SyriaSource|Amplifying Syrian voices

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The recent downturn in US-Turkish relations following the Turkish military’s cross-border military operation in Kurdish-held Afrin, dubbed Operation Olive Branch, should prompt a re-evaluation of American interests in Syria. Afrin is an enclave under the control of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its militia, the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG). The PYD is the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an insurgent group active in Turkey since the early 1980s. The YPG is also the main-militia in the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, the multi-ethnic grouping of militias that has done the bulk of the fighting against Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) east of the Euphrates River.

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A confrontation escalated along the Syrian-Israeli front the morning of February 10, opening a new destabilizing chapter to the Syrian war. A Syrian anti-aircraft battery downed an Israeli Air Force F-16 fighter aircraft that had penetrated Syrian airspace, seriously wounding the pilot. The incident immediately sparked Israeli air attacks on Syrian and Iranian rocket platforms.

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A key component of the new US policy towards Syria, as outlined by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in his address at Stanford, is its focus on stabilization efforts in areas cleared of the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh). Stabilization efforts, according to Tillerson, aim to bring about two of the five desired end states he enumerates: ensuring the enduring defeat of ISIS, and facilitating conditions that would allow for the safe and voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). His concession that “no party in the Syrian conflict is capable of victory or stabilizing the country via military means alone” indicates an understanding of the root cause of both the war with ISIS and the Syrian civil war: bad governance.

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Official statement presented to the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, on the hearing for "Syria: Which Way Forward?"

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The city of Afrin is at the forefront of events in Syria. Armed opposition forces and the Turkish army have launched Operation Olive Branch in an attempt to remove the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) from the Turkish border and impede the establishment of an independent Kurdish enclave in the north of the country.

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Syrian regime forces captured significant parts of the countryside east of Idlib, and the Abu Duhur military airport, exposing the route between Aleppo and Hama. In doing so the regime has been able to isolate the city of Idlib from its eastern countryside, and from the southern Aleppo countryside. In response, the Syrian opposition and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) regained a number of areas, yet clashes are still ongoing. Fighting has occurred regardless of the fact that Idlib falls under the fourth de-escalation zone as denoted in the 'De-escalation Agreement' that was signed by Turkey, Iran, and Russia in Astana.

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Volunteer teams are desperately attempting to preserve what remains of the archaeological heritage of Idlib, a city in north-western Syria. Most of these efforts have been unsuccessful because most of the city is under the control of jihadists. Any area with archaeological artifacts is at risk of looting by jihadist organizations known to operate in Idlib, such as Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). A member from a local volunteer confirmed that they had only been able to preserve a few small objects that HTS had overlooked; unlike the grand statues and old paintings. Some HTS fighters work day and night in special workshops excavating the ancient quarters of Idlib in search of valuables.

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After an arduous journey filled with many obstacles, including traversing the Mediterranean Sea and crossing chain-linked border fences, Syrian refugee Mahmoud Mardini chose to return to Turkey illegally. He gave up residency in Germany, along with its associated benefits, after failing to achieve his dream of completing his university education.

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Former US president Barack Obama announced the first airstrike against the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) in Iraq in August 2014. Within a month of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's declaration of the caliphate, aerial operations against the Islamic State were launched, but despite this fact, the costly process of defeating ISIS dragged on for another three years. Their eventual defeat came after a lengthy battle during which a coalition of seventy countries carried out more than twenty-five thousand aerial raids, causing substantial loss of life and the widespread destruction of infrastructure and private property.

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Celebrations accompanying the forthcoming military defeat of the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh) in Syria east of the Euphrates River will fall somewhere between muted and absent. A three-year campaign to neutralize a criminal gang is ending on an abysmally low note: an escalating bilateral crisis between two NATO allies. What happened? Is it fixable?

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