SyriaSource|Amplifying Syrian voices

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Read in Arabic hereSince 2011, the Syrian regime has kept thousands of Syrian men in its military service as emergency forces—serving for an unspecified period—and refusing to discharge successive batches of army conscripts; some of whom have served for eight years in compulsory service. If they do not comply, they can be charged with a criminal offense and imprisoned for up to three years. In order to avoid fighting in the regime’s forces, Syrian youth have resorted to fleeing their country and the compulsory military service. Those who flee are considered military deserters according to Syrian law, and arrested if they return.

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The outcome of the fourth Arab Economic and Social Development (AESD) summit held in Lebanon last month spoke volumes about the Middle East’s deep divisions. Iran’s role in the Levant and the question of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s legitimacy are unquestionably polarizing issues in the region. Both have potential to slow down the process by which Syria’s government, citizens, and fellow Arab states could reach agreement on a lasting settlement to the country’s eight-year civil war that could potentially pave the path for peace and stability returning to Syria.

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The Youth Sports Club, once considered one of the most prominent soccer clubs in Deir Ezzor city in eastern Syria, now marks the beginning of Iran’s cultural penetration project in Syria. It transformed the building that was previously dedicated to training the soccer team into a cultural center employing a number of Arabic-speaking Iranians.

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Those who believe that Tehran and Moscow consider themselves home free, gleefully celebrating the political survival of their Syrian client without a care in the world, underestimate the knowledge and sophistication of Iranian and Russian officials. Their problems are just beginning, and they know it. But how should the United States act, given the survival of a hideous regime: one whose crimes against humanity persuade some Syrians (and foreign fighters willing to support them) that Al Qaeda and ISIS (ISIL, Daesh, Islamic State) were, and perhaps still are, attractive alternatives?

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While the Trump administration’s flip-flops on Syria and the looming withdrawal of US personnel from the country's northeast have rightly drawn a great deal of public attention, important developments have simultaneously unfolded without much notice in the northwest. Specifically, while all eyes have been on the territories held by the Kurds and their allies to the east, the Salafist Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) militia has seized control of Idlib province and the adjacent opposition-held portions of western Aleppo and northern Hama, routing the Turkish-backed National Liberation Front (NLF). In short, the moderate opposition has collapsed on the ground inside Syria, except in areas directly controlled by Turkey. HTS and its affiliated "Salvation Government” are now in charge. Hard-line jihadists have won the northwest and the consequences could be dire.

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French authorities were undoubtedly upset, if not very surprised, by US President Donald Trump’s sudden announcement of a withdrawal from the northeast of Syria. On several occasions during his talks with President Trump, especially when he came to Washington for a state visit in April 2018, French President Emmanuel Macron was very insistent that the US and their allies should stay, ultimately he did not change the American president’s decision and campaign commitment to end America’s wars abroad.

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On January 13, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israeli forces attacked Iranian weapons warehouses in Damascus the day prior, confirming similar reports by Syrian state media. What is unusual about Netanyahu’s statement is not the content—indeed, Israeli officials previously acknowledged carrying out hundreds of strikes on thousands of Iranian targets in Syria—but the context. The announcement broke with a “policy of ambiguity” under which Israel refuses to claim responsibility immediately after a specific attack; the rationale being to safeguard against potential retaliation. 

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This morning reports of four Americans killed in Manbij, Syria surfaced with the Islamic State (ISIS) claiming the attack which came in the form of a suicide explosive vest next to a US patrol. The attack killed two US soldiers, a civilian from the Defense Intelligence Agency, and a US contractor. Several civilians were also caught in the attack with estimates of thirteen to sixteen casualties in addition to the deaths of two local security officers. The attack occurred in the main market near a girls’ school and restaurant as US troops met up with the local Manbij Military Council (MMC). Comments and analysis from our experts are below.

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President Trump’s impulsive “out of Syria” tweet of December 19, 2018 may have sacrificed high value, low cost American leverage in eastern Syria for precisely nothing.  Russian, Iranian, and Assad regime alarm that the West would work with local Syrians in areas liberated from ISIS (ISIL, Daesh, Islamic State) to create the long-awaited governance alternative to Bashar al-Assad, family, and friends have all-but-evaporated.  It was that possibility – the presentation to all Syrians of a good government, civilized alternative to mass murder, state terror, war crimes, bottomless corruption, and subservience to Iran – that was the essence of Western leverage: not the physical presence of 2,000 uniformed Americans.  But those soldiers and marines were a tripwire and a symbol of American determination to seal the victory over ISIS by paving the way for political transition in all of Syria.  The president may have given it away.  For nothing. 

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Up one of the steep hillsides that line Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley, Soheir al-Kanoun hasn’t left the house in days.

A Palestinian refugee originally from Syria’s Yarmouk camp, who now lives in a hillside town overlooking the valley below, al-Kanoun’s family have been living off bread and tahini since Storm Norma began—groceries bought hastily last week in preparation for rain, wind and snow.

And while the elevation has protected al-Kanoun and her elderly mother from flooding, hillside snow and ice has hemmed them inside since the weekend.  

“I can’t go out in this weather,” she said. “We live up in the hills. People rarely go outside.”

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