SyriaSource|Amplifying Syrian voices

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The intractable Syrian conflict has created the temptation to flirt with keeping in power Bashar al-Assad, the heir to the now 45-year-old al-Assad dynasty, through a political deal. But this will prove nothing more than a futile exercise of wishful thinking. The much-touted mantra of reaching a ‘political solution’ that keeps Assad in power belies the reality of a decayed governance system, ravaged by the rampant corruption that has plagued the country for decades and left the public with no choice except revolution.

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Air strikes targeting a motorcade belonging to the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) killed at least forty jihadists in central Syria over the weekend. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said unidentified warplanes hit the sixteen-vehicle convoy Saturday night, traveling from the jihadist group’s self-declared capital of Raqqa in northern Syria into the countryside of Hama province. Syrian government warplanes have bombarded areas near ISIS positions in eastern Hama province on an almost daily basis. It is unclear whether Russians, Syrians, or the US-led coalition hit the motorcade. [AFP, 10/18/2015]

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No one can look at the horrors consuming Syria today without being tempted to think that the country is finished. Some who yield to this temptation try to shoehorn their feelings into a specific historical context, often portraying Sykes-Picot as an original sin requiring expiation in the form of new national boundaries. Others tend to project current conditions indefinitely into the future, seeing Syria as a sort of Somalia or South Sudan, but stripped of anything that might be construed as positive or hopeful. Few will resist the “Syria is finished” temptation and see the possibility of a united, functioning republic featuring citizenship, consent of the governed, rule of law, pluralistic inclusivity, and, above all, political legitimacy. Although nothing remotely this positive will happen in the absence of monumental effort, to dismiss it as a valid objective is to mandate the inevitability of something far worse.

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The US-Kurdish alliance to dislodge the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) from Syria has been successful only inasmuch as US and Kurdish interests align—the United States wants local partners who will fight ISIS; the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) will oblige as long as they can reclaim their own territories. However, the YPG is unwilling to fight further south and take the fight to ISIS in its self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa. Recent changes in US strategy show an understanding that to finish the fight with ISIS, the United States needs to find local Arab partners who want to reclaim territory from ISIS in Raqqa. The new strategy’s success will hinge on how well the United States can find partners who prioritize fighting ISIS over fighting the Syrian regime.

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More than a quarter of a million people have been killed in Syria’s conflict since it began over four years ago, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said Friday. SOHR relies on networks of sources on the ground in Syria and has documented the deaths of 250,124 people, including at least 74,426 civilians. The civilian toll includes 12,517 children and 8,062 women. It puts the toll for rebel fighters at 43,752, and the number of foreign militants killed at 37,010. At least 91,678 pro-government forces, among them 52,077 regime soldiers and other allied Syrian and non-Syrian fighters including 971 Hezbollah fighters have also been killed. SOHR also documented the deaths of 3,258 people who have no identification. Its toll does not include some 30,000 people missing in Syria, among them 20,000 held in Syrian jails. [AFP, 10/16/2015]

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The people of Deir Ezzor, Syria live under both regime bombardment and Islamic State (ISIS) oppression, with neither side willing to concede this key city. Deir Ezzor is strategically important—it not only contains oil wells, but also serves as the gateway to Ramadi and Raqqa, the latter which ISIS calls its capital. Meanwhile the civilians of Deir Ezzor languish under wanton killing and oppression.  

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Syrian army pushes offensive in central Homs
Syrian government forces launched an offensive Thursday in the central province of Homs under the cover of Russian air strikes in an attempt to clear the central region of militants and open the highway between Syria's third and fourth largest cities, a military official and activists said. Hama is under government control but the highway connecting Hama and Homs is largely controlled by a patchwork of rebel groups. A military source in Syria said the Homs operation was "linked strategically" to regime operations in neighboring Hama province in recent days. "The operation will continue until it reaches its goal of securing northern Homs and severing contacts between militants in Hama and militants in Homs," the source said. [AFP, AP, 10/15/2015]

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I spent early 2011 trying to ease tensions between Syria and its neighbors. I never predicted the brutality that would come from inside.

Now and then I am asked if I had predicted, way back in March 2011 when violence in Syria began, that within a few years a quarter-million people would be dead, half the population homeless and hundreds of thousands of defenseless civilians terrorized, traumatized, tortured and starved. The companion question, more often than not, is if I had forecast the failure of the West to offer any protection at all to Syrian civilians subjected to a systematic campaign of mass homicide. Having first been exposed to Syria as a teenage exchange student, I was expected by questioners to know something about the place. And as a State Department officer, I was assumed to know something about my government.

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Syrians stood up against the Assad regime’s tyranny, many sacrificing their lives to bring freedom to their country. However, the near half-century of endemic corruption has left its mark on Syrians and their attitude toward government and private institutions. The corruption that the Assad regime sowed to keep itself in power has permeated Syrian society. To finish their revolution Syrians need to rid themselves of it.

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Regime forces, ISIS, rebels square off in Aleppo

ISIS militants battled rival insurgent groups on Wednesday north of the city of Aleppo, where officials say the Syrian army is preparing an offensive of its own backed by Iranian soldiers and Russian jets.  The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the road used by Aleppo residents heading north to the Turkish border remained closed on Wednesday. "There are mobilizations by the regime in most parts of Aleppo, particularly in Bashkoy," said Hassan Haj Ali, head of the Liwa Suqour al-Jabal rebel group. Iran has sent thousands of additional troops into Syria in recent days to bolster one offensive currently underway in Hama province and in preparation for another in the Aleppo area, two senior regional officials said. Supported by two weeks of airstrikes, the Syrian army and its allies have been fighting insurgents in northern Hama province and neighboring Idlib and Latakia provinces, trying to reverse rebel gains over the summer that threatened the coastal heartlands of President Bashar al-Assad's Alawite minority. [Reuters, 10/14/2015]

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