More than 150,000 people have been killed since the start of the war, reports the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. More than 40 percent of the country’s population has been displaced from their homes, many becoming refugees in nearby countries.
Syrian government airstrikes and artillery assaults killed at least 26 rebels April 3-4 in Mleiha, an agricultural area east of the capital Damascus, the Syrian Observatory said. “Barrel bombs” were also unleashed April 5 in the Al-Sakhour neighborhood of Aleppo.
According to the U.N., residents living in the two areas are among the 800,000 Syrians in opposition-held territories who have been under siege by government forces, prevented from leaving their neighborhoods and denied food, medical supplies and other necessities.
Some 20 barrel bombs were being dropped per day in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, and surrounding communities in February, as U.N.-brokered “peace” talks collapsed. On April 1 some 15 civilians were killed and dozens wounded by barrel bombing of Maaret al-Artik in the Aleppo region, reported Turkey’s Anadolu news agency.
The Assad regime’s position has been strengthened since Moscow and Washington concluded a deal that included working with Damascus to dismantle its stockpile of chemical weapons after the regime was accused of carrying out a sarin gas attack last August that killed hundreds of civilians.
Pro-Assad forces, including the paramilitary National Defense Force, have been aided by Hezbollah soldiers from Lebanon, irregular fighters from Shiite groups in Iraq and Revolutionary Guard troops from Iran. In mid-March, with a strong Hezbollah presence, Assad retook control of Yabrud, near the Lebanese border. Nine months earlier his forces seized control of the border city of Qusayr with Hezbollah’s help.
The fighting has spread into Lebanon “between Sunni Muslims who mainly support Syria’s rebels and Alawites who back Assad,” Reuters said April 3, with “bombings and rocket attacks from the capital of Beirut to the Bekaa Valley.”
In Lebanon, the number of Syrians officially registered as refugees grew to more than 1 million in early April, nearly triple the number there 12 months before. Some 2,500 new refugees are registered by the U.N. every day. Another 400,000 Syrians are living in the country without official refugee status, government officials told Associated Press. Prior to the influx, Lebanon’s population was about 4.5 million people.
In Syria, half of the hospitals are destroyed, industrial production has collapsed and unemployment is at 50 percent, according to the Syrian Center for Policy Research.
Before the civil war, Syrian children “almost universally attended elementary school,” reported the New York Times. “Now fewer than half are in school; among refugees in neighboring Lebanon, the figure is 12 percent.”
A total of 2.6 million Syrians are registered as refugees in five countries. In addition to Lebanon they include: Turkey with 668,000; Jordan, 589,000; Iraq, 220,000, the most in the autonomous Kurdish region; and Egypt, 136,000.
The struggle in Syria began in March 2011 with popular protests demanding political rights. Assad responded with a bloody crackdown. Opposition forces rallied under the banner of the Free Syrian Army, which took control of parts of northern Syria, including areas around Aleppo and some suburbs of Damascus.
The Free Syrian Army has suffered setbacks while Islamist groups have gained strength. Last November a coalition of seven Islamist groups split from the FSA and formed the Islamic Front. Meanwhile, other more reactionary Islamist groups linked to al-Qaeda — the Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria — have seized control of some areas.
Fighting between the various Islamist factions over the past several months has killed 4,000 people, the Syrian Observatory reports, enabling Assad’s forces to make gains.
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