VICE News: “The Syrian Regime Is Close to a Victory That Could Turn the War”

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The Syrian regime just cut rebels’ main Aleppo supply line, and it’s a disaster for the opposition.


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VICE News: “Syria Peace Talks in Geneva Get Suspended Even Before Really Beginning”

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Syria peace talks in Geneva have already flamed out. A guide to the main players and the basic disconnect that stopped negotiations before they could start:

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VICE News: “Faced With A Russian Onslaught, Syrian Rebels Are Calling for Help From All Muslims”

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Russian and Iranian intervention has turned the military balance in Syria’s civil war, and rebels fighting Bashar al-Assad’s regime are struggling to cope. Some rebels have decided they urgently need more men – Syrian or not – and have issued calls to arms not just to able-bodied Syrians, but to the entire Muslim nation. But while Syrians in the opposition agree the military situation is dire, they disagree on whether they want a new wave of foreign fighters, especially after many of those who came before went nuts and joined ISIS.

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War on the Rocks: “A Cause for All Turks: Turkey and Syria’s Turkmen Rebels”

New from me and S.G. Grimaldi on War on the Rocks:

The plight of Syria’s Turkmen minority has rallied groups across Turkey’s political spectrum, from pan-Islamists to hard-right Turkish nationalists. This mobilization is getting needed support to civilians inside Syria – but it may also be reshaping Turkish politics, as advocacy for the Turkmen helps to mainstream organizations that had been on the country’s political fringe.

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World Politics Review: “Why Diplomatic Talks to End Syria’s Civil War Will Fail—Again”

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Everyone is currently very excited about negotiations between Syria’s regime and opposition to resolve the country’s brutal war. But maybe don’t be? Because talks aren’t going to work, come on.

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Ahrar al-Sham media activist: “I won’t claim that al-Fou’ah and Kafarya are entirely besieged.”

Below is something I thought might be pertinent amid the coverage of Madaya, the Damascus countryside town that has recently been subjected to a crushing siege by the regime and Hizbullah. I’ve translated a response from Ahrar al-Sham media activist Marwan Khalil (Abu Khaled al-I’lami) to criticism of Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusrah’s blockade of the Shi’ite regime loyalist towns of Kafarya and al-Fou’ah. The criticism, which Ahrar and Nusrah have received from multiple opposition quarters: Their siege of the towns actually isn’t intense enough.

Kafarya and al-Fou’ah are Idlib towns that have been stranded deep behind rebel lines since the Jeish al-Fateh (Army of Conquest) rebel coalition, of which Ahrar and Nusrah are the main components, swept the regime out of most of Idlib province in early 2015. The two towns were half of the September 2015 deal negotiated by, reportedly, Ahrar al-Sham and Iran; the other half were the Damascus countryside towns of al-Zabadani and Madaya.

Since then, Ahrar and Nusrah have been obliged, somewhat awkwardly, to respect a truce with pro-regime militias inside al-Fou’ah and Kafarya. They’ve also had to allow shipments of supplies to enter the two towns and, as part of a December swap, some residents of the towns to leave. Relief to any town under the truce has only been allowed on a reciprocal basis – thus, relief to Madaya this week had to be delivered simultaneously with relief to al-Fou’ah and Kafarya.

The deal has attracted critics, who argue that Ahrar and Nusrah have made some impermissible compromise with the regime and its allies or – to put it in crude sectarian terms – are “feeding the Rawafidh (Shi’a).” Abu Khaled was responding to a report from Murasel Souri (Syrian correspondent), a pro-opposition Syrian activist news outlet, claiming that shipments of food, water and diesel are being diverted by Ahrar and Nusrah to al-Fou’ah and Kafarya and that any talk of a “siege” is purely for media consumption. Others have echoed similar criticisms, ranging from premiere Salafi-jihadist theorist Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi to Syrian Revolutionaries Front chief Jamal Ma’rouf, a southern Idlib rebel warlord whom Nusrah ran out of the country in November 2014. (Ma’rouf’s tweets are translated below the jump.)

Nidhal Sbeih, former spokesman for the Syrian Revolutionary Front: “Picture of the day: One of the lions of Jabhat al-Nusrah proudly protects a bus of al-Fou’ah and Kafarya’s criminals.”

To be clear: I don’t think this intra-opposition static provides the whole story of conditions in al-Fou’ah and Kafarya, on which no one seems to have reported satisfactorily.

My impression, and what I’ve heard from others, is that Ahrar and Nusrah have not exercised leverage on al-Fou’ah and Kafarya (and thus Iran, Hizbullah and the Assad regime) by imposing the sort of crushing deprivation we’ve seen in Madaya. As Abu Khaled argues, al-Fou’ah and Kafarya benefit not just from relief shipments that fall under the Zabadani truce, but also from opportunistic residents of neighboring towns willing to sell supplies and from regime airdrops. Instead, rebels have leaned on the towns by shelling them indiscriminately and threatening them through conventional military means. Indeed, we saw Saudi jihadist evangelist and chief Jeish al-Fateh judge Abdullah al-Muheisini argue earlier this month al-Fou’ah should be “exterminated” if the siege on Madaya weren’t lifted.

That said, by at least some accounts – in one case, local militiamen who had been evacuated to Lebanon – residents of the two Idlib towns are also desperate enough to eat grass. I don’t know.

But the political dimensions of the al-Fou’ah–Kafarya siege and the controversy it has stirred within some parts of the opposition are knowable.

In some ways, the criticisms of Ahrar and Nusrah are a mirror image of loyalist outrage over the Syrian regime’s recent truce with Homs’s rebel-held al-Wa’ar neighborhood. They seem to be more evidence of the popular resistance – on both sides – to any deal, on any terms.

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VICE News: “How Assad Is Using Sieges and Hunger to Grab More of the ‘Useful Syria'”

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As the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad wages an offensive with Russia’s backing on rebels across the country, behind the front lines it has been consolidating its hold in Syria’s west.This is the part of the country sometimes called “useful Syria,” home to most of its population and economic centers. The consolidation of regime control here may be a harbinger of a future, divided country — or it may create a base from which the regime can launch attacks on the rest of Syria.

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