t take long to find the names of well-publicized pro-regime Syrians on the SOHR list and match them with YouTube footage of their funerals. The reason behind searching for funeral links is that pro-regime and anti-regime funerals differ quite starkly in the slogans they chant and the posters/signs/flags on display. Below, is a list of eight of these individuals, including their number, name, date and place of death on the casualty list – followed by our video link and further details if available:

#5939, Mohammad Abdo Khadour, 4/19/11, Hama, off-duty Colonel in Syrian army, shot in his car and died from multiple bullet wounds. Funeral link.

#5941, Iyad Harfoush, 4-18-11, Homs, off-duty Commander in Syrian army. In a video, his wife says someone started shooting in the mostly pro-regime al Zahra neighborhood of Homs – Harfoush went out to investigate the incident and was killed. Funeral link.

#5969, Abdo al Tallawi, 4/17/11, Homs, General in Syrian army killed alongside his two sons and a nephew. Funeral footage shows all four victims. The others are also on the list at #5948, Ahmad al Tallawi, #5958, Khader al Tallawi and #5972, Ali al Tallawi, all in Homs, Funeral link.

#6021, Nidal Janoud, 11/4/11, Tartous, an Alawite who was severely slashed by his assailants. The bearded gentleman to the right of the photo, and a second suspect, are now standing trial for the murder. Photo link.

#6022, Yasar Qash’ur, 11/4/11, Tartous, Lieutenant Colonel in the Syrian army, killed alongside 8 others in an ambush on a bus in Banyas, Funeral link.

#6129, Hassan al-Ma’ala, 4/5/11, policeman, suburbs of Damascus, Funeral link.

#6130, Hamid al Khateeb, 4/5/11, policeman, suburbs of Damascus, Funeral link.

#6044, Waeb Issa, 10/4/11, Tartous, Colonel in Syrian army, Funeral link.

Besides featuring on the SOHR list, Lt. Col. Yasar Qashur, Iyad Harfoush, Mohammad Abdo Khadour and General Abdo al Tallawi and his two sons and nephew also appear on two of the other casualty lists – the VDC and Syrian Shuhada – both used by the United Nations to compile their numbers.

Nir Rosen, an American journalist who spent several months insides Syria’s hot spots in 2011, with notable access to armed opposition groups, reported in a recent Al Jazeera interview:

“Every day the opposition gives a death toll, usually without any explanation of the cause of the deaths. Many of those reported killed are in fact dead opposition fighters, but the cause of their death is hidden and they are described in reports as innocent civilians killed by security forces, as if they were all merely protesting or sitting in their homes. Of course, those deaths still happen regularly as well.”

“And, every day, members of the Syrian army, security agencies and the vague paramilitary and militia phenomenon known as shabiha ["thugs"] are also killed by anti-regime fighters,” Rosen continues.

The report issued in January by Arab League Monitors after their month-long observer mission in Syria – widely ignored by the international media – also witnessed acts of violence by armed opposition groups against both civilians and security forces.

The Report states: “In Homs, Idlib and Hama, the observer mission witnessed acts of violence being committed against government forces and civilians...Examples of those acts include the bombing of a civilian bus, killing eight persons and injuring others, including women and children...In another incident in Homs, a police bus was blown up, killing two police officers.” The observers also point out that “some of the armed groups were using flares and armour-piercing projectiles.“

Importantly, the report further confirms obfuscation of casualty information when it states: “the media exaggerated the nature of the incidents and the number of persons killed in incidents and protests in certain towns.”

On February 3, the eve of the UN Security Council vote on Syria, news broke out that a massacre was taking place in Homs, with the general media assuming it was true and that all violence was being committed by the Syrian government. The SOHR’s Rami Abdul Rahman was widely quoted in the media as claiming the death toll to be at 217. The Local Coordination Committees (LCCs), which provide information to the VDC, called it at “more than 200,” and the Syrian National Council (SNC), a self-styled government in absentia of mainly expats, claimed 260 victims.

The next day, the casualty count had been revised down to 55 by the LCCs. (link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-16883911)

Even if the count is at 55 – that is still a large number of victims by any measure. But were these deaths caused by the Syrian government, by opposition gunmen or in the crossfire between the two groups? That is still the question that needs to break through the deafening narratives, lists, and body counts.

In International Law, Detail Counts

While the overwhelming perception of Syrian casualties thus far has been that they are primarily unarmed civilians deliberately targeted by government forces, it has become obvious these casualties are also likely to include: Civilians caught in the crossfire between government forces and opposition gunmen; victims of deliberate violence by armed groups; “dead opposition fighters” whose attire do not distinguish them from regular civilians; and members of the Syrian security forces, both on and off duty.

Even if we could verify the names and numbers on a Syrian casualty list, we still don’t know their stories, which if revealed, may pose an entirely different picture of what is going on in Syria today

These questions are vitally important to understand the burden of responsibility in this conflict. International law provides for different measures of conflict: the two most frequently used gauges for this are the Principle of Necessity, i.e., using force only when it is necessary, and the Principle of Proportionality, i.e., the use of force proportional to the threat posed.

In the case of Syria – like in Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt and Libya – it is widely believed that the government used unnecessary force in the first instance. Syrian President Bashar Assad, like many of these Arab rulers, has as much as admitted to “mistakes” in the first months of protests. These mistakes include some shooting deaths and detaining a much larger number of protesters than expected, some of whom were allegedly tortured.

Let us assume, without question, that the Syrian government was over zealous in its use of force initially, and therefore violated the Principle of Necessity. I tend to believe this version because it has been so-stated by the Arab League’s observer mission – the first and only boots-on-the-ground monitors investigating the crisis from within the country.

However – and this is where the casualty lists come in – there is not yet nearly enough evidence, not by any measure acceptable in a court of law, that the Syrian government has violated the Principle of Proportionality. Claims that the regime has used disproportionate force in dealing with the crisis are, today, difficult to ascertain, in large part because opponents have been using weapons against security forces and pro-regime civilians almost since the onset of protests.

Assuming that the number of casualties provided by the UN’s OHCHR is around the 5,000-mark -the last official figure provided by the group - the question is whether this is a highly disproportionate number of deaths when contrasted directly with the approximately 2,000 soldiers of the regular Syrian army and other security forces who have been reportedly killed since April 2011.

When you calculate the deaths of the government forces in the past 11 months, they amount to about six a day. Contrast that with frequent death toll totals of around 15+ each day disseminated by activists – many of whom are potentially neither civilian casualties nor victims of targeted violence – and there is close to enough parity to suggest a conflict where the acts of violence may be somewhat equal on both sides.

Last Sunday, as Syrians went to the polls to vote on a constitutional referendum, Reuters reports – quoting the SOHR – that 9 civilians and 4 soldiers were killed in Homs, and that elsewhere in Syria there were 8 civilian and 10 security forces casualties. That is 17 civilians and 14 regime forces – where are the opposition gunmen in that number? Were none killed? Or are they embedded in the “civilian” count?

Defectors or Regular Soldiers?

There have also been allegations that many, if not most, of the soldiers killed in clashes or attacks have been defectors shot by other members of the regular army. There is very little evidence to support this as anything more than a limited phenomenon. Logically, it would be near impossible for the Syrian army to stay intact if it was turning on its rank-and-file soldiers in this manner – and the armed forces have remained remarkably cohesive given the length and intensity of the conflict in Syria.

In addition, the names, rank and cities of each of the dead soldiers are widely publicized by state-owned media each day, often accompanied by televised funerals. It would be fairly simple for the organized opposition to single out by name the defectors they include on their casualty lists, which has not happened.

The very first incident of casualties from the Syrian regular army that I could verify dates to 10 April 2011, when gunmen shot up a bus of soldiers travelling through Banyas, in Tartous, killing nine. This incident took place a mere few weeks after the first peaceful protests broke out in Syria, and so traces violence against government forces back to the start of political upheaval in the country.

“Witnesses” quoted by the BBC, Al Jazeera and The Guardian insisted that the nine dead soldiers were “defectors” who had been shot by the Syrian army for refusing orders to shoot at demonstrators.

Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, debunked that version on his Syria Comment website. Another surviving soldier on the bus – a relation of Lt. Col. Yasar Qashur, #6022 on the SOHR list, whose funeral I link to above – denied that they were defectors too. But the narrative that dead soldiers are mostly defectors shot by their own troops has stuck throughout this conflict – though less so, as evidence of gunmen targeting Syrian forces and pro-regime civilians becomes belatedly apparent.

The VDC – another of the UN’s OHCHR sources for casualty counts – alleges that 6,399 civilians and 1,680 army defectors were killed in Syria during the period from 15 March 2011 to 15 February 2012. All security forces killed in Syria during the past 11 months were “defectors?” Not a single soldier, policeman or intelligence official was killed in Syria except those forces who opposed the regime? This is the kind of mindless narrative of this conflict that continues unchecked. Worse yet, this exact VDC statistic is included in the latest UN report on Syria issued last week.

Humanitarian Crisis or Just Plain Violence?

While few doubt the Syrian government’s violent suppression of this revolt, it is increasingly clear that in addition to the issue of disproportionally, there is the question of whether there is a “humanitarian crisis” as suggested by some western and Arab leaders since last year. I sought some answers during a trip to Damascus in early January 2012 where I spoke to a select few NGOs that enjoyed rare access to all parts of the country.

Given that words like “massacre” and “slaughter” and “humanitarian crisis” are being used in reference to Syria, I asked International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Spokesman Saleh Dabbakeh how many calls for urgent medical assistance his organization had received in 2011. His response was shocking. “Only one that I recall,” said Dabbakeh. Where was that, I asked? “Quneitra National Hospital in the Golan,” he replied, “last June.” This was when Israeli troops fired on Syrian and Palestinian protesters marching to the 1973 armistice line with the Jewish state. Those same protesters that ended up on SOHR’s casualty list.

A Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) worker confirmed that, recalling that his organization treated hundreds of casualties from the highly-publicized incident.

As the level of violence has escalated, however, the situation has deteriorated, and the ICRC now has received more calls for medical assistance – mainly from private hospitals in Homs. The SARC today has nine different points in Homs where it provides such assistance. The only two places they do not currently serve are the neighborhoods of Baba Amr and Inshaat “because the security situation does not allow for it – for their own safety, there is fighting there.”

During a phone call last Thursday, one NGO officer, explained that the measure for a “humanitarian crisis” is in level of access to basic staples, services and medical care. He told me off the record that “There is a humanitarian crisis in (i.e.) Baba Amr today, but not in Syria. If the fighting finishes tomorrow, there will be enough food and medical supplies.”

“Syria has enough food to feed itself for a long time. The medical sector still functions very well. There isn’t enough pressure on the medical sector to create a crisis,” he elaborated. “A humanitarian crisis is when a large number of a given population does not have access to medical aid, food, water, electricity, etc – when the system cannot any longer respond to the needs of the population.”

But an international human rights worker also cautions: “the killing is happening on both sides – the other side is no better.”

People have to stop this knee-jerk, opportunistic, hysterical obsession with numbers of dead Syrians, and ask instead: “who are these people and who killed them?” That is the very least these victims deserve. Anything less would render their tragic deaths utterly meaningless. Lack of transparency along the supply-chain of information and its dissemination – on both sides – is tantamount to making the Syrian story all about perception, and not facts. It is a hollow achievement and people will die in ever greater numbers.

Sharmine Narwani is a commentary writer and political analyst covering the Middle East. You can follow Sharmine on twitter @snarwani.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect Al-Akhbar's editorial policy.

Comments

omg you guys know nothing, please don't support Assad.. Unless you have lived there for a long time, do not give advice about what should happen and do not judge what is happening.

fyi:

RT: Why would Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya disseminate all these falsified reports on Syria?
AK: These TV networks have been employed as propaganda tools serving to destroy Syria as a state. Some of those propaganda tactics are stunningly elaborate, and you can only tell a lie if you live in Syria and focus on details.
For instance, there has been a fantastic weather forecast for Syria broadcast on TV, where temperature indices actually stand for the time when protesters will assemble in a specific location to provoke unrest. If you are with the opposition, this broadcast tells you that there will be a rally in Homs tomorrow at 12pm, and specially instructed camera crews will be waiting for you and your associates to turn up to act as the angry masses. You spend five minutes yelling “Down with Assad” in a square and leave with hard cash in your pocket, and the world gets TV images of “a street revolution rocking Syria.”
I witnessed this technique in action once. Al Jazeera reported on a street protest erupting near the Russian Cultural Center in Damascus in December 2011. I happen to live nearby, and I can see the Center from my window. There was nothing happening at this location at the time of the report. But exactly two hours later, a bunch of people turned up and launched an aggressive protest action. So it was not really a news report – it was coded instructions communicating the time and place of a staged disturbance. Similar tactics was used to announce the assault against the Syrian embassy in Amman early in December 2011.
etc

http://australiansforsyria.wordpress.com/2012/02/12/interview-with-ankha...

The meme about govt forces killing defectors was also used in the war on Libya.
http://nocheinparteibuch.wordpress.com/2011/04/04/hidden-behind-propagan...

as for the casualties..as with Libya the govt is being demonised to justify a NATO invasion..is the syrian army killing syrian civlians? NO! who says they are? just the same media that lied about the libyan army.
.The media like NYT Aljazeera BBC etc have no credibility

http://www.moonofalabama.org/2012/01/syrian-death-numbers-are-likely-all...

We are being lied to yet again by the professional media and bellwether Human rights(?) organisations..dont be fooled..

Can somebody please have Anderson Cooper of CNN understand complexities of the situation in Syria. Many people are tired of his one side reporting. Send him some reports from the independent journalists and comments from this pages and maybe, just maybe it will help to clear up his confused head regarding Syria and the region in general. We need reporting and information from both sides in order to have public understand the bases of conflicts in the region.

Desperate article and comments. Shame on those who are waiting for accurate numbers to take a stand against massacres. This is so similar to the Israeli approach when bombing Gaza, "the people of Gaza are not innocent civilians" they say, "they are armed groups", and they call them terrorists. I call them resistants.
I honestly don't care about accurate numbers, 500 or 5000 does not make me change my mind and take a stand pro a dictator, against the people.

NO, Zionists' war crimes lies are SUPPORTED by the SAME forces which support the lies of "opposition". Do NOT lie about it, and your post would be less "desperate". When the last time (or ANY time) Obama or Clinton were telling that Zionist war criminals should step down? NEVER. So, find another way to support NATO/GCC "opposition".

I have really been shamed. Especially when you brought up the zionist analogy. So I am just gonna pretend that the head of the SNC hasn't knelt to the americans and the zionists and promised to be a good boy when, if ever he takes the reins of the country. I am also supposed to ignore the fact that the Fake Syrian Army is receiving weapons from countries vying to sow strife in the region not to mention the fact that those countries are zionist allies. If I ignore all this, and all the sectarianism of the Fake Syrian Army and their allies and not mind the fact that the immediate fall of the regime will result in a zionist victory, then yes you will have shamed me. But, I just can't ignore those facts.

More desperate comments by the army of Lidia and hezbleb, you don't get the idea yet . All my syrian friends supporting the Syrian revolution are continuously criticizing the official opposition. Criticizing the opposition is not a good argument to support the dictatorship, neither the massacres. You are are again using the same argument that the west uses to condemn Palestinians rather than condemning Israel.

So many assumptions on your part genius. To ask for an overthrow of the regime when the leaders of the armed uprising as well as the representatives of the official opposition are funded and supported by Saudi/Qatari/European/American money is simply asking for disaster for the region. You're so limited in your view of the world to assume that not supporting one party in a conflict means support of the other. And how many Syrian friends do you have? Do you have about at least a thousand randomly picked. Because if you don't, then that just simply isn't indicative of anything if your intention is to give weight to your argument. And finally how nice is it that now the people who claim to support the Syrian people bring up the example of Palestine and the Israelis. Because most of the people who will not support the armed uprising in Syria are holding such position because they know that the immediate overthrow of the regime in favor of an american/Saudi installed government is a zionist and an american victory. So the only desperate comments are yours which are a regurgitation of Main Stream Media rubbish. Imagine despite all the western news outlets and the arabic news outlets carrying out a very agressive media campaign (based on lies (see As'ad Abukhalil blog from yesterday)) and people like you repeating their mantra incessantly, the so-called opposition has yet to gain the respect of the Syrian people.

Why not re-visit Hama-82 while we're at it, just to see whether it was 10'000 or 20'000 that the overzealous men of this president's father achieved? But seriously, making the violence sound like the result of an "overzealous" army... we might as well call victims "collateral damage" caused by "indivudual acts". Inaccuracy is definitely a major drawback in reporting on Syria, at least partly because of the lack of access of journalists to people/places, but this article suggests that it is more important to focus on the methodology than on the results. In a lab, this would be good advice. On the ground, less so. And in terms of humanitarian needs: aid agencies have never considered Syria to be a crisis overall, but have identified pockets where the situation is indeed tantamount to a humanitarian crisis, so maybe the author could check this one.

Yes, Hama was a place of an ARMED sectarian revolt , supported by foreign reactionary forces as well. Let us look into TRUTH of such cases, not only at numbers. And the truth has NOTHING to do with Western/GCC propaganda.
And in the "pockets"" where the situation is indeed tantamount to a humanitarian crisis" - they are places which sectarian NATO/GCC armed forces are trying to turn into "Misrata" to give NATO/GCC a pretext to bomb Syria. NOW Misrata is a land of armed gangs murder, torture and ethnic cleansing - a nice example for Syria, to be sure.

Nice adaptation of Stalinist propaganda tactics to Baathist ends; of course it was only a handful of "overzealous" cadres responsible for the deaths of civilians.

of course, of course. You sound like you're sitting on a goldmine of information. What's a handful of overzealous cadres? I mean, how do you quantify it. And you say it with such conviction, why don't you share with us where you got that unit of measurement of a "handful" from.

Nice name-calling instead of arguments. Year to call imperialist "regime change" crimes such is Stalinism, but what is calling them "humanitarian help"? An anti-communism, I suppose.

The author uses the same tactics & language to Syria's revolution that Zionists use in covering their wars and crimes against Arabs.

I really don't understand how she has the ability to write such a long elaborate article without starting by condemning the Assad regime crimes and its responsibility for the chaotic situation we reached to; one which does not even allow for a dignified count of the dead and their dignified burial.

Regime-apologetic journalists like the author need to assess their moral and professional abilities.

'The author uses the same tactics & language to Syria's revolution that Zionists use in covering their wars and crimes against Arabs. '

what 'revolution'? you mean the colour revolution whereby western regimes like US ad France back salafist muslim brotherhood fundamentalists to take over a secular state and enforce a sharialaw regime, which will repress anu non-muslims or non-salafists?!
if this were afghanistan, we';d hear the media rightly calling these salafists islamic terrorists..Here they get to be called 'freedom fighters'!

and how strange to compare syrias govt with israels regime when Israel is arming the islamic terrorists.

FYI

http://ozyism.blogspot.com.au/2011/12/member-of-us-sniper-squad-captured...
http://ozyism.blogspot.com.au/2012/02/us-mercenary-hideout-discovered-in...

nice! US aids islamic terrorism...the very guys they fight in afghanistan here are allies or patsies.

So what you're saying is that first she had to pay homage before she's even allowed to question anything. And what's amazing is that you charge that she is the one who sounds like a zionist. Can anyone question the holocaust or even say anything about it without pledging an undying allegiance to the zionist cause and to "Israel". That's what zionists and their western slaves do. But yet that's what you're asking of the author to do.

The journalist is clearly and unambiguously discussing the issue of numbers of dead syrians where pro and anti regime numbers are often found on one list of people killed by the regime. The same list is used by the hyenas in the west to bring about a case against the regime as if now all of a sudden they start caring about arab lives.
This makes this article very valuable and relevant. Syrian opposition is no longer made up of unarmed protesters. There's a war that has the potential to engulf the whole region, so spare us.

I really don't understand how A has the ability to write such a comment without starting by condemning the NATO/GCC/Zionist crimes and its responsibility for the chaotic situation we reached. Just as in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and so on.

And I just cannot get why it Assad's fault for lies of the MB propaganda outlets, counting victims of Zionism, pro-Assad people and soldiers as "victims of Assad".

DO NOT LIE. Or no one, excluding NATO/GCC/Zionists, would believe you.

Someone wrote a good post in response to this article. I think it is worth sharing it here.

"I want to ask some questions which (obviously) Sharmine missed in her long post: why can’t the humanitarian organizations get in and do their job properly, and who is stopping them from doing that? Why unprofessional individuals are forced to be ‘activists’? Do we care to apply the Geneva Conventions? And Did we doubt our numbers when Israel bombed us? Do we have any long-term interest in discrediting the United Nations’ work in Palestine. Really?"
http://bit.ly/yB0Kri

Investigative reporting indeed, and well needed in times of such media war. But too bad that the author uses her sharp intelligence and eloquent words to try to play down the level of violence inflicted by a regime on people. Disproportionate use of force, lack of distinction between military and civilians targets, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearance, all go unnoticed in the series of articles the author has already contributed to the debate on Syria, in a way that makes her, investigative indeed, but apologetic too, on behalf of a government that has failed to protect its own civilians while, (granted, losing its own people too). Maybe the author could spend some time investigating the allegations of violations by the military and security forces too, lest she has already chosen the camp she defends.

Excellent piece.You mentioned on twitter that someone had mentioned the stark disconnect between the majority of British coverage and pieces such as your own. One of the few British writers I saw address the issue in a blanced fashion was Seumas Milne who has written for the Guardian. Perhaps you can prevail upon him to address why that paper, and so many others, have let their standards slip so very far.

"Do these lists include the approximately 2,000 dead Syrian security forces?"

So you do not question this "approximate" figure? And why? Based on what?
If you weren't a self-declared regime defender, someone who will stand by the regime regardless of how many people they kill, one might overlook this. But nice insertion. Everything is speculation, except for the 2,000 dead security forces.
You also fail to mention that these figures can't be verified largely because of the regime violence/clampdown on media. Regime apologists like you have been moving the goalposts and changing their rationalizations for opposing the uprising from Day 1.
What you really ought to be writing about is how it really doesn't matter how many people Bashar kills, because the blablablabla resistance axis comes first, and about hierarchy good anti-imperialists should abide by (Palestinian & Lebanese lives, everyone else living in US-backed states, and then Syrians) and finally, how native bullets fired unjustly into the chests of young men should cause mothers less grief than Zionist ones.

Great piece of investigative journalism.... I hope other journalists will follow your lead and try hard to look into their news sources before they splash news all over the world...

Great work, thank you Sharmine!!

I absolutely support your conclusions regarding the credibility and transparency of the reports on the Syrian death toll;

**For months, we heard about casualties from the Syrian army and security forces. On the side of the opposition there were only reports on "unarmed civilians" being killed during peaceful protests...When asked about the casualties taken by the Syrian army, the claim of "defectors being executed by the security forces for disobeying orders to shoot" repeated by the opposition propaganda machines; but the fact that the opposition has adopted the policy of denying any responsibility of any violent acts, raises many questions about its credibility- since its lies were exposed in Jisr al Shogour massacre and in Hama where the bodies of security personnel were thrown savagely in al Assi river; in both incidents the opposition accused the Government forces of being behind these horrific crimes.

**However, when it became very hard to avoid addressing the casualties taken by the Syrian military forces; the "Free Syrian Army" had to be conveniently invented!! Since then, it was possible for its members to take responsibility for the attacks on the Syrian Military Forces- giving these attacks legitimacy through its claim that its main role was to "defend unarmed civilians". There was a real media hype about the "FSA" and its "substantial force of 10 000 - 15 000 troops"!! Yet, old habits don’t die easily; the opposition maintained that ALL the dead are civilians and there was NO reference to the death of any "FSA" members- apart from those who died in an attack around al Zaweyeh Mountain back in December, in a military operation by the Syrian Military Forces. This strongly indicates the extreme lack of credibility and transparency on the side of the opposition. In fact, even in Homs, and after all the “shelling”, no “FSA” fighters were reported to have died!!

This is a chronology I forgot. Well said, and many thanks.

Incidentally, to those who do not like the New Constitution I would recommend that they vote in the next election for the Ba'th Party, and immediately head off into the street and demand by PEACEFUL protests to change the New Constitution and bring the old!...

Wait! I thought they are against the Ba'the party... So let me think: They are against the one-party state, but they are obviously against the multiparty state too, because the Plebiscite was not properly carried out. So, they are for the one-party state and against it. For the multiparty system and are forced to be against it...

Why does the word schizophrenia keep swirling in my head?

Finally someone asking the right questions. But there is more:
800+ of the people named as killed were found to be still alive, while 1200+ were found to have died of natural causes, some where killed by the armed gangs:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=B3flBnf4Lb4

Sustained mortar and artillery fire is perhaps the most devastating military tool in existence short of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. YES it is even more devastating over a single area than an air campaign because the guns do not have to refuel, rearm, or rest from pilot or airframe fatigue. They just keep firing at a sustained rate. ICRC estimates? Please I never saw them when I was getting shot at. You're educated enough that you should know this stuff. Your supposed "minority report" == fail.

I like the flight of the imagination... in between your chuckles, I believe?

Just like that! The Syrian Army is simply sending volleys of 'mortars and artillery' fire - at the same time, if you please! Why both? This is something you need to provide an answer for, drawn out from your military skill you so finely demonstrate. For, otherwise people might reflect that both mortar and artillery have the same effect, and that mortar against a proximity enclave of terrorists, while the artillery is used against a distant mortar or artillery position, although rarely, and this has not been reported in Syria, against barricaded terrorists in appartment buildings - that is the terrorists using human shields, if you please!

But don't mind me. Continue in your chuckles, while the terrorists work out enough tears to draw some serious consternation and tough Lord Kitchener type reflection - and we do know how bad it was for the bugger in Galipoli!

If you really think that the Syrian Army is shooting for the fun of it, there is no therapy that can put this matter right for you. If you accept that these terrorists - for this is their name, especially after they killed 64 Alawites on Monday and 47 Christians and Alawites yesterday - are fighting for freedom and democracy, the Syrian people can do without this kind of freedom, and this form of democracy, and certainly without you!,

Some anon is claiming a lot. Why should me believe him(?) We are NOT Hillary or Saudi king, we are NOT going to lap his(?) words as gospel.

And, by the way, the air-bombing of Libya by NATO/GCC was MUCH worse than "mortar and artillery fire", esp. if we have NO proof than mortar and artillery fire is "sustained"..

God Bless You, Sharmine Narwani, for your efforts to uncover the reality and for saying the truth about Syria.

How can one prove that the defected soldiers are being killed which explains the high number of casualties in the army? It sounds reasonable though

How can one prove that MB propagnda is a lie? Simple - they were caught MANY times, it is even easier than shrug off the "explanations" the high number of casualties in the army by some MB propaganda lie. Sectarian murderers aka "rebels" are murdering soldiers with arms supplied by GCC and NATO.

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