SyriaSource|Amplifying Syrian voices

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Two unsurprising reactions followed in the immediate wake of the recent air attacks on Syrian chemical warfare facilities: Western commentators praised the raids while lamenting the absence of a Trump administration “Syria strategy;” and Bashar al-Assad defiantly declared victory while resuming aerial assaults (albeit non-chemical) on rebel-held residential neighborhoods. One might employ a medical analogy to appreciate the depth of malpractice being displayed: as the patient is dying from arterial bleeding, the physicians debate the surgical alternatives.

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Saturday, April 7, 2018
7:45pm EST: A suspected chemical gas attack targeted the last opposition-held town of Douma, in eastern Ghouta on April 7—the eighth chemical attack since US President Donald Trump took office.
The Syrian Civil Defense rescue workers recorded 42 fatalities as of Sunday, while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the death toll reached 80, including 40 who reportedly died from suffocation. Syria, Russia, and Iran all denied reports of the attack, calling it a fabrication.

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World leaders once again accused the Syrian regime of resorting to a chemical weapons attack, killing dozens in Douma on April 8. While the regime regularly uses chlorine—a choking agent that causes respiratory problems, vomiting, and death—this attack involved something deadlier. Witnesses described symptoms that mirror those who fell victim to sarin gas, but this likelihood remains unconfirmed. Syrian regime supporters have questioned these accusations, rhetorically wondering why Bashar al-Assad would risk another international backlash against the war effort at a time when the international community appears resigned to his eventual victory. The answer lies in the urgency Assad faces in ending the conflict as quickly as possible.

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A year ago on April 4, a chemical attack on sleeping families in the Syrian province of Idlib killed 72 civilians and left 550 wounded. Yesterday was the 26th anniversary of the beginning of the siege of Sarajevo—the longest and the most brutal conflict in European post World War II history. Today is one year since the US carried out one-off airstrikes on the Shayrat air base in Syria, from which the chemical attack had been launched two days earlier. 

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At the end of March 2018, US President Donald Trump froze more than $200 million in pledged funds to restore stability and support reconstruction in Syria as the US administration reassesses its role in a number of protracted conflicts around the world. This measure suggests that US troops may withdraw from Syria in the near future, particularly given Trump’s recent comments on the matter. Many Syrian and US stakeholders objected to those statements, who view Washington's withdrawal from Syria as an opportunity for Iran to expand its already sizeable influence in the region stretching from Iraq to Syria to Lebanon.

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The refugee crisis in the Middle East—the mass displacement of millions of people—poses immediate and long-term problems. For the refugees themselves, it is a humanitarian crisis. The sudden and unexpected mass displacement of Syrians put an intense strain on neighboring countries: particularly Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, which together host millions of Syrian refugees. The influx of refugees has even upset the political climate in some European countries. In the long term, those growing up as refugees will miss out on education and work opportunities, and, if unable to return to their home countries, will be unable to contribute to the rebuilding of their countries.

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The case of Palestinian Refugees registered in Syria (PRS) is a difficult one. Once considered lucky, compared to Palestinian refugees in neighboring countries, PRS now face secondary displacement due to the Syrian conflict. Many fled to neighboring countries with little protection, making them among the most vulnerable refugee groups. The war in Syria impacted PRS significantly; those who fled the country, and those who stayed. It continues to impact the future of PRS in a post-war Syria.

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As operations in areas of eastern Syria cleared of the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) transition from immediate humanitarian response to longer-term stabilization efforts, the establishment and empowerment of inclusive, representative, and legitimate local governance will be crucial in preventing the resurgence of extremism and violence. Understanding the current conditions of local governance in this region, especially relating to both Arab and Kurdish populations, will be essential to consider in framing US policy in Syria moving forward.

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In January 2018, Syria Independent Monitoring published a research report titled “Understanding Market Drivers in Syria” in which it conducted field research into the olive/olive oil and spice/herb market systems in northeastern and northwestern Syria to assess the flow of food commodities—that has been highly impacted by the conflict —in the dynamic and adaptable agricultural markets that have proven to be the most resilient. Therefore, to stimulate the market, it is recommended that more aid be targeted at the agricultural sector by facilitating market actors, creating cooperatives, and offering a variety of funding options for local farmers.

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When I joined the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center in late 2012, I had one goal: to build a Syria program that could, from outside government, do that which I had failed to do on the inside. I wanted to persuade senior officials that a drifting Syria policy left unchanneled would facilitate human suffering on an industrial scale and serve the interests of those arrayed against the United States and its allies: Russia, Iran, Islamist extremists, and the lawless regime of Bashar al-Assad. 

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