While The World Watched Gaza Crumble, Syria Had One Of Its Bloodiest Weeks Yet


ISTANBUL — Open most U.S. newspapers this week, or click on the main page of news sites, and you’ll likely see headlines detailing the violence in Gaza and Israel — at least 1,496 Palestinians killed and an Israeli death toll of more than 60. Or you’ll read lengthy articles on the continued violence in Ukraine — roughly 800 civilians killed since April as the United States beefs up sanctions against Russia.

But as international attention is focused on these tragedies, other conflicts with massive death tolls and crippling regional impacts have been largely overlooked.

In Syria, a country ripped apart by war for more than three years, the situation on the ground looks bleaker every day. Last week, as the world followed the conflict in Gaza and Israel, more than 1,700 people were killed in the country. It was one of Syria’s bloodiest weeks yet, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Despite a unanimous U.N. Security Council resolution in February banning the use of barrel bombs, the Syrian regime is still using them in full force against civilians, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday. In Aleppo, which regime forces have been fighting hard to conquer, the civilian population is bearing the brunt of these bombs.

Amid the relentless bloodshed, the U.N. gained a small victory this week: Nine trucks with shelter, food, and water purification supplies entered Syria for the first time on Thursday without the consent of the regime, which routinely denies access.

In Libya, fierce clashes between Islamist militants and government forces have wreaked havoc on the civilian population. Fighting over the past two weeks in the country has been the worst since the 2011 ouster of strongman Muammar Gaddafi.

On Monday, Islamist-led militants took over a special forces base in Benghazi, and local medical workers said 75 bodies were recovered from the area. The U.S., Canadian and French embassies, among others, were evacuated from the country this week and foreign nationals from a handful of countries have been told to leave Libya immediately, some of them evacuated by boat.

The airport in Libya’s capital city, Tripoli, is in ruins. A rocket fired near the city’s airport on Sunday prompted a massive blaze that has burned for days, eating through millions of gallons of scarce oil reserves. The country’s oil production has dropped by 20 percent since this recent round of fighting broke out, the Los Angeles Times reported.

This week in Iraq, hardline militants from the Islamic State (formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham) destroyed half a dozen holy sites in the northern city of Mosul, including a 14th century mosque and shrine. The militant group took over large swaths of the country in June with the aim of creating its own Islamic caliphate, and has claimed responsibility for killing dozens of people in a slew of recent bombings. On Friday, the United Nations said that more than 1,700 people were killed in Iraq in July.

And in Afghanistan, civilians in the restive Helmand province celebrated this week’s Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr in fear, as fighting between the Taliban and Afghan forces continues to rage. On Tuesday, a suicide bomber killed a cousin and close ally of Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kandahar, a Taliban stronghold. And in the central Ghor province, gunmen executed more than a dozen Shiite Muslim civilians — a minority in the country — on the side of a road last Friday.

Two American soldiers — Staff Sgt. Benjamin G. Prange, 30, and Pfc. Keith M. Williams, 19 — were killed by an IED in Kandahar province last Thursday, just two of at least 2,197 soldiers who have died in Afghanistan since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

And then there’s Nigeria, where more than a dozen people were killed and scores more injured in the north on Tuesday when two mosques exploded. Many blamed Boko Haram, a radical Islamist group that seeks to impose Shariah law, for carrying out the twin bomb attack.

The next day, a female suicide bomber detonated a bomb at a college campus, killing six. She was just one of multiple female suicide bombers this week, all suspected to be working for Boko Haram, though the group has not claimed responsibility for the attacks. The Nigerian government announced on Thursday that it arrested two men suspected of belonging to the group who were traveling with a 10-year-old girl with explosives strapped to her.

Meanwhile, Nigeria, like many west African countries, is trying to contain what’s being called the worst Ebola outbreak in modern history.

Lest we not forget the Central African Republic, where warring Christian and Muslim militias signed a fragile ceasefire last week after sectarian violence has killed thousands and uprooted more than a million people since late 2012. In South Sudan, a country that rarely makes headlines, planned peace talks between warring parties were delayed this week. More than 10,000 people have been killed since the civil war there began in December, and now a third of the population is at risk of starving. The United Nations is calling the young country’s famine the “worst in the world.”