SyriaSource|Amplifying Syrian voices

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On the night of April 29, air strikes targeting Syrian military positions in Hama and Aleppo reportedly hit two Iran-linked bases resulting in a giant explosion measuring 2.6 on the Richter scale. According to a former head of military intelligence, this indicates the target may have been a weapons depot that was highly explosive, stating “the level of explosion that even moved the needle of an earthquake detector is not from the munition that attacked these places, but from the target.”

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During a state visit to the United States, US policy in Syria was a key talking point for French President Emmanuel Macron and US President Donald Trump. The meetings took place just ten days after the US, France, and the United Kingdom carried out joint missile strikes in Syria as a response to suspected chemical weapons attack on April 9 by the regime.

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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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