Syria Deeply: Breach in the siege of Deir Ezzor, battle updates from Raqqa, and Israeli strikes in Syria

 
Syria Deeply
Sep. 8th, 2017
This Week in Syria.
 
Welcome to our weekly summary of Syria Deeply’s top coverage of the crisis in Syria.
Break in Siege of Deir Ezzor: Syrian troops and allied fighters breached the perimeter of a government-controlled enclave on the western edge of Deir Ezzor city, breaking the so-called Islamic State’s three-year siege.
ISIS controls most of Deir Ezzor province, including its strongholds of Mayadin and Boukamal, along the Euphrates River. Despite recent advances, roughly half of Deir Ezzor city remains under siege, with some 93,000 civilians hemmed in, according to the United Nations.
Syrian state media said a 40-truck aid convoy arrived in Deir Ezzor at a military garrison known as Brigade 137 on Thursday, carrying roughly 1,000 tons of aid, including food, medicine, school supplies and fuel for soldiers and civilians, according to the Associated Press.
Earlier, in the hours after Syrian and allied forces breached the siege, ISIS fighters carried out four suicide bombings near Brigade 137, killing a number of pro-government fighters.
Pro-Syrian government forces have been pushing toward the capital of the eastern province for months, with Russian air support. Over the past two weeks, Russian warplanes launched at least 2,600 airstrikes on ISIS positions in eastern Syria, Russian military commander Col. Gen. Sergei Surovikin told media.
Battle for Raqqa: The Syrian Democratic Forces said they had taken complete control of Raqqa’s Old City and its Great Mosque in advances against ISIS last week. United States-led coalition aircraft provided support to the Arab-Kurdish alliance fighting ISIS on the ground. The SDF’s recent gains put them in control of roughly 65 percent of the embattled city, but ISIS militants still hold districts in the west and have most of their bases in central Raqqa.
Israel Strikes Syria: An Israeli airstrike hit a Syrian military position in the government-held town of Masyaf in Hama province on Thursday. The United Kingdom-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attacks targeted an army base and the Scientific Studies and Research Center, which the U.S. has previously claimed is a production facility for chemical weapons.
The Syrian army said the missiles were fired from Lebanese airspace and killed two Syrian soldiers. In a statement, the army warned of the “dangerous repercussions of such hostile acts on the security and stability of the region.”
In late June, Israeli jets hit Syrian government positions in the southern province of Quneitra four times in less than a week, after mortar fire from Syria landed in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
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Thousands of internally displaced Syrians arrived in Ain al-Issa camp nearly 11 months ago, when the Syrian Democratic Forces began its anti-ISIS campaign. In the first of a two-part series, we report on the struggles of those who live in the camp in Raqqa province.
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Wissam Zarqa,  Teacher at the University of Idlib
After being forced to flee eastern Aleppo in December, Wissam Zarqa moved to Idlib. Although the insurgent-held province is not known as a bastion of democracy, Zarqa will always remember it as the place where he voted in his first democratic election.
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Zaher Sahloul, a physician with the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), discusses the state of mental healthcare in Syria, the psychological impact of the conflict and what initiatives must be taken to address the country’s mental health crisis.
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Middle East Monitor: Qatar renews call for prosecution of Syria war crimes

Qatar renews call for prosecution of Syria war crimes

A huge explosion sends dark clouds into the air after Assad Regime forces carried out air and ground strikes over the agreed de-conflict zone, Cobar district in the Eastern Ghouta region of Damascus, Syria on August 20, 2017. ( Ammar Al-Bushy - Anadolu Agency )

A huge explosion sends clouds into the air after the Assad Regime carried out air and ground strikes over the de-conflict zone, in Damascus, Syria on 20 August 2017 [Ammar Al-Bushy/Anadolu Agency]
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The State of Qatar renewed today its call for the international community to bring war criminals in Syria to an international justice after an independent United Nations (UN) investigation has showed that the Syrian army used Sarin gas during its air strikes on Khan Sheikhun town last  April.

The Qatari foreign ministry said in a statement that the impunity of the Syrian war criminals has contributed to the escalation of violence against the Syrian people in “a systematic way.”

The statement stressed on the importance of reaching a political resolution for the Syrian crisis based on the Geneva-1 statement on Syria as well as the UN Security Council resolutions to meet what it described as “the Syrian people’s legitimate aspirations.”

Read More: Syrian regime dropped sarin gas on Khan Sheikhoun

I am Syria: 772 Civilians Killed in August 2017

772 Civilians Killed in August 2017

Picture

The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) recently published a report detailing the death tolls in Syria throughout August 2017, with a total of 7,203 deaths in 2017 thus far. The total deaths included 772 civilian victims, the majority of which were at the hands of International Coalition Forces and Syrian Regime Forces.

The largest civilian causalities were at the hands of International Coalition Forces and Syrian Regime Forces, with Russian forces distributing significantly less deaths than normal again this month, keeping to the de-escalation agreement of May 2017.

International Coalition Forces were the largest perpetrator with a total of 285 civilians, including 97 children and 58 women throughout the month of August. The second largest portion of civilian casualties were at the hands of Syrian Regime Forces, with a total of 229 civilians, including 24 women and 17 children.

The death tolls perpetrated by ISIS is also noteworthy. The report shows that ISIS killed at least 102 civilians this month, including 22 children and 13 women. 

The de-escalation agreement of May 2017 is still in effect in the four established zones of the Idlib governate, nothern Homs, Eastern Ghouta and parts of Daraa and al Quneitra. In May 2017, Russia, USA and Jordan also announced a ceasefire agreement for southwestern Syria including the Daraa, Quneitra and Suwayda governates.

A surprising 69% decrease in killing at the hands of the Syrian-Russian alliance was recorded compared to last April. However, in recent months, there has been a significant increase of deaths at the hands of international coalition forces. This month, they were responsible for a total of 37% of all civilian casualties, 55% of which were women and children

Death Tolls: 
– Government forces: 229
– Russian forces: 11
– ISIS: 107
– Armed opposition factions: 13
– International Coalition forces: 285
– Other Parties: 73
– Kurdish Forces: 54

Syria Justice and Accountability Centre: The Responsibility of Technology Companies in the Age of Digital Human Rights Documentation

SJAC Update | September 7, 2017
A YouTube notice that a video is unavailable.

The Responsibility of Technology Companies in the Age of Digital Human Rights Documentation

Over the past few weeks, the video streaming website YouTube has removed thousands of videos and numerous channels of organizations and individuals documenting atrocities from the Syrian conflict. Although some channels and videos were restored following complaints, many significant videos are still missing. The purge is part of a Google effort to implement machine learning technology that automates the removal of videos that purportedly violate YouTube’s Community Standards. While the automated removal system has significantly decreased the number of videos that promote violence, an unintended consequence has been the loss of evidence for current and future accountability efforts in Syria. With today’s technology, social media companies can and should accommodate human rights in their systems and policies.

YouTube has not always been equated with human rights documentation. Traditionally, human rights groups used pen and paper to record testimonies from victims and witnesses in order to pursue accountability or promote justice and rights norms. Even today, interviews remain essential to this effort, but digital tools have expanded our ability to document atrocities, and to do so in real time. Now anyone with a smartphone is able to upload a video online and contribute to human rights initiatives. Social media content, however, has had its skeptics. Many prosecutors and courts have been hesitant to forego their traditional conceptualization of chain of custody and authentication in favor of open source research and case building. However, the International Criminal Court (ICC) recently issued a warrant for the arrest of Mahmoud Al-Werfalli, a Libyan militia commander who has been accused of committing dozens of murders in the Benghazi area, on the basis of seven social media videos, including one from Facebook. While the ICC is certainly not the first court to rely heavily on social media, this decision marks a momentous turning point for international justice.

The proliferation of social media has no doubt led to a watershed moment. Syria, in particular, has become a testing ground for social media documentation because of the unprecedented volume of videos recorded and uploaded by activists and citizen journalists to platforms such as Facebook and YouTube to publicize atrocities that in the past would go unreported.  YouTube often retains the only version of a video available, making its removal that much more consequential.

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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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The Daily Orange: Former international prosecutor weighs in on YouTube deleting thousands of videos documenting Syrian Civil War

Former international prosecutor weighs in on YouTube deleting thousands of videos documenting Syrian Civil War

David Crane, a former international prosecutor, thinks YouTube allowing the videos to remain on the site will help prosecutors catalog data on war crimes.

Daily Orange File Photo

David Crane, a former international prosecutor, thinks YouTube allowing the videos to remain on the site will help prosecutors catalog data on war crimes.

In an attempt to rid extremist propaganda from its website, the Google-owned platform YouTube has removed thousands of videos documenting human atrocities occurring in the Middle East, according to CNN.

This past June, YouTube announced the transfer from workers monitoring its content to an advanced algorithm that identifies videos containing violent extremism and terrorism. The new technology has inadvertently deleted thousands of videos. Any content stemming from Syria, or various other conflict zones, are at a high risk of being deleted, according to The New York Times.

The Daily Orange spoke with David Crane, professor of practice at the Syracuse University College of Law, to discuss the implications of deleting such videos. Crane is a former chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone and founder of the Syrian Accountability Project.

The Daily Orange: To start off, can you talk about what kind of human atrocities are occurring in places like Syria?

David Crane: The conflict in Syria has been going on since March of 2011. It has consumed the lives of over half a million human beings, it has moved out of the country over 10 million human beings and it amounts to many international crimes — what we would call war crimes — and crimes against humanity being perpetrated by all sides.

The D.O.: What role do social media platforms, like YouTube, have in modern warfare?

D.C.: Well, it’s interesting. It’s a fascinating scenario. When I was the chief prosecutor of the International War Crimes Tribunal in West Africa, we went and found the information out the old-fashioned way. There was no such thing — even as late as 2005 — as social media.

All of these social media outlets have really affected the investigation of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide throughout the world in both a positive and a negative way. YouTube is just one of the social media (platforms) that collects, records and puts out on social media information related to war crimes … It’s a new challenge for international prosecutors like myself, as what to do with all of this information. Most of which is not useable in the court of law. So, that’s in a general sense my point.

The D.O.: Recently, YouTube changed its policy from workers manually taking down videos to an advanced algorithm that does it for them. This occurred in June, and since then thousands of videos documenting humanitarian crises have been deleted. What do you think are the immediate implications of removing such videos?

D.C.: What ends up happening is, instead of the consumer deciding whether to look at (the video) or not, we now have an arbitrary decision made by an algorithm that keeps it from the consumer, whether that be someone just interested in Syria, an investigator or a nongovernmental organization using that information for consideration for action.

The arbitrariness of it bothers me. I think it should be left to the consumer and the user of the data versus an algorithm. What ends up happening is that we don’t know what we don’t know.

Someone takes a video of an atrocity taking place in northern Iraq, Kurdistan or something in South Sudan or in Syria … a lot of times YouTube is very useful. You may hear of an incident and go on YouTube and actually see the incident itself, which confirms just in a general way that the incident took place. But, you know, sometimes we don’t even know if something took place now.

The D.O.: One way that YouTube has dealt with the backlash of removing videos is by reinstating them but with an 18-year-old age restriction. Do you think that this suffices? Or, do you think that there are negative implications of creating this image of an “adult-only” war?

D.C.: I’d rather have it the way they have compromised rather than completely shutting it off. It is gruesome. It is difficult. I don’t have a problem with an age restriction based on the content. I’m willing to have that compromise if it allows us to then have the adult consumer have the ability to observe and use this data.

The D.O.: What are the long-term effects of deleting so many of these videos?

D.C.: Well, then we don’t have them. And so we have potential corroborative information that could be of use to those who are cataloging, archiving or investigating war crimes taking place, wherever that may be around the world.

The National: Syria war crimes prosecutor vows justice for atrocities

Syria war crimes prosecutor vows justice for atrocities

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appointed a French judge after UN General Assembly took rare action

French Catherine Marchi-Uhel, newly appointed head of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism, IIIM, on Syria crimes, talks to the media during a press conference at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland
French Catherine Marchi-Uhel, newly appointed head of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism, IIIM, on Syria crimes, talks to the media during a press conference at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland

War crimes prosecutors have set to work to establish cases against those accused of some of Syria’s worst atrocities, Catherine Marchi-Uhel, the judge who will run the unit, has revealed.

The International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism was created on the orders of the United Nation General Assembly. Mrs Marchi-Uhel, who was appointed to head the body last July by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, has served as an international judge in Kosovo, Cambodia and at the war crimes court for the former Yugoslavia.

“It is tasked with collecting, consolidating, preserving and analysing information and evidence,” she said of the body. “On the other hand, with preparing files in order to facilitate and expedite fair and independent criminal proceedings, in accordance with international law standards, in national, regional or international courts or tribunals.”

Speaking in Geneva, she said the creation of the mechanism would promote prosecutions of the  most serious violations in Syria. Its mandate was to  “avoid perpetrators enjoying  impunity”.

_______________

Read more:

Veteran prosecutor Carla Del Ponte quits Syria inquiry panel

_______________

The team of some 50 people includes lawyers, analysts and computer specialists, some of whom will have to be Arabic speakers to study and analyse all the information collected about the crimes committed in Syria.

“We are talking about crimes against humanity, war crimes, attacks on schools or hospitals, summary executions, violence against women or children,” she said.

She said experience shows that when a prosecutor or an examining magistrate begins to gather evidence in a file, there is an “effect” on the situation.

Mrs Marchi-Uhel promised to work closely with the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria. It publishes a report on its findings every six months and has concluded that all the warring parties have used torture, arbitrary executions or other atrocities.

The UN General Assembly in December set up the international panel to help collect evidence to be used in future cases of war crimes prosecution in a vote of all members in December.

The deaths of more than 320,000 people in Syria have been examined by the UN Commission of Inquiry that has documented cases of torture, summary killings and other atrocities by all sides in the conflict.

The French national previously worked as the ombudsman for a Security Council committee that deals with the Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda.

The Swiss judge Carla Del Ponte quit the commission in July, decrying the lack of political backing for its work. “We are powerless, there is no justice for Syria,” she said.

“Everyone in Syria is on the bad side. The Assad government has perpetrated horrible crimes against humanity and used chemical weapons. And the opposition is now made up of extremists and terrorists.”

Syria Deeply: The many battles against ISIS: Lebanese-Syrian border, Deir Ezzor and Raqqa

 

 

Aug. 25th, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

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

Lebanon-Syria border: The Syrian army and Lebanese Hezbollah launched a joint operation against the so-called Islamic State on the Syrian-Lebanese frontier this week with the aim of expelling the militant group from its last border stronghold.

Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech on Thursday that the Syrian army and its Lebanese allies had captured more than 270 square kilometers [100 square miles] from ISIS on the Syrian side of the border since launching the operation on Saturday. He added that 40 square kilometers remained under militant control.

The Lebanese army launched a simultaneous but separate operation against ISIS on the Lebanese side of the border, and has captured more than two-thirds of the militants’ local territory. The extremist group now holds only a patch of territory on the outskirts of Ras Baalbek, an area gradually falling under the army’s control.

ISIS is reportedly seeking an evacuation agreement that would grant fighters safe passage from the Lebanese border to militant-held areas in eastern Syria but the Lebanese army has ruled that out.

Deir Ezzor: Russian warplanes have carried out an intensified aerial campaign on Islamic State positions in eastern Syria this month with the aim of helping the Syrian government drive the jihadi group from one of its other last strongholds.

Colonel General Sergei Rudskoi said this week that Russian fighter jets had flown more than 900 missions, killed 800 ISIS militants and destroyed 40 armored vehicles this month alone, the Associated Press reported.

He added that Russian jets were now making 60 to 70 flights a day targeting ISIS militants coming from other areas to join the upcoming battle in Deir Ezzor.

Last week, a Russian airstrike targeted an ISIS convoy in the western countryside of Deir Ezzor, killing at least 70 militants and destroying several armored vehicles, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Meanwhile, Syrian troops and allied fighters are pushing toward the militant bastion from two directions. Pro-government forces advancing south from Raqqa city joined up with their counterparts advancing from the east on Thursday, effectively surrounding ISIS in a large enclave in the Homs desert, according to Reuters.

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are also gearing up for the battle against ISIS in Deir Ezzor. The head of the Deir Ezzor military council, which fights under the SDF, told Reuters on Friday that his forces would launch an attack on ISIS in eastern Syria within several weeks in conjunction with the battle for Raqqa city.

Raqqa: ISIS regained control this week of territory previously lost to pro-government fighters in the eastern countryside of Raqqa province.

In a counter-attack on Thursday, ISIS retook areas along the southern banks of the Euphrates river and positions near Raqqa’s provincial border with Deir Ezzor, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. At least 34 Syrian troops and allied fighters were killed in the offensive.

Meanwhile, U.S. coalition warplanes continued to carry out intense air strikes on the city. At least 42 civilians, including 12 women and 19 children, were killed in an attack on Monday, according to the AP.

Amnesty International said on Wednesday that airstrikes and artillery attacks launched by the U.S.-led coalition on the city of Raqqa had killed hundreds of civilians over the past three months.

It also accused the Syrian government and Russia of carrying out “indiscriminate air bombardments against towns, villages and displaced people’s shelters full of civilians” south of Raqqa, on the southern bank of the Euphrates River.

“Civilians are thus trapped in the city, under fire from all sides, as the fighting intensifies,” the report said.

The following day, the United Nations called for a humanitarian pause in airstrikes to allow an estimated 20,000 trapped civilians a chance to escape the embattled city.

 

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Deeply Talks: The Battle Against ISIS in Deir Ezzor

Alessandria Masi,  Managing Editor of Syria Deeply

 

As pro-government fighters inch closer to ISIS’ last Syrian stronghold, Deir Ezzor, Syria Deeply talks with Hassan Hassan of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy about the main stakeholders involved and the battle’s potential impact on Syria’s balance of power.

 

 

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Syria Justice and Accountability Centre: Assad’s Son, Math Competitions, and Solving the Syrian Nepotism Equation

SJAC Update | August 22, 2017
One of many tweets by journalists and commentators about Hafez Al-Assad’s ranking at the Math Olympiad in Brazil. | Credit: @AASchapiro

Assad’s Son, Math Competitions, and Solving the Syrian Nepotism Equation

On July 17, Hafez Al-Assad, the son of Bashar Al-Assad, participated in the International Math Olympiad competition in Brazil as a member of the Syrian national team. Hafez scored last on the team and received one of the lowest rankings in the entire Olympiad competition. Syrian commentators were quick to ridicule his scores, but their commentary overlooked how Hafez gained admission on the team in the first place. There are no available details about the qualifying process, but one simple answer is that, as the son of the President, Hafez had priority to enter the prestigious competition – a practice of nepotism so common in Syria that many overlooked it. Syria has a long history of nepotism within its government and economic institutions. As a form of institutionalized corruption, nepotism must be addressed during Syria’s transition to ensure that government is ethical, impartial, and representative of all Syrians.

Nepotism is the use of power to provide jobs or other opportunities to unqualified or undeserving family or friends – a form of corruption because officials use public office for private gain. While there is no international standard for combatting nepotism, there are some international instruments that provide guidelines and principles. For example, Article 25(c) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states that citizens have “the right and the opportunity” to access public service roles “on general terms of equality.” Moreover, Articles 7 through 9 of the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) encourages countries to create systems to prevent conflicts of interest, institute codes of conduct for public officials, and establish objective criteria for issuing government contracts.

Countries have adopted these principles into their national frameworks in various ways. Some countries include anti-nepotism and conflict of interest provisions in their constitutions. Such is the case in Article 26 of Colombia’s constitution. Other countries maintain ethical standards or codes of conduct to establish clear guidelines for public officials. While codes are important to set standards, the difficulty is often in upholding those standards in practice. For example, Jordan adopted a code of conduct for public sector employees that was a positive step towards implementing UNCAC, but the Jordanian government has struggled to fully operationalize it among all bureaucratic agencies.

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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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Syrian Network For Human Rights: The Syrian Regime Has Used Chemical Weapons Five Times after Khan Sheikhoun Incident

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  1. Introduction

On June 29, 2017, the OPCW released its report on Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack which confirms that Sarin gas was used on April 4, 2017. However, the OPCW didn’t assign responsibility, as investigations regarding the identity of the perpetrator became part of the mandate of the Joint Investigative Mechanism which was established in accordance with Security Council Resolution 2235 that was adopted on August 7, 2015.

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Syria Deeply: Latest developments on the ground in Eastern Ghouta, the southern province of Sweida and Raqqa

 

 

Aug. 11th, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

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

Eastern Ghouta: The Syrian government stepped up attacks on the eastern Damascus suburbs, carrying out some of the heaviest bombardments of the Eastern Ghouta region in the last two months, despite the area being a de-escalation zone.

Early in the week, rebel group Failaq al-Rahman said it fired on Syrian government tanks just outside Eastern Ghouta, killing and wounding several soldiers.

Pro-government forces carried out aerial bombardments and shelling almost daily in the area, with particular emphasis on the Ain Terma and Jobar districts. There were at least 18 air raids Monday on the two districts and some 15 mortar shells were dropped in an area between them. Airstrikes and shelling in the area Tuesday killed at least two people and injured seven others.

The assault grew more intense Wednesday as Syrian government artillery targeted the districts of Arbin, Douma, Ain Terma, Jobar and the town of Kafr Batna, killing at least five people and wounding at least 10 others. In the following 24 hours, the government launched some 42 ground-to-ground missiles in the area, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). At least three people were killed in shelling on the Hamouriyah district Thursday, according to SOHR.

The increase in bombardment has rebels worried that this is a precursor to a ground assault in areas under opposition control in a government attempt to retake the Damascus suburbs.

Southern Syria: Syrian army forces and allied fighters captured at least 19 miles (30km) of the Syrian border with Jordan from rebels.

Pro-government forces seized control of all rebel checkpoints and border posts along the frontier in the southern province of Sweida, after launching an attack on rebel groups – some of which are backed by Western and Arab states – in the eastern countryside.

This development contradicts earlier reports of cease-fire and safe zones in the southern province. Sweida was initially thought to be included in the July cease-fire brokered by Russia, the U.S. and Jordan. However, reports circulated within the first 24 hours that pro-government forces had violated the cease-fire in Sweida.

Reuters reported Thursday that Sweida province is not included in the cease-fire agreement. It remained unclear, however, whether or not the province was included in the southern de-escalation zone that Russia, Iran and Turkey agreed to in May.

Northern Syria: The Syrian Democratic Forces encircled the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) in central Raqqa Thursday, but the U.S.-backed forces say that finishing the entire offensive could take much longer.

“It could take another three to four months to finish Raqqa,” Haval Gabar, the 25-year-old commander from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia directing the assault on Raqqa’s Old City, told Reuters.

On Tuesday, military reinforcements for the SDF arrived in the northern city of Raqqa, and fighters moving from the east of the city were able to join forces with their counterparts advancing from the west, effectively cutting off ISIS’s last remaining route to the Euphrates.

The ongoing offensive against ISIS’s former de-facto capital has taken a devastating toll on civilians in the area. Since the operation began in early June, at least 595 civilians, including at least 136 children and 84 women, were killed in Raqqa city and surrounding areas, according to SOHR.

An assessment done by the REACH initiative in late July reported that civilians are continuing to flee Raqqa, the population of which is now estimated to be between “10,000 and 25,000, compared to 20,000-50,000 three weeks ago.”

 

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A major barrier to Syrian women’s education – both inside and outside the country – is the information gap that makes applying for asylum and finding education opportunities a labyrinth of confusion.

 

WAR ECONOMY

With No Room for the Dead, Graves Go Up for Rent in Damascus

In Damascus, war profiteers are leveraging the scarcity of burial spots in the capital to rent out graves as one would apartments, charging as much as $1,000 per year for a plot of land.

 

OPPOSITION GROUPS & REBEL FORCES

Idlib Residents Split Over Support for Al-Qaida-Linked Militants

Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham’s military dominance in Idlib has not been translated into total popular support. Today, the province is split between those who accept the extremist group and those who are pushing back against its rise to prominence.

 

 

EDITOR’S PICKS

Community Insight

 

DISPLACEMENT

Why It’s Far Too Early to Talk of Return for Syrian Refugees

Jeff Crisp,  Formerly Head of Policy Development and Evaluation, UNHCR

 

While several states might want a quick solution to the plight of Syrian refugees, returns are not a realistic option until the conflict comes to an end, writes Chatham House Associate Fellow Jeff Crisp.

 

DISPLACEMENT

We Must Ask Refugees What They Feel About Returning to Syria

Sunil John,  Founder and CEO of ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller

 

The founder of the consultancy behind the annual Arab Youth Survey explains why they did their first-ever poll of Syrian refugees and what the young refugees surveyed in Lebanon and Jordan said about the conflict and their attitudes toward going home.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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Syria Justice and Accountability Centre: International Sanctions Are Not a Substitute for Accountability in Syria

SJAC Update | August 10, 2017
The Panama Papers showed blacklisted companies and individuals, including Bashar al-Assad’s cousin Rami Makhlouf, bypassing sanctions through dealings with the law firm Mossack Franseca. | Source: Pixabay

International Sanctions Are Not a Substitute for Accountability in Syria

On July 17, the European Union (EU) sanctioned 16 members of the Syrian government accused of facilitating chemical weapons attacks. British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson announced that the sanctions send a “clear signal” to the government that its actions have consequences. However, only one month prior, President Emmanuel Macron of France – a key member of the EU –  suggested that Bashar al-Assad’s removal is not a precondition in Syria because “no one has showed me a legitimate successor.”  His remarks were a departure from the foreign policy objectives of Macron’s predecessor, François Hollande, and other EU member states, sparking concern that the bloc is not unified in its call for Assad’s exit. More importantly, these types of statements undercut the strategic effectiveness of sanctions and make sanctions seem like an end in and of itself instead of one way towards eventually achieving meaningful justice for victims.

The EU is not the only western actor sending mixed messages. In April, the United States sanctioned 271 Syrian government employees accused of facilitating chemical attacks. Responding to the EU sanctions, a US State Department spokesman stated that the combined sanctions of the United States and EU demonstrate “a continuing effort in the international community to hold the Assad regime responsible.” Despite this rhetoric, the Trump administration stated in March that Assad’s possible retention of power is a “political reality that we have to accept,” a sentiment echoed by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in July, only two months after the United States claimed Syria was responsible for a chemical attack in Khan Shaykhun. In doing so, the United States – like France – is implying that sanctions are sufficient punishment for grave violations of international law and once the conflict ends, Assad can continue to legitimately serve as president of Syria.

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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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The New York Times: War-Crimes Prosecutor, Frustrated at U.N. Inaction, Quits Panel on Syria

 

By SOMINI SENGUPTA

BEIRUT, Lebanon — For six years, an independent United Nations-appointed panel has documented a litany of war atrocities in Syria that have grown increasingly brazen: torture of prisoners, attacks on hospitals, sexual slavery.

On Sunday, the panel confirmed that one of its three members — Carla del Ponte, a Swiss prosecutor — had resigned.

Speaking by phone from Ticino, Switzerland, late Sunday, Ms. del Ponte said she had hoped the Security Council would either refer the case in Syria to the International Criminal Court or set up a special tribunal. “I was expecting to persuade the Security Council to do something for justice,” she said. “Nothing happened for seven years. Now I resigned.”

Ms. del Ponte said she hoped her resignation would nudge the world body to act. “We are going nowhere,” she said.

 The panel’s two remaining members, Paulo Pinheiro of Brazil and Karen Koning AbuZayd of the United States, confirmed Ms. del Ponte’s resignation in a statement, and said they felt compelled to continue.
 “It is our obligation to persist in its work on behalf of the countless number of Syrian victims of the worst human rights violations and international crimes known to humanity,” the statement said. “Such efforts are needed now more than ever.”

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, as the panel is officially known, has produced a stack of reports that chronicle evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity. It also has compiled names of perpetrators of the most serious crimes, which the panel once threatened to reveal. Its reports are an object lesson in how blatantly the laws of war have been broken, with no near-term prospects of accountability. The panel, at one point, called the Syria conflict “a proxy war steered from abroad.”

Only the Security Council has the authority to refer the conflict to the International Criminal Court. That is unlikely, as Russia, a permanent veto-wielding member of the Security Council, backs the government of President Bashar al-Assad and has directly intervened in the war. So too has the United States, in what it says is an attempt to rout the Islamic State from its strongholds along the Euphrates River.

The General Assembly, responding to the sense of inaction, established late last year a highly unusual office within the United Nations system to compile evidence of war crimes for prosecution in the future.

The commission was appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council, a Geneva-based body made up of 45 countries that Nikki R. Haley, the Trump administration’s envoy to the United Nations, has repeatedly criticized.

In June, the commission said that hundreds of civilians had been killed by United States-led airstrikes in and around Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria. In 2016, it chronicled how government forces had detained and torturedpeople in Syrian prisons. That same year, the commission found that the Islamic State had sold and enslaved minority Yazidi women.

Ms. del Ponte is no stranger to the frustrations of seeking justice for the gravest crimes. She served as a prosecutor in the war crimes court for the former Yugoslavia as well as the special tribunal for Rwanda. She wrote bitterly about how political imperatives obstruct the greater demands for justice.

Syrian Network for Human Rights: Euro-Med and Syrian Network Urge PA To Investigate Al-Safadi’s Execution

Al-Safadi’s Execution

The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SN4HR) and the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor sent a letter to the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas today, August 5,2017, demanding an immediate investigation into the execution of Palestinian engineer Bassil Kharbatil Al-Safadi, and hundreds of other Palestinians in Syria.

Since the beginning of the 2011 crisis in Syria, Palestinian refugees have faced serious violations that have escalated over time

Under the umbrella of Palestine’s International Criminal Court membership, the PA could investigate and question the Syrian authorities’ actions against the Palestinians of Syria over the past five years.

Since the beginning of the 2011 crisis in Syria, Palestinian refugees have faced serious violations that have escalated over time. “Targeting Palestinians as a separate group has become a goal in itself,” stated a spokesperson for the two London and Geneva-based human rights organizations.

In this context, crimes such the large-scale deliberate killing and targeting of Palestinian civilian neighborhoods and camps, using explosive barrels, arbitrary arrests and torture, which was documented by the two groups, fall within the category of crimes against humanity or war crimes.

The two organizations demanded that the results of the investigation to be submitted to the local Palestinian courts to prosecute those responsible for committing such crimes and to ensure justice and to prevent impunity.