The conflict in Syria has long ceased being a civil war, becoming instead a clash between coalitions and blocs that divide the entire Middle East.
The Iranian-led axis is the most dangerous and highly armed bloc fighting in Syria. Bashar al-Assad’s regime is not an independent actor, but rather, a component of this wider axis. In many respects, Assad is a junior member of the Iranian coalition set up to fight for him.
Russia joined the Iranian axis in 2015, acting for its own reasons as the pro-Assad coalition’s air force, helping to preserve the Syrian regime.
This coalition enabled the Assad regime to conduct mass murder and ethnic cleansing of Sunnis from Syria, while also using unconventional weapons against civilians in an effort to terrorize rebel organizations into submission.
Feeling confident by its growing control of Syria, Iran also uses its regional coalition to arm, finance, and deploy Shi’ite jihadist agents all over the Middle East, and to attack those who stand in the way of Iranian domination.
The Iranian-led axis has been able to spread violence, terrorism, and Islamic militancy without facing repercussions.
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The Syrian war is at once incomprehensibly byzantine and very simple. It is complex in the number of countries involved, in the shifting and fragile internal alliances and resentments of the groups constituting the rebellion, in the threads of national interest that circle back and consume themselves like a snake eating its own tail. To take just one example: after a decade of friendly relations with Syria, Turkey turned on Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and decided to work toward his downfall, and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan vowed that his country would “support the Syrian people in every way until they get rid of the bloody dictator and his gang.” Since then, Turkey has served as a staging ground for the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), but it has also been repeatedly accused of funneling funds and arms to ISIS, which regularly attacks FSA bases and beheads the soldiers it captures. Turkey has provided military aid to the effort to combat ISIS, but it also devotes energy and resources to fighting Kurdish nationalists, who have been more effective in fighting ISIS than any other group to date. In November 2016, Erdoğan reiterated his determination to unseat Assad, saying Turkish forces had entered Syria in August 2016 for no other reason than to remove Assad from power. One day later, he retracted his statement and claimed Turkey’s military campaign in Syria had been designed solely to defeat ISIS, the terrorist group whose operations Turkey had at least tacitly and perhaps actively supported. Turkey is now working closely with Russia, which has done more than any other country to prevent Erdoğan from realizing his goal of bringing down Assad. Turkey is just one of at least nine countries involved in the conflict.
The simple part of the war is that it is a human, social, and environmental disaster that equals some of the 20th century’s worst conflicts. Around half a million have died, with another two million wounded, in a country whose prewar population amounted to just more than twenty million. Since the conflict’s beginning, in 2011, Syrian life expectancy has dropped by more than twenty years, from roughly 79 to 56. More than half of the country’s population has been forced to leave their homes, including some six million internally displaced and nearly five million refugees. Their movements have in turn contributed to political upheaval across Europe and North America, with right-wing nationalists campaigning against the supposedly dangerous influx of refugees. The use of torture against political enemies and captured soldiers has been widespread, especially on the part of the Assad regime. Many refugees cite their female family members’ dramatically increased risk of being raped as a major reason for leaving. In addition, a country with a strong national identity and a tradition of religious tolerance — including for a dozen Christian denominations and esoteric sects like the Druze — has been transformed into a place of bitter sectarian violence. Much of Aleppo, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities on Earth and one of the region’s architectural and cultural jewels, has been reduced to rubble. As regime forces, backed by Russian air strikes and Iranian ground troops, made their final, decisive assault on the rebellion’s dwindling territory there in December 2016, many residents found themselves trapped and began to tweet out their good-byes. In one such video, an old man rocked back and forth in the middle of a bombed-out street, pushing his hands away from his face as he called out, “We are starving. There is nothing.”
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When Russian President Vladimir Putin got word that U.S. cruise missiles were going to strike his Syrian ally early on Friday morning, he had several options – both military and diplomatic – for firing back.
He could have used Russia’s air defense systems in Syria to shoot the American rockets out of the sky. As a rebuke to the Americans, he could also have cancelled his meeting next week with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. But he did neither.
Reading between the lines of Russia’s initial response, at least in the hours following the first targeted U.S. strike against the Syrian military, it seems that Putin is choosing to step back, bide his time and leave plenty of room to smooth things over. In Moscow’s diplomatic circles, there is even hope that Tillerson’s visit on Tuesday could still mark the start of some grand bargain – if not exactly a love affair – between Putin and President Donald Trump.
“This is not going to be pillow talk between two newlyweds,” says the Russian lawmaker Leonid Kalashnikov, who chairs a parliamentary committee on integration with Russian allies. “It’s a conversation between two people who want something from one another, and we are both ready to back away on this issue for the sake of achieving other goals later on.” Speaking by phone from Moscow, he added: “Russia understands that nobody needs escalation.”
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An Iranian supported Shi’a militia, Al-Nujaba, says it formed the “Golan Liberation Army” to fight Israel, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reports.
“This army has been trained and has detailed plans. If the Syria regime asks us to, we are ready to act to liberate the Golan [from Israel] along with our allies,” Al-Nujaba spokesman Hashem Al-Mousawi said in a March 8 interview with Iran’s Tasnim news agency.
Al-Mousawi also admitted that the new militant group is “part of the PMU [Popular Mobilization Units],” an Iraqi-backed umbrella organization comprised of numerous Shi’a militias, including some with close ties to Iran. The Golan Liberation Army emerged from the Iranian led “resistance” axis and consists of “special forces who have received training and equipment,” he said.
“Iran is the only country that has helped us,” Al-Mousawi said, “and sent us its military advisors, led by Qassem Soleimani.”
Soleimani, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force, is tasked with advancing Iran’s regional expansion and terrorist networks. Since September 2015, Iran increased its forces in Syria from hundreds to thousands to support Hizballah terrorists acting at Iran’s behest in propping up the Bashar al-Assad regime.
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the international community to fulfill Security Council resolutions and stop the Assad regime and rebel groups in Syria from using chemical weapons.
“When I saw pictures of babies suffocating from a chemical attack in Syria, I was shocked and outraged. There’s no, none, no excuse whatsoever for the deliberate attacks on civilians and on children, especially with cruel and outlawed chemical weapons. I call on the international community to fulfill its obligation from 2013 to fully and finally remove these horrible weapons from Syria,” said Netanyahu during a memorial ceremony for the late President Chaim Herzog at in Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem.
Dozens of people, including 11 children, died Tuesday in a suspected chemical attack in the town of Khan Sheikhun in the Syrian province of Idlib. The region, located in the northwestern part of the country, is controlled by Syrian rebels and is believed to have been perpetrated by the Syrian army. The attack was followed by an airstrike on a medical installation where victims of the attack were being treated. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, medical sources onsite described it as a gas attack when many people started to choke or faint, and had foam coming out of their mouths, seemingly from chlorine or sarin gas.
In 2013, the UN Security Council adopted unanimously resolution 2118 determining that the use of chemical weapons anywhere constituted a threat to international peace and security, and called for the full implementation an Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) resolution spelling out special procedures for the rapid and verifiable destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons.
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The world must completely rid Syria of all chemical weapons, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday following the suspected gas attack in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in the Idlib Province in which at least 58 people were killed and dozens of others were wounded.
“When I saw pictures of babies suffocating from a chemical attack in Syria, I was shocked and outraged,” Netanyahu said at a state memorial ceremony for the late Israeli President Chaim Herzog at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. “There’s no, none, no excuse whatsoever for the deliberate attacks on civilians and on children, especially with cruel and outlawed chemical weapons.”
“I call on the international community to fulfill its obligation from 2013 to fully and finally remove these horrible weapons from Syria,” he continued.
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