SyriaSource|Amplifying Syrian voices

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The latest Israeli airstrike on the T4 airbase and the possibility of Russia providing Damascus with an S-300 missile system have strained relations between Moscow and Tel Aviv. But these developments are unlikely to break down this strategic partnership or spark further escalation.

Tensions are increasing between Russia and Israel over Syria, casting a shadow on a strategic partnership built on deconflicting the nation’s crowded and complex battlefield. However, experts say the countries’ relationship remains solid enough for now.

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As France’s President Emmanuel Macron begins a three-day state visit with US President Donald Trump, their discussions are likely to focus on differences of opinion relating to Syria and Iran’s involvement in the conflict.  

Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East experts weigh in on the upcoming meeting between Macron and Trump, their differing views on Syria, and the potential impact of the visit.

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Chechen, Dagestani, and other foreign fighters from Russia’s North Caucasus region (and Georgia’s Chechen-inhabited Pankisi Gorge) have formed some of the most formidable insurgent groupings in Syria’s conflict despite their small numbers. Over the past year, however, their activity has slowed to a crawl, and their actions and statements suggest many of these fighters may look to exit the conflict area soon.

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A new chapter began in Eastern Ghouta, part of Damascus governorate, on March 22. The government-imposed siege ended in certain towns and Syrian regime forces seized control of areas through a negotiated agreement between the Syrian regime and its Russian ally on one hand and opposition factions—the Rahman Corps and later Jaysh al-Islam—on the other. The terms of the agreement allowed the regime to begin forcibly displacing people from their homes.

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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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