SyriaSource|Amplifying Syrian voices

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This past December marks one year since Aleppo fell back into regime control following six years of fighting and a bloody aerial bombing campaign. This put an end to the most violent theatre of war in Syria; marked by the departure of those expelled from Aleppo on the last convoy on December 22 to the western countryside. Russia proposed to various factions of the opposition that all fighters and civilians in areas under their control be evacuated to Idlib under Turkish supervision. 

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For the better part of three years, this writer has recommended an accelerated battle against ISIS (ISIL, Daesh, Islamic State) in eastern Syria, one that would replace the pseudo-caliphate with a governance arrangement featuring reconstituted local councils, Syrian civil servants possessing needed skills, and the mainstream Syrian opposition (including the Turkish-supported Syrian Interim Government). Part of this recommendation is now being implemented. But the part that is not, may doom the enterprise.

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In a fourth round of talks on 4 May, 2017, the nations overseeing the Astana negotiations (Turkey, Russia, and Iran) arrived at a “de-escalation” agreement to establish safe zones in Syria.

This development came as military factions were severely weakened over an uninterrupted two-year period of violent and asymmetric clashes in all parts of Aleppo. To end the siege of Aleppo, two rebel led battles to break the siege on the city were waged and failed; leading to the city’s evacuation and its fall to regime forces and their allies. This came after battles in the countryside of southern Aleppo allowed the regime to approach the Damascus-Aleppo highway. Additionally, al-Nusra Front reduced the numbers of Free Syrian Army and Ahrar al-Sham forces.

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On December 11, Vladimir Putin declared the beginning of the end of Russia’s involvement in Syria, and proclaimed his “victory” from the Russian base of Hmeimim. In the same speech, he indicated that the conditions have been met for a political settlement of the Syrian war.

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Is there any hope at all that a New Year’s wish for Syrian peace and quiet will be fulfilled? Yes, there is always hope. But if there is anything to be learned from the sad spectacle of Western (mainly American) Syria policy over the past nearly seven years, it is that hope—accompanied only by lofty rhetoric and plaintive protest—is the emptiest and most useless of sentiments. Absent real commitment to protect Syrian civilians, 2018 and the years that follow will be marked by the emptying of a country where hope is as homeless as millions of Syrian men, women, and children.

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Following the agreement and the subsequent withdrawal of the Islamic State (ISIL, ISIS, Daesh) from Raqqa on October 15, 2016, ISIS fighters warned “the land will fight for us,” in reference to the large number of mines planted by the group where practically every house and street is laced with dozens of them. Throughout the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, ISIS has made deadly use of mines in diversion operations and simultaneous attacks, killing those fighting against the militant group, civilians attempting to flee their assaults, or those returning to their homes after the group’s defeat in Raqqa.

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On October 10, 2017, al-Jabha al-Shamiya (the Levantine Front) handed over the Bab al-Salama checkpoint along the Turkish-Syrian border, to the Syrian interim government along with all its staff and financial resources. This was part of a bid to empower the interim administration, born out of the Syrian National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces (Etilaf), and to strengthen its legitimacy in the liberated areas.

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During 70 months of chaos in Syria, the United States had protected not one Syrian civilian from the homicidal rampages of Bashar al-Assad and his remorseless regime. Yes, America had come militarily to the aid of Syrian Kurds besieged by ISIS (ISIL, Daesh, Islamic State). Yet the United States had protected no one in Syria from an Iranian client regime’s campaign of civilian mass homicide.  The consequences were profoundly negative for Syrians, their neighbors, Western Europe, and the United States.  And they were avoidable.

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The Kurds in northern Syria have established their own education system in what they call Rojava, unfettered by the central government in Damascus, after taking control of the area following the Syrian regime's withdrawal. This has been achieved through rolling out a Kurdish curriculum, which has so far been introduced for Kurdish (non-Arab) pupils in the primary and preparatory stages of their school education. They hope to follow this with a Kurdish secondary school curriculum, before opening universities in the three Kurdish provinces of Al-Jazira, Euphrates, and Afrin.

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A few months ago, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad delivered a speech to Syrian expatriate businessmen announcing his imminent military victory over “terrorism” thanks to the support of his Russian and Iranian Allies. In his speech, Assad promised loyalists and businessmen a share in reconstruction while stressing that the US, Gulf, and other western companies would have no role to play in reconstruction whatsoever.

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