The civil war in Syria has now killed more than 100,000 people, a grim new estimate Wednesday that comes at a time when the conflict is spreading beyond its borders and hopes are fading for a settlement to end the bloodshed.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has been tracking the death toll through a network of activists in the country, said most of the 100,191 killed in the past 27 months were combatants.
The regime losses were estimated at nearly 43,000, including pro-government militias and 169 fighters from the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah group — a recent entrant in the conflict.
The Observatory said 36,661 of the dead are civilians. Recorded deaths among the rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad reached more than 18,000, including 2,518 foreign fighters.
Observatory director Rami Abdul-Rahman said he suspected that the toll actually was higher, since neither side has been totally forthcoming about its losses.
The United Nations recently estimated that 93,000 people were killed between March 2011, when the crisis started, and the end of April 2013, concurring with Abdul-Rahman that the actual toll is likely much higher.
The Syrian government has not given a death toll. State media published the names of the government’s dead in the first months of the crisis, but then stopped publishing its losses after the opposition became an armed insurgency.
Abdul-Rahman said the group’s tally of military deaths is based on information from medical sources, records obtained by the group from state agencies and activists’ own count of funerals in government-held areas of the country. Other sources are the activist videos showing soldiers who were killed in rebel areas and later identified.
The new estimate comes at a time when hopes for peace talks are fading. The U.N.’s special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, said Tuesday an international conference proposed by Russia and the U.S. will not take place until later in the summer, partly because of opposition disarray.
Regime forces are pushing into rebel-held areas in an attempt to secure the seat of Assad’s power in the capital of Damascus and along the Mediterranean coast in the heartland of the Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam to which Assad belongs.
The offensive, along with new reports that Assad has used chemical weapons in 10 incidents in the conflict, also prompted Washington and its allies to declare they have decided to arm the rebels.
On Wednesday, the Observatory said the regime drove rebels out of the town of Talkalakh, along the border with Lebanon. The town, which had a predominantly Sunni population of about 70,000 before the conflict, is surrounded by 12 Alawite villages within walking distance of the Lebanon border.
The government takeover will likely affect the rebels’ ability to bring supplies, fighters and weapons from Lebanon.
The town also lies on the highway that links the city of Homs to Tartus, in the coastal Alawite enclave that is home to one of Syria’s two main seaports.
Syrian state TV showed soldiers patrolling the streets of Talkalakh, inspecting underground tunnels and displaying weapons seized from the opposition.
The governor of Homs, Ahmed Munir, told the private Lebanese broadcaster al-Mayadeen that some rebels in Talkalakh handed their weapons over to authorities. He said the town was a major area for infiltrators from Lebanon.
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