Syria Watch

Syria Justice and Accountability Centre: How the Legacy of Halabja has Failed to Protect Syria

SJAC Update | March 13, 2018
The Monument of Halabja Martyrs was built in 2003, in a city that was still largely destroyed. Photo from Wikipedia.
Thirty Years Later: How the Legacy of Halabja has Failed to Protect Syria
Thirty years ago this week, Saddam Hussein’s forces attacked the Kurdish town of Halabja in Northeastern Iraq. Iraqi forces first launched a conventional attack, forcing civilians into confined basements and shelters. The air force then dropped what is believed to have been a combination of the deadly nerve agent sarin and mustard gas, effectively converting civilian shelters into gas chambers and killing an estimated five thousand people, mainly women and children. The attack was the deadliest use of chemical weapons on a civilian population in history and has become a symbol of the horrors of chemical warfare.
In the three decades since the attack, the international community has made great strides in prohibiting the use of chemical weapons. The conflict in Syria, however, is a stain on that record. To commemorate the Halabja atrocity, SJAC is looking back at why the immense progress on prohibiting chemical weapons over the past 30 years has failed to protect Syrians.
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The Syria Justice and Accountability Centre (SJAC) is a Syrian-led and multilaterally supported nonprofit that envisions a Syria where people live in a state defined by justice, respect for human rights, and rule of law. SJAC collects, analyzes, and preserves human rights law violations by all parties in the conflict — creating a central repository to strengthen accountability and support transitional justice and peace-building efforts. SJAC also conducts research to better understand Syrian opinions and perspectives, provides expertise and resources, conducts awareness-raising activities, and contributes to the development of locally appropriate transitional justice and accountability mechanisms. Contact us at info@syriaaccountability.org

The Washington Post: Trump gives the Assad regime an open invitation to keep gassing children


A Syrian girl receives treatment after airstrikes in the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta on March 7. (Amer Almohibany/AFP/Getty Images)
 March 10

NEARLY TWO weeks after the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution mandating a 30-day cease-fire in Syria, Russian and government forces are unrelentingly pursuing one of the bloodiest and most brutal offensives of the war. They are attempting to overrun the rebel-held area of Eastern Ghouta, outside Damascus, where nearly 400,000 people have been besieged since 2013. Scores of people are being killed each day; the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights counted 93 on Wednesday alone. There have been numerous reports of attacks on hospitals and schools and of the use of chlorine gas — all of which are war crimes.

Tragically, there is little new in this, apart from the intensity. Over and over, the government of Bashar al-Assad and Russia have accepted cease-fires, or “humanitarian pauses,” or “de-escalation zones” in Eastern Ghouta, only to continue their attacks. Their brazenness is enabled by the unwillingness of any other power to enforce U.N. resolutions, or the Chemical Weapons Convention, or to otherwise punish the regime or Russia for their crimes.

There is, at least, reason to hope that the impunity will not last forever. Since 2011, a U.N. commission has been meticulously gathering evidence of war crimes in Syria for presentation at the U.N. Human Rights Council, and eventually to international and national courts. Its latest report, covering the period from last July until January, offers horrifying detail about the Russian-Syrian depredations in Eastern Ghouta.

The siege, the report says, has been “characterized by pervasive war crimes, including the use of prohibited weapons, attacks against civilian and protected objects, starvation leading to acute malnutrition, and the routine denial of medical evacuations.” Hospitals and schools have been systematically bombed; on a single day, Nov. 8, three schools were struck from the air. Hundreds of medical workers have been killed or injured in airstrikes, and women have begun giving birth at home rather than risk going to a hospital.

The United Nations documented three uses of chlorine against rebel fighters in July, and another attack in November in which a phosphorus-based pesticide was used. These are carefully calibrated atrocities. President Trump ordered a retaliatory strike following the regime’s use of nerve gas last year, but he has not responded to chlorine attacks. And so they continue.

Russian forces also target civilians, and the United Nations documented one incident it says “may amount to a war crime.” Last Nov. 13, a Russian plane was observed carrying out a series of airstrikes on the main market as well as surrounding houses in the town of Atarib, in Aleppo province. The report says at least 84 people were killed, including six women and five children. It said the plane dropped unguided “blast weapons,” even though “the use of such weapons in a densely populated area was certain to impact civilians.” That, no doubt, was the intention.

As the Ghouta offensive has continued, the State Department has objected; spokeswoman Heather Nauert castigated Russia on Twitter. The trouble is, Moscow knows that Mr. Trump feels differently. When he was asked about Eastern Ghouta, on Feb. 23, the president reiterated his view that the only U.S. interest in Syria was “to get rid of ISIS and to go home.” For the Assad regime and Russia, that’s an open invitation to continue gassing children, bombing hospitals and committing other war crimes.

Syria Deeply: The latest developments from Eastern Ghouta, Afrin, Idlib, the Aleppo countryside and Daraa

Syria Deeply
Mar. 12th, 2018
This Week in Syria.

Welcome to Syria Deeply’s weekly summary of our coverage of the crisis in Syria.

As the Syrian conflict enters its eighth year, Syria Deeply is collecting insights from our expert community about what the war has taught us about 21st century conflicts. We invite you to share your expertise about the most important developments and lessons here.

Eastern Ghouta: The death toll in East Ghouta continued to rise this week, as pro-government forces continued their aerial and ground offensive on Damascus suburbs that have been under siege for more than four years.

Over the weekend, Syrian troops reportedly cut off the major towns of Douma and Harasta from the rest of the opposition enclave and seized the towns of Misraba and Mudeira. The advance split the Eastern Ghouta suburbs in two, as pro-government forces established a corridor that cuts through the opposition holdout.

More than 1,100 people have been killed since the start of the campaign three weeks ago, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). Civilians in the area are now faced with the difficult choice of either staying in East Ghouta amid the pro-government advance, despite the deadly aerial campaign and the lack of necessary medical and food supplies, or evacuating to government-run shelters.

The SOHR said on Monday that negotiations were ongoing between community leaders from certain towns in East Ghouta, and mediators from the capital. The Russian military said late on Sunday that 52 civilians, including 26 children, had been evacuated from Misraba, according to Reuters.

Jaish al-Islam, one of the main rebel groups in the area, said on Monday it reached an agreement with Russia through the United Nations to evacuate the wounded, the Associated Press reported. A day earlier, Faylaq al-Rahman, another major rebel group, said in a statement that it rejected a previous Russian proposal that would allow them safe passage out of East Ghouta if they surrendered the enclave to government forces.

Northern Syria: Turkish troops and allied rebels reached the outskirts of the Kurdish-held city of Afrin over the weekend. Ebrahim Ebrahim, a Europe-based spokesman for the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), told theAssociated Press that thousands are fleeing the area as Turkish-backed fighters advance on Afrin. According to Al Jazeera, others are planning to erect a human shield to protect the center of Afrin from Turkish forces.

Elsewhere in northern Syria, there have been clashes between major opposition groups vying for control in the countrysides of Aleppo and Idlib provinces for more than a week. Clashes began after rebel groups Ahrar al-Sham and Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zinki announced last month they would merge forces in an attempt to seize territory controlled by the al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).

Meanwhile, Syrian government and Russian airstrikes are escalating in Idlib province. SOHR reported that at least seven people were killed in air raids on Sunday and Monday, and at least a dozen more people were injured. Syrian Civil Defense officials said one of the airstrikes hit a preschool in Teftenaz village on Monday, injuring at least 20 people, the Turkish Anadolu Agency reported.

Southern Syria: Syrian warplanes reportedly hit the southwestern province of Daraa on Monday, despite the de-escalation zone deal that Russia, the United States and Jordan agreed to in July, according to SOHR. In the first aerial attack since the de-escalation agreement, at least eight raids targeted the eastern Daraa towns of Busr al-Harir, Hrak, al-Gharaiya al-Gharbiya and al-Sowara, Reuters reported.

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RELIGIOUS & ETHNIC GROUPS

How Sectarianism Can Help Explain the Syrian War

The Syrian war is not a clean-cut sectarian conflict as some would suggest. However, a study of sectarian trends and dynamics can illuminate some overlooked aspects of the war, says Fabrice Balanche of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

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OP-EDS

The Real Reasons Why Syrians Return to Syria

A small number of Syrian refugees are returning home despite the violence in the country. New research among returnees shows that most were pushed home by the harsh living conditions in neighboring countries, and did not find safety or dignity upon return.

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Community Insight

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HUMAN RIGHTS

After ‘Massacre’ in Ghouta, Aleppo, E.U. States Must Not Fund Reconstruction

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DR. Ahmad Tarakji,  President, Syrian American Medical Society

E.U. states must take action over putting an end to violence against civilians in East Ghouta by holding the perpetrators accountable and refusing to fund reconstruction efforts until the attacks stop, says SAMS president Dr. Ahmad Tarakji.

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GOVERNMENT & PRO-GOVERNMENT FORCES

Beyond the Endgame in Eastern Ghouta

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Lina Khatib,  Head of the Middle East and North Africa Programme, Chatham House

The government’s endgame in Eastern Ghouta is to overtake the last opposition holdout near the capital. But the bloody strategy Damascus is using to get there is just as important, writes Lina Khatib of Chatham House.

FIRST LOOK

Upcoming coverage

We are always looking for new writers, experts and journalists who are covering the crisis in Syria and are interested in writing about a variety of topics. Please send us your ideas, story pitches and any other thoughts about our coverage via email, Twitter or Facebook.

Syria Justice and Accountability Centre: Three Lessons for the UN Security Council on the Ghouta Ceasefire

SJAC Update | March 6, 2018
UN Security Council Meeting | Credit: Wikipedia

Three Lessons for the UN Security Council on the Ghouta Ceasefire

It is now clear that the ceasefire passed by the UN Security Council (UNSC) on February 24th has failed to put an end to the fighting in Syria or address the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe in Eastern Ghouta. An estimated 77 people were killed on Monday alone, and when an aid envoy finally entered Eastern Ghouta yesterday morning, it was first ransacked by government security forces, which removed 70 percent of the desperately needed medical aid.

The reality of the Syrian government’s current military position makes any ceasefire challenging, but even under ideal circumstances the flaws in Resolution 2401 would make it difficult to implement.

The text lacks key details and fails to place itself within the larger context of a political solution, reading as a reactive attempt at damage control rather than a thoughtful attempt at resolution. The following lessons from ceasefire agreements in previous conflicts provide useful comparisons:

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The Syria Justice and Accountability Centre (SJAC) is a Syrian-led and multilaterally supported nonprofit that envisions a Syria where people live in a state defined by justice, respect for human rights, and rule of law. SJAC collects, analyzes, and preserves human rights law violations by all parties in the conflict — creating a central repository to strengthen accountability and support transitional justice and peace-building efforts. SJAC also conducts research to better understand Syrian opinions and perspectives, provides expertise and resources, conducts awareness-raising activities, and contributes to the development of locally appropriate transitional justice and accountability mechanisms. Contact us at info@syriaaccountability.org.

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Syria Deeply: Forbidden aid to Eastern Ghouta, Afrin operation puts anti-ISIS efforts on “pause” and leaders expected back in Astana next week

Syria Deeply
Mar. 6th, 2018
This Week in Syria.

Welcome to Syria Deeply’s weekly summary of our coverage of the crisis in Syria.

Eastern Ghouta: Syrian troops and their allies advanced on Eastern Ghouta over the weekend, capturing at least six towns and villages along the edge of the Damascus suburbs. Speaking to reporters in Damascus on Sunday, President Bashar al-Assad said the operation would continue. He added that there “is no contradiction” between the operation and the Russian-ordered daily five-hour cessation of hostilities to allow for civilian evacuations and aid deliveries.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Monday that a 46-truck aid convoy reportedly reached the besieged city of Douma, marking the first time the organization has been able to deliver aid to the area since November 12, 2017. The convoy included 5,500 food parcels that “should last a family of five a month,” the ICRC said.

The ICRC stated the food aid should feed 27,500 people, however, Siege Watch reported that 125,000 people were living under siege in Douma as of January 31, 2017. More than 390,000 civilians are believed to be living in the Eastern Ghouta.

Medical supplies were also expected to be included in the convoy, however, the Syrian government prevented 70 percent of such supplies from reaching the area, including “all trauma, surgical, dialysis and insulin supplies,” AP reported.

Marwa Awad, a spokeswoman for the World Food Program, told AP that “consequently, three of the 46 trucks being sent to Douma today are close to empty.”

More than 700 civilians have been killed in the region since the government stepped up attacks on the enclave two weeks ago, AFP said.

Afrin, ISIS and divergent interests: Turkey’s ongoing “Operation Olive Branch” military operation against Kurdish forces in northern Syria has prompted the Pentagon to put the battle against the so-called Islamic State on “operational pause” in eastern Syria.

Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesperson, said that “some fighters operating within the SDF [Syrian Democratic Forces] have decided to leave operations in the middle Euphrates river valley to fight elsewhere, possibly in Afrin.”

Pentagon spokesperson Col. Robert Manning said that the “pause” has put some of the SDF’s ground operations on hold, but that coalition warplanes continued to target ISIS positions.

In Afrin, Kurdish groups – with support from pro-government forces who entered the area in recent weeks – are fighting Turkish troops and their allied Syrian rebel forces. Turkish troops launched a series of attacks over the past few days, killing at least 36 pro-government fighters on Saturday and at least 13 people on Monday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put Monday’s death toll at 19, including two children and four women.

Astana: The foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey and Iran are set to meet in the Kazakh capital of Astana next week to “assess the results of their collaboration” and discuss next steps toward a settlement for the Syrian conflict, according to a statement released by Kazakhstan’s foreign ministry, cited by Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency.

The United Nations envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, will be invited to the talks, but neither the Syrian government nor other observer countries will participate, Anadolu said.

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ARTS & CULTURE

Writing Syria: History as a Form of ‘Resistance’

Alia Malek, author of “The Home That Was Our Country” speaks to Syria Deeply about the process of rediscovering parts of Syrian history that have long been lost or erased.

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DISPLACEMENT

For Syrians in Lebanon, No Formal Plan for Return

The Lebanese government risks losing international support should it develop a formal repatriation plan for Syrian refugees. This has raised concerns that non-state actors will spearhead repatriation efforts, says Dima Mahdi of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies.

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ARTS & CULTURE

Writing Syria: Wendy Pearlman’s ‘Oral History of the Revolution’

Wendy Pearlman, author of “We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled,” speaks to Syria Deeply about how the conflict changed the way displaced Syrians tell their stories, and the shift from hope to disillusionment and eventually despair.

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Community Insight

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CIVIL SOCIETY

Deeply Talks: The Humanitarian Catastrophe in Eastern Ghouta

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Hashem Osseiran,  Deputy Managing Editor of Syria Deeply

In the latest installment of our Deeply Talks, Dr. Annie Sparrow, assistant professor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and Dr. Mohamad Katoub, advocacy manager for the Syrian American Medical Society, discuss the deteriorating healthcare situation in Eastern Ghouta.

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HUMAN RIGHTS

Attacks on Healthcare Look Like a Strategy for Forced Displacement

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Abdulkarim Ekzayez,  Syrian Medical Doctor and an Epidemiologist

There is reason to suspect health facilities are being deliberately targeted in eastern Ghouta in a bid to weaken the resilience of the community and make it more amenable to evacuation, writes Syrian doctor and fellow at Chatham House, Abdulkarim Ekzayez.

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EDUCATION

Don’t Forget Our Unfulfilled Promise to Syrian Refugee Children

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Giulia McPherson,  Director of Advocacy and Operations, Jesuit Refugee Service/USA

Escalating violence in Syria is a reminder that the war is far from over. A focus on Syrian returns had distracted from failures on refugee education, says Jesuit Refugee Service’s Giulia McPherson, urging donors to now refocus on their commitments to Syrian children.

FIRST LOOK

Upcoming coverage

We are always looking for new writers, experts and journalists who are covering the crisis in Syria and are interested in writing about a variety of topics. Please send us your ideas, story pitches and any other thoughts about our coverage via email, Twitter or Facebook.