SyriaSource|Amplifying Syrian voices

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US Representative to the United Nations Samantha Power said that the Assad regime has “apparently grown reliant on the repugnant use of barrel bombs as an instrument of terror against innocent Syrian civilians.” Over 2,000 barrel bombs dropped on Syria since the first week of July. It is within this context that Ambassadors Frederic Hof and Robert Ford alongside humanitarian leaders and activists have urged US action.

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News that Iran may submit a Syria peace plan to the United Nations combined with ongoing Syria-related talks between Moscow and Washington brings to the fore the perennial question of Bashar al-Assad, still recognized by the West as presiding over a heap of physical and political wreckage known as the Syrian Arab Republic.

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The temptation to heap scorn on the US-led “train-and-equip” program seeking to create an anti-Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) Syrian ground force by recruiting Syria rebels will no doubt increase due to the kidnapping (by the Nusra Front) of the commander of the unit into which new trainees have been funneled.

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Reports of an American and Turkish agreement to close a sixty mile stretch of the Syria-Turkey border to the Islamic State (ISIL or ISIS) and to create—to an as yet undisclosed depth—a protected “safe zone” from the border south into Aleppo Province may signal a dramatic turn of Obama administration policy toward the crisis in Syria.

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One of the staples of opinion among Syrians struggling to survive the twin onslaught of the Islamic State (ISIL or ISIS) and the Assad regime is that the United States “sold” Syria to Iran to close the deal with Tehran on nuclear weapons.

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Recent Assad regime reverses on Syrian battlefields have revived Obama administration fears of “catastrophic success:” that the person told by President Barack Obama in August 2011 to step aside might instead be pushed aside and that his fall could entail a regime collapse exploited by extremists intent on avenging the mass homicide atrocities of the regime.

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One may see the nuclear agreement with Iran as the product of a faulty premise and still respect the industry of US Secretary of State John Kerry and his team in arriving at respectable terms consistent with that premise. One may see the prospect of a regionally aggressive Iran soon to be flush with cash as alarming and still—given the positions of Washington’s closest allies and the international community in general—counsel Congress to show solidarity with the commander-in-chief.

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The Syrian government has trapped hundreds of thousands of its own people in besieged areas, intentionally depriving them of food, medicine, electricity, and water, as a cruel tactic of war. Despite the inhumane conditions they have been living with for years now, the people of these areas have received little help from the international community.

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The Washington Post, on July 10th,contained an impressive commentary authored by Atlantic Council Director Nicholas Burns and International Rescue Committee CEO David Miliband.  In Syria’s Worsening Refugee Crisis Demands Action from the West, the authors argue—among other things—that, “The debate about a no-fly zone across Syria to protect civilians from the Assad government’s deadly ‘barrel bombs’ needs to move from slogans to details.”  What is crucial, however, is the venue of this detailed debate. 

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On July 7, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter revealed to incredulous members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Pentagon is currently training sixty Syrian anti-Assad rebels to fight the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL).  Even in the context of a train-and-equip program that has aimed fatally low from the outset—some 15,000 fighters over three years—Carter’s report reflects abject failure.  He spoke the truth when he said, “We need a partner on the ground in Syria to ensure ISIL’s lasting defeat.”  The train-and-equip program as currently configured will not meet that objective.

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