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Syria war death toll nearly 126,000: monitoring group

A father cradles his dead three-year-old son Khaled Baour, who was killed when mortar shell landed on their home, in this July 7, 2013 file photo. AFP

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BEIRUT - The toll in 33 months of Syria's brutal conflict has left nearly 126,000 people dead, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor.

The group, which relies on a network of activists, lawyers and doctors on the ground in Syria, said it had documented 125,835 deaths in the conflict up to December 1.

The dead include 44,381 civilians, among them 6,627 children and 4,454 women.

The group said at least 27,746 opposition fighters had been killed, among them just over 19,000 Syrian civilians who took up arms to battle President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

The opposition toll also includes 2,221 army defectors and 6,261 non-Syrians who have joined the rebel side.

"The number is likely much higher but in many battles, the number of rebels killed is hidden, especially by the (al Qaeda-linked) Nusra Front and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant," Rami Abdelrahman, head of the Observatory, told Reuters.

The regime side saw nearly double the overall losses of the opposition, with the Observatory documenting 50,927 dead among those fighting for Assad's government.

That figure includes 31,174 soldiers, and 19,256 members of Syrian pro-regime militia.

The group said it had also documented the deaths of 232 members of the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, and 265 other non-Syrian Shiite fighters battling alongside the regime.

The Observatory said it had also recorded an additional 2,781 deaths of unidentified individuals.

"There are at least 40,000 more dead combatants but they were not included in the toll because the cases were not documented well enough," Abdelrahman said.

The bloody conflict in Syria began in March 2011, with peaceful anti-government protests inspired by similar movements in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

It spiraled into a brutal civil war after Assad's government used force to put down the demonstrations and the opposition took up arms in which sectarian dimensions have echoed across the Middle East.

Sectarian conflict

Both Sunni and Shi'ite militants from around the region have joined the fight on opposite sides.

Many Sunni Muslim countries support the rebels, who are led by Syria's Sunni majority. Shi'ite Muslim states back Assad, who is from the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.

As well as Syrians, nearly 500 Shi'ite foreign militants have died fighting with Assad's army, the Observatory said. Around half of those were from the powerful Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah, whose military support for Assad has helped his forces make strategic territorial advances in central Syria.

"The Observatory calls for ... serious efforts (by the international community) to stop the killing in Syria and help its people transition to a democratic state with freedom, justice and equality," it said in a statement.

The United Nations does not give regular casualty counts for Syria. It has said for months that more than 100,000 have died.

International efforts have largely concentrated on a planned peace conference in Geneva next month and on the destruction of Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons.

The West blames Assad for a poison gas attack near Damascus on August 21 that killed hundreds of people, but are now working with his forces to remove and destroy such weapons from Syria.

However, regular combat continues, including daily air strikes. The Observatory, which gives daily death tolls in Syria as well, usually cites more than 100 people killed each day, although the death toll in recent days has been double that.

"They should not just be concerned with destroying chemical weapons when tens of thousands of Syrians have been killed by all kinds of weapons since the poison gas attacks of Damascus," the group said.

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