Syria 2015

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Origins of Jihadists

Syria is the prototype place where it’s a proxy war for some regional powers. The camps, so to speak, are the regime in Damascus, which is Alawi core Islam. Alawi are an offshoot of Shia Islam, supported mainly by Iran, which is the major regional Shiite power, as well as by Hezbollah — Hezbollah is working for — essentially serving Iranian interests there — and also supported by militias from Iraq.
So you have the Shia coalition fighting to save the regime in Damascus. And in that sense, Iran and Hezbollah are more important for the survival of Bashar al-Assad’s regime than Moscow.
On the other hand, you have the majority Syrians, who — happen to be Sunnis — in state of revolt against the regime. They are supported by the Sunni powers in the region, from Turkey, to Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and others.
— HISHAM MELHEM, Al Arabiya News Washington bureau chief, in an interview on PBS Newshour (30 August 2014)

16 December
Mowaffaq Safadi: Don’t rely on Syria’s ‘moderate’ fighting force. It doesn’t exist
Those in the west who assume there is a coherent anti-Isis alliance are deluded. Reality is far messier
(The Guardian) Most rebel fighters’ main goal is to topple Bashar al-Assad. As a result, they will make a rational decision to join groups that are mainly fighting Assad’s regime, particularly those that equip them with the best weapons to do so. Other fighters may have more immediate livelihood concerns, such as supporting their families. They will be keener on joining groups that are active in relatively stable areas and offer a decent salary, not those involved in heavy clashes on a day to day basis.
Of course there also are ideologically driven fighters – Syrian Islamists, cross-national Islamists, Kurds, or even pro-Assad Alawites – who will join groups that line up closest with their ideological belief system. The point is that it is virtually impossible to bracket these fighters into distinct moderate or non-moderate categories. Fighters join and quit groups depending on the changing status quo. Today’s “moderate fighters” may not be moderate for ever.
23 November
Brian Stewart: There is a plan to end the war in Syria — and it might even work
World powers, including arch foes, seem to have found some level of agreement on Syria without Assad
Whatever the case, forward movement here is significant because there’s arguably nothing the world needs more at this time than to terminate the bloody war that for almost five years has spewed add-on conflicts and insurgencies like volcanic ash over the entire Middle East and, now, much of Europe.
You can forget crushing ISIS, or slowing down the surge of refugees flowing out of the region until the world’s powers act to clamp down on this historic eruption of violence and misery.
Key players on opposite sides of the conflict — such as Russia and the U.S. — seem to realize that this war is now feeding jihadist violence that is threatening all nations.
So they’ve started making concessions to arrive at a common roadmap for the differing Syrian factions to follow.
Simplified greatly, the object is to get a ceasefire and some sort of collaboration between the Assad regime and the so-called moderate rebels by as early as January no less.
Then, using this transitional truce and lots of UN help, seek a new Syrian constitution to arrive at national elections and a new government within 18 months.
20 November
Christopher R. Hill: Syria’s Two Wars
(Project Syndicate) … the Vienna talks offer reason for cautious optimism. …they amount to a serious step toward a much-needed diplomatic approach to resolving this aspect of the conflict – not least because many of the right players, from the United States and the European Union to Turkey and Saudi Arabia, are participating in the process.
Still, the talks are far from perfect. Although it is too early to be critical of the effort, it is not too soon to highlight some potential concerns.
For starters, while elections are a laudable objective of the talks, they should not be the only one. Syria has many minorities whose numbers are too small to secure representation through the ballot box, and thus need to be protected by other means, such as political arrangements and institutions aimed explicitly at guaranteeing minority rights. The first pillar of democracy may be majority rule, but it is a hollow – and unstable – achievement if the second pillar, minority rights, is not also put in place.
Another concern stems from the proclamations by several participants that the conflict-resolution process should be “Syrian-led.” This is a nice idea, but it lacks merit. There is nothing in the behavior of any of the Syrian factions that have been fighting for the past four years to suggest that they are equipped to lead a peace process.
In times of crisis, countries have a way of forgetting the lessons of past crises. This month marks the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Dayton Accords, which ended the Bosnian War. That momentous step, which ended a brutal conflict in which civilians were disproportionately targeted, emerged from a two-step process. First, an international “contact group” agreed on a framework for peace. Then, the parties directly involved in the conflict were brought in to reach agreement within the framework.
That may sound patronizing, but it worked.
17 November
Syria ceasefire could be just weeks away, John Kerry says
Agreement would free nations supporting Syria’s various factions to concentrate on ISIS
Negotiators craft partial Syrian peace plan
Ministers from 20 countries agreed on a partial plan toward peace in Syria. Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations special envoy for Syria, will draw up a list of participants for a Jan. 1 start of negotiations. “I urge the participants to move beyond their differences so that they can push for a nationwide cease-fire,” says Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary-general. “After years of division, this is a rare moment of diplomatic opportunity to end the violence.” Yahoo/The Associated Press (11/14), Reuters (11/15), PassBlue (11/15)
G20: Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin agree to Syrian-led transition
Presidents of US and Russia meet at leaders’ conference and agree to have the UN negotiate a peace deal between the opposition and the Assad regime
(The Guardian) The United States and Russia have reached consensus at the G20 on the need for “a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political transition” following a sidelines meeting between Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin on Sunday. A White House official said Obama and Putin had agreed the United Nations would mediate negotiations between the Syrian opposition and the regime after a ceasefire.
The thaw between Obama and Putin came in the lead-up to the summit’s working dinner, where G20 leaders were due to focus on strategies to counter violent extremism.
Earlier in the day, the US president used his opening remarks at the summit to declare America would intensify efforts to “eliminate” Islamic State and also bring about a “peaceful transition” in Syria.
The Confused Person’s Guide to the Syrian Civil War
(The Atlantic) While a de-facto international coalition—one that makes informal allies of Assad, the United States, Russia, Iran, Turkey, the Kurds, and others—is focused on defeating ISIS in Syria, the battlefield features numerous other overlapping conflicts. The Syrian war looks different depending on which protagonists you focus on
1 November
Islamic State takes Syrian town as fighting looks set to intensify
(Reuters) Syrian parties to the multi-sided conflict said they saw no end to fighting between rebels and the government despite talks in Vienna on Friday that included Iran for the first time.
Iran’s supreme leader meanwhile said elections should be held to end the war, echoing a proposal by Russia that has been dismissed by President Bashar al-Assad’s opponents as a ruse by his allies to keep him in power.
It all underlines the intractable state of the four-year-long war that has killed 250,000 people and driven more than half the population from their homes, causing a refugee crisis in neighbouring states and Europe.
Talks between world powers in Vienna on Friday adjourned with calls for a nationwide ceasefire but key differences remained between rivals backing opposing sides. … Several Western military officers attending a security conference this week in Bahrain said that before any political progress can be made, and ahead of new international talks set for within two weeks, rebels and government forces will both look to make gains on the ground and increase their leverage. A Syrian army source said that Saudi Arabia and Turkey’s continued support for rebels meant battles would not stop.
13 October
Exclusive: Syrian army, allies preparing attack in Aleppo area – sources
(Reuters) The Syrian army and allied Iranian and Hezbollah forces are preparing for a ground offensive against insurgents in the Aleppo area backed by Russian air strikes, two senior regional officials familiar with the plans said on Tuesday.
The offensive would expand on a ground attack launched by the same alliance last week that is targeting rebels in Hama province further west. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said thousands of Iranian troops had arrived to take part in the ground offensives in support of President Bashar al-Assad.
A big government offensive in the area near the Turkish border is likely to further anger NATO member Ankara, which has backed insurgents fighting Assad and has already expressed deep concern over Russian air strikes that have targeted them. Turkey warns U.S., Russia against backing Kurdish militia in Syria
11 October
Syria, Russia And Reality
By David T. Jones
(The Metropolitain) What the world is seeing in Syria is a painful illustration of politicomilitary reality.
Nature deplores a vacuum.
Politics is even less forgiving of vacuums.
And the West now has the opportunity to watch Russia, accompanied by Hezbollah and Iran, fill that vacuum.
Essentially, the West had its chance in Syria. We assumed the “Arab Spring” would whisk Assad away as were various other regional tinpot dictators. Instead, his forces demonstrated remarkable loyalty (a point that needs investigation) while his opponents couldn’t organize an Eid holiday banquet. Bluntly, had the NATO-West wanted to make Assad disappear, we had the military capability to do so in short order—just look at the military “order of battle” for Turkey, Germany, France, UK, etc. Syria would have had “regime change” in weeks.
But we didn’t. Now Russia is going to have a go.
Syrian army advances with help of Russian strikes; Putin reaches out to Saudis
(Reuters) Russian warplanes pounded Syrian rebels unaffiliated with Islamic State on Sunday, insurgents said, helping Moscow’s ally Bashar al-Assad reclaim territory and dealing a fresh setback to the strategy of Washington and its allies.
President Vladimir Putin – who has infuriated Assad’s enemies in the United States, Europe, Turkey and the Arab world by bombing the rebels to protect him – reached out to one of the Syrian leader’s fiercest opponents by meeting the powerful defense minister of Saudi Arabia.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group that monitors the 4-year-old conflict, said the Syrian military and its Lebanese Hezbollah militia allies had taken control of Tal Skik, a highland area in Idlib province, after fierce Russian bombing.
That brings Syrian government forces closer to insurgent-held positions along the main highway that links Syria’s principal cities. The area is held by a rebel alliance that excludes Islamic State fighters
7 October
BBC offers a handy update on Where key countries stand on Syria crisis
Russian jets pound Syrian provinces in fresh wave of attacks – reports
Forces loyal to Assad regime follow up with ground assaults after heavy bombing of targets in Hama and Idlib provinces, says Syrian Observatory for Human Rights
How Iranian general plotted out Syrian assault in Moscow
(Reuters) At a meeting in Moscow in July, a top Iranian general unfurled a map of Syria to explain to his Russian hosts how a series of defeats for President Bashar al-Assad could be turned into victory – with Russia’s help.
Major General Qassem Soleimani’s visit to Moscow was the first step in planning for a Russian military intervention that has reshaped the Syrian war and forged a new Iranian-Russian alliance in support of Assad.
As Russian warplanes bomb rebels from above, the arrival of Iranian special forces for ground operations underscores several months of planning between Assad’s two most important allies, driven by panic at rapid insurgent gains.
1 October
Assad allies, including Iranians, prepare ground attack in Syria: sources
(Reuters) Hundreds of Iranian troops have arrived in Syria in the last 10 days and will soon join government forces and their Lebanese Hezbollah allies in a major ground offensive backed by Russian air strikes, two Lebanese sources told Reuters.
“The (Russian) air strikes will in the near future be accompanied by ground advances by the Syrian army and its allies,” said one of the sources familiar with political and military developments in the conflict.
“It is possible that the coming land operations will be focused in the Idlib and Hama countryside,” the source added.
The two sources said the operation would be aimed at recapturing territory lost by President Bashar al-Assad’s government to rebels.
The Russian air force began air strikes in Syria on Wednesday, targeting areas near the cities of Homs and Hama in the west of the country, where Assad’s forces are fighting an array of insurgent groups, though not Islamic State, which is based mostly in the north and east.
An alliance of insurgent groups including the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and powerful Ahrar al-Sham made rapid gains in Idlib province earlier this year, completely expelling the government from the area bordering Turkey.
Analysis: How to solve a problem like Syria?
(Al Jazeera) Both US and Russia’s vision to end the conflict in Syria are divorced from realities on the ground, say Syria experts.
Dr. Charles Cogan: ‘Chess Is the Way We Establish Mastery Over the West’
(HuffPost) Now we have someone who seems to fulfill the dictum of the Soviet General during the Cold War. His name is Vladimir Putin. With exquisite timing, just before his speech at the United Nations, Putin announced on 27 September that he had put together a consortium of intelligence-sharing powers on the Syrian situation: Russia, Iran, Iraq and Syria. … We cannot accept this Russian initiative, regardless of the outcome of the present war in Syria. No matter how long it takes, we cannot agree to the presence of Bashar al Assad in a permanent Syrian Government. Putin’s Russia, with the lack of humanitarian sensibility which is a hallmark of its policy, can accept such a solution, but the West cannot.
28 September
Charles Lister: The West is walking into the abyss on Syria
(Brookings) Once again, Syria is making the headlines. As tens of thousands of desperate Syrians embark on their perilous journeys towards Europe, policymakers in the West are faced with yet another unintended consequence of their failure to resolutely end a conflict that has now killed more than 250,000 people and displaced 11 million others.
Amid this chaos, Russia is embarking on its second offensive foreign military operation in 18 months. In the space of three weeks, Moscow has deployed at least 28 fighter jets, 14 helicopters, dozens of tanks, anti-aircraft missile systems, and 2,000 troops into north-western Syria.
Russia’s claim that its forces are there only to target Islamic State should be taken with a large grain of salt. While it is clearly hostile to jihadists, Moscow is well-known for viewing Syria’s entire armed opposition as uniformly Islamist and a danger to international security.
Syria conflict: UN assembly highlights divisions
Divisions among world leaders on Syria have been laid bare in speeches at the UN General Assembly.
The US and France insisted Syria’s President Assad must go, but Russia said it would be an “enormous mistake” not to work with him to tackle Islamic State (IS) militants.
However, the US and Russia did hint at compromise. Barack Obama said he would work with any nation and Vladimir Putin called for a “broad coalition”.
Remarks by His Majesty King Abdullah II
All of us here are united by our conviction that these forces must be defeated. But before we ask how to achieve this objective, let us ask: What if they were not defeated? What would our world look like? Can we tolerate a future where mass murder, public beheadings, kidnapping and slavery are common practices? Where the persecution of communities is law? Where humanity’s cultural treasures, preserved for thousands of years, are systematically destroyed?
I’ve called this crisis a third world war and I believe we must respond with equal intensity. That means global collective action on all fronts.
But make no mistake; the more important war is the one we wage on the battlegrounds of the heart, soul and mind. And in this fight, all countries, all people, must come together.
27 September
Robert Fisk: Russia puts troops on the ground in the fight against Isis
Palmyra may be the first Islamist target to be attacked
Syrian troops are planning to recapture Palmyra if Russian aircraft can do sufficient damage to Isis around the city – perhaps within the next three weeks – but Syrian diplomats have been told by the Russians that Moscow’s actions depend on reaction to the speech which President Vladimir Putin makes at the United Nations on 28 September . Mr Putin is expected to present himself as the leader most capable of destroying Isis after the failure of the US and other western nations.
Five large Russian transport aircraft delivered further supplies to the military base adjoining Latakia airport on Saturday afternoon and civilians in the Mediterranean port say that at night the sky is alive with jet aircraft. The Russians have brought so much equipment into Syria – mostly for Syrian army use – that another base near Tartous has been turned into a military helicopter park, the third now being used by the Russian military.
Syria and Iran Taken Hostage by Putin’s Geopolitical Goals
(Haaretz) Moscow and Tehran are considered as allies in the fight to keep Assad in power, but Russia’s decision to play a larger role in Syria could end up being at Iran’s expense.
All eyes on Putin
Russia will not participate in any troop operations in the territory of Syria or in any other states. Well, at least we don’t plan on it right now. But we are considering intensifying our work with both President Assad and with our partners in other countries.
At a time of icy relations with the U.S., Russian President Vladimir Putin gives a rare — and surprising — interview to 60 Minutes
(CBS) He helped the U.S. and its Western allies broker the nuclear deal with Iran, and now, with a Russian buildup of aircraft, military equipment and personnel in Syria, he has put himself and his country at the center of that civil war and the fight against ISIS.
Now, when his relations with the United States seem to be at a post-Cold War low, suffering under Western economic sanctions imposed on Russia, Putin may be looking for a way to restore his international influence and gain the respect he seeks for his homeland.
Just before his trip to the U.S., Putin invited us to meet him at his state residence outside Moscow where we found him characteristically confident and combative as he made the case that the focus in Syria should be on fighting ISIS rather than removing Syrian President Assad.
France’s Hollande confirms attacks on Islamic State training camp in Syria
(PBS) Six French jet fighters targeted and destroyed an Islamic State training camp in eastern Syria, President Francois Hollande said Sunday, making good on a promise to go after the group that the president has said is planning attacks against several countries, including France. The airstrikes were the first in Syria by France as it expands its mission against IS.
Rouhani says ready to discuss ‘plan of action’ for Syria
(AFP) – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in an interview Sunday that he is ready to discuss a “plan of action” for Syria’s post-war future after the Islamic State group is defeated.
Iran, which along with Russia is allied with President Bashar al-Assad in the war, has until now been kept out of UN diplomatic efforts to piece together a political solution for Syria.
Civil society and human rights organizations call on Canada to lead Syrian no-fly zone
(Ottawa Citizen) A leading Canadian backer of the “global citizens diplomacy” initiative is the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies at Concordia University in Montreal. Kyle Matthews, the Institute’s senior deputy director, says Canada is uniquely situated to seize the opportunity that the Syrian refugee crisis has forced upon the world, and Canada should act, now.
“The time has come for this conflict to stop,” Matthews said Sunday. “Canada dreamed big in the last century. Lester B. Pearson won the Nobel Prize for ending the Suez Crisis. There is no reason why Canada can’t step up to the plate right now and be the voice for the millions of Syrians who are literally trapped in hell.”
Canada is already participating in the U.S.-led anti-ISIL airstrikes campaign and Conservative leader Stephen Harper prides himself on a foreign policy that refuses to “go along to get along.” The Liberals routinely point out that Canada can “punch above its weight” in the world and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has voiced his commitment to a more comprehensive, multilateral engagement in the Syrian crisis. The New Democrats insist that the anti-ISIL campaign is wholly insufficient to addressing the root causes of the Syrian meltdown.
25 September
Syria conflict: Diplomatic goals behind Putin’s military build-up
What President Vladimir Putin appears to be doing in Syria is to use at least the threat of military force to pursue his wider diplomatic goals.
Russia – isolated and confronting Western sanctions due to its behaviour in Ukraine – is genuinely concerned about the rise of Islamist fundamentalism, which threatens to spread ever closer to Russia’s own borders.
It wants to see the so-called Islamic State defeated and some order restored in Syria, where it has long maintained a strategic interest. It believes Western policy in the region has been self-serving and wildly naive.
Existing regimes have been toppled leaving little more than chaos in their wake.
… Mr Putin is eager to embark upon a new initiative on the world stage; one that will highlight Russia’s distinctive voice, but one that also will underline what he sees as Moscow’s irreplaceable role in the international system.
So seen in this light, the Russian deployment to Syria may already have achieved much of what Mr Putin is seeking.
For a start Russia has demonstrated that it is a strategic player in the region and is prepared to put its military might behind its diplomacy.
It has also demonstrated that its support for President Bashar al-Assad, at least for the short- and medium-term, is solid and a factor with which all other actors must contend.
22 September
Iran best defence against Mideast ‘terror’: Rouhani
(AFP) – Iran’s armed forces are the best defence against “terror” in the Middle East, President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday, urging regional countries not to rely on world powers.
19 September
Trevor Timm: The US decision to send weapons to Syria repeats a historical mistake
The CIA has been arming Syrian rebels for years. Nobody should be surprised that the US’s newest effort was revealed an abject failure
(The Guardian) Why does the US continually send deadly weapons to the Middle East, make things even more chaotic than they were before and expect better results the next time?
As pretty much everyone who was paying attention predicted, the $500m program to train and arm “moderate” Syrian rebels is an unmitigated, Bay of Pigs-style disaster, with the head of US central command admitting to Congress this week that the year-old program now only has “four or five” rebels fighting inside Syria, with dozens more killed or captured.
17 September
Kassem Eid: The Rubble of Obama’s Syria Policy
I kept asking why the administration wasn’t doing more to help my people. Then the Iran deal came through, and I knew.
(WSJ) President Obama wishes for a legacy of peace through diplomacy; that I understand. What I can’t understand is why he believes that making deals with dictators can bring peace. During the Obama presidency, millions of people in Iran, Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Syria and Ukraine protested for a better life only to be met with bullets, tanks and fighter jets.
Now tens of thousands in the Middle East are fleeing for Europe, despairing of ever seeing peace or freedom in their homelands. Had the president supported these people against oppression, he would have made the world a better place and achieved a true legacy. Instead he risks leaving behind disappointment and memories of drowned refugee children lying on beaches
15 September
West ‘ignored Russian offer in 2012 to have Syria’s Assad step aside’
Exclusive: Senior negotiator describes rejection of alleged proposal, since when tens of thousands have been killed and millions displaced
Russia proposed more than three years ago that Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, could step down as part of a peace deal, according to a senior negotiator involved in back-channel discussions at the time.
Former Finnish president and Nobel peace prize laureate Martti Ahtisaari said western powers failed to seize on the proposal. Since it was made, in 2012, tens of thousands of people have been killed and millions uprooted, causing the world’s gravest refugee crisis since the second world war.
Ahtisaari held talks with envoys from the five permanent members of the UN security council in February 2012. He said that during those discussions, the Russian ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, laid out a three-point plan, which included a proposal for Assad to cede power at some point after peace talks had started between the regime and the opposition.
But he said that the US, Britain and France were so convinced that the Syrian dictator was about to fall, they ignored the proposal.
11 September
How Russia and America make the same mistakes in Syria
(Brookings) Russia’s apparent escalation in Syria is less dramatic than it seems, but it still represents another depressing development in the ongoing nightmare of the Syrian civil war. While it appears no Russian troops are engaged in fighting, the volume of military cargo delivered from Russia to Syria by sea and air has significantly increased in the last couple of weeks. President Putin did assert that it was “premature” to talk about direct Russian participation in the yet-to-be-built coalition against the various terrorist groups in the country. And even though Putin says it, it might still be true.
Clearly, putting scarce Russians troops on the ground to fight in a hopelessly stagnant civil war is not Moscow’s preferred path. Instead, the recent escalation probably reflects an effort to establish a position of strength from which to bring Moscow back into the center of the diplomacy over Syria.
The Russian government has no strong attachment to Syrian President Bashar Assad, but it fears that a collapse of his besieged regime would create yet more violent chaos in the terrorism-infested region. And, based on the example of Iraq, Moscow also puts little stock in the idea that a U.S.-engineered solution that excluded Assad could create stability in Syria or defeat ISIS and other radical Islamist groups.
10 September
Nicholas Kristof: Compassion for Refugees Isn’t Enough
(NYT) If you have a heart, you’re moved by the refugees. But if you have a head, you also know that welcoming them in Germany won’t resolve the crisis.
There are 60 million people displaced worldwide, and more will now be willing to board flimsy boats to cross the sea.
… above all, let’s address the crisis at its roots, particularly in the Middle East.
One essential step is to improve conditions for the 3.7 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. The World Food Program was just forced to cut 229,000 refugees in Jordan off food rations because it ran out of money, and if the world won’t pay for refugees to eat in Jordan, it will have to feed them in the West.
Then there’s the far more difficult task of trying to make Syria habitable again.
The least bad option today is to create a no-fly zone in the south of Syria. This could be done on a shoestring, enforced by U.S. Navy ships in the Mediterranean firing missiles, without ground troops
That would end barrel bombings. Just as important, the no-fly zone would create leverage to pressure the Syrian regime — and its Russian and Iranian backers — to negotiate.
“If they can’t use their aircraft, the day after they will know they can’t survive, and that will bring them to the table,” said Reza Afshar, a former British diplomat who now advises the Syrian opposition through his group, Independent Diplomat.
The aim of the talks, with no preconditions on either side, would be a cease-fire with a tweaking of boundary lines.
Look, this would be ugly. It would amount to a de facto partition of Syria and the partial survival of the regime, perhaps with a new Alawite general replacing President Bashar al-Assad. Yet otherwise we may be standing by as the slaughter spirals toward genocide.
8 September
Iran says democracy not a ‘priority’ in Syria now
(AFP) – Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday that democracy was currently not a priority in Syria when people in the Islamic republic’s key ally are being killed.
7 September
UN security council is failing Syria, Ban Ki-moon admits
The UN secretary general told that Guardian that Russia and China should “look beyond national interest” and stop blocking security council action on the conflict in Syria as the flow of refugees to Europe reaches unprecedented levels.
“We need some solidarity, unity of purpose, particularly among the permanent members of the security council,” he said in an interview. “When they are divided, it is extremely difficult for the United Nations to deliver. That’s why I’ve been urging the members of the security council to look beyond national interest. We have to look for the global interest.
2 September
Glavin: This is what it’s come to: Letting Syria die, watching Syrians drown
(Ottawa Citizen) … what we are all doing – Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats, Americans, Canadians, and all the dominant elites of the United Nations and the NATO countries that cleave to that sophisticated indifference known in polite company as anti-interventionism – is a very straightforward thing. We are watching Syria die. We are allowing it to happen. And if you can comprehend that, you will know something of the sorrow that afflicts Faisal Alazem and all those other Syrian-Canadians these days.
12 August
Turkey, Iran help broker rare truce in Syria
Syria’s warring parties declared a 48-hour ceasefire in two frontline areas on Wednesday after unprecedented mediation from Turkey and Iran, signaling a new approach by some of the main regional backers of the opposing sides.
The ceasefire halted fighting between insurgents on the one hand, and the army and its Lebanese militant Hezbollah allies on the other, in the rebel-held town of Zabadani and in a pair of Shi’ite Muslim villages in Idlib province.
The two areas are strongholds of each side under ferocious attack by the other. Sources familiar with the talks, which have been under way for weeks, said the truce could be extended to give time for ongoing negotiations aimed at evacuating civilians and combatants.
Three officials close to Damascus described the truce as a result of mediation by Turkey, which backs rebels fighting against President Bashar al-Assad, and Iran, whose support has been vital to his survival.
It adds to recent signs of new efforts in the region to end diplomatic deadlock over a conflict that has killed a quarter of a million people, made 10 million homeless, left swathes of Syria in the hands of Islamic State militants and divided the countries of the Middle East on sectarian grounds.
After four years in which diplomats made no headway toward peace, countries that support Assad and his opponents have been quietly discussing ways to end the war and tackle the common threat from Islamic State. But Assad’s fate remains a major obstacle to the new diplomatic effort.
4 July
Syria army and Hezbollah in major assault near Damascus
Siege tightens on Zabadani, the last opposition stronghold along Lebanon’s border, while rebels advance in Aleppo
3 July
ISIL looting heritage sites on ‘industrial scale’
“This deliberate destruction is not only continuing, it is happening on a systematic basis. The looting of archaeological sites and museums, in Iraq particularly, has reached an industrial scale of destruction.”
(Al Jazeera) Warning from UNESCO comes as Syria’s antiquities director says famous lion statue in Palmyra has been destroyed.
Some sites in Syria had been ransacked so badly they no longer had any value for historians and archaeologists, and UNESCO was also increasingly worried about Libya, [Irina Bokova, the head of UNESCO], said.
ISIL-controlled territory contains some of the richest archaeological treasures on earth in a region where ancient Assyrian empires built their capitals, Graeco-Roman civilisation flourished, and Muslim and Christian sects co-existed for centuries.
UNESCO’s warning came as Syria’s antiquities director said ISIL had destroyed a famous statue of a lion outside the museum in the city of Palmyra, known as Tadmur in Arabic.
The limestone statue, discovered at the temple of Al-Lat, a pre-Islamic Arabian goddess, dated back to the 1st century BC.
So far, the city’s most famous sites have been left intact, but several nearby shrines have been blown up.
1 July
Kurdish offensive in Syria has Ankara on its toes
Turkey worries about expanding cooperation between US-led coalition and Kurdish YPG forces
(Al Jazeera) The Syrian border town of Jarablous could soon become a battleground and that battle could change the front-lines and the balance of power in territories outside the control of the government in northern Syria.
This is the last Syrian-Turkish border crossing ISIL controls. It cannot afford to lose it. Last month, it was pushed from Tal Abyad and the main Syrian Kurdish fighting force, the YPG, claimed control of 400 of the 900km Syrian-Turkish border from Iraq to the town of Kobane in the west.
A possible push by the Kurds into Jarablous is causing concerns in Turkey. It believes the YPG has another agenda apart from fighting ISIL. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the Kurds of wanting to capture Jarablous to link its territories in the northeast with the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in Aleppo province further west and eventually declare a state.
28 June
The YPG: America’s new best friend?
The YPG may seem to be good allies on paper, but if Syria’s central regions are alienated it may cause more trouble.
The recent capture of the Syrian border town of Tal Abyad held by the fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), by Syrian Kurdish forces (known as the YPG) is a major development in the course of the war in Syria.
The result is that Kurdish forces are now poised to control the vast majority of Syria’s border with Turkey and now constitute a fighting force of some 50,000 fighters, backed by US airpower, operating in a united stretch of territory.
The Democratic Union Party (PYD) which largely represents the Syrian Kurds, has stated that its priority is now focused on uniting historical Kurdish areas of Syria (known as Rojava), stretching from Afrin to the Tigris river into one contiguous land mass. Additionally, it has signalled that defeating ISIL in its heartlands would not be anathema to solidifying its control across much of northern Syria.
UN-led Syria peace talks to begin
The United Nations special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, is holding one-on-one meetings starting this week with representatives from the Syrian government and rebel organizations. Talks will also include Russia, the U.S., Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. No talks will be held with militant groups Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra. Voice of America (5/3), The New York Times (tiered subscription model) (5/4)
Syrian Town Jisr Al-Shughour Seized By Rebels In Major Blow To Assad
(AP via HuffPost) If they can hold the town of Jisr al-Shughour in Idlib province, rebel fighters from Islamic factions — including the al-Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front — will have gained in only a few days a gateway to the Mediterranean coast, a refuge of embattled President Bashar Assad, and cut government supply lines from the coast to northern and central Syria. The town is one of the last bastions of Assad’s government in the area and fighting around it continued Saturday.
15 March

Syria enters fifth year of conflict

Rights groups say the world has failed Syria as war leaves 220,000 people dead and half the country’s people displaced.
(Al Jazeera) Syria’s conflict has entered its fifth year with the government emboldened by shifting international attention and a growing humanitarian crisis exacerbated by the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The country has been carved up by government forces, armed groups, Kurdish fighters and other rebel groups.
Diplomacy remains stalled , with two rounds of peace talks achieving no progress and even a proposal for a local ceasefire in Aleppo fizzling out.
The conflict began as an anti-government uprising, with protesters taking to the streets on March 15, 2011, inspired by similar revolts in Egypt and Tunisia.
A bird’s-eye view of war-torn Syria
(WaPost) A school that lies in ruins, hospitals and refugee camps under attack, and a city center the size of Manhattan destroyed by shelling — these are some of the shocking details of a new United Nations report on the conflict in Syria, four years after it began.
The new report, due for release Wednesday, uses the U.N. satellite program UNOSAT to present new images showing the scale of human suffering in Syria. According to a statement released on Friday, the authors were able to document “indiscriminate attacks on civilian population, including barrel bombing, destruction of schools, hospitals, residential areas, markets, power plants and the vast cultural heritage of Syria.”
The use of satellite imagery enabled the U.N. to compare how Syria has changed over the past four years. Since the conflict began, about 6.5 million have been displaced and more than 220,000 were killed.
To understand Syria today, we must look to history
The Middle East is in reality an organic place where local identities are as strong as ideological attachments.
1 March
UN’s Syrian cease-fire plan rejected by rebels
Syrian rebels have rejected the Aleppo cease-fire plan proffered by Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations envoy for Syria. Rebel leaders said they won’t meet with de Mistura unless it is to discuss a full-country peace plan that includes the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Voice of America (3/1), Reuters (3/1)
21 January
Syria: The Policy Cul-De-Sac
(The Atlantic Council) US policy toward Syria is stalled in a cul-de-sac. It occupies the strategic low ground between an August 2011 presidential call for Bashar al-Assad to step aside, the June 2014 eruption of the Assad-conjured Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) into Iraq from Syria, and the administration’s resolute reluctance to act in accordance with a fundamental fact: ISIL will be defeated neither in Iraq nor in Syria so long as Assad family-rule remains in place. ISIL is, in large measure, the monster created by a viciously sectarian survival strategy featuring mass murder, one pursued by the Assad regime since March 2011. Yet the administration, eager to accommodate that regime’s strongest supporters (Iran and Russia), reportedly perceives value in Assad staying on for a while. How else to explain tepid support for those fighting both ISIL and the regime? How else to justify flirting with a Russian diplomatic initiative designed to fragment and destroy the nationalist opposition to Assad and ISIL?
9 January
Evidence Points to Syrian Push for Nuclear Weapons
(Spiegel) For years, it was thought that Israel had destroyed Syria’s nuclear weapons capability with its 2007 raid on the Kibar complex. Not so. New intelligence suggests that Bashar al-Assad is still trying to built the bomb. And he may be getting help from North Korea and Iran.

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