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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DIPLOMACY & FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Analysis: Assad’s Allies Trying to Reshape Lebanon’s Syria Policy

Since the start of the Syrian conflict, Lebanon’s government has officially adopted a policy of ‘disassociation’ toward the war next door. However, now some Lebanese political parties and organizations allied with Bashar al-Assad seem to be trying to overthrow the policy.

 

 

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GOVERNMENT & PRO-GOVERNMENT FORCES

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

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

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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.

 

 

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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.

Syria Deeply: Tillerson talks Syria, an update on the de-escalation zones and evacuations from Arsal

Syria Deeply
Aug. 4th, 2017
This Week in Syria.
 
Welcome to our weekly summary of Syria Deeply’s top coverage of crisis in Syria.

For Syria Deeply’s ongoing feature, Expert Views, we’re gathering fresh insight and commentary from our expert community. This week, we’ll focus on unpacking how Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent remarks about working with Russia to a create “unified Syria” may or may not contradict Moscow’s de-escalation zone proposal. We invite you to share your insights 
here.

U.S. remarks on Syria, Russia: U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson addressed Washington’s willingness to work with Russia on Syria-related issues that extend beyond the battle against the so-called Islamic State group, in a press briefing on Tuesday.

Tillerson acknowledged one major point of contention between the two states: their opposing views on President Bashar al-Assad, adding that from the U.S. perspective, “the Assad regime has no role in the future governing of Syria.”

However, Washington is “working with Russia [to] achieve the end state, which is a unified Syria … that has the opportunity for the Syrian people to put in place a new constitution, have free and fair elections, and select a new leadership.”

“If we think about Syria post the defeat of ISIS, what we are hoping to avoid is an outbreak of the civil war, because we really, as you know, have two conflicts underway in Syria: the war against ISIS, the civil war that created the conditions for ISIS to emerge,” Tillerson said. “We’re working closely with Russia and other parties to see if we can agree a path forward on how to stabilize Syria in the post-ISIS world.”

It is unclear what Tillerson meant by “hoping to avoid … an outbreak of civil war.” The conflict in Syria was already considered a civil war years ago, but now that is has drawn in hundreds of thousands of foreign fighters and the interests of various governments, it is largely believed to have outgrown that label.

De-escalation zone update: There is still no concrete plan to implement Russia’s de-escalation zone proposal in Syria, yet there have been developments on the ground.

Russia said it established the third of four proposed de-escalation zones, which covers three rebel-held towns and dozens of villages north of Homs city. Moscow also announced a cease-fire in 84 settlements populated by more than 147,000 people, defense ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.

Both pro-government and rebel forces reportedly violated the cease-fire a number of times within 10 hours of it coming into effect, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). Despite the violations, Russian military police reportedly deployed to the area the following day, according to the Associated Press.

A similar series of events took place last week in the Eastern Ghouta region of the Damascus suburbs, also a proposed de-escalation zone. A cease-fire collapsed within 24 hours, and Russia deployed military police in the area. Fighting has continued in area this week: At least 25 civilians have been killed in the 12 days since a cease-fire went into effect, according to SOHR.

Arsal evacuations: Roughly 7,000 Syrian refugees and al-Qaida-linked fighters were bused out of Lebanon into Syria, in the last phase of an exchange deal between militants and the Lebanese Hezbollah group. At least 1,000 among those transferred are militants, according to Reuters.

The agreement grants safe passage to refugees and remaining al-Qaida-linked fighters to Idlib province and the Qalamoun region, leaving control of this corner of the border to Hezbollah, the Lebanese army and the Syrian government.

In exchange, the al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) alliance released eight Hezbollah fighters they held captive.

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f020b569-7455-410e-8ef8-f41b0077a844.png MOST POPULAR
This Week’s Top Articles
cryo2.jpeg?w=185&h=130&fit=crop&q=60&dpr=2
While the Syrian government ramps up its offensive on the Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus, local residents have to also contend with bitter rivalries between opposition groups, who have carved up the besieged enclave.
cryo2.jpeg?w=185&h=130&fit=crop&q=60&dpr=2
Ahrar al-Sham’s decision to replace its top command this week offers a glimpse at how the outgunned rebel group is adjusting to the ascendancy of al-Qaida-linked factions in Syria, and the changing nature of the insurgency against president Bashar al-Assad.
973ab3c3-9b8d-4a6d-9ac8-50621f4257fe.png EDITOR’S PICKS
Community Insight

How China is Developing Links with Syria
putin-tillerson-meeting-exxonmobil.jpeg?w=90&h=90&fit=crop&q=60&dpr=2
6827aefd-79dd-482b-9584-82c275-565c92dc808b2.jpg?w=68&h=68&fit=facearea&facepad=2&corner-radius=100&mask=corners&maskbg=transparent&fm=png32
Taylor Luck,  Journalist and Analyst
The Trump administration’s decision to end a covert CIAprogram that provided arms and training to Syrian rebels may prompt the country’s battered opposition to side with jihadists in pursuit of a common goal: the overthrow of the Syrian government.
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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Violations Documentation Center in Syria: Dear friend, The Syrian Government executed Bassel

The execution of the activist and programmer, Bassel Khartabil
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The execution of the activist and programmer, Bassel Khartabil

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Syria Justice and Accountability Centre: Responding to Misconceptions Regarding the IIIM

SJAC Update | August 2, 2017
Responding to Misconceptions Regarding the IIIM
 
The following article was written through the cooperation of three non-governmental organizations: Syria Justice and Accountability Centre, Syrians for Truth and Justice, and the Violations Documentation Center in Syria. Its content reflects the joint views of these entities.
 The International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM) to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Those Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes in Syria was established by UN General Assembly resolution in December 2016. On July 3, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appointed Catherine Marchi-Uhel as Head of IIIM. Marchi-Uhel is a former French judge with broad international experience trying and adjudicating war crimes. During her 27-year career, Marchi-Uhel has provided legal support to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, the UN Mission in Liberia, and the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo. She has also adjudicated for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia and currently serves as Ombudsperson to the UN Security Council’s 1267 Committee – reviewing requests for delisting from the Committee’s Sanction List. Her appointment signals the beginning of IIIM’s substantive work.
Since IIIM’s inception, Syrian civil society has worked to support the Mechanism and to clarify its aims and means. In February, several Syrian NGOs sent a letter to the General Assembly noting questions and recommendations that would help the IIIM understand Syrians’ priorities and increase local buy-in. In May, a meeting between the IIIM start-up team and a wide range of Syria civil society organizations was held in Lausanne, Switzerland. The meeting provided an excellent platform to exchange views, provide recommendations, and establish a common understanding between both sides.
Despite these positive steps, some Syrian people, activists, and civil society groups still have questions regarding the IIIM’s purpose and potential for advancing accountability in Syria.
In June, the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights’ (OHCHR) hosted a human rights reference group meeting in Turkey with Syrian NGOs to discuss the latest in human rights developments – including the IIIM’s progress. The meeting led to a greater understanding of the IIIM’s mandate. Since the meeting was not open to the public, we have identified five of the most prominent concerns voiced by Syrians and clarified them below for wider public understanding.
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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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Violations Documentation Center in Syria: Responding to Misconceptions Regarding the IIIM

Responding to Misconceptions Regarding the IIIM
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Responding to Misconceptions Regarding the IIIM (English)

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Syria Deeply: Battle updates from Arsal outskirts, a good week for Russia in Syria and thinning ties between the U.S. and rebels

Syria Deeply
Jul. 28th, 2017
This Week in Syria.
 
Welcome to our weekly summary of Syria Deeply’s top coverage of crisis in Syria.
Battle in Arsal outskirts: Hezbollah and an al-Qaida-linked militant group reached a cease-fire agreement on Thursday, a week after the Lebanese group and the Syrian army launched a joint offensive against militants in the rugged mountainous area along the Lebanese and Syrian border.
Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, the head of Lebanon’s general security agency, reportedly brokered the truce, according to Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency (NNA). Under the terms of the deal, which extends to al-Qaida’s former Syria affiliate but not to fighters from the so-called Islamic State, fighters will be granted safe passage to Idlib province in Syria.
At least two dozen Hezbollah fighters and some 150 militants have been killed in clashes since the battle began last week, according to Al Jazeera.
But the battle in the outskirts of Arsal is not yet over. The next phase of the joint operation is expected to target nearby ISIS-held territory.
Russia’s wins in Syria: Four battalions of Russia’s military policy have been deployed around the proposed de-escalation zones in Syria, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told Russian media on Wednesday.
Moscow had been in talks for several weeks about deploying its military police to buffer zones on the edges of the four de-escalation zones. At the last round of Astana talks earlier this month, however, Moscow, Turkey and Iran failed to reach a definitive agreement about “which specific forces” would police the zones, Russia’s chief negotiator Alexander Lavrentiev said. In addition, the opposition delegation told Reuters that they remained skeptical of the proposal.
Less than three weeks later, on Monday Russian military police set up “two checkpoints and four monitoring posts” in the Eastern Ghouta suburbs outside the capital, according to Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi, the chief of the Russian general staff. This followed an earlier deployment in southwest Syria over the weekend, where Russia’s forces set up two checkpoints and 10 observation points.
The deployment comes after two individual cease-fire declarations in the respective areas. Violations have been reported in southern Syria and the cease-fire between government forces and opposition groups in Eastern Ghouta crumbled on Sunday after only 24 hours.
Russia further solidified its role in Syria later in the week, when President Vladimir Putin approved an agreement with the Syrian government that would allow Moscow to deploy at the Hmeimim airbase in Latakia province for the next 49 years, with the option of extending the agreement for a further 25 years, according to documents seen by Reuters.
Thinning ties between U.S. and rebels: Days after news broke that President Donald Trump had ended the covert CIA program that provided arms and training to Syrian rebel groups, the U.S.-led coalition urged its Syrian allies to only fight the so-called Islamic State.
“We have made it very clear time and again our goal in Syria and Iraq is to fight ISIS and fight ISIS only [and] we’ve asked [our partner forces] to be committed to that same mission,” coalition spokesperson U.S. Army Col. Ryan Dillon told reporters in Washington on Thursday.
Ending the CIA program was a “signal to Putin that the administration wants to improve ties to Russia,” a U.S. official told Reuters last week. According to the New York Times, the decision came more than a month ago and revealed that ousting President Bashar al-Assad was no longer a U.S. priority.
The move has led at least one U.S-backed rebel group to split off from coalition forces and pursue independent operations against the Syrian government. In response, Dillon said Washington had begun the “process of ceasing our support,” for Shohada al-Quartyan, a local rebel group that had been fighting ISIS in southern Syria.
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At least 32 children in the besieged Houla region are suffering from an inherited blood disorder that requires frequent transfusions. Though fatality rates for thalassemia are not exceptionally high, the absence of supplies and blood banks has made it life-threatening.
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The economic strain of Syria’s six-year civil war has encouraged hidden forms of child labor, as an increasing number of youngsters take up work in dim factory buildings, dusty workshops and in the dingy backrooms of Damascene cafes.
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Like all wars, Syria’s conflict has taken not just a massive human toll, it has also had a significant environmental impact. But green initiatives in rebel and Kurdish areas – even failed ones – have brought a small measure of hope to local people.
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Community Insight
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Kim Bode,  Community Editor of Syria Deeply and Refugees Deeply
The former head of the U.S. Office of Global Criminal Justice, Stephen Rapp, spoke with Syria Deeply about improving the possibility of holding Syrian war criminals accountable.
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Lina Sinjab,  Syrian Journalist and Middle East Correspondent at the BBC
The conflict in Syria has given way to a new class of nouveau riche, dominated by warlords and independent businessmen who benefit from the status quo, and may make it difficult for an international deal to be implemented locally, writes Syrian journalist Lina Sinjab.
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Milia Eidmouni, Syrian Independent Media Group  Regional Director for the Syrian Female Journalist Network.
Though international nonprofits hope their empowerment and decision-making workshops will prove useful to Syrian refugee women, many women express a desire for more pragmatic and economic-oriented training courses.
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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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Rise For Syria: Syrian Conflict Through an Artist’s Eyes

Syrian Conflict Through an Artist’s Eyes

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Social media gives voice to creative expression in ways that news media could never convey. Photographers may capture destroyed buildings and bloody casualties but through an artist’s eyes you feel the story in a way that is truly personal. Art can be disturbing and healing both in its’ creation and through the experience of the viewer. Artist Moustafa Jacoub of Syria has a profound way  of contrasting the humanitarian crises with the universal desire to dream and play.

Whatever your personal interpretation may be, the feelings are universal within each of us.

We experience earthly angst and sublime beauty with a backdrop of sun and stars as our planet floats through time.

We may be refugees from our place of origin, immigrants traveling across eternity, but there is a place within each of us that is home…

In that place we are all connected despite the circumstances of our personal lives.

Compassion is the thread that stitches the seams of our torn reality.

Rise for Syria is a powerful, citizen-driven initiative to alleviate suffering for those who have lost their homes and are traumatized by the war. Even the smallest amount of generosity will go a long way to helping people heal and rebuild their lives!

Syria Deeply: Battle against ISIS, end of CIA aid to rebels and a new offensive on the Syrian-Lebanese border

Battle against ISIS, end of CIA aid to rebels and a new offensive on the Syrian-Lebanese border

Syria Deeply
Jul. 24th, 2017
This Week in Syria.

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

Battle against ISIS: Pro-government forces and U.S.-backed forces intensified their advance against the so-called Islamic State group near Raqqa.

The Syrian army and allied militias seized the al-Daylaa oil field alongside the Zamla gas field in a desert region of southwestern Raqqa province on Monday. Over the weekend, pro-government forces took control of the Wahab, al-Fahd, Dbaysan, al-Qseer, Abu al-Qatat and Abu Qatash oil fields and several other villages in the same area.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) clashed with ISIS fighters in central Raqqa and in the southwestern neighborhood of Yarmouk earlier this week.

At least 30 civilians were killed in airstrikes on ISIS-held areas this week: 15 were killed in coalition airstrikes in the village of Zour Shimr, near Raqqa, and another 15 people were killed by what Syrian opposition activists claimed was a Russian warplane in the eastern village of Ayash.

Some 200,000 people are in Raqqa province, many of them in urgent need of food deliveries and humanitarian aid. Last week, the World Food Programme (WFP) was able to make food deliveries to Mansoura and other rural areas north of Raqqa for the first time in three years, after the opening of a land route that connects Aleppo to Hasakah

Trump ends CIA aid to Syrian rebels: President Donald Trump has ended the covert CIA program that provided arms and training to Syrian rebel groups. The move, news of which broke on Wednesday, is an apparent “signal to Putin that the administration wants to improve ties to Russia,” a U.S. official told Reuters.

According to the New York Times, the decision to end the program came more than a month ago and revealed that ousting President Bashar al-Assad was no longer a U.S. priority.

Hezbollah, Syrian army launch border offensive: Hezbollah and the Syrian army launched a joint offensive against militant groups holed up in a rugged mountainous section of the Lebanese-Syrian frontier late Thursday night.

Some 3,000 militants, including al-Qaida-linked insurgents and members of the so-called Islamic State group, are said to be holed up in the outskirts of the Lebanese border town of Arsal, which has been buffeted by the war in Syria since 2011.

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OPPOSITION GROUPS & REBEL FORCES

After The Buses: Life in a Government-Controlled Damascus Suburb

The Damascus suburb of Barzeh, once a thorn in the side of the Syrian government, has been under full government control for less than two months. Syria Deeply takes a look at the current situation in the neighborhood through the eyes of its remaining residents.

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RELIGIOUS & ETHNIC GROUPS

Analysis: Shift in Rhetoric Among Kurdish Politicians in Syria

Kurdish political officials in Syria are taking an increasingly anti-Iranian and pro-Saudi Arabia stance amid the rising tensions between Washington, Tehran and their proxies, and the rift between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, writes journalist Wladimir van Wilgenburg.

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DISPLACEMENT

‘I Just Had to Go Back’: Syrian Repatriates Speak of Return

Some 31,000 Syrians have returned to the war-torn country from abroad this year and many are struggling to survive in a country they call home.

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OPPOSITION GROUPS & REBEL FORCES

Analysis: What a Battle on the Lebanese Border Could Mean For Syria

A battle on the outskirts of a Lebanese border town will have significant implications on the Syrian refugee population in Lebanon and may boost Hezbollah’s capabilities in Syria as it moves to secure a section of the Lebanese frontier, writes Kareem Chehayeb.

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Community Insight

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ISIS

How the Economic Model of ISIS Evolves Post-Caliphate

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Haid Haid,  Syrian Researcher

Due to U.S.-led military operations to counter its finances, the so-called Islamic State is not only changing its military tactics but also adapting its economic practices, writes Chatham House fellow Haid Haid.

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EDUCATION

Leveraging U.S. College Scholarships for Syrian Students

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Kim Bode,  Community Editor of Syria Deeply and Refugees Deeply

The Syrian Youth Empowerment initiative guides high-school students in Syria through the U.S. college application process. Its cofounder George Batah explains the importance of Syrians winning scholarships to study in the U.S.

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.