Syria 2017 – 2018

Written by  //  July 25, 2018  //  Syria  //  1 Comment

See Syria 2016
Trump administration U.S. – Russia relations
How Syria’s White Helmets became victims of an online propaganda machine

25 July
Robert Fisk: Even the White Helmets have been rescued from Syria – so are we about to see the final battle of the war?
Thanks to Donald Trump, it’s all over for the ‘rebels’ of Syria because they have been betrayed by the Americans – surely and finally by Trump himself in those secret discussions with Vladimir Putin
Will it be the Last Battle? For three years, Idlib has been the dumping ground for all of Syria’s retreating Islamist militias, the final redoubt of every combatant who has chosen to fight on, rather than surrender to the Syrian army and the Russian air force – and to Hezbollah and, to a far smaller degree, the Iranians.
Brigadier general Suheil al-Hassan, the “Tiger” of Syrian military legend and myth – who can quote the poet Mutanabi by heart but prefers to be compared to Erwin Rommel rather than Bernard Montgomery – will surely take his “Tiger Forces” with him for the final reckoning between the Damascus regime and the Salafist-inspired and western-armed Islamists who dared to try, and very definitely failed, to destroy Bashar al-Assad’s rule.
The Russians are ready to supply guarantees of safe passage home to refugees – what these promises are worth remains an open question when many thousands of the homeless are fearful of the regime – and Moscow’s men are reported to have already arrived in Lebanon, which hosts up to a million and a half Syrians, to chat about the logistics. Gulf Arabs – particularly Qatar – are said to be interested in financially rebuilding Syria. So if they won’t surrender militarily, can the Idlib “rebels” be bought off? Not least by the Arab nations which supported them in the first place. These are early days. But all wars come to an end. And that’s where history restarts.

22-25 July
How Canada’s woman in Istanbul began the daring rescue of Syria’s White Helmets
Much of the credit belongs to Robin Wettlaufer, Ottawa’s special envoy to Syria, and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland
(Globe & Mail) Canada is now being widely hailed for its leadership on the operation to rescue the White Helmets from Mr. al-Assad’s forces. The details of how it all came to pass are reported on Tuesday for the first time by The Globe and Mail – and sources say that much of the credit belongs to Ms. Wettlaufer, in particular, as well as to Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, and Canada’s Ambassador to Jordan, Peter MacDougall.
Canada sparked daring mission to rescue hundreds of humanitarian workers in Syria
By Sean Silcoff, Colin Freeze, Robert Fife Ottawa Bureau Chief
(Globe & Mail) Hundreds of volunteer humanitarian workers known as the “White Helmets” and their families were whisked to safety from southwest Syria this weekend in a daring overnight rescue operation, an effort sparked earlier this month by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.
The rescue played out late Saturday and early Sunday as at least 400 people were evacuated from southwestern Syria and spirited into the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, before being moved to a camp in neighbouring Jordan. The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) led the rescue effort, which was done at the request of Canada, Britain and Germany, who all committed to resettling evacuees. The operation was also supported by the United States.
Canada to accept up to 250 Syrian White Helmet volunteers, family after dramatic escape
Canadian officials expected​ to​ immediately begin working with UN​ ​to process families
The White Helmets and their families were trapped in what had been — until recently — rebel-held territory. The area has for more than a week been the focus of a furious assault by Russian-backed Syrian government forces.
The volunteers were spirited out of Syria in a highly secret international operation that involved the U.K., France, Germany, the Netherlands and Canada, multiple sources told CBC News.
The territory under assault had been designated as a U.S.-protected safe zone, but the Trump Administration has not made a move to enforce that as government forces tighten their grip on the region.

23 July
Robert Fisk: I traced missile casings in Syria back to their original sellers, so it’s time for the west to reveal who they sell arms to
I don’t think either Nato or the EU has the slightest interest in chasing the provenance of weapons in the hands of Islamist fighters in Syria or anywhere else in the Middle East
19 July
A Bosnian signs off weapons he says are going to Saudi Arabia – but how did his signature turn up in Aleppo?
Exclusive: The documents, some lying amid smashed guns and shrapnel, provided the most intriguing paper trail yet discovered of just who is producing the weapons that have armed the Assad regime’s most ferocious Islamist opponents

10 July
Syria war: What we know about Douma ‘chemical attack
(BBC) Syrian opposition activists, rescue workers and medics say more than 40 people were killed on 7 April in a suspected chemical attack on Douma, which was the last rebel-held town in the Eastern Ghouta region.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) says initial tests on samples from two sites detected “various chlorinated organic chemicals”, along with explosive residues. However, no nerve agents were detected.
The Syrian government denies ever using chemical weapons, and its ally Russia says it has evidence that the incident was staged with the help of the UK.
The OPCW, which oversees the Chemical Weapons Convention, dispatched experts from its Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) to Damascus five days after the attack. But they were unable to visit any of the sites of interest until 21 April because of an attack on a UN security team conducting a reconnaissance mission.
On 6 July, a preliminary report issued by the OPCW said “no organophosphorus nerve agents or their degradation products were detected, either in the environmental samples or in plasma samples from the alleged casualties”. However, it added, “various chlorinated organic chemicals were found in samples from Locations 2 and 4, along with residues of explosive”.
Russian permanent representative to the UN Vassily Nebenzia told the Security Council on 9 April that Russian military specialists had visited Douma and taken soil samples that showed no presence of nerve agents or substances containing chlorine. He also said no-one with symptoms of exposure to sarin or chlorine had been admitted to Douma’s hospital, nor any bodies found.

4 May
Trump just pulled funding for Syrian “White Helmets” rescue group
(Vice news) About a third of the funding for Syria Civil Defence, known popularly as the White Helmets, came from the U.S., with the rest coming from the U.K., Germany, and other governments. Until very recently, the group had a positive relationship with the U.S., which has provided the group about $33 million in funds since 2013. But now, at the president’s request, the State Department has pulled funding.
Though their work has largely gained them international recognition as brave rescue workers, they’ve come under attack from a propaganda campaign pushed by Russian state media to discredit their work. The Russians have been trying to tie the group to the al-Qaida Islamic extremist group and claiming there’s an ulterior motive behind their mission. The Russians support the regime of Syrian president Bashar Assad, who’s accused of using chemical weapons against his own people.

Snopes: Are the Syrian ‘White Helmets’ Rescue Organization Terrorists?
A nongovernmental search-and-rescue organization on the ground in Syria has drawn a lot of attention, but claims they are linked to terrorists are unfounded.


22 April
Former UK ambassador linked to Assad lobby group
(The Telegraph) A former British ambassador to Syria who appeared on the BBC to defend the Assad regime had already become a director of a lobby group run by the dictator’s father in law.
Peter Ford, 59, courted controversy this month by claiming that President Bashar al-Assad would not have carried out the chemical gas attack on his own people.
Now the Telegraph can reveal that just weeks before the April 4 attack Mr Ford had become a director of the controversial British Syrian Society.

18 April
Chemical weapons experts press for access to Syria attack site
Questions asked about how Russia was able to take sympathetic journalists to Douma while international inspectors have been waylaid on safety grounds
Syria Chemical Attack Hoax Exposed – Peter Ford with Tucker Carlson on Fox News
Peter Ford, former British Ambassador to Syria, explains to Americans what went on in Douma, Syria and that it is far from certain that there even was a chemical attack there. He points out that the “jihadi medical auxiliaries who pick up the pieces after beheadings” who pose fraudulently as Syria Civil Defence, better known as the White Helmets, put out this hoax. “We have been suckered; the President’s advisers have served him extremely badly. Did the President’s advisers tell him that the sites [just bombed] had been inspected extremely recently? This has all the hallmarks of an intelligence fiasco.

17 April
The search for truth in the rubble of Douma – and one doctor’s doubts over the chemical attack
Exclusive: Robert Fisk visits the Syria clinic at the centre of a global crisis
(The Independent) This is the story of a town called Douma, a ravaged, stinking place of smashed apartment blocks – and of an underground clinic whose images of suffering allowed three of the Western world’s most powerful nations to bomb Syria last week. There’s even a friendly doctor in a green coat who, when I track him down in the very same clinic, cheerfully tells me that the “gas” videotape which horrified the world – despite all the doubters – is perfectly genuine.
War stories, however, have a habit of growing darker. For the same 58-year old senior Syrian doctor then adds something profoundly uncomfortable: the patients, he says, were overcome not by gas but by oxygen starvation in the rubbish-filled tunnels and basements in which they lived, on a night of wind and heavy shelling that stirred up a dust storm.
As Dr Assim Rahaibani announces this extraordinary conclusion, it is worth observing that he is by his own admission not an eyewitness himself and, as he speaks good English, he refers twice to the jihadi gunmen of Jaish el-Islam [the Army of Islam] in Douma as “terrorists” – the regime’s word for their enemies, and a term used by many people across Syria. Am I hearing this right? Which version of events are we to believe?
Syrian medics ‘subjected to extreme intimidation’ after Douma attack
Doctors say those who treated patients after attack have been told they and their families will be targeted if they speak out

16 April
LA Times: The president declared “Mission Accomplished,” but there are larger concerns about whether he had the proper authorization to launch the surgical strike in response to the use of chemical weapons.
(BBC) Admiral Lord West Casts Doubt on Syria Attack Intelligence

15 April
Syria’s Assad in a ‘good mood,’ scorns U.S. weaponry after airstrikes
(WaPost) Despite claims by President Trump that the operation was an “enormous success,” it is being interpreted in Syria as a win for Assad because the limited scope of the strikes suggested that Western powers do not intend to challenge his rule.

14 April
Pentagon: Syria strikes took out the ‘heart’ of Assad’s chemical weapons program
(WaPost) President Trump declared victory Saturday in the largest application of military force he has ordered, as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations vowed that the United States is ready to launch another strike if the Syrian government uses chemical weapons in the future.
“Mission Accomplished!” Trump tweeted a day after the allied assault on Syrian facilities that the United States, Britain and France say are part of a large chemical weapons program. The phrase was the same one the last Republican president, George W. Bush, employed to his regret in 2003, when the Iraq War was far from over.
Details emerge about Syrian sites targeted by U.S.-led airstrikes
The coalition hit the Barzah Research and Development Center outside Damascus with 76 missiles, destroying the facility and setting back Syrian chemical weapons capabilities “for years,” the U.S. military said in an initial assessment.
The second and third targets were part of what the U.S. military described as the Him Shinshar chemical weapons complex outside the city of Homs.

13 April
U.S., allies launch strikes in Syria in response to suspected chemical attack
Trump joins Britain and France in ordering missile strikes against Syrian government
(WaPost) The coordinated attack was in retaliation for what Western nations said was the deliberate gassing of Syrian civilians. The assault announced Friday night in an address to the nation followed repeated threats of military action from President Trump.
Trump asked both Russia and Iran, backers of Assad, “what kind of nation wants to be associated” with mass murder and suggested that someday the United States might be able to “get along” with both if they change their policies.
Trump says has ordered U.S. military strikes on Syria
(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday he had ordered “precision strikes” on Syrian in retaliation for the suspected poison gas attack that killed at least 60 people on April 7.

(The Atlantic) The Syria Dilemma: Should the U.S. strike the Syrian regime in retaliation for last weekend’s suspected chemical attack on civilians? Such a strike is unlikely to stop the crisis in Syria, and it wouldn’t meet the criteria for a “humanitarian war,” argues Peter Beinart. Yet reports of atrocities in the country make many observers feel the U.S. has a duty to intervene. Moral philosophers from around the world say there might not be an ethical course of action in Syria.

12 April
Trump weighs Syria options, Russia envoy says he ‘cannot exclude’ war
(Reuters) – President Donald Trump and his national security aides on Thursday discussed U.S. options on Syria, where he has threatened missile strikes in response to a suspected poison gas attack, as a Russian envoy voiced fears of wider conflict between Washington and Moscow. Worries about a confrontation between Russia, Syria’s big ally, and the West have been running high since Trump said on Wednesday that missiles “will be coming” in response to the attack in the Syrian town of Douma on April 7, and lambasted Moscow for standing by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Trump tempered those remarks on Thursday and even as he consulted allies such and Britain and France, who could join in any U.S.-led strikes on Syria, there were signs of efforts to prevent the crisis from spiraling out of control.
Israel and Iran Are Headed for a Collision in Syria
A new reality is taking shape as one war gives way to new ones.
(The Atlantic) The reports of yet another Israeli Air Force strike this week on a base near Homs show that there is a new reality in Syria, taking shape as the civil war draws to a close—one that creates a predetermined chronicle of collision between Israel and Iran, on the soil of a third party. The routing of ISIS and the reestablishment of Bashar al-Assad’s rule across much of the state of Syria, alongside the seeming lack of American interest in the country except after major chemical attacks, is facilitating the expansion of Iran’s influence—indeed its de facto takeover—in much of the country. And with each passing day the sensation in Israel, of standing alone against the Iranian gambit to turn Syria into an Iranian forward base, grows more intense. The only thing that might change it is change of American policy.
Macron: France Has Proof Syria’s Assad Regime Behind Chemical Weapons Attack
Germany will not join any military strikes against the Syrian government in response to a poison gas attack

10 April
Syria war: What we know about Douma ‘chemical attack’
(BBC) Syrian opposition activists, rescue workers and medics say more than 40 people were killed on Saturday in a suspected chemical attack on Douma, the last rebel-held town in the Eastern Ghouta region.
They allege that bombs filled with toxic chemicals were dropped by Syrian government forces. The government says the attack was fabricated.

4 April
Putin Trio of Syria Winners Seen Accepting Partition for Now
(Bloomberg) Russian President Vladimir Putin met his Turkish and Iranian counterparts in Ankara on Wednesday for their latest summit on Syria’s future. The three leaders have buried their sometimes competing interests to cooperate closely since last year. They’ve all scored military gains recently. And they all insist that Syria must emerge from more than seven years of civil war with its territorial integrity intact — a point that was underlined once again after Wednesday’s talks.
That’s not the reality now, and maybe not anytime soon. President Donald Trump is saying he’d like a pullout soon of the 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria, where they’ve been fighting in the northeast against the now largely defeated Islamic State. But policy makers in Moscow expect the American military presence to continue, prolonging a de facto carve-up of the country.
Intervention by Russia and Iran turned the tide of the long-running war in President Bashar al-Assad’s favor. The Syrian leader scored a significant coup this week when rebels began to leave their last bastion near the capital, Damascus, after a heavy bombardment that added to the war’s half-million death toll.
Even with the foreign support, Assad is running out of places he can comfortably recapture. Apart from the U.S.-occupied northeast, the largest area to remain outside the control of Damascus is Idlib in the northwest — and that’s now in Turkey’s sphere of influence.

24 February
U.N. Security Council Passes Syria Cease-Fire After Hundreds Killed In Bombing Siege
(NPR) The United Nations Security Council has approved a resolution calling for a 30-day cease-fire in Syria, following one of the bloodiest weeks of aerial bombardment in the war that has devastated the country.
In the eastern suburbs of Damascus, a region called Eastern Ghouta, nearly 500 people have been killed in a deadly escalation by the Syrian government that began Sunday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told The Associated Press. More than 120 of the dead are children, the group says.
The Security Council resolution aims to get humanitarian aid to Eastern Ghouta and other areas under siege. The resolution was delayed several times in an effort to get Russia’s approval.
(BBC) The UN Security Council has unanimously approved a resolution demanding a 30-day ceasefire in Syria to allow aid deliveries and medical evacuations.
However, some of the biggest jihadist rebel groups, and their associates, are not covered by the truce, raising questions about its real impact.
Moscow mired in Syria as Putin’s game plan risks a deadly ending
(The Guardian) The Russian-led air blitz has been the sum of all fears for the besieged population on the ground. Up to 400,000 people, with nowhere to run, have been pinned down by Vladimir Putin’s air force as Syrian and Iranian-backed ground troops edge closer to the largest and most important opposition area anywhere south of Idlib.
For Assad and Putin, Ghouta is the key to controlling the capital, and winning the war. But outside the Syrian cauldron, friends and foes alike are starting to believe both men have miscalculated.
Nearly 18 months into Russia’s intervention to prevent Assad’s defeat at the hands of rebel groups that were advancing on his heartland areas of Latakia and Tartous, it is increasingly unclear just how Moscow will recoup its investment in the world’s most complex and intractable conflict.
While it no longer appears Assad is in danger of falling, what remains of Syria looks nothing like the prewar country he used to rule. Central authority in the once-rigid police state has been subsumed several times over – first by opposition groups, and then by regional players also increasingly invested in shaping postwar outcomes in their own interests, which only partly align with what Putin wants. Protagonists on both sides are drowning in a swamp they did not see ahead.

13 February
Scores of Russian mercenaries reportedly killed by US airstrikes in Syria
Reports suggest high number of casualties in Deir Ezzor region
US officials say airstrikes carried out against pro-regime force
(The Guardian) If the high estimates of Russian casualties are confirmed, it would be the most lethal clash between US and Russian citizens since the end of the cold war, and it comes at a time when proxy forces in Syria are increasingly coming into contact, as they compete for territory vacated by retreating Islamic State militants

19 January
U.S. troops could be in Syria indefinitely. Here’s why
(PBS Newshour) Turkey’s military appeared ready on Friday to invade a Kurdish area of Syria and attack a force who, backed by the U.S., helped liberate Raqqa from the Islamic State. While the U.S. wants to convert them into a stabilization force, Turkey’s president says they are a grave threat. Nick Schifrin talks with former Pentagon official Andrew Exum and Mona Yacoubian of the U.S. Institute of Peace.
On the Turkish-Syrian border, the Turkish military appears ready for battle. They’re amassing tanks and firing artillery into Syria.
This is Syria’s north and northwest, controlled mostly by Kurds,the same Kurds who helped liberate former ISIS headquarters Raqqa.
The U.S. wants to convert these forces to a 30,000-strong stabilization force. But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the U.S.-backed group a grave threat. The U.S. insists the force poses no threat to Turkey. But the U.S. will support them for years, as part of a long-term military commitment designed to prevent ISIS from returning, says Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Rex Tillerson:
ISIS presently has one foot in the grave. And by maintaining an American military presence in Syria until the full and complete defeat of ISIS is achieved, it will soon have two.
Nick Schifrin:
The 2,000 American troops in Syria are a mix of trainers, Marines, and front-line special operations forces. They will target ISIS and al-Qaida, but also have other goals, eliminating the chemical weapons that the Syrian regime has used against its own people, diminishing Iran’s influence and Iranian-backed Hezbollah fighters, and helping the 11.5 million refugees and internally displaced.
That’s a huge order after seven years of war. It could mean U.S. troops are in Syria indefinitely.

America Quietly Starts Nation-Building in Parts of Syria
The U.S. has escalated its presence in the country, and has signaled no timetable for when it will end.
(The Atlantic) Announcing his new Afghanistan strategy in August, President Donald Trump insisted “we are not nation-building again.” The pledge—made while increasing indefinitely the American commitment to the government in Kabul—put him in the company of former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, who like Trump campaigned in part on rejecting the idea of nation-building. They also, like Trump, promptly surged troops and money into wars and reconstruction efforts overseas.
And the president has quietly embarked on another such project—in Syria, where the U.S. has put down roots and is making plans to stay.
Officials in Washington remain tight-lipped about the exact outlines of the effort in the Kurdish-dominated northeastern corner of the country, where some 2,000 U.S. troops—joined by a growing army of diplomats and aid workers—are overseeing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of reconstruction and security projects.

2017

3 September
Akhavan and Sniderman: Here’s how we can hold Syria responsible for its crimes
By Payam Akhavan and Andrew Stobo Sniderman
After Bashar Assad suffocated children with poison gas in April, Donald Trump retaliated with Tomahawk missiles. But Syria’s victims deserve more than occasional vigilantism.
The crimes continue: photos released by the U.S. State Department suggest the Syrian regime is incinerating the bodies of thousands of murdered political prisoners.
The Assad government must face judgment by an international court.
In theory, Assad and his top generals should be tried by the International Criminal Court for systemic war crimes and crimes against humanity. In practice, the Russian veto at the United Nations Security Council has made that impossible.
But there is another way, with another court. Syria could be put on trial for torture before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), at The Hague in the Netherlands.
Why torture, and why the ICJ? Torture is the signature crime of the Assad regime. Hundreds have been gassed, but tens or even hundreds of thousands have been tortured, often to death. There are so many prisoners-turned-corpses that the regime has taken to mass incineration.
Syria is a party to the UN Torture Convention, a treaty that commits states to abolish torture and punish torturers. Syria’s hypocrisy matters, because Article 30 of the treaty allows other state parties to bring a dispute to the ICJ. This provides a way for an outraged state to challenge Syrian leaders for their odious crimes without the obstacle of a Security Council veto.
The ICJ has been the “world’s court” since 1946, but it is not a criminal court. It cannot issue individual arrest warrants or impose jail sentences. Rather, the ICJ holds states accountable, with the legitimacy to speak justice to power.

11 July
Syrian Observatory says it has ‘confirmed information’ that Islamic State chief is dead
(Reuters) – The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Reuters on Tuesday that it had “confirmed information” that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been killed.
The report came just days after the Iraqi army recaptured the last sectors of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, which Baghdadi’s forces overran almost exactly three years ago.
Russia’s Defence Ministry said in June that it might have killed Baghdadi when one of its air strikes hit a gathering of Islamic State commanders on the outskirts of the Syrian city of Raqqa. But Washington said it could not corroborate the death and Western and Iraqi officials have been skeptical.
Reuters could not independently verify Baghdadi’s death.

9 July
Ceasefire goes into effect in Deraa, Suweida, Quneitra
Deal brokered by US, Russia and Jordan
(Al Jazeera) The truce began at midday (09:00 GMT) on Sunday, in the provinces  in the southwest, along the Jordanian border.
Al Jazeera’s Natasha Ghoneim, reporting from the Turkey-Syria border town of Gaziantep, said “This is an example of foreign interest at play and the interest of US allies. …The southwestern portion of Syria is a very geopolitically sensitive area. To the west you have Israel and to the south you have Jordan. Both of those countries have been very worried about violence spilling over their borders.”  … Similar agreements have been brokered in Syria in the past with the aim of getting the country’s peace process back on track following a prolonged civil war that began in 2011.
All have failed to halt the fighting for very long.

5 May
Another peace deal – An agreement to halt fighting in four zones of Syria
All planes are to be barred from these areas
(The Economist) RUSSIA’S announcement that Syrian warplanes will stop flying over some of the country’s bloodiest battlefields should be cause for joy. No accurate figure exists for the number of people killed during the war, but monitoring groups estimate that 470,000 have died, the vast majority of them civilians. What is certain, however, is that the Syrian air force, with the help of Russia and Iran, has killed most of these people. Its helicopters and warplanes have dropped bombs, missiles and gas on schools, hospitals and homes. Ending the slaughter means first grounding the regime’s air force.
Under the terms of a deal signed by Russia, Iran and Turkey at talks in Kazakhstan on May 4th, this is what is supposed to happen. All operations, including Syrian military flights, will supposedly stop in four “de-escalation zones” within the country where opposition fighters still hold considerable territory. If all sides abide by the deal, then these areas will become safe zones that could, at some stage, be policed by troops from Russia and Turkey. Russian news outlets speculated that troops from Brazil and India may also play a role in peacekeeping. Donald Trump is reported to have approved the agreement in a call with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

13 April
Syria chemical attack ‘fabricated’ – Assad
(BBC) Syria’s President Bashar-al Assad says reports of a chemical attack by his forces were “100% fabrication”.
In an exclusive video interview with Agence France-Presse, he said “there was no order to make any attack”.
Mr Assad told the AFP news agency that the Syrian government gave up its arsenal of chemical weapons in 2013, adding “even if we have them, we wouldn’t use them”.
However, since 2013, there have been continued allegations that chemicals such as chlorine and ammonia have been used against civilians in the ongoing civil war. The Syrian government has repeatedly denied using them, blaming rebel groups in some instances.

12 April
Why Assad used chemical weapons
By Mohamad Bazzi, journalism professor at New York University and former Middle East bureau chief at Newsday
(Reuters Commentary) The answer lies in Assad’s refusal to compromise or offer any significant concessions since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011, and later morphed into a civil war. Assad overplayed his hand this time, after being emboldened by recent statements from White House officials that it was time for Western powers to accept the “political reality” of Assad’s continued dominance. Assad likely decided to test those boundaries, not expecting Trump to respond militarily because the U.S. president has made it clear that he sees fighting Islamic State as his highest priority in Syria and Iraq.
Since November, the United States has helped mobilize nearly 50,000 Kurdish and Sunni Arab fighters to encircle Raqqa, and cut it off from all sides. The offensive is supported by American air strikes and hundreds of U.S. troops. But Trump’s missile strikes could slow the offensive to oust Islamic State from Raqqa and other parts of eastern Syria. The Pentagon coordinates with Russian forces in Syria, especially in launching air strikes, and Russian officials threatened to suspend the communications hotline after the April 7 U.S. attack on the Syrian airfield.
Assad has now suffered a setback because of the American attack, but Trump’s limited intervention is unlikely to change the course of the Syrian war – and Assad will continue his scorched earth policy against rebels and civilians, even if he will now think twice about using chemical weapons.

10 April
The Syria Situation: U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, along with the Group of Seven (G-7) industrialized nations, plans to pressure Moscow to end its support for Assad in Syria. Last week, President Trump’s strike on an air base used by both Russia and Syria put an end, for now, to expectations that Trump and Putin would work together against terrorism, adding to a long history of dysfunction between the two nations. For instance, Russia played a role in the failure of Obama’s 2013 deal to stop Syria’s use of chemical weapons. Meanwhile, Trump’s been getting good press for his military action, raising the question: What happens when a president shaped by reality television starts a televised war?

6 April
A U.S. War in Syria? In a sudden reversal of his previous policy statements, President Trump now says he’s considering military action to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. GOP hawks had urged him to take action in the wake of Tuesday’s chemical attack, and the Pentagon is reportedly working on options—but there are still plenty of legal and practical obstacles ahead of U.S. forces going up against Assad’s regime. But if we take into account the strikes against ISIS and other terrorist groups, the U.S. is already fighting in Syria.

4 April
Chemical Warfare in Syria: President Bashar al-Assad’s government allegedly used a chemical agent against civilians in an attack that left 58 dead, including children, and at least 160 injured, according to a London-based human-rights group. Syria has been accused of using chemical weapons before, and agreed to destroy them in 2013, but evidence suggests Assad failed to honor the deal. At the time, the Obama administration chose diplomatic pressure over military intervention; could a U.S. airstrike back then have prevented this week’s attack? The story illustrates some of the thorniest dilemmas of foreign policy—and the task of articulating that policy now falls to Rex Tillerson, America’s new secretary of state.

8 March
Bashar al-Assad’s Faustian bargain. The Syrian dictator’s army is winning against the rebels and Islamists after years of war. But as Fritz Schaap explains for Der Spiegel, he’s done it with the help of local warlords. They are now more powerful than he is, and are exacting their price for supporting him by looting and terrorizing the population.

25 February
Deadly Syria attack shakes UN-backed peace talks in Geneva
(Deutsche Welle) Syrian peace talks have been rattled by a deadly attack in Homs, with warring sides exchanging accusations. Negotiations in Geneva are still hung up on the format of the talks.
An insurgent attack in the central Syria city of Homs on Saturday strained efforts to get peace talks in Geneva off the ground, with the UN mediator warning of “spoilers” trying to derail negotiations.
Five gunmen stormed two Syrian government security offices in Homs before detonating suicide bombs, killing dozens of soldiers including General Hassan Daabul, a senior officer of the Military Intelligence Services.
Syrian gov’t demands opposition unity for talks
(AP) The Syrian government’s top envoy to Geneva peace talks says his side will meet face-to-face with the opposition only if its various factions come together in a “unified, patriotic opposition.”
Bashar al-Ja’afari, Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, pressed home the government’s demand that the opposition denounce terrorism in the wake of deadly attacks against security offices in the central city of Homs earlier Saturday.

23 February
A Common Theme for This Year’s Oscar-Nominated Documentaries
(The Atlantic) The films 4.1 Miles, Watani: My Homeland, The White Helmets, and Fire at Sea are all up for Academy Awards this year—and all deal with the migrant crisis or the Syrian conflict

7 February
Syria: Secret campaign of mass hangings and extermination at Saydnaya Prison
A chilling new report by Amnesty International exposes the Syrian government’s calculated campaign of extrajudicial executions by mass hangings at Saydnaya Prison. Between 2011 and 2015, every week and often twice a week, groups of up to 50 people were taken out of their prison cells and hanged to death. In five years, as many as 13,000 people, most of them civilians believed to be opposed to the government, were hanged in secret at Saydnaya.
Human slaughterhouse: Mass hangings and extermination at Saydnaya prison, Syria also shows that the government is deliberately inflicting inhuman conditions on detainees at Saydnaya Prison through repeated torture and the systematic deprivation of food, water, medicine and medical care. The report documents how these extermination policies have killed massive numbers of detainees.
These practices, which amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, are authorized at the highest levels of the Syrian government.

27 January
Upcoming UN-backed Syria peace talks in Geneva have been pushed back until late February, Sergei Lavrov said on Friday.
(euronews) The Russian foreign minister’s announcement came as he met representatives from some opposition groups in Moscow.
Lavrov did not explain the reasons for the latest delay.
The negotiations in Geneva were scheduled for February 8, after this week’s peace talks in the Kazakh capital Astana.

23 January
First day of Astana summit ends without breakthrough
Government and rebel delegations trade barbs over details of shaky nationwide truce during first day of talks in Astana.
(Al Jazeera) Representatives of the Syrian government and opposition on Monday traded barbs over interpretations of a ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey in late December, as their respective regional backers met behind closed doors to keep the meeting on track.
The Russia-Turkey organised meeting in Astana is aimed at strengthening a nationwide ceasefire that has largely held despite pockets of violence across the country, and paving the way towards UN-led political negotiations in Geneva on February 8.
The talks mark the first time the Syrian opposition is represented solely by representatives of armed groups.
syria-destruction-homs
11 January
Assad Has Won in Syria. But Syria Hardly Exists.
By DAVID W. LESCH and JAMES GELVIN
(NYT) Now that forces supporting the Syrian government have completed the takeover of Aleppo, and Russia, Turkey and Iran have negotiated a tenuous cease-fire, it is more than likely that President Bashar al-Assad and the regime he oversees will continue to govern Syria, in one form or another. In an interview with French media published last week, Mr. Assad stated that Aleppo signaled a “tipping point in the course of the war” and that the government is “on the way to victory.”
But if that is the case, what will Mr. Assad actually win?
Let’s take a look at the numbers. (While the following statistics are estimates, they will, if anything, get worse with the continuing matrix of wars in Syria.) More than 80 percent of Syrians live below the poverty line. Nearly 70 percent of Syrians live in extreme poverty, meaning they cannot secure basic needs, according to a 2016 report. That number has most likely grown since then. The unemployment rate is close to 58 percent, with a significant number of those employed working as smugglers, fighters or elsewhere in the war economy. Life expectancy has dropped by 20 years since the beginning of the uprising in 2011. About half of children no longer attend school — a lost generation. The country has become a public health disaster. Diseases formerly under control, like typhoid, tuberculosis, Hepatitis A and cholera, are once again endemic. And polio — previously eradicated in Syria — has been reintroduced, probably by fighters from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Upward of 500,000 are dead from the war, and an untold number of Syrians have died indirectly from the conflict (the price for destroying hospitals, targeting health care professionals and using starvation as a weapon). With more than two million injured, about 11.5 percent of the prewar population have become casualties. And close to half the population of Syria is either internally or externally displaced. A 2015 survey conducted by the United Nations refugee agency looking at Syrian refugees in Greece found that a large number of adults — 86 percent — had secondary or university education. Most of them were under 35. If true, this indicates that Syria is losing the very people it will most need if there is to be any hope of rebuilding in the future.
The cost of reconstruction will be astronomical. A March 2016 study estimated that the total economic loss as a result of the conflict was $275 billion; industries across the country are decimated. Added to this will be the cost of needed repairs to infrastructure, which the International Monetary Fund estimates to be between $180 billion and $200 billion. Paying for rebuilding would require uncharacteristic generosity from the international community, but there is no reason to believe other countries would want to reward Mr. Assad for out-brutalizing the other side. His allies Russia and Iran have their own economic woes and are unlikely to be of much help.
Finally, the battle is, in reality, far from over. Neither Mr. Assad’s government nor the rebels he is fighting have achieved their goals. The opposition can no longer overthrow the regime, but an active insurgency by armed opposition elements is all but assured, backed by regional patrons, such as Saudi Arabia, which in no way wants to see its rival, Iran, sail toward complete victory. And by their very nature, insurgencies require much less state support than opposition forces trying to hold and govern territory. … Mr. Assad would oversee a government that, like Somalia’s, will reign, but not rule, over the entire country. Instead, a number of forces — the government, opposition militias, Kurdish militias, pockets of the Islamic State — will control sections of territory.

2 January
Gwynne Dyer: Reunification of Syria
(Jordan Times) All of Aleppo is back in the Syrian government’s hands; that decisive victory for President Bashar Assad and his Russian backers has been followed by a ceasefire, and the Russians are now organising a peace conference in Astana, Kazakhstan, for later this month.
The one surprise is that Turkey, long the rebels’ most important supporter, will be co-chairing the conference. This means that Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made a deal of some sort with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, for Astana is clearly going to be a Russian show. …
In terms of what a post-civil war Syria will look like, the great unanswered question is: what happens to the Syrian Kurds?
They are only one-tenth of the Syrian population, but they now control almost all the Kurdish-majority areas across northern Syria.
As America’s only ally on the ground in Syria, they played a major role in driving back Daesh.
They are not Islamists, they are not terrorists and they have avoided any military confrontation with Turkey despite Erdogan’s war on his country’s own Kurdish minority.
Yet, Erdogan publicly identifies the Syrian Kurds as Turkey’s enemy, and they have not (or at least not yet) been invited to the Astana peace conference.
Was Erdogan’s price for switching sides a free hand in destroying Rojava, the proto-state created by the Syrian Kurds? Very probably yes.
The Assad conundrum: Can you have an integral Syria without him? Can you have a healthy Syria with him?
Some argued that without his rule, radical Islamists such as ISIL would take over Syria.
By John Bell, Director of the Middle East Programme at the Toledo International Centre for Peace in Madrid. He is a former UN and Canadian diplomat, and served as Political Adviser to the Personal Representative of the UN Secretary-General for southern Lebanon and adviser to the Canadian government.
(Al Jazeera) What is it about Assad that has made him such a key issue? Some argued that without his rule, radical Islamists (ISIL, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham etc) would take over Syria.
This has not only presented a threat to Syria and its minorities, but it was a problem for Europe, Russia and beyond. As Russia, Iran and Assad have repeated: only Assad and his system can effectively keep them at bay.
The counterargument has been that it is Assad who is the very source of this terror. His rule had restricted political space and created enough anger that young men were driven to extremes.
It was also Assad that had sent radical Islamists to fight in Iraq against the American occupation, and more recently released them from his prisons, so they could feed the ranks of the extremists; that is to say, he is both arsonist and firefighter.
Hundreds of Syrians flee as Assad’s forces bomb Barada valley rebels
Mountainous region near Damascus targeted with days of airstrikes and shelling despite nationwide ceasefire.
The truce went into effect early on Friday, and the government and the opposition are expected to meet for talks in Kazakhstan later this month. Russia, a key military ally of Assad, and Turkey, a leading sponsor of the rebels, are acting as guarantors of the agreement, which excludes the al-Qaida-linked Fatah al-Sham Front and Islamic State.
… the Barada valley region was not part of the ceasefire because of the presence of Fatah al-Sham Front, formerly known as the Nusra Front, and government forces and allied fighters were engaged in fierce clashes with rebels. “Regime forces and fighters from Lebanon’s Hezbollah group are advancing in the region and are now on the outskirts of Ain al-Fijeh, the primary water source in the area.”

One Comment on "Syria 2017 – 2018"

  1. Albert Trotter April 9, 2017 at 11:29 am · Reply

    i think trump is the most harsh president the world has seen yet…chemical bombing in Syria killed lots of innocents ,we all should stand against war…
    just see the video of this innocent poet
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-04-08/poet-amal-kassir-loses-10-relatives-in-syria-bombing/8427688

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