Huffington Post on Siege Watch coverage of Syria’s humanitarian crisis

Time Is Running Out For Syria’s Besieged Communities

The sieges “are testaments to the impotence of the international community,” a new Siege Watch report states.

Syrians travel through rubble after airstrikes pounded residential areas in the Eastern Ghouta region on Dec. 3, 2017.

Nearly 745,000 men, women and children in Syria are trapped inside the war-torn country’s 33 besieged communities, living in desolate conditions at the mercy of President Bashar Assad’s authoritarian regime and its armed opponents.

The latest Siege Watch report, released Thursday by The Syria Institute and PAX, reveals that a population larger than all of Washington, D.C., is trapped, while more than 1 million additional Syrians are living in “watchlist” areas, under threat of intensified siege and abuse.

As Syria’s government and its allies tighten their blockades, they have continued to carry out a “surrender or die” strategy, which “amounts to a campaign of widespread collective punishment,” according to the quarterly report. Many of the atrocities are war crimes and crimes against humanity, Siege Watch charges.

Siege warfare is among the cruelest tactics in Assad’s playbook ― it restricts civilian access to urgently needed food, water and medical supplies and leaves residents especially vulnerable to targeted attacks. It’s a strategy the Syrian leader uses to exert dominance while defying those who oppose his rule.

In the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta, desperate Syrians have resorted to eating garbage to survive. The 424,000 people in the dilapidated Damascus suburb have been under complete siege since 2013, shortly after a sarin gas attack by Assad’s forces claimed an estimated 1,429 lives in the region.

The Siege Watch report recorded two new suspected chemical attacks ― one by pro-government forces against opposition fighters in Eastern Ghouta, and another by the self-described Islamic State against opposition fighters outside of Damascus.

A man and child look at the rubble of damaged buildings after an airstrike on the rebel-held city of Douma on Nov. 2, 2017.

“There is a sense of anger towards the international community that is unable to save half a million people from starvation under the bombardment by the Assad militias,” a source in Syria, who declined to disclose their identity out of fear of regime reprisal, told Siege Watch authors.

Despite numerous ceasefire agreements and United Nations resolutions demanding unobstructed humanitarian access, forces loyal to Assad have continued to target civilian residential areas, including hospitals and schools, by air. The international community’s inadequate response has only emboldened the Assad regime, the report asserts.

“One of the most shocking aspects of the sieges remains the inability of international stakeholders to end them,” it notes. “Long-term sieges, such as those in Eastern Ghouta, northern Homs, and the Southern Damascus Suburbs, are testaments to the impotence of the international community to prevent, deter, or seek accountability for crimes against humanity.”

When, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces encircled the city of Raqqa in a deadly showdown to reclaim it from ISIS, trapped fighters “held thousands of civilians as human shields” as the battle raged on, the report states. By the time Raqqa was liberated in October, the former ISIS stronghold was “in ruins and almost entirely depopulated.”

Siege Watch authors now fear that people in Eastern Ghouta will meet a fate similar to those in Aleppo. Thousands died in the beleaguered city as Syrian and allied forces demolished it with airstrikes and barrel bombs, turning the once-vibrant metropolis into a ghost town of rubble and bodies.

“The current trajectory of developments will lead to deepening humanitarian crises in besieged areas, as hundreds of thousands of civilians face suffering, loss, and forced displacement at the hands of the Syrian government, armed opposition groups, and ISIS,” Siege Watch warned. “International community stakeholders must take real steps towards ending the sieges to avert the looming catastrophe.”

Read the original article HERE.

CBC’s The Current podcast interviewed V. Szybala about the siege of Eastern Ghouta

Doctors forced to decide who lives or dies in besieged Syrian suburb

 A wounded boy is seen in hospital in the town of Hamoria, eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, Syria, Dec. 3, 2017.

A wounded boy is seen in hospital in the town of Hamoria, eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, Syria, Dec. 3, 2017. (Bassam Khabieh/Reuters)

 Listen 24:19

Story transcript

At a time when Geneva hotels are crammed with officials taking part in the eighth round of Syria peace talks, the people in the Syrian city of eastern Ghouta are under siege and forgotten.

Eastern Ghouta children.

Many children in eastern Ghouta are suffering from acute malnutrition. (Unicef, used with permission)

The Syrian government continues to block food, aid and medical supplies from the city.

Violence has closed schools down, children are malnourished and doctors are left in a desperate situation to try to save lives with almost no resources.

“One day you will find treatment enough for one child but you have two who needs treatment, and then you have to decide who will survive,” says  Dr. Mohamad Katoub, who initially was trained as a dentist but in 2011 started to work in a medical capacity after doctors fled the country.

There are about 40,000 children in this area and about 600 newborns a month that do not have access to baby milk, vaccinations or even diapers, according to Katoub.


Civil defence and civilians carry a wounded man in the town of Hamoria, eastern Ghouta in Syria, Dec. 3, 2017. (Bassam Khabieh/Reuters)

He tells The Current‘s Anna Maria Tremonti about a time when there was not enough electricity and incubators had to run on electric generators. Doctors had to make a devastating choice.

“We decided that night that we had to stop one of two incubator units … depriving newborn babies from being treated in an incubator that they need, and we lost lives that time because of this,” Katoub says.

These impossible life and death decisions have left him with a heavy heart.

“I don’t know if we can forgive ourselves as doctors to make those decisions. This is very hard to face as a doctor,” Katoub tells Tremonti.


A wounded boy is treated in hospital in Douma after an airstrike in the rebel-held besieged town of Douma, eastern Ghouta, in Syria, Nov. 27, 2017. (Bassam Khabieh/Reuters)

And with what little medical supplies are available, there’s also the decision to declare what patients need it the most.  Katoub says making that call who is “the most needy patient” is never easy.

He argues these challenges shouldn’t be left to the doctors to face.

“The WHO is only 10 km away from us. They should hold this responsibility … with the staff there, who will be treated and who will be left to die.”

Leaving eastern Ghouta 

Katoub was born in eastern Ghouta and lived his whole there until 2014 when the siege became too much for him and his family. He says he was always scared his son might be injured because of the attacks in the area.


A boy is seen during shelling in the town of Hamoria, eastern Ghouta in Syria, Dec. 3, 2017. (Bassam Khabieh/Reuters)

He says he knew his family had to leave when he came home one night to find his wife crying because their son was bleeding, not because he was injured but as a result of using a plastic bag as a diaper.

“I decided that this child deserved to live in another place, deserved to live in a safe place, deserved to grow up and get a good education — at least to get food, vaccination,” he says.

“His basic rights.”

Today Katoub is the advocacy manager for the Syrian American Medical Society in Turkey.

The Current contacted the consulate for Syria in Vancouver for comment, but received an automatic reply that they were on vacation until the new year. 

Listen to the full conversation above — including Valerie Szybala with The Syria Institute, a driving force behind Siege Watch, a project which monitors conditions in Syria’s besieged areas.

Read the original HERE.

TSI Exec Dir on worsening conditions in Eastern Ghouta in Yahoo article

Twelve miles from Damascus, rebel holdout faces humanitarian ‘catastrophe’

Yahoo News 

A Syrian child is taken for treatment at a hospital following a reported airstrike in the rebel-controlled town of Arbin, in the eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, on Dec. 3, 2017. (Photo:Abudlmonam Eassa/AFP/Getty Images

Five hundred critically ill Syrian patients, including scores of young children, are trapped with dwindling access to medical supplies in a besieged rebel-held district northeast of Damascus in what some aid workers are calling a humanitarian catastrophe.

In recent weeks, drawing relatively little international press coverage, forces of the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad have pounded the area with airstrikes — including cluster bombs — as part of a ferocious assault on eastern Ghouta, just 12 miles from the country’s capital. The region is the larger of two Damascus suburbs still under the control of rebels who have been fighting Assad’s regime for the past six years.

As the government offensive escalates, hundreds of patients in the district who suffer from malnutrition, cancer, kidney failure and other diseases have been unable to receive treatment or evacuate, the aid monitors say, warning that siege conditions verge on famine. The  UN declared the situation a humanitarian emergency on Thursday after its top humanitarian advisor, Jan Egeland, called situation a “catastrophe.”

“Siege conditions in Eastern Ghouta are at their worst point since the siege began in 2013,” said Valerie Szybala, director of the Syria Institute, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that is monitoring the crisis.  “Since this summer, we have seen a growing number of civilian deaths due to the lack of access to medical care and malnutrition. With winter beginning, the conditions will only grow worse, as people do not have electricity or fuel to make fires.”

A Syrian man carries the body of a child who was killed in a reported airstrike in the rebel-controlled town of Hamouria, in the eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, on Dec. 3, 2017. (Photo:Abudlmonam Eassa/AFP/Getty Images)

Of the 502 patients who are at most serious risk, 63 are children younger than 5, Dr. Mohamed Katoub of Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), a nonprofit medical relief organization, told Yahoo News in an interview from Gaziantep, Turkey. In the past, Katoub’s organization was able to treat patients with supplies smuggled in through tunnels connecting the area to the opposition-controlled neighborhoods of Barzeh and Qaboun.

But the Syrian military shut the tunnels in May, and basic medical supplies such as anesthetics and surgical gloves are quickly running out — and the patients have nowhere else to go. “Now we don’t have access for patients to go to Damascus. We don’t have access to medicines to bring inside, so we started seeking evacuation,” said Katoub.

A Syrian child receives treatment at a hospital following a reported airstrike in the rebel-controlled town of Arbin, in the eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, on Dec. 3, 2017. (Photo:Abudlmonam Eassa/AFP/Getty Images)

Doctors began requesting evacuations in July. Since then, Katoub says, only eight patients have been evacuated and 11 have died, because diseases that usually can be treated or managed have become fatal. Local doctors must wait for the government to approve aid convoys and ambulances to evacuate patients. Yet only ten aid convoys have passed through the regime checkpoint this year, each delivering barely enough supplies for a month, says Katoub. The regime removes surgical items from the convoys as well, he added — even from caesarean section kits.

One of the families Katoub is most concerned about is in Irbin and has four boys younger than 12 who have hemophilia. Hemophilia, a congenital failure of blood-clotting, was once frequently fatal but now be managed with clotting factor replacement therapy.

But in siege conditions, without treatment, “any wound might be a killer,” said Katoub. “This disease is not killing in other places.” Any medical procedures that can cause bleeding, such as dental work, can become catastrophic.

For Katoub, the frustration is compounded because adequate medical care can be accessed just a few miles away. But evacuation does not guarantee safety for residents from the longstanding opposition stronghold. A 5-year-old boy with a suspected case of polio was one of the few patients moved to Damascus. Born after the siege of Ghouta began, he had no official identification papers. After the hospital told the boy’s father to obtain certain papers, he headed to the civil records office. There, he was arrested.

A Syrian man looks after his son, who is receiving treatment at a hospital after he was injured and his sister was killed in a reported airstrike in the rebel-controlled town of Hamouria, in the eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, on Dec. 3, 2017. (Photo: Abudlmonam Eassa/AFP/Getty Images)

Though relatively unknown to foreigners before the war, eastern Ghouta has been permanently inked on the map in blood. The agricultural periphery of Damascus emerged as a key battleground against the regime, led by rival rebel groups that eventually came under the control of the Saudi-backed Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam). These opposition factions built and operated the tunnels for smuggling that helped sustain the resistance to Assad in his backyard. Rebel groups competed not only with each other, but also with regime-backed war traders running goods and supplies through the Wafideen crossing point into eastern Ghouta.

Eastern Ghouta has paid dearly for its resistance. Residents have endured a grueling siege punctuated by chemical-weapon attacks that horrify the international community but fail to spur action. The population has declined by more than half — from 1.2 million to about 400,00. Since the tunnels were closed, the price of goods has skyrocketed. Last Sunday, the government imposed an exorbitant tax of 2,000 Syrian pounds (a little less than $4) on every kilo of food coming through the regime crossing point.

Eastern Ghouta is one of several de-escalation zones negotiated between Russia, Iran and Turkey in September during the Astana ceasefire talks. Under the agreement, a cessation of hostilities would allow for unimpeded access to humanitarian aid. Instead, the Syrian regime has launched a final campaign to crush the remaining rebel resistance in eastern Ghouta, recalling the brutal offensive to recapture eastern Aleppo last year.

A Syrian man grieves over the body of his son following a reported airstrike in the rebel-controlled town of Arbin, in the eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, on Dec. 3, 2017. (Photo:Abudlmonam Eassa/AFP/Getty Images)

But unlike the outcry that met the regime’s onslaught then, Assad’s final play for eastern Ghouta is unfolding with impunity and in silence. The Trump administration recently ceded to Russia political and military authority to end the war, further closing the door to Western aid and support. “If something is not done immediately, thousands of innocent civilians will die,” said Szybala. “Unfortunately, based on the lackluster response from international actors it seems quite clear that nothing will be done.”

The pattern of political cover repeated last week: Russia proposed a ceasefire, which the Syrian government accepted. Syrian forces bombed eastern Ghouta the next day.

Read the original HERE.

Valerie Syzbala speaks with The Independent on Russian domination of the Geneva process

Vladimir Putin’s diplomatic push in Middle East seals both Syria’s fate and diminishing role of the US in the region

An eighth round of UN-backed Syria peace talks begin in Geneva next week. As Washington falters in the region, however, Moscow is increasingly in the driver’s seat

Exactly one year ago, Syrian President Bashar al Assad, with Russia’s help, was laying waste to the last rebel-held neighbourhoods of Aleppo.

Cluster bombs and bunker-busters fell out of the sky “like rain”, one resident said at the time. Children mistook the bright lights of phosphorous munitions for fireworks.

The fall of Aleppo turned the tide of the civil war in the regime’s favour. And this week, as Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Mr Assad and his Iranian and Turkish counterparts to discuss a framework for “post-conflict” Syria, his role as the Middle East’s most important foreign deal-breaker is secured.

Vladimir Putin meets Syrian president Bashar Assad

When US President Donald Trump and Mr Putin met in Vietnam earlier this month, they issued a joint statement reiterating their countries’ desire for a political rather than military solution for Syria’s civil war – now in its seventh year. Mr Putin, several US State Department sources said, promised full commitment to the UN-backed peace process in Geneva. Fresh talks begin there on 29 November.

But after years of failed negotiations in both Switzerland and Riyadh, Western-sponsored efforts at peace appear to be “structurally broken”, as Beirut-based Century Foundation Fellow Sam Heller says, and Russia’s efforts are coming to the fore.

“[An] adversarial, binary regime-opposition dynamic is at the heart of Geneva, and it is totally unworkable,” he told The Independent.

“What Russia seems to be doing is creating an array of parallel processes that can move things forward, even as Geneva and its Western sponsors are stuck in place. The Russians are insistent that these other processes aren’t meant to undermine Geneva.

“With processes like Sochi, Russia can address the key elements of UN Security Council Resolution 2254 [which calls for a political solution in Syria] outside Geneva’s dysfunctional process, then drop them in to Geneva to be ratified and given international legitimacy.”

To that end, Sochi, the sleepy beach town that serves as President Putin’s winter residence, has over recent days turned into a frenzied centre of global diplomacy.

In less than 72 hours, the Russian leadership has held discussions with the United States, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Israel and Egypt – all with a view to cementing Russia’s role as a key player in the region.

The trilateral conference between Russia, Iran and Turkey is the pinnacle of Mr Putin’s diplomatic marathon. It followed a surprise precursory meeting between Mr Putin and Mr Assad in Sochi on Monday.

Iran has long been a consistent ally to Russia on Syria, especially on the matter of Mr Assad’s leadership. Turkey has supported rebel groups against Assad since Arab Spring protests began in 2011, and was at one stage even in open conflict with Russia.

The common front they present now was a long time in coming.

In a joint statement, leaders Vladimir Putin, Hassan Rouhani and Recep Tayyip Erdogan committed to what they described as the “post-conflict” phase in Syria’s war.

There are many unresolved sticking points. On Thursday a senior adviser to President Assad said that Russia’s planned December talks bringing the regime and Syrian opposition to the table will only succeed if the rebels first lay down their arms. Turkey also reiterated that Mr Assad staying on as president is still a “red line”.

Nonetheless, there is agreement to “work together in all areas” in Syria.

The three foreign powers will work as guarantor states to enforce deescalation zones and encourage political progress. They would help build schools, hospitals and playgrounds.

In his comments to the press on Wednesday, Mr Putin said Russian efforts would soon switch from the battlefield to reconstruction. Military co-operation “had saved Syria from collapse,” he said. “Long-term normalisation [was] now possible.”

Mr Putin will feel satisfied about what the conference says about Russian power in the region, especially as the Trump administration fails to put forward its long-tern foreign policy goals.

Much has changed since his military entered the conflict in September 2015. Thanks to its often brutal support operations, Russia has helped Assad fight back from the brink to rule what is left of his country with confidence again.


Isis – thanks to both Russian and US air power – clings on to a fraction of the territory it controlled at the height of its powers in 2014.

In diplomatic circles, once-strident calls that “Assad must go” are no longer very loud.

And the US position on Mr Assad – once a red line – is no longer a precondition for a settlement, although Washington said this week it may maintain a military presence in the country to pressure the Assad government for concessions in Geneva.

“Trump has no idea what is going on,” said Valerie Szybala, executive director of the Syria Institute think tank.

She told The Independent: “Russia and the Syrian government have together effectively undermined the Geneva process. I don’t think anyone has any illusions that it can or will be successful at this point.”

In parallel Western-backed talks in Riyadh a coalition of 30 Syrian opposition groups on Thursday stuck by its demand that Mr Assad play no role in Syria’s future.

Those discussions, which are aimed at unifying the opposition voice, are supposed to aid the eighth round of talks between rebels and the regime which begin in Geneva next week.

Few expect a breakthrough in the peace process. Instead of looking to the US in a leadership role, all eyes are on what Russia’s diplomatic juggling act will bring next.

View the original article HERE.

TSI Executive Director comments on limited options for peace in Syria

A propaganda poster featuring Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus.

A propaganda poster featuring Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus.

It all started with the graffiti. Teenage boys sprayed “The people want the fall of the government,” onto a wall in Dara’a, an ancient city on Syria’s southern border. A month later, 1,000 civilians had been killed by government forces, and people were taking up arms against the brutal regime of longtime dictator Bashar al-Assad.

Today, Dara’a lies in shambles. 400,000 people have died in the world’s bloodiest ongoing civil war, and over 11 million have been displaced within and outside of Syria. Four roundsof peace talks held by the United Nations in Geneva have gone by without any notable progress. “The international community has failed,” Daniel Neep, assistant professor at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies in Georgetown, told the HPR.

The Syrian Civil War has become an increasingly complex conflict, fracturing the country along sectarian lines and drawing in a variety of outside actors. While major international players continue to pay lip service to the goal of conflict resolution, few have advanced concrete solutions for restoring long-term peace. A policy of federalization, with Assad remaining in control, and the establishment of a power-sharing coalition government remain on the table. The most likely outcome, however, is a solution almost all actors still publicly oppose: the partition of Syria.

A Nation Divided

As violence escalated in the spring of 2011, political allegiances increasingly fractured along confessional lines. Although over two thirds of Syrians are Sunni Muslims, the Alawite minority of Bashar al-Assad has dominated Syria politically and economically for decades. Strong minority support for the government led Assad to rely on sectarian militias, including the notorious Alawite “Shabiha” paramilitary, armed Christian groups, the Lebanon-based Hezbollah, and even Shia volunteers from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Likewise, the mostly-Sunni rebel groups began to claim religious rather than secular values to mobilize the anti-Assad opposition, with groups like the al-Nusra Front even pledging loyalty to al-Qaeda. The rise of ISIS brought further instability, triggering a Russian intervention on behalf of the government.

Only Kurdish forces in the country’s north, funded by U.S. aid, have managed to retain and even strengthen their position, establishing a decentralized coalition modeled loosely on the Swiss cantons. Their military arm, the multi-ethnic but majority-Kurdish “Syrian Democratic Forces,” plays a highly influential role in the fight against ISIS in Raqqa and elsewhere.

Proxy War

“Peace in Syria depends in a tremendous amount on the international actors,” Director of the Syria Institute Valerie Szybala told the HPR. Effectively, the Syrian Civil War has been transformed into a regional and international proxy war, involving numerous outside players.

Syria has become the most important theater in the regional “cold war” between Shia Iran and the Sunni Gulf States, led by Saudi Arabia. The Sunni states have funneled vast amounts of money into the Islamist opposition. Iran, on the other hand, has supported its Syrian ally in order to maintain the corridor of friendly Shia states connecting Iran to Lebanon’s Shia Hezbollah militia. The Ayatollahs have also sent Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard to reinforce their allies on the ground. In Szybala’s words, “Iran has brought in a significant number of militiamen to settle.”

Western antifascist fighters in Rojava, August 2017.

Western antifascist fighters in Rojava, August 2017.

The conflict has also drawn in powers from outside the region. In September 2015, Russia, a loyal backer of the Assad regime, began attacking not only ISIS, but also rebel positions. While Russia has economic and geopolitical interests in Syria, as well as an important military base on the Syrian coast, its involvement in the conflict has also served an important role in domestic propaganda.

U.S. policy in Syria has prioritized a few general objectives—counteracting Iranian influence, battling terrorist groups, and empowering moderate pro-democracy forces, for instance— but a lack of strategic clarity has muddled the coherence of its response. Obama famously disregarded the red line he had drawn about the use of chemical weapons; Trump has frequently changed his stance on the Assad regime.

Lastly, growing Kurdish autonomy has prompted Turkey’s strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a vocal critic of the Assad regime, to send Turkish troops into Syria. Erdogan fears that Kurdish self-government in Syria’s Rojava province could rouse Kurdish separatist forces in the adjacent provinces of eastern Turkey.

The increasing investment of foreign parties has created a spiral of violence, in which no actor appears willing to compromise for fear of being perceived as weak. As positions harden, it is becoming all but impossible to find a solution acceptable to all sides.

Avenues for Peace

In some regards, the most straightforward option is a brokered peace between the regime and the opposition. This would likely result in a decentralization of power in Syria, through the creation of new federal government structures. Remarkably, the United States, Russia, and even Bashar al-Assad himself have at various points voiced support for a policy of federalization. Kurdish leaders have promoted their federation as a model for post-war Syria. Federalization, advocates argue, allows local religious and ethnic groups to retain their autonomy, while maintaining a central government that upholds law and order.

However, a decentralized Syrian state, as envisioned by Putin and his allies, would still be headed by Bashar al-Assad. Nikki Haley, United States ambassador to the United Nations, has been clear in her disapproval of the Syrian tyrant: “It’s going to be hard to see a government that’s peaceful and stable with Assad.” Nor would the Syrian opposition, which has hinged its peace negotiations on Assad’s removal from office, likely agree to this deal. “There is a war criminal still in office,” Szybala underscored, a dilemma that brokered federalization would do nothing to address.

Alternatively, if Assad could be forced to relinquish power, Russia and Syria’s minorities might be willing to institute a coalition government and divide power between the various ethnic and religious groups. A power-sharing regime would enshrine the principles of joint exercise of power, proportionate distribution of parliamentary seats, and local autonomy in a newly drafted constitution.

If Syrians are looking for a model of “consociational democracy,” they might turn to neighboring Lebanon. Though power sharing in the country has encouraged corruption, clientelism, and inefficiencies, it has also allowed Lebanon to remain relatively stable over the past three decades.

Still, for all of their similarities, Lebanon and Syria differ greatly in their ethnic makeup. While the three major religious groups in Lebanon comprise a roughly equal share of the population, almost 70 percent of Syrians are Sunni Muslims. For the Alawite elite to freely give up their power, minorities would likely need to be enticed by special privileges under the new system. If not, proportionate representation in Syria could lead to the marginalization of ethnic minorities.

Furthermore, Assad’s removal from power is becoming increasingly unlikely. Complete regime change would most likely require large-scale U.S. intervention and a prolonged period of nation building, both of which are highly unlikely given isolationist public opinion in the United States and fervent Russian opposition abroad. Neep explained that as Western calls for Assad to step down have slowed to a trickle, the regime has consolidated power in areas under its control, empowered by consistent Russian support.

Divided for Good

Realistically, neither the government nor the opposition is likely to regain control of Syria in its pre-2012 borders. Bashar al-Assad is almost certain to maintain his grip over the coastal strip between Damascus, Aleppo, and the Mediterranean. At the same time, the majority-Kurdish “Syrian Democratic Forces” in the north have proven remarkably resilient in the face of incursions from ISIS, Turkey, and Assad’s army.

A pair of USAF F-15E Strike Eagles return to Iraq after conducting airstrikes in Syria, September 2014.

A pair of USAF F-15E Strike Eagles return to Iraq after conducting airstrikes in Syria, September 2014.

No major faction has yet dared address the elephant in the room—the very realistic prospect of partition. Almost all foreign powers remain publicly opposed to dividing the country along ethnic and religious lines. Partition recalls darker periods of the Middle East’s history, when borders were created with the stroke of a pen and conflicts solved by the forced resettlement of minority ethnic groups.

Yet if military forces reach a stalemate and internationally negotiated peace deals continue to fail, the various actors might reach a tacit agreement on dividing the country into respective spheres of influence. Partition is the solution that no one wants, but the one most everyone might be willing to accept. “The first block to go would be the Kurdish canton in the north,” predicted Szybala. In one likely scenario, Assad would retain control over the west and parts of the south, the Syrian Democratic Forces would keep the north, and the east and parts of the south would be split between a mix of government and opposition forces. This formulation also suits many of the international players involved: Russia keeps its military bases in Syria, Iran preserves its Shia-controlled corridor to Hezbollah, and both the Sunni states and the United States increase their influence in the country.

The graffiti written onto the walls of Dara’a cannot be erased again. The trust eroded by an oppressive police state, sectarian violence, terrorist insurgency, and mass executions will be hard to regain. Currently, the conflict shows few signs of stopping: “In the immediate future, I don’t think there is any chance for peace,” Szybala told the HPR. Real peace seems as unlikely as a reversal to the status quo ante before the Arab Spring. The Syrian Civil War, launched with the intention of transforming Syria, may in the end only prove capable of shattering the country.

View the original article HERE.