SyriaSource|Amplifying Syrian voices

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Few major implementors currently exist in Syria developing and executing projects to rebuild the destroyed infrastructure ranging from roads, buildings, healthcare system, agriculture and irrigation systems, to the electrical grid. Though a number of reasons limit the existence of project implementors, the primary reason is the ongoing conflict and lack of stability. A lack of infrastructure is also a major barrier for entry for many implementors whose aid deliveries depend on secure roads and bridges. Despite all this, there is a major player on the ground that has implemented projects across non-government controlled parts of Syria throughout the conflict amid all the uncertainty and chaos and that is the Syria Recovery Trust Fund (SRTF).

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Over the summer the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration (AA) focused on strengthening its hand in talks with the Syrian government, in an attempt to win concessions on self-rule before a potential withdrawal of US support. Among other escalatory actions, the AA inserted itself into service provision initiatives previously left to the state, and arrested dozens of candidates for local elections organized by Damascus. 

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Below are remarks Ambassador Frederic C. Hof gave yesterday at the World Affairs Council of Greater Reading in Pennsylvannia regarding the continued importance of Syria policy and the role of the United States in the ongoing conflict.

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As the Syrian government and its allies extend control over a growing portion of Syria, they are accelerating demands for refugees to return to the country.

President Bashar al-Assad’s government has a political interest in refugees coming back. The government wants international legitimacy, and significant returns would signal that it has won refugees’ confidence in its ability to protect them and rebuild the country.

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When pro-government forces recaptured the southwestern rebel stronghold of Daraa province in July, Muhammad Sabsabi’s colleagues tried to bury their pasts.

Some tried to flee. Many simply went underground.

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A summit held in Istanbul on Saturday failed to produce any breakthroughs in the core disagreements over the Syrian conflict. It did however have notable geopolitical implications that affect each of the four attendees Russia, Germany, and France, and Turkey – two of whom are new to an effort created to manage Russia and Turkish interests in Syria. Significantly, the United States took no part in the meeting despite the presence of two major European allies and NATO partner, Turkey.

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During the Obama administration, Syria was treated as a two-part puzzle divided by the Euphrates River. East of the Euphrates, the objective was to degrade and destroy ISIS (ISIL, Daesh, Islamic State). The strategy was to support the anti-ISIS combat operations of a Kurdish (eventually Kurdish-dominated) militia with weapons, ammunition, supplies, and advisors on the ground, and combat aircraft aloft. Although the Trump administration believes it can take credit for having accelerated the anti-ISIS campaign, the objective and strategy in the east have remained constant.

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In the final, climactic scene of the 1983 film “War Games,” Matthew Broderick (David) and Ally Sheedy (Jennifer) watch as John Wood (Professor Falken) manages to get his computer program, Joshua, to play itself in a game of thermonuclear war. The stakes are high: Joshua had been hacked and was running a simulation of a nuclear showdown with Soviet Russia that risked actual missile launch. To prevent an unintended global thermonuclear war, Joshua learns after playing tic-tac-toe and then simulating different launch sequences over and over again that some games have no winner. There is no winning move in either tic-tac-toe or global thermonuclear war therefore, the only winning move is not to play. 

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In mid-September, Russia and Turkey signed an agreement regarding Idlib province in northern Syria. The agreement establishes a nine to twelve mile demilitarized zone (DMZ) between the Syrian regime and opposition forces along Idlib’s border. As part of the deal, Turkey pledged to find a solution to extremist groups in the province, withdraw heavy weapons from the region, and evacuate any presence of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS)—an independent Salafi-jihadi group—fighters or moderate elements of the Syrian opposition by mid-October. Russia, in exchange, pledged not to launch any military operations in northern Syria. The deadline has since passed without any accountability for following up on its conditions, namely the removal of HTS, but there are few indications of a large scale offensive at the moment. However, the conditions of the agreement are likely to have far reaching consequences on extremist and opposition groups in the area, should it succeed.

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On October 4, President Trump officially approved a refugee cap of 30,000—an all-time low. In August, despite previously increasing aid to Jordan, the US decided to end all UNRWA funding for Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine. This summer, the Supreme Court upheld Trump’s controversial travel ban that affects refugees and immigrants alike. Of the eight countries listed, five are in the Middle East/North Africa.

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