x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

March the bloodiest month yet in Syria

6,000 people killed as fierce clashes flare in Aleppo.

BEIRUT // More than 6,000 people were killed in Syria's civil war in March, making it the deadliest month since the start of the conflict two years ago, a monitoring group said yesterday.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said yesterday that it recorded 6,005 deaths last month.

"A total of 2,080 were civilians, among them 298 children aged under 16. Another 291 fatalities were women," said the Observatory's director, Rami Abdel Rahman.

Most rebel fighters in Syria's conflict are civilians, who have taken up arms to fight against forces loyal to president Bashar Al Assad.

Of the total killed last month, at least 2,074 were rebel fighters, among them 86 former Syrian army soldiers who defected and joined the insurgency, Mr Abdel Rahman said.

Also among them were 588 rebels whose names the group could not verify, including "a large number of non-Syrian fighters".

Also killed were 1,464 troops loyal to the Assad regime, Mr Abdel Rahman said.

The Observatory also reported the deaths of 387 people whose identities were impossible to verify.

"We believe the actual numbers of army troops and rebels killed in March were higher," Mr Abdel Rahman said, adding that both sides in Syria's war try to conceal the full extent of casualties to boost morale.

Fresh battles broke out in a flashpoint district of Aleppo yesterday, while violence raged on the road linking the Syrian city to its international airport.

"Fierce clashes raged between troops and rebels in the east of Sheikh Maqsud district," the Observatory said, a day after a major rebel advance in the predominantly Kurdish area.

Regime tanks fired shells at other parts of the neighbourhood, whose the residents of which fled the area in large numbers for a second straight day.

South-east of Aleppo, fresh clashes broke out near the city's international airport, said the Observatory, which relies on a network of activists, doctors and lawyers across Syria for its reports. The airport has been closed since January.

To the west of the city, an air strike on the rebel-held town of Maaret Al Numan killed at least one child and injured several others, the Observatory said.

In the north-western province of Idlib, Maaret Al Numan has been under rebel control since October.

Elsewhere, a blast hit the Rokn Eddin district in northern Damascus, said the Observatory, which also reported renewed shelling by government troops on rebel-held districts in the central city of Homs.

The UN said in January that more than 70,000 people had been killed in Syria's two-year civil war.

* Associated Press and Agence France-Presse