Deliberate, systematic, and relentless targeting of defenseless civilians is the headline of eight-plus years of conflict in Syria. Mass murder by aircraft, artillery and missiles, ‘starve or surrender’ sieges, illegal detentions, horrific torture: these have been the hallmark tactics of a ruling regime determined to survive politically at any cost; one that has inflicted industrial scale state terror on civilians residing in rebel-controlled areas. The results inside Syria have been catastrophic. But they have not been limited to Syria. What has happened in Syria—one of history’s most sustained assaults on innocent human life—has not stayed in Syria. The consequences of mass homicide threaten the security of the United States and the entire Western alliance.
Read in Arabic here. The relationship between the Islamic State (ISIS) and its female members has always been complicated. On the one hand, the extremist group imposed rigid restrictions on women’s dress and their ability to appear in public places. On the other hand, it conscripted and trained many women to undertake various tasks within its ranks. Now, as the military defeat of ISIS draws near, many women want to go back to their lives before they joined.
In light of what appears to be Assad’s victory in Syria, domestic and international attention is increasingly shifting towards Syria’s reconstruction phase and the future of post-war Syria. But for many Syrians, the horrors of war are far from over.
The Syrian government along with its Russian allies launched a brutal assault on Idlib province, the last rebel-held areas, on Monday 30 April. The United Nations said the attacks included the worst use of barrel bombs by the Syrian army in 15 months. It said an estimated 323,000 people have been displaced in northwest Syria since last year. This bloody assault has been going on for two weeks and is a violation of the ongoing ceasefire agreement. The only victims of the daily barrel bombs and the Russians airstrikes are the civilians in Idlib.
Since the fall of 2018, we have seen increasing signals of disagreement among European Union (EU) member states regarding Syria. The official EU position remains one of non-engagement with the Bashar al-Assad regime until the realization of an “inclusive and Syrian-led political process that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people”— as stated in the United Nations Resolution 2254 that inspires the EU position. However, some European governments are breaking away from this position and beginning to engage with the Syrian government. Although some degree of political normalization between single EU member states and Damascus is likely in the near future, several powerful factors still prevent any significant European contribution to Syria reconstruction.
US President Donald Trump’s December 2018 tweet announcing the withdrawal of American military forces from Syria has inadvertently invited ISIS (ISIL, IS, Daesh, Islamic State) to resurrect itself. Even though American officials have walked-back the presidential decree, the president himself has signaled no enduring or enthusiastic support for the essential, victory-sealing stabilization of areas liberated from ISIS.
The Idlib deconfliction zone created by Russia and Turkey at Sochi in September 2018 is currently subject to violations by both the Assad regime and armed opposition groups. Regime and armed opposition groups have targeted each other since February. Tension is increasing between Russia and Turkey due to these ongoing violations and ultimately over the fate of the agreement. These violations are important because of the danger they pose to the three million inhabitants in the area. If the agreement collapses and the regime mounts an offensive on Idlib, using similar tactics seen in Aleppo, it risks creating an unprecedented humanitarian disaster.
Local reconciliation deals in Syria, which aimed to avert escalating violence, have proven to provide only short-term protections. The intense government offensive to retake Eastern Ghouta in early 2018 undoubtedly affected other communities’ decisions to surrender or negotiate through partial intermediaries in order to avoid all-out conflict later on. With no allies on the ground, the opposition was forced to negotiate with the regime through questionable local interlocutors or through the government’s stalwart ally, Russia. As the remaining opposition-held communities reflect on how settlements in Daraa and Northern Homs unfolded, they are provided with little reason to negotiate, making a bloody final stand more likely than ever before.
Before 2011, Syria’s population was estimated at twenty one million people. But after eight years of conflict, five million fled the country, and more than six million are internally displaced people (IDP)s between Idlib province and northern Syria. This displacement is not merely a consequence of the war, but rather a specific goal of the regime and its allies’ strategy in order to regain control of the country. The regime carried out widespread forced displacement in Homs, Damascus, Aleppo and the nearby countryside to effect demographic change. The regime rewarded loyalists with homes in Damascus and punished opposition figures and communities by forcibly evacuating them from their homes to the other side of the country. This tactic is integral to the regime in order to consolidate control over Syria after the war ends.
A new documentation system in the Turkish-administrated region in northern Aleppo designed for security and administrative purposes seems to ignore the legal status of local residents; many of which are internally displaced peoples (IDP)s that are Syrian or Palestinian. The system raises concerns from displaced Palestinian refugees about their internationally recognized legal refugee status and their ability to preserve their Palestinian identity within the larger Syrian population.