SyriaSource|Amplifying Syrian voices

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On Saturday November 14, the participants of the October 30 Vienna conference on Syria will reconvene in the same place. This despite the fact that Assad regime attacks on civilians have relented not in the least. Indeed, military aircraft of the Russian Federation have supplemented the civilian-centric bombing campaign of Moscow's client, reportedly adding cluster munitions to the deadly mix. It seems that the subject of who is a terrorist—rather than protection of civilians—will dominate this second round.

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In a November 11 interview with The Washington Post, British Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond explained the psychology that underwrites the negotiations to end the Syrian civil war. “You get people together,” Hammond said, “you force them to make some forward movement, keeping them at it, keeping their noses to the grindstone, keep them in a locked room.” In short, you try to the move the process far enough along to turn irreconcilable adversaries into constructive negotiating partners—hoping that with enough time and determination, countries that differ on how to resolve the Syrian conflict will realize that compromising is the only way forward.

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Speaking for the better part of an hour at the US Institute of Peace on November 12, 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry sought to bring his listeners “up to speed” on the Obama administration strategy to defeat and dismantle the Islamic State (ISIL, ISIS, or Da’esh), end Syria’s civil war, and support “friends in the region.” He spoke eloquently and persuasively about the “symbiotic relationship” between the regime of Bashar al-Assad and ISIL, saying that ISIL cannot be defeated while Assad remains in power. He devoted considerable time to anti-ISIL military operations in Iraq. But he short-changed the crucial issue of civilian protection in Syria, saying nothing about what the United States plans to do to protect Syrians from the ISIL-enabling mass atrocities of the Assad regime. It was this critical lacuna that made him fall short in articulating a strategy aimed at achieving the objectives listed.

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“I will not forgive him, nor will I let God's mercy descend onto him,” uttered a woman activist working to support rape victims at a secret humanitarian organization in Damascus. The activist leveled this charge not against the regime and its Shabiha militias—which use this most cruel weapon of war systematically to intimidate, suppress, and humiliate Assad’s many opponents—but in reference to the father of a twelve year-old girl who was brutally gang raped by pro-Assad factions in her own home in front of her family.

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Remarks of Ambassador Frederic C. Hof to the American Committees on Foreign Relations in Boise, Idaho, on November 9, 2015.

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In late March 2015, armed groups opposing to the Assad regime gathered to plan for the liberation of the Idlib in northern Syria. The groups included the Al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya, Sham Legion, Jund al-Aqsa, and the Sunna Army, most of whom are considered jihadist forces. They formed Jaysh al-Fatah (Army of Conquest) Operations Room, an army with no leader or unified military body. Despite that, it quickly took Idlib city, and then advanced to other neighboring cities, including Jisr al Shughur near the government-controlled mountains on the Syrian coast. This army has struck terror into the ranks of Assad’s supporters, especially after arriving at the Joreen base in central Syria in the region known as al-Ghab Plains.

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