A new flurry of reports suggesting Israel may formally annex the occupied Golan Heights is music to the ears of Bashar al-Assad, a mass murderer who would welcome a decisive change of subject from his own criminality to what he will characterize as Israel’s theft of Syrian land. Among the delighted will be Iran and Hezbollah, whose resistance pretentions will be gratuitously elevated above their sewer of transnational terror, drug running, and money laundering. As there is nothing substantive to be gained by Israel through formal annexation and much to be potentially lost, one wonders why its proponents are so eager to do it.
The declared top objective of the Trump administration for Syria is “the enduring defeat of ISIS [ISIL, Daesh, Islamic State].” Presumably this means not only killing the bogus caliphate in its physical and ideological dimensions, but keeping it dead. If the presumption is correct, the administration should prepare itself for a heavy and sustained political, diplomatic, developmental, and military lift in Syria; east of the Euphrates River. There is no sign it is preparing to do so. The concern here is that the security of American allies and friends in the region and in Europe will be jeopardized by a half-hearted American effort; that an undead ISIS can threaten North America itself.
The de-escalation zone in Syria encompassing Northern Hama and Idlib Provinces is witnessing ongoing and large-scale cease-fire violations by multiple parties. Recent escalations last night showed the first use of incendiary phosphorous attacks—a flammable chemical weapon—in almost a year and targeting the towns of al-Tamanah, Sarmin, and Khan Sheikhoun all located Idlib countryside; which several reports indicate through the use of Russian warplanes.
Read in Arabic here. Syrian women took part in popular protests against the Assad regime from the beginning, and as a result of that they have been exposed to all kinds of abuse including physical and mental torture, sexual violence, and were even killed for protesting.
After eight years, Syrian women are still fighting for their basic rights. Since the uprising, Syrian women faced oppression from one group to another: under the Assad regime, and now with extremist groups that impose fundamentalist interpretations of religious rulings and texts. Additionally, Syrian women continue to deal with imposed gender norms in the local culture; which marginalizes and limits women to stereotypical roles.
Eight years of constant war have brought pain and destruction to the Syrian people and their country. What these years have also brought is a chaotic kaleidoscope of armed opposition groups (AOGs) fighting against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. With various forms of foreign fighters, agenda-ascribed funding, and rising religious and ethnic extremism; almost all of the existing Syrian armed rebellion—which initially aimed to liberate the Syrian people from dictatorship—has, regrettably, not only failed in achieving its goal, but also found itself contributing to the pain and destruction of its own country.
Eight years ago, a very quiet American peace mediation between Syria and Israel was showing promise. Territorial disputes long dividing the parties were being resolved. Security issues key to a genuine peace were being tackled. The fact that months of shuttle diplomacy had not leaked suggested the parties were serious. Had the mediation continued, both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would likely have faced a choice by year’s end: inform their respective citizenries that mutually agreed terms of peace had been arrived at; or scuttle everything. Alas, we will never know what those choices would have been.
Just a few months separated the arrival of Syrian refugees Ahmad al-’Awda and his friend Mahmud al-Agha to Germany. Both of them fled from the war in their country that started in 2011. Al-’Awda arrived in Germany in January 2016 and al-Agha arrived in May 2015. This short eight month difference separating their arrivals was enough to guarantee that al-’Awda would not be able to apply to bring his family, who are still in Syria, because he did not get permanent residency in Germany. Rather, due to a series of laws, the German authorities have been granting only temporary residence papers to Syrian refugees.
Across Syria, thousands of men have been held captive by the Syrian government, some languishing for years in detention for their political activities, their refusal to join the army, or just by virtue of being related to people who oppose the dictatorship. Less talked about are the experiences of women who are arrested and held in captivity, raped and tortured, and the struggles they endure if they are eventually released. They can face unemployment, trauma, and even be shunned by segments of their communities. In the Northwestern city of Idlib, one of the last areas of the country still not under control by the government, a group of women are trying to help bring these former prisoners back into society. 'Release Me' is a local support group turned non-governmental organization based in Kafar Tahrim started by Walaa Ahmad, a former prisoner herself, in August 2018.
Read in Arabic here. Since 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.
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.