Even the United Nations, which released regular reports on the death toll during the first years of the war, gave its last estimate in 2016 — when it relied on 2014 data, in part — and said it was virtually impossible to verify how many had died.

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In seven years, the casualties of Syria’s civil war have grown from the first handful of protesters shot by government forces to hundreds of thousands of dead.

But as the war has dragged on, growing more diffuse and complex, many international monitoring groups have essentially stopped counting.

Even the United Nations, which released regular reports on the death toll during the first years of the war, gave its last estimate in 2016 — when it relied on 2014 data, in part — and said it was virtually impossible to verify how many had died.

At that time, a U.N. official said 400,000 people had been killed.

But so many of the biggest moments of the war have happened since then. In the past two years, the government of President Bashar Assad, with Russia’s help, laid siege to residential areas of Aleppo, once the country’s second-largest city, and several other areas controlled by opposition groups, leveling entire neighborhoods. Last weekend, dozens of people died in a suspected chemical attack on a Damascus suburb, prompting President Donald Trump to authorize strikes against Syrian targets.

U.S.-led forces have bombed the Islamic State group in large patches of eastern Syria, in strikes believed to have left thousands dead. And dozens of armed groups, including fighters backed by Iran, have continued to clash, creating a humanitarian catastrophe that the world is struggling to measure.

Historically, these numbers matter, experts say, because they can have a direct impact on policy, accountability and a global sense of urgency. The legacy of the Holocaust has become inextricably linked with the figure of 6 million Jews killed in Europe. The staggering death toll of the Rwandan genocide — 1 million Tutsis killed in 100 days — is seared into the framework of that nation’s reconciliation process.

Without a clear tally of the deaths, advocates worry that the conflict will simply grind on indefinitely, without a concerted international effort to end it.

“We know from conflicts around the world that we can’t have any sustainable peace if we don’t have accountability,” said Anna Nolan, director of The Syria Campaign, a human-rights advocacy group. “The most critical thing to understand in that situation is who is being killed and who is doing that killing, and without that information, we can’t expect the people involved in resolving this conflict to come to the right decisions.”

Until then, local monitoring groups keep the best estimates they can.

Fadel Abdul Ghany, founder of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, said there were “tens of incidents daily” that raise the death toll and that monitoring was needed to one day hold perpetrators accountable for potential war crimes.

Despite the challenges of access and verification, he sees value in the assessment his group makes, even though he knows they are not perfect.

“This work, what we are doing, we are doing this mainly for our people, for our community, for history itself,” Ghany said. “So we are recording these reports in order to say, on this day, in 2018, these people have been killed and because of this, and in this area.”

He believes figures will be vital if peace comes to his country in establishing transitional justice.

“We don’t want to lose any one life,” he said.

The last comprehensive number widely accepted internationally — 470,000 dead — was issued by the Syrian Center for Policy Research in 2016. The group, which was based in Damascus until that year, was long seen as one of the most reliable local sources because it was not affiliated with the government or aligned with any opposition group.

But now, just getting a death certificate is problematic in Syria, let alone a collective tally of the dead, said Panos Moumtzis, a U.N. assistant secretary-general and regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syrian conflict. And civilians make up the largest portion of the death toll.

Since there are 18 different authorities issuing documentation, in addition to the government in Syria, Moumtzis said, many civilians fear that having a death certificate issued by the “wrong authority” could jeopardize their relatives.

“Even in death, they worry that one day if they go to declare it, they will be in trouble for it,” Moumtzis said, further complicating tracking.

Some monitoring groups are still keeping count from afar, but their numbers vary, are estimates at best, and have not been verified by international groups.

The most prominent of these groups, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said last month that at least 511,000 people had been killed in the war since March 2011. Many organizations rely on this tally as the best current assessment. The group said in March that it had identified more than 350,000 of those killed by name; the remainder were cases in which it knew deaths had occurred but did not know the victims’ names.

Most international experts monitoring the conflict use a general figure of more than 500,000 deaths, but acknowledge that changing conditions and restricted access make it impossible to know. Many believe it could be higher.

While the numbers vary, all of the groups agree on two things: that the Syrian government is responsible for the majority of the civilian deaths and that calculating the toll is challenging.

“We often talk about these numbers, whether it’s 400,000 or 500,000, but it’s also about the trauma that is behind each of these numbers,” said Moumtzis of the United Nations. “It has become almost mechanical, the number.”

He added: “It’s really just a cold figure, but behind it are lives.”