SyriaSource|Amplifying Syrian voices

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With a Donald Trump-Vladimir Putin summit looming, American policy toward Syria may be on the line. Specifically: in an effort to accommodate a Russian counterpart for whom he has high regard, President Trump may be tempted to short-circuit the American-led post-Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) stabilization of northeastern Syria. The silence of the Syrian opposition in the face of this disastrous possibility is deafening.

A successfully stabilized, liberated northeast is the nightmare of Putin, Iran, and the Assad regime. In its most horrifying version it would produce, for the edification of all Syrians, a governance alternative to a murderous, kleptocratic regime. Putin counts on Trump to serve as doorman for Iran and Assad in northeastern Syria.

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As the battles narrow in scope, the ongoing offensive and strategy of the Assad regime is to recapture the southwestern region which includes Daraa, Quneitra and parts of Sweida. Daraa is controlled by armed opposition groups with the military support of the United States and Jordan. The region is also one of four allotted de-escalation zones signed in May 2017 by Russia, Turkey, and Iran that would halt fighting and reduce bloodshed. The United States, Jordan, and Russia separately negotiated a ceasefire in parts of Syria in July 2017. With the Syrian regime’s recent military offensive in southwestern Syria, these de-escalation plans are now compromised.

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The situation in southwestern Syria continues to worsen. The Syrian regime launched a military campaign against opposition forces two weeks ago and hundreds of thousands of civilians fled towards the Jordanian borders and Israeli-occupied Golan Heights as a result of intense airstrikes and fierce clashes. Several regime advances have been reported, and there is a growing likelihood more are to occur in the coming days.

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Of all the things that could hurt Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in this weekend’s election—authoritarian tendencies, a poor human rights record, and reports of rampant corruption—one of its more liberal policies may be its undoing.

Polls indicate that the AKP could possibly lose its grip on power for the first time in years, and it may have something to do with the party’s welcoming stance towards Syrian refugees. With elections approaching, the 3.9 million Syrian refugees that Turkey hosts have become a rallying point for opposition leaders, who seek to gain from increasingly intolerant public opinion towards Syrian refugees.

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Canada has a reputation as a welcoming haven for refugees. But for some Indigenous Canadians, public support and funding for displaced people stands in stark contrast to their own communities, which remain impoverished and overlooked.

Last year the nation welcomed 300,000 newcomers, including about 43,500 refugees and asylum seekers. Faced with President Donald Trump’s anti-immigration policies, thousands of migrants have left the United States to seek asylum in Canada.

Many arrived in Manitoba, whose capital Winnipeg has the largest Indigenous population of any Canadian city. The city also faces problems with violence, drugs and homelessness.

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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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In early May, CBS confirmed that the US administration had frozen aid to the Syrian Civil Defense organization known as the "White Helmets." The US State Department said the aid–which is part of a $200 million assistance package–has come under close review since March. Unexpectedly, the freeze came after the State Department hosted a White Helmets delegation that same month, which sparked strong positive signals afterward. Senior US officials even committed to US support for the Syrian Civil Defense until 2020.

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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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For seven years a chilly, arms-length relationship between the US government and the Syrian opposition has worked to the profound disadvantage of both. Washington has often deprived itself of timely information and informed advice at key junctures of the Syrian crisis, leaving it vulnerable to policy reversals and even disasters. And blindness has been contagious. The opposition—both inside and outside Syria—has typically been clueless about American intentions, as it has struggled with internal indecision, dissension, and disunity fed by the conflicting priorities of regional actors seeking to control the Revolution in the absence of American leadership.

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