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'Deadliest year in Syria so far'

January 1, 2015

A group monitoring the civil conflict in Syria says more than 76,000 people there were killed in violence in 2014, the highest annual toll so far. Iraq also had its worst death toll in seven years, the government says.

People walk through debris in an area recently hit by an alleged air strike by Syrian government forces in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on November 11, 2014. ZEIN AL-RIFAI/AFP/Getty Images
Image: Zein Al-Rifai/AFP/Getty Images

Syria's conflict killed at least 76,021 people in 2014, making it the deadliest year so far in nearly four years of fighting, a monitoring group said on Thursday.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 17,790 of this total were civilians, including 3,501 children.

At least 22,627 government or pro-government forces were also killed, the group said, while more than 15,000 rebels fighting against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad also lost their lives.

The toll also includes nearly 17,000 militants from jihadist groups, such as the "Islamic State" and the al-Nusra Front, an al Qaeda affiliate.

The figure for 2014 represents an increase of more than 2,500 over the previous year. More than 200,000 people in all have been killed, and millions displaced, since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-Assad protests.

The initially peaceful demonstrations gradually shifted to all-out civil war after a violent government crackdown.

Rare Assad visit

In this Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2014 photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, speaks with Syrian troops during his visit on the front line in the eastern Damascus district of Jobar, Syria. AP Photo/SANA
Assad (l.) is rarely seen outside his tightly guarded palaceImage: picture-alliance/dpa/AP Photo/SANA

Assad, who is also the Syrian military's commander in chief, marked the end of 2014 with a rare visit to troops in a combat zone in the eastern district of Jobar in the capital, Damascus, where at least 25 combatants were killed on Wednesday before the visit, according to the Observatory.

"If there is still a bit of joy in Syria, it is thanks to the victories you are winning against terrorism," he was quoted as saying.

Jobar was captured by anti-Assad forces in 2013. Government forces are still battling rebels on the outskirts of the city, the center of which is in government hands.

High Iraqi toll

Government figures from neighboring Iraq released on Thursday also showed 2014 to have been one of the most violent years since that country's internal conflict began in the wake of a US-led invasion in 2003.

They said more than 15,000 civilians and security personnel were killed and 22,000 wounded, making the year the deadliest since sectarian bloodshed reached a peak in 2007 with an estimated 17,956 deaths.

In 2013, an estimated 6,522 were killed.

Much of the bloodshed in 2014 was caused by the advance of the jihadist "Islamic State" group, which captured large swathes of territory in a summer offensive.

Large parts of the country remain in the hands of the militants, despite recent successes by Iraqi and Kurdish forces, backed by Shiite militias and Sunni tribesmen.

tj/sms (AFP, AP, dpa)