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Experts Warn of Broader Regional Conflict as Syria Death Toll Reaches 150k

Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Tuesday conveyed recent figures from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) assessing that more than 150,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict, amid another string of prominently reported gains by forces fighting on behalf of the Bashar al-Assad regime.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had documented the deaths of 150,344 people, 51,212 of them civilians, including nearly 7,985 children. The group said 37,781 members of the armed opposition had been killed in the fighting, including jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, and Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front.

A total of 58,480 regime forces, including more than 35,000 soldiers had also been killed. Among those killed fighting on the government side were 364 members of Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah movement, the Observatory added.

On Monday Al Arabiya reported that pro-regime forces had “recaptured on Monday a key position in the coastal province of Latakia,” a victory that came shortly after “government forces, backed by Lebanese Hezbollah fighters… triumphed against the opposition along the border area with Lebanon.”

The victories were seen as critical to Hezbollah’s effort to stop the transit of Sunni jihadists across the Lebanon-Syria border, and triggered what local media described as “an atmosphere of contentment” in areas of Lebanon controlled by the Iran-backed terror group.

Washington Institute Senior Fellow Andrew Tabler on Tuesday nonetheless emphasized that Hezbollah’s activities in Syria were hardening sectarian divisions in Lebanon, with the result being “increased suicide car bombings, Sunni-Shiite tension, and armed clashes.”

While spillover into Lebanon may seem a local issue, my interviews with Lebanese and Syrians during a recent visit to Lebanon indicate that such incidents, combined with a possible security vacuum caused by government bickering over the selection of Lebanon’s next president, could fan the flames into a wider regional conflict that Hezbollah and Iran cannot put out and cannot afford. What is more, retaliating against Western targets is not the easy distraction it used to be and will only make things worse, not better, for the Iranian alliance.

[Photo: Freedom House / Flickr]