SyriaSource|Amplifying Syrian voices

While Moscow is re-classifying armed groups as terrorist organizations on the ground in Syria, and the new US administration is attempting to identify and enable partners in its fight against the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL or Daesh) coalition in order to set policies, we are now faced with questions that have long haunted the Syrian armed opposition: Who is a partner for peace in Syria, and does the opposition include any allies for peace and for the fight against terrorism?

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“The sound of gunfire outside makes me forget the hunger pangs,” says Um Mohamed, trembling with fright. This was after the battle intensified between Syrian regime forces and fighters from the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh) in the city of Deir Ezzor. Military experts predicted that ISIS would fall back towards Deir Ezzor city when faced with significant pressure during battles in Raqqa and al-Bab.

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On February 12, rebel groups launched an offensive named Almawt Wala al-Muzaleh [Death Rather than Humiliation] targeting regime-controlled areas in Daraa. The ongoing operation is reportedly an attempt to prevent pro-Syrian regime troops from gaining control of a strategic border crossing with Jordan. The attack -- which followed a long period of decline in fighting since mid 2015 -- came as a surprise not only to the Syrian regime but also to the rebel allies, namely Jordan. The latter, who reportedly opposed the offensive, was not able to stop it.

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Since the Syrian regime’s forces seized control of the city of Aleppo, a significant conflict has emerged between opposition groups in the areas of northern Syria. Extremist groups are clashing with moderate groups over military and ideological issues, and many of these forces have split into two main camps. One, called Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, is comprised mostly of Islamist groups, and is under Fateh al-Sham's leadership. The other, more nationalist project, is connected to Ahrar al-Sham.

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Official statement presented to the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade for the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, on the hearing for "Defeating Terrorism in Syria: a New Way Forward."

Mr. Chairman, Mr. Ranking Member, Members of the subcommittee: I am honored by your invitation to speak about defeating terror in Syria and pleased to submit this statement for your consideration.  

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The Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) is an influential actor in the Syrian conflict. Yet the PYD was excluded from recent peace talks in Astana at the request of Turkey, who jointly backed the negotiations with Russia and Iran. Turkey designates the PYD as a terrorist organization due to its ties to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), and is likely to push for the exclusion of the PYD from the upcoming talks in Geneva as well. 

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Although a ceasefire, however imperfect, is currently in force, indications of an upcoming conflict have become evident among the ranks of the regime’s allies, and between the regime and the opposition.

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Most opposition leaders in northern Syria understand that there is no escape from a conflict with al-Qaeda. The defining features of this new conflict have started to appear, and include a recent attack conducted by members of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS, formerly the al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front). The Jaysh al-Mujahidin—a moderate opposition group, despite its jihadist name—lost control of most of its military bases in northern Syria, as did the Suqour al-Sham Brigade, a group totaling around 3,000 members who subscribe to a jihadist ideology closely paralleled to that of al-Qaeda. 

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When a new round of peace talks kicked off between armed opposition groups and the Syrian regime on January 23rd, a different situation played out on the ground. The talks, which took place in Astana, Kazakhstan under the auspices of Turkey and Russia, were fraught with tension between the regime and opposition delegations. However, inside Syria the tension was playing out within the opposition groups themselves.

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Despite the recent success of the Syrian regime in capturing the opposition-held areas of eastern Aleppo, the regime does not completely control the city. Kurdish forces still control several neighbourhoods and reports indicate the attention of the regime shifted to these areas. Despite allegations about close coordination between Kurdish forces and the Syrian regime, days after capturing the city the regime demanded Kurdish forces retreat from the eastern pockets. Kurdish forces refused and instead swore to defend against any future attack. The question remains, will the Syrian regime launch an attack to control Aleppo city in its entirety?

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