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Almost 2,000 people have died since the start of the Syria talks — NGO

The alarming estimate comes as a government and opposition negotiators wrap up talks in Switzerland today.

A rebel Free Syrian Army soldier shoots his machine gun towards Syrian Army positions in Aleppo
A rebel Free Syrian Army soldier shoots his machine gun towards Syrian Army positions in Aleppo
Image: Manu Brabo/AP/Press Association Images

Updated 11.45pm

NEARLY 1,900 have been killed in Syria since peace talks opened in Switzerland on January 22, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said today.

The group said at least 498 civilians were among those killed in Syria since the government and opposition joined the Geneva talks.

The civilian deaths included 431 killed in fighting between rebels and the government, as well as 40 who died from lack of food and medicines in areas under government siege, the Observatory said.

Another 27 civilians were killed in clashes between the jihadist ‘Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’ and rival rebels that began at the beginning of January.

The group said 646 mainstream or Islamist rebels had been killed in fighting with regime forces or the ISIL.

Another 208 rebels from ISIL and the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front died in clashes with regime forces, rival rebels or Kurdish militia, the Observatory said, adding that three Kurdish militiamen were also killed.

On the government side, 515 combatants were killed — soldiers, allied militia or Iraqi Shiite volunteers — the NGO said.

The fighting in Syria has shown no let-up since the regime and opposition began long-planned peace talks in Switzerland, first in the town of Montreux and later in Geneva.

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Louay Safi, spokesperson for the Syrian National Coalition [Anja Niedringhaus/AP/Press Association Images]

Speaking as the talks wrapped, opposition spokesman Louay Safi said Syria’s regime had been forced to the negotiating table thanks to the actions of the country’s rebels.

“The fact that the regime has been forced come to Geneva — this is the result of the fighting of the Syrian people,” Safi told reporters.

“Today the regime is forced to negotiate with a delegation representing the aspirations of the Syrian people.”

Syria’s conflict erupted in March 2011 after a crackdown by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad on peaceful Arab Spring-inspired protests.

It morphed into a sectarian-tinged civil war which has to date claimed over 130,000 lives and driven millions from their homes, sparking a devastating humanitarian crisis.

The UN-brokered peace talks mark the first time Syria’s warring sides have sat down together since the war broke out.

They are meant as a follow up to a 2012 international conference known as Geneva I, where world powers called for a negotiated political transition in Syria.

But the rival camps are split over what that actually means, with the opposition insisting Assad most go right away, and the regime saying that it is a red line.

A new round of talks is scheduled from February 10.

“In the next round, we will discuss the establishment of an transitional governing body to end the suffering of the Syrian people that has been steadfast for three years,” said Safi.

UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said progress had been slow but that there was “a beginning on which we can build”.

“Progress is very slow indeed, but the sides have engaged in an acceptable manner,” Brahimi said, insisting that even getting Syria’s rival sides to the table for the first time in nearly three years of civil war has been a feat in itself.

[This post combines a number of updates from the AFP service]

- First published 2.35pm

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