SyriaSource|Amplifying Syrian voices

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In late September, Russian jets bombed the city of Haram in Idlib province for the first time since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in 2011. Not a single village or town in western Idlib was spared by Russian bombing this time. The air strikes hit  Haram, Idlib city, Jisr al-Shughur, Khan Sheikhun and towns in the Jabal Zawiyah region. Civil Defense members said most of the strikes targeted hospitals, schools, and any infrastructure left in the 5,000 sq. km rebel-controlled northern region. 

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During the Obama administration, one of the many public throw-away lines designed to paper-over an adamant refusal to protect civilians from a homicidal regime was that the President of Syria—Bashar al-Assad—“lacked all legitimacy.” Russia, on the other hand characterized Assad as the paragon of legitimacy: as the chief of a state represented in the United Nations; a state allegedly subjected to the regime-change machinations of that well-known militarist, Barack Obama. What is the truth? What are the practical implications of legitimacy—or the lack thereof—in Syria?

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The south Damascus suburbs are not Syria’s most pressing theatre of war. Syrian pro-government forces are busy routing out Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) jihadists in Deir Ezzor, and Islamist opposition from Eastern Ghouta in Damascus. Meanwhile, Russia and the international community are busy trying to monopolize Syria’s future.

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The medical situation in Damascus’ Eastern Ghouta is deteriorating as the Syrian regime’s siege of the city surpasses four years, threatening an impending health crisis for civilians in need of treatment. These civilians reside just a few kilometers from the capital; however, they cannot go to the capital. The siege is happening under the watch of the international community, particularly the United Nations, raising questions about its ability to participate in rebuilding Syria in a way that protects civilians and restores stability in the region.

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At 11: 56 a.m. on a Friday, the Syrian Civil Defense (SCD) issued an alert on its various social media accounts that a fighter jet left the Hama military airbase and was headed north. The statement listed at least eight potential target zones, including the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province.

Expected time of arrival in Khan Sheikhoun, according to the alert, was two minutes.

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Local agreements between the Syrian regime and opposition forces may have lessened the violence, but they have not ended the suffering of Syrians. Such deals, in which the regime uses bombing and blockades to force the opposition to surrender, have moved many Syrians from their towns in the Damascus hinterland towards rural Idlib, where they face new challenges: overcrowding caused by the arrival of thousands of displaced, an area with few work opportunities, and a political environment that is different to what residents had been used to in the south, as Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) is the strongest power in Idlib.

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After more than a year of heated debate among the Turkish public and authorities, thousands of Syrians living across the country have begun receiving citizenship. The first batch to receive decisions in early August included fifty thousand Syrian refugees, mostly holders of university degrees, such as doctors, engineers and teachers, along with their families. But decisions on granting citizenship are not subject to clear criteria such as knowledge of the Turkish language.

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The Trump administration is focusing properly on blocking the destabilizing, terrorist-abetting activities of Iran in Mesopotamia, the Levant, and elsewhere. Yet rather than addressing the worst of those activities head-on, it is confounding allies and risking Western unity by making the 2015 nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – JCPOA) the centerpiece of its roll-back strategy. One alternative to an all-or-nothing bet on the JCPOA would be for the administration to concentrate its attention and that of allies and partners on the one place where Tehran has stacked a major portion of its own chips: in Syria and on the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

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The Syrian opposition is facing unprecedented regional and international pressure. At the Riyadh 2 Conference last August, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told the Syrian opposition about the stances of various countries on the Syrian issue. While many preferred not to have the Assad regime remain in power, the controversy was about timing. Some countries want Assad to leave at the end of a transitional period and others to see him go at the beginning.

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A vibrant civil society is key to Syria’s future. But across Syria’s so-called de-escalation zones, the hard-won advances of Syrian activists and humanitarians risk being rolled back in the name of “early recovery” and “reconstruction.”

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