SyriaSource|Amplifying Syrian voices

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In an interview during the evening of December 20, 2018 with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Stephen Miller (adviser to US President Donald Trump) offered the following piece of commentary: “ISIS is the enemy of Russia, ISIS is the enemy of Assad, ISIS is the enemy of Turkey. Are we supposed to stay in Syria for generation after generation, spilling American blood to fight the enemies of all those countries?” One-for-three isn’t bad in baseball, but to claim ISIS (ISIL, Daesh, Islamic State) is the enemy of Russia and the Assad regime is to parrot the Kremlin’s false propaganda line. Were Miller better prepared he might have added Iran to the ISIS faux enemies list. Or perhaps the deletion was deliberate. But even as is, the Miller statement must not be the position of the United States. 

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Canada moved to extradite Meng Wanzhou, the top financial officer for China’s global tech giant Huawei, on December 1, 2018 to the United States. The arrest, while closely linked to the ongoing US-China trade dispute and Western fears of Huawei as a Chinese espionage tool, was triggered by allegations that the company concealed payments from Iran in violation of sanctions.

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The defeat of the last Islamic State (ISIS) stronghold in Syria concomitant with the sudden US announcement of troops withdrawal from the northeast; leaves Europe in a tight spot. In recent years, EU governments have spent billions to mitigate the repercussions of the refugee wave resulting from the Syrian war while working towards normalization with the regime on a fair transition process.

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An American president impetuously overrules his national security team with a sudden decision on Syria; one that pleases the Kremlin, undermines US policy, and damages his own credibility. Essentially unmoored to the national security apparatus over which he presides, the president—strongly influenced by the views of a foreign leader—thinks he knows best in any event. Acting without deliberation and with the thinnest of consultation, the president unintentionally but decisively rewards a murderous Syrian regime, gratifies the external supporters of that regime, and broadcasts a message of weakness and inconsistency to enemies—including Islamist extremists—of the US around the world.

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In northwest Syria a small, but growing collection of private firms are working to implement technology solutions to counteract the worst effects of an aggressive disinformation campaign which threatens the relative peace that currently prevails there.

On November 25, 2018, an alleged chemical attack occurred in regime-controlled areas of Aleppo, prompting Russian airstrikes against targets in the nearby towns of al-Rashdeen and Khan Tuman. The regime justified the attacks as retaliation against the rebel groups they claim perpetrated the chemical attack. Since this exchange occurred, a declassified US assessment of the attack states the initial chemical attack was perpetrated by pro-regime forces and most likely consisted of tear gas, not chlorine. The report suggests the attack was staged in order to undermine faith in the current ceasefire and prompt a new military offensive against opposition-held areas of Idlib and the surrounding governorates.  

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In mid-November 2018, the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly for a resolution demanding, among other things, “that Israel withdraw from all the occupied Syrian Golan . . .” With only Israel and the United States voting “no,” 151 members of the General Assembly told Israel to withdraw from territory occupied since June 1967 and (in effect) to do so in the midst of civil strife that has all-but-wrecked Syria, leaving a murderous regime propped up by Iranian-commanded militias to preside (in name) over much of the wreckage. The “yes” voters communicated not only callous disregard for Israel’s security, but cold contempt for the suffering of millions of Syrians at the hands of a rapacious regime.

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In the remote Rukban desert along the Syrian-Jordanian border, there is a makeshift settlement that houses approximately 50,000 Syrian refugees. The settlement is located inside a 20-square-mile deconfliction zone, north of the sand berm where the Jordanian, Syrian, and Iraqi borders meet; it is also south of the nearby US-led coalition base in al-Tanf. Starting in 2011, civilians in southern Syria fled the conflict to nearby Lebanon and Jordan. This was supposed to be a temporary refuge, as they expected the fighting to soon die down.

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Advanced technological solutions are not limited to technologically advanced societies. Numerous examples in Syria show the use of innovative solutions for real world problems using open source technology: 3D printed prosthetics for amputees, renewable energy in cities under siege, and now aquaponics in damaged farmlands. The use of smart agriculture can help provide for people’s essential nutrition needs, especially in conflict zones, where food insecurity is prevalent and underserved farming opportunities are common. 

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I first met Raed Fares in November 2015 when he spoke at an event hosted by the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC. I had learned about his work as an activist however much earlier in the Syrian conflict, especially his role in organizing local sit-ins in his northern Syrian town of Kafr Nabl. Locals were regularly photographed holding banners bearing witty English slogans to raise awareness of regime and extremist violence and shame the international community into taking action (that the slogans were often written in broken English somehow made them more endearing). Raed also founded Radio Fresh, whose broadcasts frequently criticized the local al-Qaeda derivative Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) who likely murdered Raed five days ago.

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For days I’ve been trying and failing to write something about the violent and unjust passing of a good man—Raed Fares—and his colleague, Hammoud al-Jneid. In nearly eight years of witnessing Syria being eaten alive by a rapacious regime and by criminal sectarian “rebels” supported by regional states, nothing has been more demoralizing and deflating than these murders. Those who admired Raed Fares and saw in him the future of Syria now must choose: Permit all hope and effort for a successful, peaceful revolution to follow him and his colleague into the grave; or allow the example of Raed Fares to inspire renewed and unceasing work to bring about the Syria for which he gave his life.

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