SyriaSource|Amplifying Syrian voices

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Max Boot in the Post argues that letting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “win as quickly as possible” is “the way to save lives.” But the United States is not obstructing Mr. Assad’s military progress. Mr. Boot is pushing on a door that lacks even a hinge.

Bashar al-Assad is indeed winning. Beyond outnumbered, outgunned Syrian rebels, no one stands in his way. The way he is winning, however, mandates an American response beyond talk. The terror bombing of 400,000 residents of Eastern Ghouta is but the latest episode of a multi-year campaign of mass civilian homicide.  

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Russian-Iranian cooperation in Syria is booming today, with support for the Syrian regime making it far superior to opposition forces. After the fall of Aleppo two years ago, the opposition appears on the verge of losing another important area, Eastern Ghouta—a highly strategic area due to its proximity to the heart of the capital city, Damascus.

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Turkey’s cross-border intervention in Afrin, the Kurdish-controlled enclave in northwestern Syria separated from other Kurdish territory in northeastern Syria, has advanced to the outskirts of Afrin city. The offensive began on January 20th, 2018, with the intention of ousting the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) from the territory it controls in the northwest. After breaking YPG defenses surrounding the city, Turkish ground forces have moved swiftly to besiege the city and, presumably, will begin urban combat operations in the next few days.

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The Democratic Union Party’s (PYD) position is precarious. Though it has made political and territorial gains during the Syrian crisis and tied itself to the United States’ fight against the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) and subsequent stabilization efforts, the PYD is threatened by remaining pockets of ISIS resistance, the threat of a Syrian government attack, and a Turkish-backed rebel assault on its territory in Afrin.

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In early February, Syrian rebel forces  in southern Syria announced the launch of “the Battle of the Conquerors,” a military campaign reportedly backed by Israel against an affiliate of the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) in the region. This took place days prior to the February 10 confrontation between Israel and Iran, where, in a day, Israel downed an Iranian drone in Israeli airspace, Syrian anti-air systems unprecedentedly downed an Israeli F-16 aircraft, and Israel responded by striking Syrian and Iranian positions in the country, reputedly destroying some 40 percent of Syrian air defense capabilities.

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The rebel group Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) regularly intervenes in Syrians’ public affairs in Idlib and imposes its authority on the education centers. Additionally, they also disrupt hospitals and other humanitarian facilities through the "Sawa'id al-Khair" or “Goodwill Corps,” affiliated with the morality police, that patrol public areas in HTS-held territory, known as the Hisba.

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In his recent testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, former United States Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, called on Congress and the US administration to consider cutting assistance to United Nations humanitarian aid programs in Syria. He followed up with an op-ed in The Hill explaining his controversial stance: for years the Assad government has impeded or entirely blocked aid to opposition-held areas, effectively causing the US government, through the UN, to subsidize the Syrian government with one-sided humanitarian aid. This legitimizes and enriches the very apparatus responsible for the genesis of the conflict in Syria and the prolonged suffering of millions. Ambassador Ford is not alone in his call for a re-evaluation of the current US approach to aid in Syria: a recent report from Faysal Itani, Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, and Tobias Schneider, an independent international security analyst, suggests a de-centralized strategy that relies on established local partners in non-regime areas, thus bypassing the Assad regime and the ramifications of US entanglement.

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A medieval fortress overlooks the small predominantly Sunni Muslim town of Madiq Castle in Hama, Syria, situated on the Orontes River and along the fertile al-Ghab plain, under opposition control today. To the south, there lies Suqaylabiya, a predominantly Christian town under regime control. Alawis live in both locations, though mostly in regime-controlled areas. When war came to this part of Hama, clashes between regime and opposition forces ended in a truce that has largely held until today. Amid dramatic offensives in Eastern Ghouta and Afrin, the Russians issued a threat to 13 villages in the area, including Madiq Castle, demanding that residents accept their entry into the region—or else. This threat against civilians demonstrates a heightened level of complicity with the Assad regime in its attacks on noncombatants in Syria, one that should warrant an immediate response from those who wish to protect the most vulnerable in Syria.

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The bewildering complexity of a conflict in Syria about to mark its seventh anniversary causes eyes to close and heads to shake among political leaders and their constituents throughout the West. The unanswerable question—How does this end?—plunges even the best of brains into darkness and despair.

Russia and Iran—for separate but compatible reasons—have cut through the fog and confusion by holding to two objectives: keep Bashar al-Assad in power; and then demographically blackmail the West into paying for the rebuilding of Syria under the auspices of a corrupt and incompetent regime. As the West ties itself in policy knots, objecting loudly but impotently to Assad regime war crimes while trying to end (at long last) a three-plus-year war against a collection of armed rapists, pickpockets, and bank robbers in eastern Syria, Moscow and Tehran attend to business.

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Ongoing discussions regarding the now famous Syrian legislative law, Decree 66, continue and its recent expansion and approval by parliament in January 2018, is waiting to be officially implemented to the rest of the country. Decree 66, which entered into law as of September 2012, allowed the government to "redesign unauthorized or illegal housing areas" and replace them with "modern" real estate projects with quality services. The possible expansion of Decree 66 could have important consequences on the reconstruction process and the consolidation of the political and economic power of the regime through crony capitalist linked to it, while providing foreign allies with a share of the market to reward them for their assistance.

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