“About 12,000 of them were new names,” Abdurrahman said.
He was unable to provide a detailed breakdown of deaths by month since the March 2011 beginning of the uprising, which largely has been portrayed as a government crackdown on peaceful demonstrators that became a civil war when protesters took up arms to defend themselves. The Assad government has long argued, however, that its forces came under attack almost from the beginning.
With journalists largely prevented from freely reporting in Syria, news reports about the violence generally make little mention of government casualties, and U.S. officials and others have placed the blame for the death toll largely on the Assad government. Last month, for example, Secretary of State John Kerry used reports of more than 70,000 deaths to attack Assad’s fitness for office.
“Can a person who has allegedly used gas against his own people; can a person who has killed more than 70,000, upwards of 100,000 people; can a person who has used artillery shells and missiles and Scuds and tanks against women and children and university students; can that person possibly be judged by any reasonable person to have the credibility and legitimacy to lead that country in the future? I think the answer to that is obvious,” Kerry said May 22 during a news conference with Jordan’s foreign minister, Nasser Judeh.
But the new Syrian Observatory numbers suggest that that assessment may be an oversimplification of the violence in Syria, where the government routinely published the names of its dead daily until a year ago, when the toll on its security forces began rising noticeably.
Opposition spokesmen regularly publicize the deaths of civilians at the hands of government sympathizers, as in the case of the town of Banias, where, according to the observatory, pro-government forces killed 145 people last month, including women and children. Less well publicized was that the attack came after rebels had assaulted a bus that was carrying government forces.
The new toll also provides a statistical view of the role of pro-government militias in the conflict. Thousands have been trained in the last six months, and as the government presses an offensive against rebels around the cities of Damascus and Homs, there are greater reports of militia deployment. At least one, the National Defense Forces, was trained with the aid of Hezbollah.