SyriaSource|Amplifying Syrian voices

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Remarks of Ambassador Frederic C. Hof to the American Committees on Foreign Relations in Boise, Idaho, on November 9, 2015.

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In late March 2015, armed groups opposing to the Assad regime gathered to plan for the liberation of the Idlib in northern Syria. The groups included the Al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya, Sham Legion, Jund al-Aqsa, and the Sunna Army, most of whom are considered jihadist forces. They formed Jaysh al-Fatah (Army of Conquest) Operations Room, an army with no leader or unified military body. Despite that, it quickly took Idlib city, and then advanced to other neighboring cities, including Jisr al Shughur near the government-controlled mountains on the Syrian coast. This army has struck terror into the ranks of Assad’s supporters, especially after arriving at the Joreen base in central Syria in the region known as al-Ghab Plains.

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If the Vienna Joint Communique of October 30, 2015 is to spur progress toward peace and political transition in Syria, the United States and its partners must first devise and agree upon a comprehensive collective strategy. With all respect to the dogged creativity of Secretary of State John Kerry, the administration's eagerness for a deal with Russia simply must not trump or preempt consensus among allies and partners on the way forward. As inconvenient as they may sometimes be, relationships with friends come first. The second round of the Vienna talks should not take place until two things happen: The Assad regime must cease all mass civilian casualty activities (including bombings and sieges); and the United States and its partners must reach a comprehensive, collective strategy.

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If one wishes to live safely in Deir Ezzor, he must swear allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS). ISIS grants those who pledge their loyalty lucrative pensions and salaries, the best living accommodations, and favorable treatment, allowing said individuals to do what they want and come and go as they please—even after ISIS sealed the lone crossing to the city accessible to civilians earlier this year. The inhabitants of Deir Ezzor have rebuffed these advances and refused to pledge fealty, and so suffer harsher treatment than residents of any other ISIS-controlled area.

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According to a Reuters report, Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad has rejected the concept of a Syrian political transition underlying the June 2012 Geneva Final Communique and the more recent Vienna Joint Communique issued only days ago. Mekdad told Syrian state television during a visit to Tehran, "We are talking about a national dialogue in Syria and an expanded government and a constitutional process. We are not at all talking about what is called a transitional period, [an idea existing] only in the minds of those who do not live in reality." The salient reality is that an ‘expanded’ Syrian government—a prime minister and a cabinet—would continue to lack executive power, all of which would continue to reside in the regime: the Assad-Makhluf clan and its enforcers.

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