Kurdish revolutionaries defeated ISIS in Raqqa. Will the U.S. soon abandon them?

Luke Mogelson reports: In August, in the living room of an abandoned house on the western outskirts of Raqqa, Syria, I met with Rojda Felat, one of four Kurdish commanders overseeing the campaign to wrest the city from the Islamic State, or isis. Wearing fatigues, a beaded head scarf, and turquoise socks, Felat sat cross-legged on the floor, eating a homemade meal that her mother had sent in a plastic container from Qamishli, four hours away, in the northeast of the country. In the kitchen, two young female fighters washed dishes and glanced surreptitiously at Felat with bright-eyed adoration. At forty years old, she affects a passive, stoic expression that transforms startlingly into one of unguarded felicity when she is amused—something that, while we spoke, happened often. She had reason to be in good spirits. Her forces had recently completed an encirclement of Raqqa, and victory appeared to be imminent.

The Raqqa offensive, which concluded in mid-October, marks the culmination of a dramatic rise both for Felat and for the Kurdish political movement to which she belongs. For decades, the Syrian state—officially, the Syrian Arab Republic—was hostile to Kurds. Tens of thousands were stripped of citizenship or dispossessed of land; cultural and political gatherings were banned; schools were forbidden to teach the Kurdish language.

Qamishli, Felat’s home town, has long been a center of Kurdish political activity. In 2004, during a soccer match, Arab fans of a visiting team threw stones at Kurds, causing a stampede; a riot ensued, during which Kurds toppled a statue of Hafez al-Assad, the father and predecessor of Syria’s current President, Bashar. Government security forces subsequently killed more than thirty Kurds. Amid the crackdown, a new Kurdish opposition group, the Democratic Union Party, organized and recruited clandestinely.

In 2011, when anti-government protests began spreading throughout Syria, Felat was studying Arabic literature at Hasakah University. The daughter of a poor farmer, she’d begun her studies late, “for economic reasons,” she told me. Along with several dozen other students, Felat left the university and returned to Qamishli. Within a week, Felat, who’d harbored ambitions of attending Syria’s national military academy and becoming an Army officer, had joined the Democratic Union Party’s militia, the Y.P.G. After a day of training, she was issued a Kalashnikov.

Felat expected to fight the regime. But, as the anti-government demonstrations evolved into an armed rebellion and insurrections broke out in major cities, Assad withdrew nearly all the troops he had stationed in the predominantly Kurdish north. The Democratic Union Party allowed the regime to maintain control of an airport and of administrative offices in downtown Qamishli. Arab opposition groups decried the arrangement as part of a tacit alliance between Assad and the Kurds. Islamist rebels began launching attacks in northern Syria, and the Y.P.G. went to war against them. “Many Kurdish families brought their daughters to join,” Felat told me. “Many women signed up.” She described her female compatriots as “women who had joined to protect other women” from extremists and their sexist ideologies. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Syria’s Khan Sheikhoun chemical massacre: Proof beyond doubt who is to blame

Paul McLoughlin reports: United Nations investigators confirmed this week what most of the world already knew – the Syrian regime almost certainly carried out a chemical attack on an opposition village earlier this year.

The report was presented to the United Nations Security Council earlier this week by the OPCW-UN’s Joint Investigative Mechanism after months of research by experts.

The 39-page document was leaked on Friday and detailed the compelling facts behind the panel’s conclusion that Damascus carried out April’s chemical attack, which left scores of civilians dead.

It also discredits the various myths peddled by the Syrian regime and Russia who have tried to effectively put the blame on the victims or cast doubts about who was responsible for the killings.

“Based on the foregoing, the Leadership Panel is confident that the Syrian Arab Republic is responsible for the release of sarin at Khan Sheikhoun on 4 April 2017,” the report confidently concluded.

What Syrians now want to know is what – if anything – will the UN do next with the evidence? [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Tillerson says Assad family’s reign ‘is coming to an end’ in Syria

The New York Times reports: Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson said Thursday that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria must not remain in power, but that negotiations about the country’s future should continue while Mr. Assad was in charge.

“The United States wants a whole and unified Syria with no role for Bashar al-Assad in the government,” Mr. Tillerson told reporters, adding, “The reign of the Assad family is coming to an end. The only issue is how that should that be brought about.”

The comments came after Mr. Tillerson met in Geneva with the United Nations special envoy on the Syrian crisis — the last stop on a weeklong visit to the Middle East and South Asia in which he dashed among capitals in the region, often spending only a few hours on the ground before getting back into his motorcade and heading to the next stop.

While he came home with no major accomplishments, the trip was also not interrupted by tweets from President Trump contradicting his efforts, as happened early this month with the secretary’s efforts on North Korea.

Mr. Tillerson’s visit on Tuesday to Pakistan was perhaps the most interesting of the trip, since Mr. Tillerson had just the week before heaped praise on India, Pakistan’s longtime rival, while bluntly insisting that Pakistan had to do more to fight terrorism.

The Pakistanis nonetheless showered Mr. Tillerson with kindness. When they sat down for talks, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi gave an effusive statement for the gathered reporters that Pakistan was fighting terrorism more than any other country. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Scores of bodies are found in Syrian town after ISIS retreats

The New York Times reports: As pro-government troops drove Islamic State fighters from a central Syrian town over the weekend, the retreating militants killed scores of civilians, dumping some bodies into wells and leaving others in the street, local residents and the Syrian state-run news media said on Monday.

The apparent mass killing is the latest example of the brutal reprisals that have taken place when territory changes hands in Syria’s multisided war, with civilians often bearing the brunt of the pain.

The carnage showed how the Islamic State can still spread havoc even as it loses major parts of its territory that once included large areas of Syria and Iraq.

At least 67 bodies had been identified in the town, Qaryatayn, northeast of Damascus, the capital, by Monday afternoon, according to local activists who posted an online list of the victims’ names. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

The tragic legacy of Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently

David Remnick writes: Nearly two years ago, I met a group of young Syrian journalists at a dive bar around Times Square. We spoke for hours, and their stories of human cruelty were detailed and beyond appalling. These were all refugees from the city of Raqqa and, in concert with other young men and women who were still living in Syria, they formed the core of Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, a kind of underground reporting squadron, citizen journalists who, at tremendous risk to their lives, used every possible tool to smuggle out to the world words and images describing life under isis rule. Foreign journalists found that their reports were as reliable as they were sickening. On their Web site, the R.B.S.S. journalists posted reports of mass shootings, crucifixions, beheadings, sexual abuse, and other crimes. These brave reporters, who have been honored by the Committee to Protect Journalists and portrayed in Matthew Heineman’s excellent documentary, “City of Ghosts,” worked under constant threat of death; ten of their colleagues, friends and family members, both inside Raqqa and in Turkey, were hunted down by ISIS forces and executed for the crime of committing journalism.

When news came this week that ISIS had been flushed out of Raqqa by coalition air strikes, I called Abdalaziz Alhamza, perhaps the most eloquent of the young men and women I met that night in Times Square. He and I came to know each other at other events, and it was immediately clear to me that he was feeling no sense of relief, gratitude, or liberation.

“How are you?”

“Pretty terrible,” he said. “This is a liberation in the media. Not in Raqqa.” Alhamza felt no immediate sense of relief or happiness. His city was in ruins. He and everyone he knew had lost friends and family. After speaking on the phone, we decided to have a conversation by e-mail and what follows are his responses to my questions, edited for clarity and space, about his life and about Raqqa, its tragedy, and its future. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

U.S.-backed force claims capture of ISIS’s de facto Syrian capital Raqqa

The Washington Post reports: U.S. backed forces in Syria claimed full control of the Islamic State’s onetime capital of Raqqa on Tuesday, heralding an end to the militants’ presence in their most symbolically important stronghold and bringing closer the likelihood of their complete territorial demise.

Talo Silo, a spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, said that military operations had halted and that members of the joint Kurdish-Arab force were clearing the city of explosive devices and hunting for sleeping cells.

It was still unclear whether some Islamic State pockets remained, but the SDF portrayed the battle for Raqqa as effectively over.

Besieged and severely weakened, dozens of militants had launched a final stand from inside Raqqa’s main hospital and stadium. But hundreds of others surrendered during the final days of the battle after local officials brokered a controversial deal which could see many escape prosecution. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Syria and beyond: Manufactured doubt and moral atrophy

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad writes: Earlier this year when the Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif appeared on CNN, host Christiane Amanpour pressed him on his government’s support for the murderous regime in Syria. Zarif’s response was a bravura performance in denial and deflection.

Presented with facts about the regime’s crimes, Zarif was pugnacious. “No. Those are not the facts”, he said. That Assad is a dictator was merely “your impression”; to support Assad was to be “on the right side”; and the problem in Syria was IS, a group that was a “creation of the United States government” and “armed and equipped and financed” by Gulf states.

The man representing a state that supports designated terrorist groups such as Hizballah and whose forces are currently occupying parts of Syria, had advice for the West: “People are making the wrong choices in supporting terrorism”, he said; and they must avoid the folly of basing “foreign troops in an Arab territory”.

Zarif was bludgeoning irony with alternative facts. But his approach is unexceptional. This disdain for truth has become a defining feature of modern politics. The function of lies is no longer to persuade; it is to challenge the primacy of facts. Relativism has been weaponised by the powerful to eliminate the very possibility of justice.

This doubt is distinct from the kind of legitimate scepticism that might check against unqualified belief. It is ersatz and functional, manufactured to thwart action and allay guilty conscience. Politically immobilising and morally liberating, it sustains political inertia among cynical politicians and the will to disbelieve among jaded publics. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

What are Turkey’s plans for Syria?

 

Facebooktwittermail

Civilian casualties spiral in Syria as air raids target areas marked for cease-fire

The Washington Post reports: Civilian casualties have spiraled across Syria in recent weeks as pro-government forces launch hundreds of bombing raids across areas marked for international protection.

Groups monitoring the conflict have recorded hundreds of strikes since the end of a sixth round of peace talks among Russia, Iran and Turkey in mid-September. On Friday, the White Helmets rescue group reported that 80 percent of those attacks targeted civilian areas.

September was the deadliest month on record this year in Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, with almost 1,000 civilians killed across the country.

“Now the planes are back, there is just terror all the time,” said Tim al-Siyofi, an activist from the besieged Damascus district of Douma. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Russia may have saved the Assad regime. But its real ally has been terrorism

Faisal Al Yafai writes: The double suicide bomb attacks in Damascus on Monday were just the start of a long guerrilla war against the regime. ISIL and its competitors Hayat Tahrir Al Sham sense that the regime could yet crumble from within. The next stage in the war of ISIL and its offshoots will be to weaken Syria and seek to take over Damascus – as they once tried to take over Baghdad.

Terror attacks like the one last week will only increase, and it is there that the regime will face its most severe test. For all its protestations that the uprising was instigated by “terrorists”, the regime has very little experience dealing with the political and social consequences of terrorism. Part of the social contract of the regimes of the Al Assads has been stability; too many attacks will fray that contract.

A weakening of the regime and an emboldening of the terrorists – whichever group manages to win the internecine conflict for supremacy now taking place in Syria’s ungoverned spaces – will frighten neighbouring countries and those further afield, from where many of the recruits will come and in whose cities attacks may be staged. Security cooperation will become the thin end of the wedge that ultimately brings the regime international legitimacy.

At the start of the uprising, the Assad regime, having carefully prepared for just such a challenge to its authority, cleverly empowered the extremists by releasing prisoners and avoiding the areas where ISIL was growing. In that way, their prophecy came true and terrorism really did grow out of the uprising. Now, once again, the fear of terrorism will come to the aid of the regime. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Syria’s war has deadliest month this year

BBC News reports: September has been the deadliest month in Syria’s civil war so far this year, a monitoring group has said.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said more than 3,300 people had died in September, including 995 civilians.

Of those civilian deaths, it said about 70% were caused by Russian, Syrian government, or coalition air strikes.
The group bases its casualty reports on information provided by a network of activists in Syria.

It counted 207 children among the civilian dead, along with some 790 pro-government fighters, more than 700 from so-called Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda affiliates, and some 550 rebels. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

The ‘sectarianization’ of the Middle East

Facebooktwittermail

Is the Middle East destined to fragment?

Robin Wright writes: Pity the Kurds. Theirs is a history of epic betrayals. A century ago, the world reneged on a vow to give them their own state, carved from the carcass of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War. The rugged mountain people were instead dispersed into the new states of Turkey, Iraq, and Syria, with another block left in Iran. Since then, all three countries have repressed their Kurds. Saddam Hussein was so intent on Arabizing Iraq’s Kurdistan that he paid Arab families to unearth long-dead relatives and rebury them in Kurdish territory—creating evidence to claim Arab rights to the land. He also razed four thousand Kurdish villages and executed a hundred thousand of the region’s inhabitants, some with chemical weapons. Syria stripped its Kurds of citizenship, making them foreigners in their own lands and depriving them of rights to state education, property ownership, jobs, and even marriage. Turkey repeatedly—sometimes militarily—crushed Kurdish political movements; for decades, the Kurdish language was banned, as was the very word “Kurd” to describe Turkey’s largest ethnic minority. They were instead known as “mountain Turks.”

Iraq’s Kurds got a bit of revenge this week. In a historic but controversial referendum, more than ninety per cent of voters endorsed a proposal to secede and declare their own country. “The partnership with Baghdad has failed and we will not return to it,” the President of Kurdistan, Masoud Barzani, vowed on the eve of the poll. Jubilation erupted. Waving their distinctive flag—three stripes of red, white, and green, with a blazing golden sun in the center—Kurds across northern Iraq took to the streets.

The Kurdish vote reflects an existential quandary across the entire Middle East: Are some of the region’s most important countries really viable anymore? The world has resisted addressing the issue since the popular protests in 2011, known as the Arab Uprising, or Arab Spring, spawned four wars and a dozen crises. Entire countries have been torn asunder, with little to no prospect of political or physical reconstruction anytime soon. Meanwhile, the outside world has invested vast resources, with several countries forking out billions of dollars in military equipment, billions more in aid, and thousands of hours of diplomacy—on the assumption that places like Iraq, Syria, and Libya can still work as currently configured. The list of outside powers that have tried to shape the region’s future is long—from the United States and its European allies to the Russian-Iran axis and many of the Middle East’s oil-rich powers. All have, so far, failed at forging hopeful direction.

They’ve also failed to confront the obvious: Do the people in these countries want to stay together? Do people who identify proudly as Syrians, for example, all define “Syria” the same way? And are they willing to surrender their political, tribal, racial, ethnic, or sectarian identities in order to forge a common good and a stable nation?

The long-term impact of these destructive centrifugal forces is far from clear. But, given the blood spilled over the past six years, primordial forces seem to be prevailing at the moment, and not only among the Kurds. “The only people who want to hold Iraq together,” Lukman Faily, the former Iraqi ambassador to Washington, opined to me recently, “are those who don’t live in Iraq.” That sentiment is echoed, if not as concisely, elsewhere.

The challenge is addressing the flip side: If these countries, most of them modern creations, are dysfunctional or in danger of failing, what then will work to restore some semblance of normalcy to an ever more volatile region? No major player, in the region or the wider world, seems to be exploring solutions. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Inside the ruins of Raqqa

Quentin Sommerville and Riam Dalati report: There is a moment in the journey into Raqqa when you leave the real world behind. After the bombed-out Samra bridge, any signs of normal life vanish.

Turn right at the shop that once sold gravestones – its owner is long gone – and you are inside the city.

Ahead lies nothing but destruction and grey dust and rubble.

This is a place drained of colour, of life, and of people. In six days inside Raqqa, I didn’t see a single civilian.

They are somewhere inside, trapped by the so-called Islamic State and the Western coalition’s bombing campaign.

IS uses them as human shields, and as bait, to lure out the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

It seems that not a single building has escaped the onslaught. Many have been crushed, flattened, or knocked to one side by the Western coalition’s air strikes and artillery.

It is a barrage that never ceases. More than two dozen air strikes a day, and hundreds of shells fall on the city.

Their target is the last men of the Islamic State. There may be as few as 400 left. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

The Syrian war is far from over. But the endgame is already playing out

The Washington Post reports: Six years after the eruption of the armed rebellion aimed at toppling President Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian war is limping toward a conclusion — one that leaves many questions unanswered and many battles still to be fought, but a resolution of sorts nonetheless.

That Assad would prevail on the battlefield has been evident for years — since at least 2015, when Russia intervened to prop up his flagging army, and probably well before that, after the rebels failed to capitalize on their early momentum.

The absence of resolve on the part of the international community to prevent an Assad victory has also been clear for some time, perhaps as early as the first failed Geneva peace talks in 2014 and certainly since the government’s recapture of Aleppo in December heralded the collapse of the Obama administration’s diplomacy.

Those realities are now in the process of being cemented, bringing the blurred outlines of an endgame into view.

“The war as we knew it is over. What’s left now is dividing the cake,” said Joe Macaron, an analyst at the Arab Policy Center in Washington.

Under the scenario that is emerging, Assad remains in power indefinitely, there is no meaningful political settlement to remove or redeem him, and the war grinds on.

It is a bleak outlook, foreshadowing an unstable Syria mired in at least low-level conflict for years to come, its towns and cities in ruins, its people impoverished, and its economy starved of the funding it needs to rebuild the country. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

How fake news turned a small town upside down

Caitlin Dickerson reports: On a Tuesday morning in June 2016, Nathan Brown, a reporter for The Times-News, the local paper in Twin Falls, Idaho, strolled into the office and cleared off a spot for his coffee cup amid the documents and notebooks piled on his desk. Brown, 32, started his career at a paper in upstate New York, where he grew up, and looks the part of a local reporter, clad in a fresh oxford and khakis that tend to become disheveled over the course of his long days. His first order of business was an article about a City Council meeting from the night before, which he hadn’t attended. Brown pulled up a recording of the proceedings and began punching out notes for his weekly article. Because most governing in Twin Falls is done by a city manager, these meetings tend to deal with trivial subjects like lawn-watering and potholes, but Brown could tell immediately that this one was different.

“We have been made aware of a situation,” said the first speaker, an older man with a scraggly white beard who had hobbled up to the lectern. “An alleged assault of a minor child and we can’t get any information on it. Apparently, it’s been indicated that the perpetrators were foreign Muslim youth that conducted this — I guess it was a rape.” Brown recognized the man as Terry Edwards. About a year earlier, after The Times-News reported that Syrian refugees would very likely be resettled in Twin Falls, Edwards joined a movement to shut the resettlement program down. The group circulated a petition to put the proposal before voters. They failed to get enough signatures to force a referendum, but Brown was struck by how much support around town the movement attracted. In bars after work, he began to overhear conversations about the dangers of Islam. One night, he heard a man joke about dousing the entrance to the local mosque with pig’s blood.

After he finished watching the video, Brown called the police chief, Craig Kingsbury, to get more information about the case. Kingsbury said that he couldn’t discuss it and that the police reports were sealed because minors were involved. Brown made a couple phone calls: to the mayor and to his colleague at the paper who covers crime. He pieced together that 12 days earlier, three children had been discovered partly clothed inside a shared laundry room at the apartment complex where they lived. There were two boys, a 7-year-old and a 10-year-old, and a 5-year-old girl. The 7-year-old boy was accused of attempting some kind of sex act with the 5-year-old, and the 10-year-old had used a cellphone borrowed from his older brother to record it. The girl was American and, like most people in Twin Falls, white. The boys were refugees; Brown wasn’t sure from where. In his article about the meeting, Brown seems to anticipate that the police chief’s inability to elaborate was not going to sit well with the people whose testimony he had just watched.

That weekend, Brown was on his way to see a movie when he received a Facebook message from Jim Dalos Jr., a 52-year-old known to Twin Falls journalists and police as Scanner Man. Dalos is disabled; he works six hours a week as a dishwasher at a pizzeria but spends most of his time in his apartment, sitting in a reclining chair and drinking Diet Pepsi out of a 52-ounce plastic mug, voraciously consuming news. He reads the local paper, old issues of which litter his living-room floor, and keeps the television blaring — usually Fox News. He got his nickname because he constantly monitors an old police scanner, a gift he received as a teenager from his father, and often calls in tips to the media based on what he hears. He also happens to live at the apartment complex, Fawnbrook, where the laundry-room incident occurred.

Dalos told Brown that he had seen the police around Fawnbrook and that the victim’s mother told him that the boys had been arrested. He also pointed Brown to a couple of Facebook groups that were created in response to the crime. Brown scrolled through them on his cellphone and saw links flying back and forth with articles that said that the little girl had been gang raped at knife point, that the perpetrators were Syrian refugees and that their fathers had celebrated with them afterward by giving them high fives. The stories also claimed that the City Council and the police department were conspiring to bury the crime.

Over the weekend, Brown plowed through his daily packs of cigarettes as he watched hundreds, then thousands, of people joining the groups. Their panic appeared to be piqued by a mass shooting, the deadliest in American history, that had just occurred at Pulse nightclub in Orlando. The perpetrator had declared allegiance to ISIS. The commenters also posted stories that claimed refugees were responsible for a rash of rapes in Europe and that a similar phenomenon in the United States was imminent. “My girl is blond and blue-eyed,” one woman wrote. “I am extremely worried about her safety.”

The details of the Fawnbrook case, as it became known, were still unclear to Brown, but he was skeptical of what he was reading. For one thing, he knew from his own previous reporting that no Syrians had been resettled in Twin Falls after all. He woke up early on Monday to get a head start on clarifying things as much as possible in order to write a follow-up article. Before he got into the office, a friend texted him, telling him to check the Drudge Report. At the top, a headline screamed: “REPORT: Syrian ‘Refugees’ Rape Little Girl at Knifepoint in Idaho.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

New order indefinitely bars almost all travel from seven countries

The New York Times reports: President Trump on Sunday issued a new order indefinitely banning almost all travel to the United States from seven countries, including most of the nations covered by his original travel ban, citing threats to national security posed by letting their citizens into the country.

The new order is more far-reaching than the president’s original travel ban, imposing permanent restrictions on travel, rather than the 90-day suspension that Mr. Trump authorized soon after taking office. But officials said his new action was the result of a deliberative, rigorous examination of security risks that was designed to avoid the chaotic rollout of his first ban. And the addition of non-Muslim countries could address the legal attacks on earlier travel restrictions as discrimination based on religion.

Starting next month, most citizens of Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Chad and North Korea will be banned from entering the United States, Mr. Trump said in a proclamation released Sunday night. Citizens of Iraq and some groups of people in Venezuela who seek to visit the United States will face restrictions or heightened scrutiny.

Mr. Trump’s original travel ban caused turmoil at airports in January and set off a furious legal challenge to the president’s authority. It was followed in March by a revised ban, which expired on Sunday even as the Supreme Court is set to hear arguments about its constitutionality on Oct. 10. The new order — Chad, North Korea and Venezuela are new to the list of affected countries and Sudan has been dropped — will take effect Oct. 18. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Few ideas, less hope leave Syria crisis on back burner at UN

Reuters reports: At the entrance to the United Nations building in New York a sign advertises an upcoming party to celebrate the end of the annual gathering of world leaders. Next to it a weathered box with crumpled papers urges people to donate for Syrian refugees.

The contrast is striking a year after nations jousted verbally for a week in the same halls attempting to strike a ceasefire deal as Russia and Iran backed Syrian government troops in a brutal advance on the then rebel bastion of Aleppo.

But tensions in the Korean Peninsula and a growing crisis over the fate of a nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers has relegated talk of resolving the six-year-old Syrian civil war to back rooms and bilateral chitchat as international diplomacy struggles to find a strategy to end the crisis.

On the ground, violence between government forces and rebels has been drastically reduced after the creation of ‘de-escalation zones’ in the west of the country negotiated between Russia, Turkey and Iran in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. A separate effort between Russia, Jordan and the United States has also helped in the south.

Its backers say the zones have restored some security to Syrians and open the way for local reconciliation. Its detractors warn that they will fragment the country and lead to a more radicalised opposition.

“You don’t have the U.S. and the Europeans around the table and that is a huge defeat for all of us. This Astana process is just a military de-escalation process and it must be supplemented with a political process,” French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country supports rebels and urges the departure of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, told reporters this week. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail