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White Helmets seek safe zones to protect civilians

As US sanctions on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime have failed to end the war in Syria, the international community must exercise the political will to do so—and, in the meantime, establish safe zones that would put civilians out of harm’s way, according to two members of the Syrian Civil Defense (SCD), also known as the White Helmets.  

“The sanctions are not having the intended effect of stopping the war,” said Jehad Mahameed, a liaison officer for the SCD. Manal Abazeed, a volunteer with the White Helmets, called for world leaders, particularly US President Donald Trump, to exercise “the political will to stop this conflict.”
While Russia was “probably surprised” by the US missile strike on a Syrian air base, it is unlikely that the Kremlin will respond with escalatory force, according to a former deputy secretary general of NATO.

“They’re surprised, but I don’t necessarily think their reaction will be to escalate the situation,” said Alexander Vershbow, who now serves as a distinguish fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security. “The Russian reaction, while harsh in rhetoric… they’re going to try to draw a line around this incident,” he said.

“For the Russians, and I would hope for [Syrian President Bashar] Assad, they would not provoke an open-ended conflict with the United States,” said Vershbow. However, he said, this incident “might convince the Russians to reign in their client more effectively than they ever have.”

US missile strikes cannot be a one-off response, said the Atlantic Council’s Frederic C. Hof

US missile strikes on a Syrian air base from where a deadly chemical weapons attack is believed to have been launched send a clear message that the United States is now “directly engaged” in addressing the mass homicide perpetrated by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, said Frederic C. Hof, director of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

“The president’s top priority in Syria will continue to be the defeat of the so-called Islamic State, but in the wake of the chemical attack, the president realized that the Bashar al-Assad side of this problem is closely related to his top priority,” said Hof, noting that Assad’s brutal crackdown has helped recruitment for terrorist groups, including the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).

Hof, who served as special adviser for transition in Syria in US President Barack Obama’s administration in 2012, has been calling for a stronger US response to the war in Syria, both in and out of government. The war, which erupted in March 2011, has killed more than 450,000 people and created more than five million refugees.
The United States has limited options when it comes to responding to the deadly chemical attack likely carried out by Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria’s Idlib province on April 4, according to an Atlantic Council analyst.

The international community has so far imposed sanctions on Syria, which haven’t worked, said Faysal Itani, a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. “There is diplomacy, which in fairness we’ve been trying for a long time… That leaves the military option, or the military option combined with diplomacy. That’s something we haven’t done.”

If the military option is chosen, “We would either have to build an indigenous proxy force that can fight properly, or [the United States] and our allies have to do something in the country,” said Itani. The alternative to military and diplomatic action, he said, is “nothing. Those are our options.”

[UPDATE: The United States on April 6 carried out a missile strike in Syria in response to the chemical weapons attack. US President Donald J. Trump said he ordered the strike because it is in the “vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.”]
With no end in sight to a war that started six years ago, has claimed more than 465,000 lives, and displaced millions, it is fair to ask when is the right time to launch a much-needed effort to rebuild Syria. Should this effort start now, while the country is still ravaged by war, or once the conflict is over?

This quandary will inform the work of the Atlantic Council’s Rebuilding Syria Initiative, a two-year project that aims to identify what can be achieved now in terms of physical reconstruction in Syria, while simultaneously developing “a long-term plan that would address the massive reconstruction requirements of Syria in the future,” said Frederic C. Hof, director of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

“This project, however, is not just about bricks and mortar,” said Hof. “It will inevitably have to grapple with the question of how, if at all, investments, loans, and grants can proceed on a suitably massive scale if legitimate governance is absent.”

Libyan foreign minister seeks US engagement in effort to root out terrorists

Amid concern that the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) is regrouping in Libya, Mohamed Taher Syala, the foreign minister in Libya’s internationally recognized, Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), said the United States must remain committed to defeating the terrorists in his country.

More than five years after its longtime ruler, Moammar Gadhafi, was ousted and killed in an Arab Spring-inspired uprising, Libya remains mired in chaos. It has two rival governments and is awash in weapons and independent militias. ISIS has sought to exploit this chaos in the North African nation.

In the summer of 2016, the United States conducted drone strikes against ISIS targets in the coastal city of Sirte. Troops loyal to the GNA—mostly militias from the western city of Misrata—also helped shatter ISIS’ control over its stronghold in Sirte.

Syala praised the US military intervention. “Without those attacks, it would be very difficult for our forces to conquer Daesh in that area,” he said in an interview with the New Atlanticist on March 23. ISIS is also known as Daesh.
In order to end the civil war in Libya, those competing for power must meet, negotiate, and establish a path to free and fair elections early in 2018, Jonathan Winer, a former US State Department special envoy for Libya, said at the Atlantic Council on March 9.

The three factions claiming sole legitimacy and authority in Libya should “negotiate a deal… come together for the good of the country, create an interim government, and have elections in 2018,” said Winer. Of international allies and partners invested in the region, he said, “everybody pretty much sees it the same way. That’s what needs to happen.”
On March 1, the Syrian Democratic Forces and the Syrian regime reached an agreement allowing Syrian regime forces to create a buffer zone between the Syrian regime and Syrian Democratic Forces around Manbij. The buffer zone serves as an attempt to prevent fighting between Turkish recruits and Kurdish forces. Listen to Rafik Hariri Center’s Senior Resident Fellow on Turkey, Aaron Stein's commentary on the agreement and how it could affect Turkey’s military campaign in Syria.
A new Atlantic Council report—Breaking Aleppo—uses satellite images, TV footage, social media, and security camera videos to debunk Russia’s claims that no civilians were killed in its airstrikes on the city of Aleppo in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

“In an era where we’re facing a mixture of falsehoods and truths, the report is incontrovertible evidence,” said Fred Kempe, Atlantic Council president and chief executive officer, adding, “it exposes the deliberate and systematic destruction of Aleppo.” Kempe delivered opening remarks at the report’s launch at the Atlantic Council in Washington on February 13. He described how the report’s findings prove that the Assad regime, backed by Russia and Iran, targeted civilians and noncombatants “in a bid to break the will and spirit of the city.”
US President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order (EO) on January 27, barring refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries—Syria, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan, Iran, and Iraq—from entering the United States for at least 90 days, leaving refugee and immigrant communities in limbo. Trump’s Executive Order also suspends the US refugee resettlement program for 120 days, indefinitely suspends Syrian refugee resettlement to the United States, and caps the number of all refugees admitted at 50,000 per year. On February 3, a Seattle federal judge temporarily blocked the travel ban, after which Cairo Airport issued a statement saying it will allow travelers from the seven countries to board flights to the United States. As the case makes its way through the courts, the future of Iraqi, Syrian, and Sudanese refugees in Cairo expecting to resettle in the United States, has now been called into question.


    

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