Syria 2016

Written by  //  December 28, 2016  //  Geopolitics, Syria  //  1 Comment

See also Russia in 2016
Syria 2015
Devastation: Why refugees are risking everything to come to Europe

A meticulous and horrifying account
Ben Taub: The Assad Files
Capturing the top-secret documents that tie the Syrian regime to mass torture and killings.
(The New Yorker April 18 issue) The commission’s work recently culminated in a four-hundred-page legal brief that links the systematic torture and murder of tens of thousands of Syrians to a written policy approved by President Bashar al-Assad, coördinated among his security-intelligence agencies, and implemented by regime operatives, who reported the successes of their campaign to their superiors in Damascus. The brief narrates daily events in Syria through the eyes of Assad and his associates and their victims, and offers a record of state-sponsored torture that is almost unimaginable in its scope and its cruelty. Such acts had been reported by survivors in Syria before, but they had never been traced back to signed orders. Stephen Rapp, who led prosecution teams at the international criminal tribunals in Rwanda and Sierra Leone before serving for six years as the United States Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues, told me that the CIJA’s documentation “is much richer than anything I’ve seen, and anything I’ve prosecuted in this area.”

28 December
What it means that the U.S. is not part of the Syria cease-fire
Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said today the incoming Trump administration would be welcome to join the peace talks in Kazakstan.
(PBS)… Other groups are excluded, the Islamic State, which controls a swathe of Syria, the al-Qaida offshoot Jabhat Al-Fateh Al-Sham in the northwest, and the Kurdish militia YPG battling Islamic State’s forces in cooperation with the U.S.
Iran is also a major ally of the Assad government, and is expected to be involved in peace talks. Absent entirely from the negotiations, the United States. Three years of talks between Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, produced a number of cease-fires, but they didn’t hold.
Instead, 15 months ago, Russia launched a fierce bombing campaign to bolster the Syrian regime. Earlier this month, the rebel stronghold in Eastern Aleppo finally fell.
Nonetheless, the State Department voiced support for the truce today, saying: “:Any effort that stops the violence, saves lives, and creates the conditions for political negotiations would be welcome.”
Another Ceasefire: Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that a new ceasefire had been reached between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and seven rebel factions who oppose him. Little is known about the details of the truce, which is slated to begin Friday under joint monitoring by Russia and Turkey. Past ceasefire attempts have failed, and Putin himself acknowledged that the conditions for this one are “fragile.”

22 December
Smoke over Aleppo during fighting between Syrian regime forces and rebel fighters earlier this month.
Photograph: Youssef Karwashan/AFP/Getty Images

The Fall of Rebel-Held Aleppo: The Syrian government has taken full control of the city of Aleppo, marking a turning point in the country’s civil war, which has claimed the lives of nearly half a million people in the last six years. After months of bombing and ground operations, President Bashar al-Assad’s forces evacuated civilians and fighters from the final rebel-held parts of Aleppo, which the rebels first captured in 2012. Thousands of people were transported out of the city this month, leaving behind rubble that was once a bustling city.
16 December
The Cynical Horror of Assad and Aleppo
This is not civil war; this is war on civilians.
(Foreign Policy) Thus far, 500,000 Syrians have been slaughtered, 6 million people displaced internally, and another 5 million forced to flee as refugees across the border. This is the textbook definition of genocide.
Assad’s victory will come back to haunt the international community. Our generation looks back today and asks how the world could have allowed the horrors of the Nazis. In Syria, we have found the answer, and history will judge us harshly for it.
Assad’s Lesson From Aleppo: Force Works, With Few Consequences
By Ben Hubbard
(NYT) For months, the bodies have been piling up in eastern Aleppo as the buildings have come down, pulverized by Syrian and Russian jets, burying residents who could not flee in avalanches of bricks and mortar.
And now it is almost over, not because diplomats reached a deal in Geneva, but because President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and his foreign allies have won the city. Cold, hungry and scarred by the deaths of loved ones, tens of thousands of civilians and fighters are awaiting buses to take them from their homes to uncertain futures.
It is not the first victory that Mr. Assad has secured with overwhelming force in the Syrian conflict. But his subjugation of eastern Aleppo has echoed across the Middle East and beyond, rattling alliances, proving the effectiveness of violence and highlighting the reluctance of many countries, perhaps most notably the United States, to get involved.
15 December
Evacuation of eastern Aleppo underway
Buses return from rebel-held territory after earlier coming under fire
(Reuters via CBC) A line of buses and ambulances snaked into, and out of, eastern Aleppo as efforts to evacuate people from the rebel-held eastern areas of the besieged Syrian city finally got underway on Thursday.
Syrian state TV showed the convoy of ambulances followed by a long line of green buses driving from the Ramousah district, which borders the rebel enclave.

Those same buses were seen on webcams, set up by the Russian military, as they rolled through eastern Aleppo, which has been besieged for months by Syrian government forces and allies including Moscow. “We saw women and small children on the buses and some men,” said Elizabeth Hoff, the representative in Syria for the World Health Organization. “Everything went very smoothly. It was very calm.”It’s not clear how many people are being moved. The International Committee of the Red Cross at one point said it would bring out some 200 wounded — far fewer than the capacity of the convoy, which comprises about 30 vehicles — while Russia told the United Nations it was looking to move more than 1,000 people.
A UN official said there could be 30,000 left in the small and crowded enclave. Syria humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland said the UN is working to establish if it had been wrong to say that 250,000 were trapped there until about a month ago.
13 December

Aleppo: Syria rebels reach evacuation deal with government

Buses reportedly set to begin carrying fighters and civilians out of embattled city amid reports of summary executions.
(Al Jazeera) An agreement for the imminent evacuation of civilians and opposition fighters from east Aleppo in Syria has been reached, according to rebel officials.
After weeks of heavy fighting, government forces took full control of Aleppo on Tuesday, dealing the biggest blow to Syria’s uprising in more than five years of civil war.
Russia’s UN ambasador announced late in the evening that all military action in east Aleppo had come to a halt and that the Syrian government was in control of the area.

The Battle for Aleppo, Syria’s Stalingrad, Ends

(The New Yorker) Aleppo has been part of human history for some five thousand years. Abraham is said to have grazed his sheep on its slopes and donated their milk to the local poor. Alexander the Great founded a Hellenic settlement there. The city is cited in the Book of Samuel and Psalm 60, and for centuries its residents reflected the three great Abrahamic faiths. It was at one end of the ancient Silk Road, and a major metropolis in the many empires that conquered and ruled the region. Its medieval Citadel, pivotal during the Crusades, is one of the world’s oldest and largest castles. More recently, Shakespeare referred to Aleppo in both “Macbeth and “Othello.”
The Battle of Aleppo, which since 2012 has pitted the despotic government of President Bashar al-Assad against an array of disorganized opposition rebels, now appears to be over. A deal to allow the safe passage of the last opposition fighters, their families, and any civilians who want to leave—an end to the agony—was brokered Tuesday by Russia and Turkey. “All militants, together with members of their family and the injured, currently are going through agreed corridors in directions that they have chosen themselves voluntarily,” Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told the U.N. Security Council. …
Assad’s restored grip over Syria’s commercial hub—its New York—does not end the war. Far from it. The Syrian conflict has been increasingly multilayered. A variety of rebel groups—some nationalist, some local, some non-ideological, and some Islamist, including the most potent Al Qaeda branch, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham—still hold Idlib Province, in the northwest. Assad and his foreign backers are likely to try to win it back next. It may prove harder than Aleppo. Assad’s army surrounded Aleppo and cut off its roads to Turkey, which had allowed the rebels to resupply and rearm. It will be much more difficult to do that in Idlib, on the Turkish border. Turkey would have to reverse its longstanding opposition to Assad and turn its back on the rebels.
A separate war is playing out in the northeast, along the Iraq border, which has been occupied, since late 2013, by the Islamic State. Much of the fighting there pits ISIS against other Syrian rebels. ISIS has lost almost thirty per cent of its turf under pressure from the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-heavy militia, backed by punishing U.S. airpower. ISIS fighters have fought Assad’s army in fewer places, such as Palmyra, in the central Syrian desert, which ISIS captured in May, 2015. The Syrian Army won it back in March. This weekend, though, ISIS proved that it can still surprise. As Assad’s army ground away at Aleppo, ISIS recaptured Palmyra. Damascus was stunned.

Aleppo Is Falling

How Assad and Russia achieved a major victory at a devastating cost
(The Atlantic)
Reports from Aleppo have been particularly harrowing for the past month, as Syrian government forces, supported by Russian airstrikes and Iranian-backed militias, have squeezed the remaining rebels out of the eastern portion of the city. The collapse seemed to come all at once, with fighters loyal to Bashar al-Assad making more territorial gains in the city’s rebel enclaves since mid-November than they had in the previous four years since the opposition first seized it.
As the offensive reached its final stages this week, the United Nations received reports of massacres of civilians; a spokesman for the UN high commissioner for human rights said women and children had been shot trying to flee.
The speed of recent advances has obscured the slower-moving crisis that’s been building in the city for much of the past year. In February, the Syrian army and its allies came close to encircling the rebel enclave entirely; those areas, and the civilians in them, have under varying degrees of siege nearly ever since, with food and medical supplies dwindling. It’s a tactic Assad has used to retake territory elsewhere in the country. One of eastern Aleppo’s last pediatricians was killed there in May; its last working hospital was bombed out of service in November. Ahead of Tuesday’s ceasefire and evacuation deal——confirmed by both the rebels and the Russianspeople trapped in the city’s shrinking rebel territory gave desperate accounts to journalists and on social media. A resident said via text message to The New York Times and other outlets: “All of us are waiting, dying now in the last neighborhoods.” Another told The Washington Post: “We’re in a very tiny area, and there are so many families stuck here. … Either they can’t leave because they are wanted by the government, or they don’t want to leave because this is their home.” A journalist in eastern Aleppo wrote at Al Jazeera: “We are all praying for rain. When it rains, the planes can’t fly and the bombardment stops for a short while.”
Fight for Aleppo is almost over – but a new chapter of misery begins
Assad and his allies show no sign that they will be merciful towards the vanquished, as the Damascus regime enters a tricky phase
(The Guardian) Aleppo will be cleansed of the the anti-Assad opposition and anyone who sympathised with it. Those who do flee, or who win the mercy of the conquerors will face exile, likely in Idlib province, a bastion of the latest incarnation of the al-Qaida inspired Jabhat al-Nusra, which is prescribed as a terrorist group by all of the war’s protagonists.
Idlib will hardly be a refuge. After Aleppo, it will be the last urban stronghold – except for Isis-held Raqqa – outside regime control. Rebel communities from other defeated corners of Syria have already been sent there after regime victories, where they have continued to be bombed by Russian and Syrian jets.
The presence of jihadis offers the perfect pretext for the attacks to continue – their conflation with the rebels has been a constant theme of the regime narrative that it is fighting terrorist groups. Having them all mixed together serves such messaging usefully and portends poorly for the vanquished.
11 December
ISIS re-captures ancient city of Palmyra from Syrian government forces
Militants appeared to take advantage of government, Russia fighting rebels in Aleppo
(CBC) Over the last year, ISIS has suffered a string of defeats in both Syria and Iraq, losing several towns and cities it had captured in 2014. It is now under attack in Mosul, the last major urban centre it controls in Iraq. A Kurdish-led Syrian force, backed by the U.S., is also pushing toward Raqqa, the group’s de-facto capital in Syria, from the north. Meanwhile, Turkey is backing Syrian opposition fighters who have reached the outskirts of al-Bab, the IS stronghold in northern Syria
In going for Palmyra, ISIS picked a soft target to demonstrate that despite its battlefield losses, it retains the ability to carry out large attacks.
Mohammed Hassan al-Homsi, a native of the city who runs Palmyra News Network, said ISIS is steering away from north Syria where the anti-ISIS international coalition and Turkey have focused their fight. With its losses in Iraq and elsewhere in Syria, the militants are eyeing new terrain. They chose Palmyra for its desert terrain linked to Iraq’s and its surrounding oil and gas fields, al-Homsi said.
State news agency SANA, quoting an unnamed military official, reported that the militant group received reinforcements from Raqqa, enabling it to attack with “large numbers” against military checkpoints around the city.
10 December
Diplomats urge Russia and Assad to show grace in Aleppo victory
Leaders resigned to fall of Syrian city plead for safe passage for civilians and mercy for rebel fighters
(The Guardian) A meeting of US, European and Arab foreign ministers as well as Syrian opposition leaders in Paris on Saturday appeared resigned to what the UN called the “last steps” in the fall of Aleppo, seen as the biggest defeat for anti-Assad forces since the conflict broke out in 2011.
Russia claimed tens of thousands of people had left the city in the past three days during a “humanitarian pause”, but on Saturday the east of the city was under bombardment. The UK foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, and the US secretary of state, John Kerry, were among the powers in Paris calling for civilians to be evacuated and condemning Assad’s “indiscriminate” bombing as a crime against humanity.
9 December
White Helmets visit Montreal to discuss harrowing work in Syria
(CTV) Amid Syria’s brutal civil war, a team of brave volunteers are risking their lives to provide life-saving emergency aid to those living through the chaos.
The White Helmets, also known as the Syrian Civil Defence, are a group of nearly 3,000 unarmed volunteers who work daily to rescue those injured in the country’s ongoing bombings. Since it formed in 2013, the group estimates it has saved more than 73,530 lives.
Members of the group visited Concordia University in Montreal Thursday to discuss their harrowing but important work. The event coincided with a screening of the 40-minute Netflix documentary “The White Helmets,” directed by Oscar-nominated director Orlando von Einsiedel.
The group was expected to remain in Canada for several days for more screenings, but returned to Syria early to resume their work.
8 December
Syria’s war: What went wrong in east Aleppo?
The collapse of the armed opposition in Aleppo has removed the major military threats to regime advancement.
(Al Jazeera) There were no restrictions or limitations to the extent of destruction wrought on Aleppo and the approach of full military force is unlikely to change.
The strategy has been validated by sustained territorial gains and the collective indifference of most of the world. Most importantly, however, was the decimation of armed groups’ capacity and their increasing inability to resist regime-led advances.
7 December
Syria: Assad loyalists take Aleppo’s Old City as rebels plead for ceasefire
Pro-government forces are closest they have ever been to seizing entire city as rebels beg for five day ceasefire to allow civilians to leave
The Old City had remained a centre of gravity for the opposition since its fighters, a combination of Aleppo locals and residents of the surrounding countryside, overran security forces in July 2012. Its proximity to Syrian army positions and the ancient Citadel that stands at its heart had made it less of a target for Russian and Syrian jets that have bombed much of the rest of east Aleppo into ruins in preparation for the ground offensive.
The advance, which has been led by Iraqi groups and Hezbollah from Lebanon, both backed by Iran, has laid waste to much of the Old City’s approaches and cut off opposition routes to elsewhere in the east, which has seen fierce fighting this week. Up to 75% of east Aleppo is now under the control of loyalist forces, who say they could claim the rest of the city within one week. …
Aleppo’s unrelenting misery has exposed the powerlessness of the international community to stop the suffering and Monday’s statement marked a rare attempt by global leaders to collectively shift debate about the conflict outside of the UN Security Council, where permanent members Russia and China have blocked measures aimed at Assad over the past five years.
Syrian troops in control of Aleppo’s Old City after rebels withdraw
(The Guardian) Army now holds all areas east of historic citadel three weeks into operation to recapture city after rebels pull out overnight
Syrian government forces control all of Aleppo’s historic Old City after rebel fighters withdrew in the face of army advances overnight, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said.
The army and allied forces hold more than 75% of east Aleppo, a rebel bastion since 2012, three weeks into their operation to capture all of the country’s second city.
At least 80,000 people have fled east Aleppo since the Syrian army operation began, the Observatory said. The figure included residents who have sought refuge in the government-held west, and a Kurdish-controlled enclave between the two sectors.

5 December

Smoke rises after air strikes on rebel-controlled besieged eastern Aleppo, Syria December 5, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

Smoke rises after air strikes on rebel-controlled besieged eastern Aleppo, Syria December 5, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

Russia says to start talks with U.S. on Aleppo rebel withdrawal
(Reuters) The Russian government said on Monday it would start talks with Washington on a rebel withdrawal from Aleppo this week as Russian-backed Syrian forces fought to seize more territory from rebels who are struggling to avoid a major defeat.
The latest army attack, which saw fierce clashes around the Old City, aims to cut off another area of rebel control in eastern Aleppo and tighten the noose on opposition-held districts where tens of thousands of people are trapped.
Advances in recent weeks have brought Damascus, backed militarily by Russia, Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, closer to recapturing Syria’s second largest city before the nearly six-year war and a prize long sought by President Bashar al-Assad.
While the rebels have said they will not leave, one opposition official, who declined to be identified, conceded they may have no alternative for the sake of civilians who have been under siege for five months and faced relentless government bombardments.
29 November
Exodus as Syria rebels lose northeast Aleppo
Rebels lose northern neighbourhoods in besieged east as army and allies advance in offensive to take entire city.
(Al Jazeera) The loss of eastern Aleppo would be a potentially devastating blow to Syria’s rebels, who seized the area in 2012.
The opposition has steadily lost territory since Russia intervened to bolster President Bashar al-Assad in September 2015.
On Monday, government forces seized the Sakhour, Haydariya and Sheikh Khodr districts, and Kurdish fighters took the Sheikh Fares neighbourhood from rebels, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.
“This is their (the rebels’) worst defeat since they seized half the city in 2012,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.
The advances left all of northeast Aleppo under government control.
East Aleppo-based journalist Zouhir al-Shimale told Al Jazeera that there was a “constant collapse” as rebel-held neighbourhoods continued to fall to government forces.
For Bashar al-Assad, Winning the Syrian War May Lead to New Troubles
(NYT) Ryan C. Crocker, a veteran diplomat in the Middle East, including in Lebanon, Syria, Kuwait and Iraq, where he served as an American ambassador, said he believed that the fighting in Syria would go on for years because once the Assad government had taken the cities, the insurgents would hide in the countryside.
“The Lebanon civil war is a comparison worth looking at,” he said. “It was long, hot and mean, and it took 15 years to end and it only ended because the Syrians moved into Lebanon and stopped it.” …
“The Russian and Iranian intervention has completely changed the dynamic for Assad,” said Robert S. Ford, a former American ambassador to Syria and now a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute.
“So Assad stays there and the Russians and Iranians prevail, but they govern over a half-dead corpse, and Syria is just this gaping wound that stretches as far as the eye can see,” Mr. Ford said.
Mr. Assad would also be beholden to his two sponsors, Russia and Iran, reviled by many of his own citizens in the Sunni-majority country and rejected by some of the main Sunni powers in the Middle East.
17 November
(The Atlantic) All Eyes on Aleppo: Trump will face another major challenge in Syria, where at least 25 people have been killed since Syrian and Russian forces renewed their offensive this week, destroying several buildings, including a children’s hospital and a blood-donation bank. Eastern Aleppo remains one of the last major strongholds of Syrian rebels, some of whom are supported by the U.S. Though the U.S. and Russia have stood on opposite sides of the Syrian conflict, that may change with Trump’s presidency: a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said the two leaders share a “phenomenally similar” foreign policy outlook.
25 October
What the Syrian Kurds Have Wrought
The radical, unlikely, democratic experiment in northern Syria
Si Sheppard travelled to northern Syria where a radical democratic experiment is underway in the city of Rojava. Syrian Kurds have established a pluralistic haven in the war-torn region, where women are embraced as equals and all ethnicities are welcome. The garrison state’s future is uncertain, however, as neighbouring states grow hostile to its Western principles.
(The Atlantic) …  the operation to liberate Mosul from the Islamic State (ISIS) has begun. As an unlikely and uneasy coalition of the Iraqi Army, Shia militias, and Kurdish peshmerga grinds toward the city, all under the aegis of American airpower, civilians caught in the crossfire are fleeing for safety. The lucky ones have found an unlikely haven in neighboring Syria, a place hardly synonymous with physical well-being in the popular imagination. But there is one pocket of the country where the desperate and dispossessed are still welcome. This is Rojava, where the Kurds have established a relative oasis of security and opportunity in a desert of anarchy and oppression. With their backs against the wall, they rescued the Yazidis of Sinjar from annihilation by ISIS, and have sheltered refugees through years of civil war in Syria and Iraq. Now, they’ve opened their arms to those fleeing Mosul.
Rojava comprises the three Kurdish-majority cantons of northern Syria: Afrin in the west and Cizire and Kobani in the east, separated by a bloc of ISIS- (and now Turkish-) controlled territory—a fertile, oil-rich region, but landlocked and hamstrung by a near-total economic embargo.
Rojava is a garrison state, under siege on a daily basis, militarily, economically, and diplomatically. In the struggle for survival, harsh choices have been made on the battlefield, and there are legitimate questions about the actual extent of journalistic and political freedoms within the cantons. But these are not arguments against closer relations. Compared to the rest of the Levant, Rojava is already a veritable nirvana. The longer it is isolated the greater the risk of enabling authoritarian tendencies.
Moscow denies Russian or Syrian air strikes on Aleppo in past week
Russia said on Tuesday Russian and Syrian military planes had not launched air strikes on Aleppo since Moscow said it was suspending bombing seven days ago, contradicting reports that air strikes in some areas of the city resumed on Saturday.
Defence ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov said Russian and Syrian planes had not even approached, let alone bombed, the devastated city since last Tuesday when Russia suspended air strikes ahead of a pause in hostilities.
“Flights over Aleppo by the Russian and Syrian air forces have been completely halted for the last seven days,” said Konashenkov in a statement.
He said six humanitarian corridors in eastern Aleppo, which opened as the 48-hour ceasefire began on Thursday, were still operating. Around 50 women and children had left the city late on Monday escorted by Russian military officers, Konashenkov said.
23 October
Syria: heavy clashes mark end of Aleppo ceasefire
UN unable to evacuate wounded civilians from rebel-held areas of the beleaguered city during three-day pause in fighting
Neither rebels nor residents of opposition-held districts heeded calls from Syria’s army and Moscow to leave during the ceasefire, after weeks of devastating bombardment and a three-month government siege.
Syrian state media and Russian authorities have accused rebel forces of preventing civilians from leaving and of using them as human shields.
Almost 500 people have been killed and more than 2,000 civilians wounded since the army launched its offensive to drive the rebels out of the eastern districts they have held since 2012.
The UN had hoped to use the ceasefire to evacuate seriously wounded people and possibly deliver aid. But a UN official said on Saturday the requisite security guarantees had not been received.
“You have various parties to the conflict and those with influence and they all have to be on the same page on this and they are not,” said David Swanson, a spokesman for the UN humanitarian office.
No additional aid was delivered, leaving the beleaguered rebel-held eastern part of the city without any immediate sign of western help. No aid has entered Aleppo since 7 July and food rations will run out by the end of the month, the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, has warned.
Ground down by savagery – the agony of Aleppo
Since the Guardian’s Middle East correspondent first visited east Aleppo in 2012, the Syrian war has exacted a brutal toll. Assad’s forces, ruthless jihadists and Russian bombs have killed or displaced most of its population. After 3,000 years of history, the city is on its knees Destruction in Aleppo – in pictures
22 October
The UN Human Rights Council is holding a special session on Aleppo. The UN human-rights chief has told the meeting war crimes are being committed in the besieged Syrian city and called for the International Criminal Court to get involved. Rebels have rejected a unilateral ceasefire that the Syrian military announced yesterday.
20 October
Turkey bombs Syrian Kurdish militia allied to U.S.-backed force
(Reuters) Turkish air strikes pounded a group of Kurdish fighters allied to a U.S.-backed militia in northern Syria overnight, highlighting the conflicting agendas of NATO members Ankara and Washington in an increasingly complex battlefield.
The jets targeted positions of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in three villages, northeast of the city of Aleppo, that the SDF had captured from Islamic State, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said late on Wednesday.
The Turkish military confirmed its warplanes had carried out 26 strikes on areas recently taken by the Kurdish YPG militia, the strongest force in the SDF, and that it had killed between 160 and 200 combatants.
… The United States has backed the Kurdish-led forces in their fight against Islamic State, infuriating Ankara, which sees the YPG as an extension of Kurdish PKK militants who have waged a three-decade insurgency in southeastern Turkey.
The United States has backed the Kurdish-led forces in their fight against Islamic State, infuriating Ankara, which sees the YPG as an extension of Kurdish PKK militants who have waged a three-decade insurgency in southeastern Turkey.
Turkey fears the YPG will try to connect three de facto autonomous Kurdish cantons that have emerged during the five-year war to create a Kurdish-run enclave in northern Syria, stoking the separatist ambitions of Kurds on its own soil.
(Al Jazeera) Tensions between Turkey and the US have increased over the YPG, but Ankara has repeatedly said it will not allow a “terror corridor” on its southern border and wants to prevent the joining of the Kurdish “cantons” of Afrin and Kobane.
“It will be interesting to see what the United States has to say about the attack Turkey has carried out on the force [the US] sees as effective in fighting ISIL in Syria ,” said Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Adow, reporting from Gaziantep – a Turkish border town near Syria.
19 October
Syrian forces prepare to open corridors out of Aleppo
(CTV) Hundreds of residents left a formerly rebel-controlled suburb of the Syrian capital of Damascus Wednesday, as government and Russian forces prepared to open corridors out of the contested city of Aleppo in the hopes of facilitating an exodus from its rebel-held quarters.
Aleppo’s besieged eastern quarters experienced relative peace for the second consecutive day in the run-up to the hoped-for evacuation Thursday, after weeks of bombardment left the area in ruins. Russia’s military has promised two corridors will be opened for militants to flee to the neighbouring rebel-held province of Idlib, between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m, while other corridors will allow civilians to move to government-held areas.
The government’s overture to rebels and civilians trapped in Aleppo’s east follows a pattern of evacuations around the country that the UN has likened to “forced displacement.” On Wednesday, some 2,000 residents of the once autonomous Moadamiyeh suburb of Damascus were carried by government buses to Idlib as part of an arrangement to restore government control after three years of siege at the hands of the military.
18 October

People walk past damaged buildings in the rebel-held Tariq al-Bab neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria, October 5, 2016. To match Insight MIDEAST-CRISIS/SYRIA-ALEPPO REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail NYTCREDIT: Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters

People walk past damaged buildings in the rebel-held Tariq al-Bab neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria, October 5, 2016. To match Insight MIDEAST-CRISIS/SYRIA-ALEPPO REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail
NYTCREDIT: Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters

How the Battle for Aleppo Is Taking Syria’s War to a New Low
More than 370 people have been killed and more than 1,200 wounded, the United Nations says, since the collapse of a brief cease-fire last month. Bakeries, schools and hospitals have been attacked.
In many cases a second round of strikes will target ambulances and rescue workers after an attack, often halting or delaying the search for victims in the rubble
Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations special envoy for Syria, had warned that if the bombardment continued, the eastern half of the city “may be totally destroyed” by Christmas.
11 October
Syria: A Humanitarian and Foreign Policy Disaster
By David T. Jones
The time has come for “sauve qui peut”—save what can be salvaged.
We need to create a “no fly” zone and a safe area/corridor for Aleppo survivors to depart. This will have to be monitored by a multinational cadre of U.N.-authorized peacekeepers. It will also require a massive/expensive humanitarian effort to provide safety and shelter for those departing—without creating safe haven for the remaining rebels who might mix with the refugees. Both candidates for the U.S. vice presidency endorsed the proposal during their Oct. 4 debate.
Such an action would implicitly re-recognize al-Assad’s legitimacy and step back from military engagement to focus on defeating Daesh in Iraq. We must take comfort in the reality that nobody wins them all.
Hon. David Kilgour: The West Abandons the Syrians
The U.S. and its coalition partners should issue a no-fly ultimatum to al-Assad and be prepared to follow through. If Putin continues bombing, he should know that his aircraft will be at risk. Safe zones are badly needed for Syrian civilians; we must protect them against violations by al-Assad, Putin, and other extremists. More robust military assistance is certainly needed for the vetted Syrian opposition groups fighting al-Assad.
Russia renews heavy bombing of Syria’s Aleppo
(Daily Mail) Regime ally Russia carried out its heaviest strikes in days on Syria’s Aleppo Tuesday, as at least five children were killed in rebel fire on a school in the war-torn country’s south.
The raids killed 16 civilians, a monitor said, and caused massive damage in several residential areas of the city’s rebel-held east.
Putin cancels France trip amid rift over Syria
(Al Jazeera) Decision comes amid deteriorating ties between Moscow and the West, as France pushes for end to Aleppo onslaught..
7 October
Syria conflict: US calls for Russia and Syria war crimes probe
(BBC) Moscow has repeatedly denied attacking civilians, and said it targets terrorist groups in Syria.
Mr. Kerry, however, said Russian and Syrian government attacks on hospitals were “beyond the accidental” and part of a deliberate strategy in war-torn Syria.
“This is a targeted strategy to terrorise civilians and to kill anybody and everybody who is in the way of their military objectives,” he said.
6 October
UN envoy warns east Aleppo faces ‘total destruction’
(Al Jazeera & Reuters) Staffan de Mistura offers to personally escort rebel fighters out of Aleppo to help save 275,000 trapped civilians.
He said history would judge Syria and Russia if they used the presence of about 900 Fateh al-Sham fighters as an “easy alibi” for destroying the rebel-held besieged area, killing thousands of the 275,000 citizens, 100,000 of whom are children.
De Mistura said there were a maximum of 8,000 rebels in eastern Aleppo. Many ex-Nusra fighters left before the area was encircled and no more than 900 remain, he said, before addressing them directly.”If you did decide to leave, in dignity with your weapons, to Idlib or anywhere you wanted to go, I personally am ready, physically ready, to accompany you,” he said. “I can’t guarantee more than my own personality and body.”
On the ground, Syrian government forces seized about half of a key opposition-held neighbourhood in Aleppo on Thursday in a new advance against rebels, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.
UN Syria envoy Mistura: East Aleppo may be ‘totally destroyed’ by end of year
(Deutsche Welle) UN’s Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura says if Syria and Russia do not agree to halt fighting in Aleppo, “history will judge them.” The comments came as the Syrian army announced a reduction in airstrikes on eastern Aleppo.
5 October
The Guardian view on the Nobel peace prize: give it to Syria’s White Helmets
(Editorial) In Aleppo and elsewhere, 3,000 local volunteers try to rescue the victims of mass bombing raids – at great risk to their own lives. They deserve global recognition
Rebels fend off Aleppo assault as nations seek to rebuild peace process
(Reuters) Syrian rebels said on Tuesday they had repelled an army offensive in southern Aleppo as Russian and Syrian warplanes pounded residential areas, while nations spoke of rebuilding a peace process the United States broke off this week.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who announced on Monday that Washington was suspending talks with Moscow due to Russia’s role in the offensive, said peace efforts must carry on.
Turkey, long one of the main foes of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad but which has lately repaired its damaged ties with his ally Russia, said it planned to make a proposal to Washington and Moscow to resurrect a ceasefire that collapsed last month.
Syria: White House Warns of ‘Actions’ If Russia Won’t Negotiate
(NBC) President Obama faces an increasingly stark choice in Syria — he can order American military action or watch thousands of women and children die as the rebel stronghold of Aleppo falls.
So far, he has shown no willingness to launch a U.S. military response, but White House officials told NBC News Monday they are now considering escalating the U.S. involvement in Syria’s civil war, including unspecified “actions…that would further underscore the consequences of not coming back to the negotiating table.”
Aleppo then and now: What 5 years of civil war has wrought
(The Atlantic) After bilateral talks with Russia failed to restore a collapsed ceasefire in Syria or reduce the violence long enough for aid to reach civilians, the U.S. has, for now, given up trying to negotiate. The suspension of talks comes amid a period of devastating violence in Aleppo—a situation that could finally push the West to intervene. But in Damascus, some powerful people have found a way to profit from the wartime economy, giving them little incentive to help the conflict stop.
2 October
syria-map-aleppoSyrian army advances as ‘Aleppo carnage’ sparks fury
Pro-Assad forces and their allies push forward in Aleppo offensive as international outrage grows over ferocious raids.
(Al Jazeera) Dozens of Russian and Syrian government air strikes continued pounding the devastated city overnight, targeting battlefronts and residential neighbourhoods, according to activists. At least six people were killed in the raids on Sunday morning, activists told Al Jazeera.
Aleppo hospital raid: Ex-Assad classmate speaks out
Zaher Sahloul, who attended medical school with the now-Syrian president, accuses his ex-classmate of war crimes.
Saturday’s attack on the facility, known as M10, was the second in just three days and the eighth over the past month, according to activists. Before the latest bombardment, carried out by either Syrian government or Russian warplanes, only half of the hospital was operational.
Now, it is completely out of service.
At least 750 medical personnel have died in Syria since the beginning of the conflict more than five years ago, according to Physicians for Human Rights. The group said in August it had documented 373 attacks on 265 medical facilities.
26 September
World powers admit political solution to Syrian war might not be possible: Derek Stoffel
(CBC) a new reality is descending on Syria: the long-held belief that the conflict there will only end with a political solution might not hold true.
Russia now says the conflict is simply too complex to expect a peaceful settlement. The British have concluded that efforts to bring another ceasefire to Syria have failed.
24 September
‘From Paradise to Hell’: How an Aid Convoy in Syria Was Blown Apart
Interviews with aid workers, rescuers and residents, along with video and photographic evidence, point to a coordinated attack by Russian or Syrian aircraft, probably both.
(NYT) Diplomacy has failed, bombardment has escalated, and now even the small group of committed Syrians who were just trying to help the helpless on all sides heal and have something to eat had come under attack. At a time when attacks on aid workers have intensified worldwide, this established a new, awful precedent, in a five-year war littered with war crimes.
23 September
‘Doomsday Today in Aleppo’: Assad and Russian Forces Bombard City
Syria’s war escalated abruptly on Friday as government forces and their Russian allies launched ferocious aerial assaults on opposition-held areas of Aleppo amid threats of a big ground offensive, while efforts at the United Nations to revive a cease-fire appeared to collapse.
Repeated airstrikes that obliterated buildings and engulfed neighborhoods in flames killed about 100 people in Aleppo, the divided northern Syrian city that has epitomized the horrors of the war, turning the brief cease-fire of last week and hopes for humanitarian relief into faint memories. The bombings knocked out running water to an estimated two million people, the United Nations said.
(Quartz) The US abandoned Syria truce efforts. After a meeting in New York with the International Syria Support Group, secretary of state John Kerry said it was pointless to continue without a “major gesture” from Moscow, such as persuading Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to stop the violence. In an interview, Assad blamed the US for the recent failed ceasefire.
Syria And John Kerry’s Bombshell: A Moment Of Truth Or A Passing Outburst?
By Raghida Dergham Columnist and Senior Diplomatic Correspondent, Al Hayat
(WorldPost) John Kerry demanded Russia to stop Syrian regime air sorties in the main areas subject to the ceasefire in northern Syria during a rowdy session of the Security Council, which saw a row between Kerry and Lavrov. The Russian FM protested what he said were preconditions from the American side, to which Kerry responded by saying that refraining from bombing hospitals, civilians, and aid convoys were not preconditions, but were an international agreement being violated repeatedly. Kerry asked how some could sit at the table and talk while the Syrian regime was bombing its own people using chemical weapons.
… The US and Russian diplomacies will no doubt try to address the tension in the bilateral relationship, because the issues in which they are both involved are not limited to Syria. The relationship will be mended, at least on the surface, because the two nations are keen to pursue their necessary partnership especially in Syria.
The danger therefore lies in the terms under which the relationship will be mended. As long as the two countries place their bilateral relationship above all other considerations, Syria will remain collateral damage.
21 September
Obama Administration Considers Arming Syrian Kurds Against ISIS
(NYT) The Obama administration is weighing a military plan to directly arm Syrian Kurdish fighters combating the Islamic State, a major policy shift that could speed up the offensive against the terrorist group but also sharply escalate tensions between Turkey and the United States.
The plan has been under discussion by the National Security Council staff at a moment when President Obama has directed aides to examine all proposals that could accelerate the fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. Mr. Obama has told aides that he wants an offensive well underway before he leaves office that is aimed at routing the Islamic State from Raqqa, the group’s de facto capital in northern Syria.
20 September
(Quartz) The US blamed Russia for an attack on a UN aid convoy in Syria. Twelve people were killed and 18 trucks of food destined for thousands of stranded civilians were destroyed en route to a rebel-held area near Aleppo on Monday. The US said it held Russia responsible for the attack, saying it was Moscow’s job to rein in Syrian government forces. The week-long ceasefire collapsed on Monday.
Russia-Syria deny carrying out deadly aid convoy attack
(Al Jazeera) UN halts all aid deliveries after attack destroys 18 trucks in rebel-held northern Aleppo and kills at least 20 people.
Russia-Syria deny carrying out deadly aid convoy attack
UN halts all aid deliveries after attack destroys 18 trucks in rebel-held northern Aleppo and kills at least 20 people.
U.S. Officials Say Russia May Have Been Responsible for Convoy Attack
(NYT) The Obama administration thinks there is a high probability that Russian airstrikes were responsible for the deadly bombing of a United Nations humanitarian aid convoy, United States officials said Tuesday.
The officials said that the administration wanted to allow Moscow the time and space to investigate and announce its own conclusions about the bombing on Monday, which destroyed much of a 31-truck convoy that had been authorized to travel to a rebel-held area in northern Syria.
US blames Russia after UN aid convoy in Syria targeted by air attack
(The Guardian) UN official says ‘inexplicable’ attack could amount to a war crime if bombing which killed aid workers proved to be deliberate
14 September
Aid for Syria waits on Turkish border as warring sides bicker
(Reuters) Two convoys of aid for the Syrian city of Aleppo were waiting in no-man’s land on Wednesday after crossing the Turkish border, held up by security fears and disagreements between combatants on the third day of a ceasefire.
The Syrian government has said it will reject any aid deliveries to the city not coordinated through itself and the United Nations, particularly from Turkey, which has backed the rebels fighting Assad.
The U.N. says it must get permission for most of its aid deliveries from Damascus. The U.N. has repeatedly criticized the Syrian government for restricting access, especially to besieged areas, and for removing vital items from convoys.
As a result, most supplies to opposition-held areas are delivered across rebel controlled border points, sidestepping government approval.
12 September
Syria’s seven-day ceasefire takes effect but violence erupts within hours
John Kerry insists Assad regime would not be able to bomb any targets in zones under opposition control but it’s ‘far too early to draw definitive conclusions’
(The Guardian) Attacks were also reported in Homs, Hama and Deir Azzour after sunset on Monday, when the truce brokered by Russia and the US was due to begin. Hopes for the deal had been low over the weekend, with opposition groups insisting that none of its proponents could force each other to comply on contested issues, such as which areas remain valid bombing targets, or who should receive aid.
(Quartz) A[nother] ceasefire begins in Syria. The United States and Russia’s ceasefire agreement, reached on Sept. 9, takes effect at sunset on Monday. Over the weekend, at least 90 people were killed in airstrikes in the country as government troops and insurgents fought to establish their positions before the ceasefire began.
7 September
Aleppo: Syrian forces blamed for ‘chlorine gas attack’
(Al Jazeera) Activists say Syrian government forces dropped two barrel bombs loaded with chlorine gas in a rebel-held area of Aleppo.
The Syrian Civil Defence and the Syrian American Medical Society posted videos and photos on social media showing children doused in water using oxygen masks to breathe.
5 September
Dozens die in suicide bombings across Syrian cities held by Assad forces
Apparently coordinated attacks on Homs, Hasakah and suburbs of Damascus and Tartus follow Isis battlefield defeats
(The Guardian) The latest bombings came amid multiple battlefield defeats by Isis and other significant developments over the weekend that have added another layer of complexity and suffering to a war that has claimed nearly half a million lives and displaced half the population.
There is little hope for an immediate alleviation of the suffering as talks between Washington and Moscow on a new peace proposal on the sidelines of the G20 summit stalled amid the growing carnage.
The US and Russia struggled on Monday to keep alive negotiations to end the bloodshed, with Barack Obama, the US president, expressing scepticism that an unlikely alliance of rivals would yield a breakthrough.
The prospect of successful peace talks appeared even more remote as Turkey, a Nato member and US ally, was drawn further into the conflict in Syria, sending more tanks over the weekend across its 500-mile border with its southern neighbour in an effort to crush Isis and the ambitions of Kurdish paramilitaries who hope to establish an autonomous state in northern Syria
(Quartz) The US and Russia failed to reach a ceasefire agreement on Syria. It’s the second time in two weeks that the two countries’ foreign ministers met without reaching a deal. A ceasefire agreed in February fell apart a few weeks later. Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin met at the G20 on Monday; no-one is saying yet if they talked about Syria.
27 August
Syria’s White Helmets nominated for Nobel Peace Prize
Volunteer rescue and humanitarian group that braves daily bombings is credited with saving tens of thousands of people.
(Al Jazeera) More than 130 organisations from across the world have backed the Syrian Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, whose members brave bombings and sniper fire to provide medical treatment for the wounded in rebel-controlled areas, to win the prestigious international award for peace efforts.
26 August
Max Fisher: Syria’s Paradox: Why the War Only Ever Seems to Get Worse
Experts on civil wars say there are several reasons Syria is “a really, really tough case” that defies historical parallels.
Most civil wars end when one side loses. Either it is defeated militarily, or it exhausts its weapons or loses popular support and has to give up. About a quarter of civil wars end in a peace deal, often because both sides are exhausted.
That might have happened in Syria: The core combatants — the government and the insurgents who began fighting it in 2011 — are quite weak and, on their own, cannot sustain the fight for long.
But they are not on their own. Each side is backed by foreign powers — including the United States, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and now Turkey — whose interventions have suspended the usual laws of nature. Forces that would normally slow the conflict’s inertia are absent, allowing it to continue far longer than it otherwise would.
Government and rebel forces are supplied from abroad, which means their arms never run out. They also both draw political support from foreign governments who do not feel the war’s costs firsthand, rather than from locals who might otherwise push for peace to end their pain. These material and human costs are easy for the far richer foreign powers to bear.
This is why, according to James D. Fearon, a Stanford professor who studies civil wars, multiple studies have found that “if you have outside intervention on both sides, duration is significantly greater.”
The ground battles also include Kurdish militias, who have some foreign backing, and the Islamic State, which does not. But pro-government and opposition forces are focused on one another, making them and their sponsors the war’s central dynamic.
No one can lose, and no one can win
Foreign sponsors do not just remove mechanisms for peace. They introduce self-reinforcing mechanisms for an ever-intensifying stalemate.
Whenever one side loses ground, its foreign backers increase their involvement, sending supplies or air support to prevent their favored player’s defeat. Then that side begins winning, which tends to prompt the other’s foreign backers to up their ante as well. Each escalation is a bit stronger than what came before, accelerating the killing without ever changing the war’s fundamental balance.
25 August
China steps into the Syrian saga
(Asia Times) China’s Adm Guan Youfei’s recent visit to Syria was a diplomatic maneuver to counter-balance US’ military and political provocations in South China Sea region. But although China’s advisors are already on the ground in Syria to train the regime forces in the use of its weapons, it will not commit warplanes or ground forces in the conflict to end up having more enemies than friends in the Middle East region.
Amid Russia continuing its bombing on IS targets and Iran announcing the formation and deployment of a “Liberation Army” in Syria, as also in Yemen, China’s entry on the side of Assad implies that he has got on-board a ‘friend’ forced into this conflict because of its own security concerns. China’s primary motivation is the presence of Uyghur militants operating in Syria who, if the global supporters of these groups manage to topple Assad’s government, will have a staging ground closer to Iran, southern Russia and western China. An alliance among the three countries, therefore, does make sense.
Rebels to surrender Syrian town of Darayya to Assad’s forces
The surrender and evacuation of the Damascus suburb after a brutal four-year siege is a devastating blow to opposition morale and a long-sought prize for Assad. Weeks of intense bombardment, which activists claim included napalm attacks, has finally overwhelmed rebels.
The evacuation will be carried out in stages, with fighters leaving for opposition-controlled areas, but the fate of the few thousand civilians who have endured years of fighting and deprivation is still unclear.
Syria war: Aleppo’s civilians face humanitarian crisis
(Al Jazeera) Residents and activists in Syrian city say supplies are scarce and aerial bombardment of civilian areas is unrelenting.
The humanitarian situation has gravely deteriorated in Syria’s northern city of Aleppo where Syrian government forces and Russian warplanes continue to attack civilian neighbourhoods, according to activists and residents.
23 August
syria-omranOmran Daqneesh, the face of global neglect in Syria
(Maclean’s) Another year of the Syrian catastrophe has passed and we are all outraged again. This time, it’s the gone-viral photograph of five-year-old Omran Daqneesh, pulled from the rubble of his bombed-out home in Aleppo.
The mop-haired cherub, bloodied and dazed, sits in an ambulance, his little broken face a metaphor for the collapse of humanity in a ceaseless Middle Eastern carnage we’d otherwise rather not even think about.
Omran Daqneesh’s brother Ali dies from wounds suffered in Aleppo airstrike (20 August)
22 August
The Syrian volunteers who rush to bombed buildings to save victims
(PBS Newshour) Once tailors, bakers, pharmacists, some 3,000 ordinary Syrians are now the unwitting heroes of the Syrian war. Nicknamed “the White Helmets,” members of the Syrian Civil Defense work under the harshest conditions to claw through the remains of buildings flattened by barrel bombs, the Syrian regime’s weapon of choice. Special correspondent Marcia Biggs reports from Turkey.
Syria war: Aleppo’s civilians face humanitarian crisis
(Al Jazeera) Residents and activists in Syrian city say supplies are scarce and aerial bombardment of civilian areas is unrelenting.
The humanitarian situation has gravely deteriorated in Syria’s northern city of Aleppo where Syrian government forces and Russian warplanes continue to attack civilian neighbourhoods, according to activists and residents.
Once Syria’s largest city, Aleppo has been divided between opposition control in the eastern half and government control in the west since mid-2012.
Government troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad launched an offensive to retake the rebel-held half of the city, imposing a month-long siege that was eventually broken by opposition forces in early August.
Since the end of the siege, unprecedented numbers of civilians have been killed daily by aerial bombardment on the city.
24 May
Retaking Raqqa From the Islamic State
(Stratfor) The battle for Raqqa — the Islamic State’s stronghold in Syria and the capital of its so-called caliphate — was launched this week. A Kurdish-Arab ground offensive was engaged on Tuesday, followed by an intense volley of airstrikes by a U.S.-led coalition. More recent reports suggest U.S. Special Forces also have been seen fighting near the front lines.Because of Raqqa’s strategic importance, the Islamic State will do everything in its power to keep the city within its grasp. Driving the militants from their stronghold will not be easy or cheap, but if the SDF is successful, it will greatly accelerate the Islamic State’s defeat in Syria.
2 May
UN’s de Mistura heads to Moscow to salvage Syrian truce
United Nations special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura will travel to Moscow on Tuesday in an effort to prevent the Syrian cease-fire from completely falling apart. Separately, the Syrian government has extended its cease-fire in the Syrian capital by 48 hours to allow for more humanitarian deliveries. Reuters (5/2),  The Associated Press (5/2),  The Associated Press (5/2),  Voice of America (5/2)
28 April
On The Blog: Last Night, My Friend, Aleppo’s Most Qualified Remaining Pediatrician, Was Killed
(WorldPost) Dr. Maaz stayed in Aleppo, the most dangerous city in the world, because of his devotion to his patients.”
The Deadly Strike in Aleppo
(The Atlantic Daily) An air strike against a Médecins Sans Frontières-run hospital in a rebel-held part of the city killed at least 14 people, including patients and doctors. Rebels opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad blamed the government or its Russian allies for the strike, but its origin has not been confirmed. Several hospitals operated by the same global medical charity have been bombed in Syria and Afghanistan in recent months, and a fragile truce in the Syrian civil war is all but over after peace talks stalled this week.
Hospital Destroyed In Deadly Aleppo Airstrike, Doctors Without Borders Says
(NPR) Airstrikes in Syria’s largest city killed more than a dozen people at a well-known hospital, says aid group Doctors Without Borders, adding that the violence claimed one of the last pediatricians working in Aleppo.
“We are outraged at the destruction of Al Quds hospital,” the group said in a tweet Thursday, saying that the facility included an intensive care unit and an emergency room.
At least three doctors who worked at the hospital are among the 14 bodies that have been recovered, according to Doctors Without Borders, which says the death toll is expected to rise. …
The U.S. State Department, while not directly blaming the government, said Thursday that the attack is similar to strikes conducted by the Assad regime in the past. The statement describes the hospital as being supported by both Doctors Without Borders and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
12 April
Syria Talks to Resume Amid Disputes, Escalating Violence
The talks this week resume amid an escalation, with clashes underway mainly between government forces and militants, mainly near the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. The fighting could endanger a truce brokered by Russia and the United States that has mostly held since going into effect on Feb. 27. The first round of talks collapsed earlier in February amid a government offensive on Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and once its commercial center. U.N. special envoy Staffan de Mistura said after talks with officials in Damascus earlier this week that keeping the truce was key, describing the cease-fire as fragile and stressing that all sides “need to make sure that it continues to be sustained.”
The main players are the Syrian government, which is backed by Iran, Russia and Lebanon’s Hezbollah group, and the main opposition faction, the High Negotiations Committee or HNC, which includes groups that are backed by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The Islamic State group and al-Qaida’s branch in Syria known as the Nusra Front are not taking part in the talks because they are opposed to negotiations and are considered terrorist organizations by the U.N.
Russia runs up against Bashar al-Assad’s defences
The Kremlin might believe it has the measure of the west but Syria is another matter
(Financial Times) … the scale of Russia’s assault on Sunni insurgents, some of them western-backed, who looked within reach of toppling Mr Assad, may have made its Syrian client-president too powerful. The regime’s dependence has transmuted into a sort of Russian-Syrian interdependence — so long as Mr Putin wants to keep this valuable foothold in the Middle East. Is the Kremlin, despite an alliance with Syria dating back to Soviet times, the latest victim of what one might call the luck of the Assads?
7 April
Gwynne Dyer: The ‘least bad’ outcome to the Syria war
(Bangkok Post) Russian President Vladimir Putin’s goal was to isolate the Islamists and reconcile the rest of the rebels with the Assad regime, and it is well on the way to accomplishment. It will not be a happy ending for any of the groups involved in the Syrian civil war, but it is the least bad outcome that can now be realistically imagined. It will not put an end to all the fighting on Syrian territory. Not all the refugees will want to come home to such a country, and the terrorism abroad will continue. (But then, it would continue even if the IS disappeared)
When no decisive victory is possible for any side, it makes sense to stop as much of the shooting as possible.
27 March
Palmyra after Isis: images taken following Syrian recapture offer hope amid ruins
(The Guardian) Some parts of the ancient citadel seem to have survived occupation by Islamic State and escaped its desire to destroy important archaeological sites
The first images to emerge from the ancient city of Palmyra after Syrian regime forces expelled Islamic State fighters have shown large swaths of destruction but also suggest that several important archaeological sites are intact … including the Agora and the celebrated Roman theatre.
Maamoun Abdelkarim, Syria’s antiquities chief, told Agence France-Presse that “the landscape, in general, is in good shape”. [He] said a team of archaeologists would go to Palmyra in the coming days to assess the damage to its monuments, and pledged to rebuild the destroyed temples and arch.
Palmyra March 2016
Robert Fisk: Why is David Cameron silent on the recapture of Palmyra?
In the end, it was the Syrian army – and its Hizballah chums from Lebanon, and the Iranians, and the Russians – who drove the Isis murderers out of Palmyra
I have written many times that the Syrian army will decide the future of Syria. If they grab back Raqqa – and Deir el-Zour, where the Nusrah front destroyed the church of the Armenian genocide and threw the bones of the long-dead 1915 Christian victims into the streets – I promise you we will be silent again.
Aren’t we supposed to be destroying Isis? Forget it. That’s Putin’s job. And Assad’s. Pray for peace, folks. That’s what it’s about, isn’t it? And Geneva. Where is that, exactly?
Islamic State driven out of Syria’s ancient Palmyra city
(Reuters) Syrian government forces backed by heavy Russian air support drove Islamic State out of Palmyra on Sunday, inflicting what the army called a mortal blow to militants who seized the city last year and dynamited its ancient temples.
The loss of Palmyra represents one of the biggest setbacks for the ultra-hardline Islamist group since it declared a caliphate in 2014 across large parts of Syria and Iraq.
The army general command said that its forces took over the city with support from Russian and Syrian air strikes, opening up the huge expanse of desert leading east to the Islamic State strongholds of Raqqa and Deir al-Zor.
Syrian regime seeks symbolic victory in Palmyra
Analysis: Wrestling control of ancient city from ISIL would allow government to portray itself as ‘defender’ of culture.
(Quartz Daily Brief) Why are Syrian militias backed by the US military fighting militias armed by US spies? Clashes among different US-backed groups underscore the challenges of intervening in Syria’s chaotic civil war.
UN’s de Mistura keeps political transition on the table at Syria talks
United Nations talks on Syria are continuing with UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura pressing the Syrian government for its ideas on arranging a transitional government, something the Assad administration is reluctant to do. “The government is currently focusing very much on principles, which are necessary in any type of common ground on the transition,” de Mistura said. “But I hope next week, and I have been saying so to them, that we will get their opinion, their details on how they see the political transition taking place.” Reuters (3/20)
16 March
(World Post round-up) This week marks the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the Syrian conflict in the heyday of the Arab Spring. David Crane, a former U.N. war crimes prosecutor, says it is now time to bring justice to the victims of atrocities in the Syrian civil war. Despite the carnage, Ameenah Sawwan writes that the hope for change born out of the cry for freedom and dignity in early protests five years ago remains high among the average Syrian citizens. Recalling the experience of the Arab Spring from Egypt to Morocco to Bahrain, Jana Jabbour similarly says that the 2011 uprisings gave Arab youth a reason to live that remains robust under the surface of repression. In an interview with The WorldPost, author and analyst Charles Lister talks about how Syria has become the center of the jihadist world.
In this week’s “Forgotten Fact,” World Reporter Charlotte Alfred and WorldPost Managing Editor Farah Mohamed report on the Syrian women fighting for their place at the U.N. Syrian peace talks after having been sidelined for years
13 March
Robert Fisk– Syrian civil war: West failed to factor in Bashar al-Assad’s Iranian backers as the conflict developed
Five years ago, we were high on Arab revolutions, and journalists were growing used to ‘liberating’ Arab capitals.We forgot that their dictators were all Sunni Muslims, that they had no regional super-power support – the Saudis could not save Hosni Mubarak in Egypt but Shia Iran was not going to allow its only Arab ally, Alawite-Shia-led Syria, to fall. At first, the Syrian Baath party and the regime’s internal security agents behaved with their usual inane brutality. Teenagers who wrote anti-Assad graffiti on the walls of Deraa were tortured, the local tribal leaders abused – and a deputy minister dispatched to apologise for the government’s “errors”.
6 March
What Modern Syria Can Learn From the Ottomans
By Toba Hellerstein
(Stratfor) The quagmire that is contemporary Syria is as infinitely complex as it was when it emerged from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. Its medley of cultures and ethnicities coexisted peaceably under the sultans, but the European powers that inherited the land after World War I were unfamiliar with — and uninterested in protecting — Syria’s unique brand of pluralism. Decades of autocratic rule followed. Today, the warring factions that populate the Syrian battlefield speak to the unraveling of Syria’s once-cohesive society, but the lessons of the Ottoman Empire remain. Moving forward, those lessons may be the best hope for turning a failed state into a nation at once unified and diverse. …
After 400 years of rule under the Ottomans, certain particularities of the political system became ingrained. In modern-day Syria before the civil war, cities were divided into culturally distinct quarters: one where you would find the Armenians, another populated by Assyrians. …
In fact, the way in which Syria was governed reinforced the autonomy of these distinct ethnic and religious communities. The Ottomans enforced a policy of pluralism, intended to appease different nations and quell the rise of nationalist movements, in which Jews, Christians and Muslims were all empowered to assert their own identities and therefore had no need to vie for power. Each religious community, known as a “millet,” had a representative in Istanbul and was allowed to organize its own affairs, including its people’s education, social services and charities and even some of the legal standards by which they lived. The millet controlled all internal disputes such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, and the distribution and collection of taxes. The residue of this community-specific system remained in modern Syria. …
Under the French Mandate, life in Syria changed dramatically. The autonomy that groups had enjoyed under the Ottomans greatly diminished as the French centralized the government and restricted newspapers and political activity. In addition, France pursued a divide-and-rule policy under which some minority groups enjoyed newfound privilege and others watched their freedoms disappear. The French favored minorities, particularly the Christian Maronites, to protect themelves from the Sunni majority. Even though Syria claimed independence in 1944, the new government adopted the autocratic bent of the French officials it had displaced, and the new rulers marginalized minorities such as the Shiites, Kurds, Assyrians, Druze and Armenians.
4 March
“endlessly complex scenario” indeed.
Saudis ready to give Syrian rebels missiles against Russian warplanes and tanks
Most Western and Middle East observers think the Saudis may be bluffing about their plan to arm Syrian rebels with missiles, as a ploy to get Washington and Moscow to treat them seriously as a player on the Syrian stage and take their interests into account. Ideally, Riyadh would hope to break up American cooperation with Iran in Iraq and Russian cooperation with Iran in Syria.
The Saudis have so far pitched into this endlessly complex scenario with two tangible steps:
1. The deployment last week of four Saudi Air Force F-15 bomber fighters at the Turkish base of Incirlik near the Syrian border, to be followed by a contingent of ground troops for operations in Syria.
2. A direct challenge to Iran’s fighting arm in Syria, the Lebanese Hizballah and its leader Hassan Nasrallah, by cancelling the $4 billion defense package Riyadh had pledged for the rehabilitation of Lebanon’s armed forces.
1 March
US and Russia in partnership over Syria
(BBC) Syria’s “cessation of hostilities” is making a difference – whatever the arguments about early violations, the level of violence across the country has fallen – and with this fragile modicum of progress, the United States and Russia find themselves in harness after years in which Syria was a forum for their rivalry. …
So what happens if the political process stalls or President Assad’s forces are found to be breaking the truce regularly?
Russia’s UN envoy has suggested that pressure would be brought to bear on the Syrian leader. But speaking to senators in Washington last week, Mr Kerry referred to “Plan B” options. “It may be too late to keep it as a whole Syria,” he suggested, raising the spectre of partition.
Many in the Syrian opposition argue that the US really has no leverage over Assad and that his government could be quite happy with partition.
Syria’s calm before the peace
Civil space, not civil war
(CSM) A temporary truce, brokered by Russia and the US, has brought the first lull in violence in Syria’s five-year conflict. As it brings some stability and hope, it is also a test of sincerity for coming peace talks.
Some people have resumed pro-democracy protests against the Assad regime. Others are locating lost loved ones and reconnecting with scattered communities. Aid agencies are rushing water, food, and other supplies to some 1.7 million people besieged by the conflict. Fewer people are fleeing. The temporary peace, while fragile, is bringing some stability, hope, and social rebonding. These are the necessary realities to end the false presumption of endless war.
Most of all, if the Assad regime and the non-terrorist rebel groups live up to their agreement on a “cessation of hostilities,” it will signal their seriousness about striking a peace deal at negotiations scheduled in Switzerland in coming days.
29 February
Jeffrey Sachs: Ending the Syrian War
he Syrian people are caught in a bloodbath, with more than 400,000 dead and ten million displaced.
Violent jihadist groups backed by outside patrons mercilessly ravage the country and prey on the population. All parties to the conflict – President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the anti-Assad forces supported by the United States and its allies, and the Islamic State – have committed, and continue to commit, serious war crimes.
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It is time for a solution. But such a solution must be based on a transparent and realistic account of what caused the war in the first place.
NPR shines the light on a somewhat forgotten group. 5 Years On, Syria’s Moderate Rebels Are Exhausted And Sidelined
Syria truce holds as talks planned for March 7
The cessation of hostilities in Syria is holding despite reports of fighting, said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. On Friday, the UN Security Council unanimously passed a resolution calling for all sides to respect the truce. UN-led peace talks are expected to restart March 7. The Associated Press (2/29), Reuters (2/26), Reuters (2/29)
The Terror Group That Could Ruin Syria’s Ceasefire Isn’t ISIS
Al Qaeda’s affiliate in the country is a major problem for the temporary truce.
(World Post) … the deal for a two-week cessation of hostilities does not include groups deemed to be terrorist organizations by the international community, including the Islamic State and Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, Nusra Front. Russia says it will resume bombing those groups after Saturday.
The exclusion of Nusra Front from the agreement poses some particular difficulties. The group, which split bitterly from the Islamic State in 2014, fights alongside other Syrian rebel groups and jointly controls parts of the Syrian province of Idlib. Unlike the Islamic State, the group is widely dispersed over rebel-held territory. The U.S. and Russia said they would jointly pinpoint Nusra Front positions to target, but a Russian map released Saturday raised concerns that the northern provinces of Idlib and Aleppo would be excluded from the truce.
The Nusra Front leader has condemned the cessation of hostilities agreement and urged rebel groups to instead escalate their fight against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad
21 February
Deal on Syria truce reportedly reached by US, Russia
The US and Russia have reportedly reached agreement on the terms of a truce in Syria, according to reports. Military action against Nusra Front and Islamic State would be allowed under the deal, which would begin Saturday. BBC (2/22), WNBC-TV (New York)/The Associated Press (2/22), The Associated Press (2/20), Reuters (2/21)
(Quartz) ISIL attacks killed at least 140 in Syria. Car bombs in Damascus and Homs left hundreds wounded, just hours after US secretary of state John Kerry and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov reached a provisional ceasefire in the country.
18 February
Syria’s White Rose
(BYT) Abdalaziz Alhamza, the young man sitting beside [Michael Wolffsohn, a German historian,] at the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin, prompted the historian’s reflections. “We don’t have the necessity today to resist in Germany because this is a free country,” Wolffsohn said. “Resistance is the readiness to incur lethal personal risk.”
That is what Alhamza has done. He is from Raqqa, the stronghold of the Islamic State, a town now synonymous with beheadings, immolation, enslavement of women and every form of barbarism. Alhamza, who is 24, left Syria two years ago and in April 2014 founded a resistance organization called “Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently” (R.B.S.S). ISIS has killed four of its members.
“We won’t stop,” Alhamza said. “We have too many friends and family dead. The only way we will stop is if ISIS kills us all or we go back home.”
R.B.S.S. will not stop its efforts to spread word of the crimes of ISIS. To record is to resist evil; to forget is to permit its spread. As Czeslaw Milosz wrote: “The poet remembers. You can kill one, but another is born.”
Wolffsohn drew a parallel between Alhamza’s resistance to ISIS and that of the White Rose group to the Third Reich.
17 February
Gwynne Dyer: Any Russia fight will be lonely one
Turkey (and Saudi Arabia) have almost certainly been put on notice that if they choose to start a local war with Russian forces in Syria, they will have to fight it alone.
Between last Thursday and Monday, the Turkish government, in league with Saudi Arabia, made a tentative decision to enter the war on the ground in Syria – and then got cold feet about it. Or more likely, the Turkish army simply told the government that it would not invade Syria and risk the possibility of a shooting war with the Russians.
The Turkish government bears a large share of the responsibility for the devastating Syrian civil war. From the start, Turkey’s leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan was publicly committed to overthrowing the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. For five years he kept Turkey’s border with Syria open so that arms, money and volunteers could flow across to feed the rebellion.
Erdogan’s hatred of Assad is rooted in the fact that he is a militant Sunni Muslim while Assad leads a regime dominated by Shia Muslims. Both men rule countries that are officially secular, but Erdogan’s long-term goal is to impose Islamic religious rule on Turkey. Assad is defending the multi-ethnic, multi-faith traditional character of Syrian society – while also running a brutally repressive regime. Neither man gives a fig for democracy. …
The US government also wanted to see Assad’s regime destroyed (for strategic reasons, not religious ones). So for years Washington turned a blind eye to the fact that its allies, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, were actually supporting the extremists of Islamic State (Isis) and the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s franchise in Syria.
Largely as a result of that support, these two extremist organisations now completely dominate the Syrian revolt against Assad’s rule, accounting for 80-90 per cent of the active fighters. Turkey and Saudi Arabia finally broke their ties with Islamic State last year, but they still back the Nusra Front, which has camouflaged itself behind an array of minor “moderate” groups in the so-called “Army of Islam”.
15 February
Assad and Putin Will Likely Disregard the Syria Cease-Fire and Destroy the Opposition
By Faysal Itani, Resident Senior Fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, and Hossam Abouzahr, Arabic and English editor of the Atlantic Council’s SyriaSource blog
On paper, the cease-fire deal made last week by members of the International Syria Support Group — most notably Russia and the U.S. — is an unprecedented diplomatic success: they agreed to a “cessation of hostilities” and to expand humanitarian aid in the region. But the details of the deal are not promising.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syrian President Bashar Assad have little reason to abide by the terms, given the military imbalance on the ground. They also have several ways to work around them. Diplomacy will not survive first contact with military reality in Syria, unless the U.S. and its allies take concrete steps to ensure the regime and its backers cease all hostilities and allow humanitarian assistance to move freely.
Syrian civilians killed by ‘deliberate’ strikes on hospitals, schools
Russian-backed government troops continue bloody push towards rebel stronghold of Aleppo
Russian airstrikes devastate civilians in Aleppo
Kerry takes aim at Russia over Ukraine and Syria
UN fears for hundreds of thousands if troops encircle Aleppo
12 February
Shashank Joshi: Russia is the big winner in Syria’s flawed ‘truce’
As Russian airstrikes help the Assad regime make gains, and refugees flee to Europe, the agreement sees Moscow trouncing the US and its allies
(The Guardian) Today’s ISSG statement reiterates the lofty aim of an agreement on political transition – to include elections and a new constitution – within six months. But if Russia is bent on a military solution, it will pocket the gains of this agreement. As pressure in Syria’s north eases and regime control spreads, the incentives to push out Assad and reform the regime shrink. Truce and talks should have come as a package. Instead, Russia has given up a little and gained a lot.
The statement by the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), a contact group of 17 countries on both sides of the civil war, agreed “a nationwide cessation of hostilities”. But an exemption was carved out for Isis, Jabhat al-Nusra (al-Qaida’s Syrian branch) and “other groups designated as terrorist organisations by the United Nations security council”. This sounds reasonable. However, both Russia and Iran – which has mobilised and led the ground forces operating under Moscow’s air cover – consider virtually all Syrian rebel groups operating around Aleppo, the site of the past week’s fiercest fighting, to fall into this expansive category.
The truth is more complicated. In the strip of rebel-held territory between Aleppo and Turkey, al-Nusra is indeed a powerful force. But it operates as part of a larger Turkish and Saudi-backed rebel coalition, Jaish al-Fatah, which also includes less extreme, though still ultraconservative, Islamist groups. The most significant of these is Ahrar al-Sham. It is these groups, and not Isis, that represent the bulk of targets in the Russian campaign, notwithstanding the Kremlin’s propaganda.

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrian President Bashar Assad, speaks during an interview with the Spanish news agency EFE, in Damascus, Syria, Friday, Dec. 11, 2015. Assad said in the interview that Saudi Arabia, the United States and some Western countries want "terrorist groups" to join peace negotiations to try end Syria's civil war. The Syrian government refers to all insurgent groups as terrorists. (SANA via AP)

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrian President Bashar Assad, speaks during an interview with the Spanish news agency EFE, in Damascus, Syria, Friday, Dec. 11, 2015. Assad said in the interview that Saudi Arabia, the United States and some Western countries want “terrorist groups” to join peace negotiations to try end Syria’s civil war. The Syrian government refers to all insurgent groups as terrorists. (SANA via AP)

Syria’s Assad Vows To Keep Fighting Despite Peace Talks
The Syrian president also said he would retake the whole country, and that that could take a long time.
(Reuters) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he would keep “fighting terrorism” while peace talks took place and saw a risk of Saudi and Turkish intervention in the Syrian conflict …
Assad said he would retake the whole country, but that this could take a long time.  …
The interview took place on Thursday before the conclusion of talks in Munich where major powers agreed to a ceasefire in Syria to begin in a week.
The agreement did not however include a halt to Russian air strikes which have been helping Assad and allied forces wage an intensifying offensive to retake the northern city of Aleppo and surrounding area.
World powers agree to “cessation of hostilities” in Syria
Fighting in Syria will be halted within a week to allow humanitarian aid to reach people in need. The cease-fire agreement was reached by a group of world powers led by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations special envoy to Syria, hopes to resume peace talks on Feb. 25 but it’s unclear if that will be possible. Reuters (2/12), Reuters (2/12), The New York Times (free-article access for SmartBrief readers) (2/11), Los Angeles Times (tiered subscription model) (2/11)
8 February
Robert Fisk: After Entering Aleppo With Russia’s Help, The Syrian Army May Set Its Sights On Raqqa
Aleppo itself was late to join the war. By some kind of historical miracle, it remained disentangled from the conflict until 2012 when rebels – thinking they were en route to Damascus – managed to infiltrate into the ancient city. Its streets were then burned out in months of fighting. Now it appears to be the first of Syria’s large cities to be effectively back in the hands of the regime. What comes next? The retaking of the Roman city of Palmyra? The clearing of the lands around Deraa (of Lawrence of Arabia fame)?
And, much more dramatically, how soon will the Syrian army, its Hezbollah allies and the Russian air force set their course for the Isis “capital” of Raqqa?
Isis, which holds Palmyra, must be learning of the extraordinary developments of the past few hours with deep concern. The everlasting Sunni “Islamic Caliphate” in Syria doesn’t look so everlasting any more. Is this why the Sunni Saudis have suddenly offered to send ground troops to Syria? And why the Turks are so flustered? I doubt if anyone is weeping in Shia Iran.
Anyway, the Saudi military is already having its feet chewed off in the disgraceful Yemen war. As for the Turks sending their own Nato soldiers across the Syrian border – presumably at risk of being attacked by the Russians – that is a nightmare which both Washington and Moscow must avoid.
Syria war: neither political solution nor military victory are anywhere in sight
The chances of a diplomatic resolution are slim while Assad’s forces are far from victory – even with Russian help
(The Guardian) Syria’s war is facing a critical few days as refugees stream from Aleppo towards the Turkish border and Russian airstrikes help Bashar al-Assad’s forces advance, with diplomatic moves still showing no sign of concrete measures to relieve the suffering of ordinary people..
Violence on the ground was also the backdrop to last week’s short-lived Geneva peace talks and the London Syria donor conference, where billions of dollars were pledged to pay for the world’s worst humanitarian disaster. Yet neither showed any sign that there was light at the end of the tunnel.
Later this week the International Syrian Support Group, comprising the key countries trying to find a way out of the conflict, is due to meet again – this time in Munich. It may be its last chance to come up with a credible political solution to end the five-year war, diplomats say.
Last September, when Vladimir Putin sent his air force to Syria and claimed to be targeting Isis, western governments were unsure what his plan was. It is now brutally clear that Russia – along with fighters from Hezbollah and Iran – has tipped the balance in Assad’s favour. Rebels are losing ground. The mood in Damascus is defiant again.
UN’s de Mistura: Peace talks are last chance for Syria
Staffan de Mistura, United Nations special envoy for Syria, is attempting to begin Syrian peace talks despite reluctance by both sides and the government’s Russian-backed bombing campaign. “If there is a failure this time after we tried twice at conferences in Geneva, for Syria there will be no more hope,” he says. “We must absolutely try to ensure that there is no failure.” Reuters (2/3), BBC (2/3), Bloomberg (2/2), The New York Times (free-article access for SmartBrief readers) (2/2)
29 January
In Confidential Memo, U.N. Says It Can’t Enforce a Syrian Peace Deal
Staffan de Mistura highlights the limits of the world’s power to effectively monitor any Syrian peace deals.
(Foreign Policy) “The current international and national political context and the current operational environment strongly suggest that a U.N. peacekeeping response relying on international troops or military observers would be an unsuitable modality for ceasefire monitoring,” according to the “Draft Ceasefire Modalities Concept Paper” by U.N. envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura’s team. In plain English, that means Syria will be far too dangerous for some time for traditional U.N. peacekeepers to handle.
22 January
Russia denies report that Vladimir Putin demanded resignation of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
(International Business Times) The Financial Times quotes senior western intelligence officials claiming that Colonel-General Igor Sergun was sent to the Syrian capital at the end of 2015 to deliver a message from Russian President Vladimir Putin that it was time to step down. According to the report, Assad adamantly refused to agree to the request. …Sergun took the position of chief at the GRU military intelligence service in 2011. He was placed on a list of sanctions after the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, after the GRU played a key role in organising and supporting pro-Moscow militias in east Ukraine. He died suddenly on January 5.
Putin asked Bashar al-Assad to step down
(FT) Failed Russian gambit entrenches Syrian leader and damages prospects for diplomatic solution
Syria peace talks expected to begin on time
United Nations-mediated peace talks to end the conflict in Syria are expected to begin Monday, though US Secretary of State John Kerry said some people might not arrive that day. There is still not agreement on who will attend to represent opposition groups. Reuters (1/22)
20 January
U.N. Envoy Signals That Riyadh Is Obstructing Syria Peace Talks
Saudi Arabia is sidelining the diplomat charged with ending the brutal Syrian civil war — and complicating the push toward a deal.
(Foreign Policy) The remarks also underscore [UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura’s] struggles to assert his authority as Washington and other world powers remain incapable of finding a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis. In his remarks to the Security Council, the diplomat appealed to the United States, Russia, and other key powers to back his troubled mediation efforts, saying he will not invite specific opposition groups to upcoming peace talks in Geneva unless the main outside players in the Syrian conflict all sign off on the list. That was seen as a clear rebuke to Riyadh.
19 January
Letting Putin Get Away With It
(Foreign Policy) Allowing Russia to set the agenda in Syria will eliminate our last, best hope for defeating the Islamic State and restoring peace: Sunni Arabs.
In late 2015, British Prime Minister David Cameron surprised Parliament when he announced the presence of at least 70,000 “moderate” rebels in Syria who were prepared to join the emerging coalition in the fight against the Islamic State. He had reason to be optimistic: Groups like the Islamist Jaish al-Fatah and the largely secular Free Syrian Army (FSA) have both fought valiantly against the Islamic State. U.S. officials, as well as those formerly in Barack Obama’s administration, such as retired Gen. David Petraeus and Leon Panetta, concurred with Cameron’s premise that there are potential partners among the rebels — in particular, among the Sunni Arabs, who could siphon legitimacy from the Islamic State. Regional allies have also highlighted the necessity of such a force, with the Turks last week shopping to the Pentagon a bid to train Sunni forces inside Syria.
But the anti-Islamic State bona fides of various Sunni rebels matter little in a Syria where Russian President Vladimir Putin gets to decide who is a terrorist, choosing which rebels to bomb based on their commitment to fighting the regime rather than on any allegiance to the Islamic State. In practice, this means that the Russians have adopted the tactic of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime of brutalizing Sunni communities, dropping indiscriminate ordnance into densely populated urban areas supportive of Sunni Arab rebels. Even as U.S. officials speculate that there may be some overlap between Moscow’s and Washington’s goals, the Russian campaign alienates Syrian Sunnis from the West and the world.
Assad Has It His WayThe Peace Talks and After
By Joshua Landis and Steven Simon
(Foreign Affairs) President Bashar al-Assad is winning in Syria. Russia has shifted the balance of power there dramatically. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the UN might insist that Assad negotiate with his opponents and ultimately cede power to them, but the Syrian president has no intention of accepting such demands. His advisers state that he will go to talks in Geneva this month “to listen, but not to negotiate.” In other words, he is still out for victory on the battlefield
Assad’s greatest advantage—a fragmented opposition divided into more than 1,000 constantly feuding militias—seems to be back. Recently, over 20 rebel militia leaders have been assassinated, most by a breakaway faction of the Victory Army.
The real question is how much of Syria Assad can retake. Assad believes that the Russians will carry him to the finish line, but that is not at all certain. The Syrian regime already rules over some 75 percent of Syria’s Arab population. Assad seems convinced that he can bully the remaining 25 percent into “accepting” the bitterness of defeat in exchange for the end to deprivation and war. But that will likely take years. Much depends on Turkey and the Gulf states, the primary sponsors of the rebels.
Syria’s Kurds may also accommodate themselves to Assad. They constitute ten percent of the population and live in a long ribbon of territory dividing Syria from Turkey that they have named Rojava. Despite wresting the land from Assad, ISIS, and the rebel militias at great cost, the Kurds may accept autonomy within a Syrian state rather than independence as the price of protection against Turkey. Assad, too, may find a Kurdish enclave a useful buffer against Turkey.
12 January
Syria: President Bashar al-Assad could be offered asylum in Russia claims Vladimir Putin
Putin said it was too early to say if Russia would have to take in Assad as part of a transition to a new Syrian government, as the Syrian people were yet to vote. “First, the Syrian population has to be able to vote, and then we will see if Assad would have to leave his country if he loses the election,” Putin said.
10 January
How Obama Created a Mideast Vacuum
He has overlearned the lessons of Iraq, the president’s former senior Iran adviser argues.
By Dennis Ross
(Politico) In nearly every meeting on Syria when presented possible options to affect the Syrian civil war, the president would ask “tell me where this ends.”
He was surely right to ask this question. But he failed to ask the corollary question: Tell me what happens if we don’t act? Had he known that not acting would produce a vacuum in which a humanitarian catastrophe, a terrible refugee crisis, a deepening proxy war and the rise of ISIL in Iraq and Syria would occur, his responses might have been different. However, it was hard for him to ask that question because when he looked at Syria, he saw Iraq. …
But Syria has always been a different issue. This was not an American invasion of a country but an internal uprising against an authoritarian leader. Assad consciously made it a sectarian conflict, believing he could survive only if the Alawites, and other minorities, saw their survival depending on his. Soon, thereafter, it was transformed into a proxy war largely pitting Saudi Arabia and Turkey against Iran. A vacuum was created not by our replacing the Assad regime but by our hesitancy to do more than offer pronouncements—by overlearning the lessons of Iraq, in effect. And, that vacuum was filled by others: Iran, Hezbollah and Iran’s other Shia militia proxies; Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar; Russia; and ISIL. Unless the U.S. does more now to fill this vacuum, the situation will spin further out of control.

One Comment on "Syria 2016"

  1. Diana Thebaud Nicholson August 28, 2016 at 10:18 am ·

    According to some very reliable old sources in Taipei and Hong Kong, Beijing is planning to take a more active role in the Syrian conflict. They wish to check Islamic extremism and also display and sell their weapons.
    A high military representative from Beijing has visited Syria and confirmed support for Assad.
    Turkey has now invaded Syria and taken on Kurds supported by the US. Ostensibly the Turks are fighting ISIS (which they helped with material and trade), but in fact ,are trying to stem rising Kurdish demands for autonomy and justice.
    Iraq is already in shambles and in total disarray after Bush’s “Mission Accomplished”. Syria is on her way to being entirely nihilated. The Saudis and Emirates see this as a victory for Wahhabism and Turkey aspires to achieve the genocide of Kurds. The Americans do not know on whose side they actually are, or even should be. Israel is watching it all from the sidelines with great satisfaction.
    What is the UN doing? Nothing. TB

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