See also today's Israel, Palestine (and Beyond) Live: Israeli Jets Strike Gaza for 1st Time Since November br>
Tuesday's Syria Live: Insurgent Attacks in Central Aleppo br>
Syria Feature: How "Independent Analysts" Are Breaking the Stories of the Conflict br>
27 martyrs were reported in Aleppo; 23 in Damascus and its Suburbs; 11 in Homs; 8 in Dara;3 in Idlib; 2 in Deir Ezzor; and 1 in Hama.
Several areas are under attack today, shelled by artillery and bombed from the sky, as fighting is intensifying in several districts, including the northeast. That rising violence, and the spread of fighting in some Kurdish districts, has convinced many residents to leave today. A video shared by Red Tornadoes in the comments shows the traffic leaving the Ashrifiyeh district, but it also matches many other reports we've seen today. Orient News interviewed a Kurdish activist who discussed the growing crisis there (video - Arabic):
1527 GMT: Rape - the Unreported Crisis. It's much easier to count dead bodies or living refugees than it is to count victims of sexual violence. But Lauren Wolfe, of the Women's Media Center's Women Under Siege project, is changing the way sexual violence is reported in conflict zones, in this case Syria. Her newest report appears in The Atlantic, and is an eye-opening exposé on a hidden crisis in the country. Here's part of her analysis:
Government perpetrators have allegedly committed the majority of the attacks we've been able to track: 60 percent of the attacks against men and women are reportedly by government forces, with another 17 percent carried out by government and shabiha (plainclothes militia) forces together. When it comes to the rape of women, government forces have allegedly carried out 54 percent these attacks; shabiha have allegedly perpetrated 20 percent; government and shabiha working together 6 percent.
Overall, the FSA has allegedly carried out less than 1 percent of the sexualized attacks in our total reports. About 15 percent of the attacks have unknown or other perpetrators...
Because there is a deleterious and under-documented personal aftermath of sexualized violence, we are also tracking its mental and physical health fallout. Ten percent of the women in our reports appear to suffer from anxiety, depression, or other psychological trauma, and that's clearly a low estimate considering the acts described. Three percent of the women have reportedly become pregnant from rape, and 2 percent suffer from a chronic physical disease as a result of the violence.
1520 GMT: More Numbers Analysis. In recent days several Twitter accounts have suggested that the efforts to arm the rebels have greatly increased the amount of deaths in the conflict. This most recent effort to arm the rebels with Croatian weapons started in December and picked up steam in January. Before that, there's no conclusive evidence that foreign weapons made a significant impact on the course of the conflict. The question is whether these Croatian arms have made things worse.
The numbers, however, don't support that conclusion. For now, we'll just use the VDC's numbers.
In July 2012 there were 4049 non-regime deaths. In August there were 5783 deaths. In September there were 5130 deaths. That's 14,962 deaths in 3 months. Compare that to this year - in January there were 4112 deaths, in February there were 3871, and in March there were 3750. That's a total of 11733, a significant drop in deaths. These sets of months are good to compare because they both represent times when the military conflict was at its height, and they are separated enough to ensure that none of the Croatian arms influenced the earlier months. For reference, however, 4731 were killed in October, 4173 in November, and 4556 in December, a total of 13460.
In fact, this number may provide a clue as to what is happening and why the number is dropping. Last summer, the fighting was heaviest in Aleppo and Idlib, then Damascus and Deir Ez Zor. As the rebels secured territory in rural areas of all four places, the death tolls there dropped because the front lines shifted. As the fighting continued in the cities, more and more refugees fled the fighting. A combination of fewer contested areas and more and more refugees means that the areas that are being fought over the heaviest are less populated.
This doesn't mean things are getting any better, though. The refugees, both the internally displaced and those who have fled the country, face a serious humanitarian crisis. Furthermore, the populations of places like Damascus, still densely inhabited, are essentially just waiting for the fighting to enter their neighborhoods.
Also, just because there are fewer deaths doesn't mean there is less violence. These figures above don't count the number of bullets fired of explosions, and they don't count the deaths of combatants. There are other flaws with this data, and even this available data needs a much more in-depth analysis, but this does indicate that the number of deaths can't be tied to the rebels being better equipped.
However, the amount of refugees fleeing the country is perhaps even more complex. Those numbers do seem to be climbing exponentially. Correspondence does not imply causality, but there is a correspondence, and those refugees are clearly fleeing the worst of the violence. Would the violence be any worse, or the refugee crisis greater, if the Syrian rebels were not better armed? Is a rebel victory the best way to solve both the violence and the humanitarian crisis? These may be questions that data analysis can't yield an answer to.
1445 GMT: Helicopter Fires Missiles into Lebanon. According to Martin Chulov of The Guardian, a Syrian helicopter, not a jet fighter, fired missiles across the border. Last month, it was a Syrian jet that attacked across the border:
The intrusion is being interpreted as being a message from Damascus that cross-border traffic of opposition fighters, or weapons, will not be tolerated. Today's attack struck near the town of Arsal, a Sunni enclave on the Syrian border, which is very close to the Hezbollah-stronghold of the northern Bekaa Valley.
While both weapons and fighters have crossed from this largely lawless territory, it is an insignificant supply line compared to Turkey, Iraq and Jordan, where gun-running has significantly stepped up since early January.
1423 GMT: March Death Toll Lower. After having been down since Friday, the website for the Violations Documentation Center in Syria is back up and running.
According to the VDC, 3750 people were killed in March, a drop from the 3871 reported in February. 2562 civilians and 1188 rebel fighters. The capital was the location of the most deaths - 322 civilians were reportedly killed inside Damascus proper, and another 694 were killed in the suburbs.
According to these figures, this March was not even close to the bloodiest month in the conflict, contrary to reports from some other less transparent organizations like the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Picking a single month, August of 2012, we find that the total number of deaths reported is approaching double March's figures - 5783. While all of these figures may dramatically undercount the number of casualties, the organizations that feed the VDC database use a standardized methodology, which means that it's unlikely that there would be a massive variation in the number of undercounted casualties.
Many of EA's contacts believe that the numbers from the LCC are far more accurate than the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, including several western journalists who have entered the country, and the people we've spoken to inside the country. All the data coming from Syria is flawed and incomplete, however.
This data, not the SOHR's, matches our own understanding of the conflict formed through contacts inside various locations in Syria as well as a holistic view of the conflict.
These numbers do not include regime casualties. The LCC, VDC, and other organizations have trouble verifying regime casualties for several reasons. The opposition does not have possession of the bodies of most soldiers, and if the family, clerics, or doctors who view the bodies don't support the opposition, then the opposition has no access to any reliable information. Members of the LCC I've spoken to about this freely admit the problem, and they still report what few numbers they have to the VDC. The regime has long-since stopped reporting their casualties, so there is no pro-regime casualty database. The UN, on the other hand, was given access to unpublished numbers during their last assessment in the fall. According to the UN, the regime casualties were significantly higher than what was reported at the time.
The VDC was only capable of documenting 313 regime casualties in March. Using the same randomly-selected month, August 2012, the VDC documented 668 casualties.
1344 GMT: Damascus Criticizes Hamas. After Hamas re-elected Khaled Meshaal to lead its organization, a hardline Syrian newspaper has criticized Hamas, accusing it of giving up the fight against Israel while joining Qatar in its support of terrorists (the regime's code word for the Syrian opposition):
Hamas has shifted "the gun from the shoulder of resistance (against Israel) to the shoulder of compromise", Al-Thawra daily said.
"Today, as Meshaal becomes the head of Hamas for the fifth time... the West Bank, Gaza and the whole of occupied Palestine have no reason to celebrate."
Meshaal "cannot believe his luck. After an acclaimed history of struggle, he has returned to the safe Qatari embrace, wealthy and fattened in the age of the Arab Spring's storms," the newspaper added.
Hamas moved its headquarters from Damascus to Doha last year, while the organization's leaders have openly supported Assad's opposition, citing the regime's use of violence to quell dissent. However, Meshaal's turning away from Damascus may have more to do with pragmatism than moral outrage. Many Palestinians supported the protest movements across the Middle East and North Africa, and were outraged by Assad's violent resistance. Furthermore, Hamas leaders were on the fence for many months and were divided at the highest levels, staying quiet on the Syrian affair. As anti-Assad protests grew in areas of Palestine, however, and as it became clear that Assad had lost popular support in the region and was losing ground to the Syrian rebels, in February of 2012, Meshaal and others suddenly found their voices.
Scott Lucas adds that it is this same pragmatism that can be seen at work with negotiations with Israel, since Meshaal has signalled that he is willing to agree to the 1967 borders with Israel.
James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us started today.
1145 GMT: Foreign Fighters. Analyst Aaron Zelin assesses, in the "first full empirical assessment of how many Europeans have joined the rebels", that between 140 and 600 fighters have gone to the country since early 2011.
Zelin concludes that this is 7-11% of the foreign insurgent forces.
Residents said multiple missiles hit the area, damaging houses. Nearly half of those in the town are displaced persons.
A Syrian jet reportedly flew 20 kilometres (12 miles) into Lebanon to fire on the town.
The commander told the pro-regme al-Watan newspaper that any advance by the fighters would mean "certain death for them and their leaders". The commander said the bravery of regime troops on the battlefield is keeping Damascus safe.
0605 GMT: Insurgent Advance. Analyst Charles Lister reports a significant victory by insurgents in southern Syria:
Jordanian security officials said the completion of training of about 3,000 Free Syrian Army officers would be advanced from the end of June to the end of April in light of the victories along the border by the insurgents.
The US and Jordan are considering creation of a buffer zone inside Syria, converting insurgent-held areas into permanent havens for thousands of army defectors and displaced civilians and allowing easy access for humanitarian aid.
However, American and Jordanian officials cautioned that implementation of the zones has not been set in motion. They listed obstacles such as the ongoing refusal of the US and other countries to provide air cover to prevent the regime air force from attacking insurgent outposts.
The Violations Documentation Center reports 54,906 people killed since the beginning of the conflict in March 2011, including 43,880 civilians.
Researchers reviewed 52 of 125 neighbourhoods in Aleppo, locked in military stalemate since July. They estimated:
• 10,800 people have been killed, 4,500 people are missing, 1 million people have left
• 2.4 million people (out of a population of 2.5m) are living in areas needing humanitarian assistance
• 511,900 people are internally displaced
• 2.2 million people are in danger of not having enough to eat; 240,000 do not have enough access to water
• Over half of all private buildings have been damaged or destroyed.
• In 28 of the 52 neighbourhoods, electricity has been off for at least six months.
• The education system has "collapsed"
• Only four of seven hospitals in the city are functioning.