Syria

On June 5, 2018 Amnesty International issued a report entitled “War of Annihilation:” Devastating Toll on Civilians, Raqqa – Syria. A shockingly painful account of the experiences of four Syrian families during the June-October 2017 military campaign to oust ISIS (ISIL, Daesh, Islamic State, IS) from its self-declared “capital” in Syria, the report (based largely on a February 2018 on-site investigation) alleges that the anti-ISIS Coalition took insufficient steps to protect civilians. Specifically:

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Last week, Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria illegally recognized Abkhazia and Tskhinvali (so-called South Ossetia), two historic regions of Georgia, as independent states. This was done undoubtedly at the behest of Assad’s main patron—Russia. With this act, the Assad regime declared its support for Russia’s military aggression against Georgia, the illegal occupation of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali, and the ethnic cleansing that is taking place in these territories.

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The passage of a new property law in April by the Syrian parliament grants the regime the power to reclaim and redevelop land across the country. Law No. 10—which could impact millions of displaced Syrians—was issued under the pretext of governmental efforts to counter terrorism and rezone illegal housing areas across Syria.

Recent Developments

The overall stated purpose of Law 10 is to allow the government to reclaim private property, with the goal of reconstructing destroyed neighborhoods. The law also extends to illegal housing–a long standing problem the regime sought to rectify with various laws, both prior to and after the outbreak of war.

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Recent reporting gives the impression that Moscow and Tehran are parting ways in Syria. The Kremlin has called on all foreign military forces—except for its own—to leave the country. Tehran has loudly and indignantly rejected the Russian invitation. American officials might be tempted to feel encouraged: a temptation that should, for the time being, be resisted. Moscow knows that without Iran and its Shia militias the Assad regime is bereft of ground combat forces. The point of this supposed contretemps may be to lull Washington into complacency; to consign Syria to Russia, to implement President Trump’s stated desire to leave quickly, and to secure Bashar al-Assad in his place indefinitely.

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Thousands of civilians trapped in a Palestinian refugee camp south of Damascus are bearing the brunt of a fierce government campaign targeting so-called Islamic State (ISIS) militants holed up in the area.

It remains unclear exactly how many civilians are currently caught in middle of the fierce clashes between Syrian government forces and ISIS militants in the besieged Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp, the country’s largest. But an estimated 6,000 Palestinian refugees lived in Yarmouk and about 6,000 others lived in surrounding areas before the government’s latest offensive began 10 days ago.

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The southern Damascus markets are devoid of essential food items; much like other areas currently under siege by Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which led to mass displacement of the population. The regime is now targeting Yarmouk Camp in southern Damascus and the surrounding areas; it launched a military campaign on April 19 and continues to impose a siege to control the area.

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After US-missile strikes in Syria on April 13, 2018, that targeted manufacturing components for the regime’s chemical weapons arsenal, the initial outcome of the attack was unclear. The response of the Syrian regime, Iran, and Russia was immediate condemning the attacks. A month later, and most analysts counter that the impact was limited, and a comprehensive US-Syria strategy is still missing. SyriaSource interviewed Nasr Hariri, head of the Syrian High Negotiations Committee that represents the opposition, about Iranian influence in the region, the relationship with Russia, and the developing US-Syria policy. 

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Sixty-eight prisoners are crammed into an overcrowded communal cell somewhere in the Afrin valley. Where they sit depends on how many days they have been imprisoned. As prisoners spend more time in the cell, they gradually move further from the door. New detainees sit and sleep closest to the dormitory’s entrance, standing up as the door is opened by the jailer and sitting back down to sleep when the jailer closes the door. A dim LED bulb lights the cell, under which hangs an old portrait of Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK); who is part of an insurgent group active in Turkey since the early 1980s.

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Barack Obama had an opinion in 2011 on who should win the contest between the Syrian opposition and Bashar al-Assad’s regime when he said Assad should “step aside.” He did not, however, wish to back up that opinion with troops on the ground or significant assistance to the opposition. As a result, Russia and Iran were emboldened and stepped in to shore up the Assad regime and protect their interests in Syria. Obama did, however, step up the fight—albeit largely with air power—against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and laid down a strategy for victory in Mosul and Raqqa.

Enter Donald J. Trump, who has followed Obama’s strategy, only with no particular feeling or much interest in the matter.

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Victory in war often brings with it unforeseen challenges and obligations.  Russia is now learning that to sustain its victory in Syria’s civil war it must play a role as an arbiter or honest broker between Iran and Israel lest their rivalry explodes into large-scale combat, engulfs the entire region, and undermines Russia’s newly-acquired position there.  Such a war would utterly confound Russia’s interest in stabilizing a post-civil war Syria under Bashar al-Assad and retaining the bases and lucrative contracts it has won as well as its regional status as a key superpower without whom nothing can be accomplished. 

Apart from the destruction it would wreak, an Iran-Israeli war would consume Syria, bring the United States back to the Middle East in a big way, and force Russia to choose between the two states against its own preferences.  In other words, this war could wipe out all of Russia’s recent gains from its intervention in Syria.

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