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A little girl waits at a medical center in the transit camp Al-Hol in Syria, March 8, 2019. (Laurence Geai/LE MONDE)

Syria’s war news you missed - March 18, 2019

1. Afghans worry about the return of Shia fighters from Syria's civil war. Will they further undermine their country's stability, the Economist asked. The paper interviewed a 23-year-old man who fought with an Afghan militia recruited by Iran to help prop up the government in Syria's civil war. The young man came from the Hazara ethnic minority. Most Hazaras are Shia Muslims, as are the ruling elite in both Iran and Syria.

2. France brings back Islamic State jihadists' children from Syria camps, French newspaper Le Monde reported. France has repatriated five young children of jihadist fighters from northern Syria, whom it describes as vulnerable orphans. The French Foreign Ministry said that "as for adult French nationals - jihadist fighters with Daesh [Islamic State] - France's position remains unchanged: they must be tried on the territory where they committed their crimes - this is a matter of both justice and security".

3. Syria army vows to retake control of Kurdish areas, AFP reported (via Yahoo News). On Monday, Syrian Defence Minister Ali Abdullah Ayoub warned that the Syrian government will recapture territory controlled by Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the same way it "liberated" other parts of Syria. Eight years into a war, Syrian government forces control almost two-thirds of the country.

Officials pose for a group photo during a Syria donors conference at the European Council headquarters in Brussels, Thursday, March 14, 2019. Senior representatives from scores of countries and international organizations gathered Thursday in a fresh effort to drum up aid for Syria amid growing donor fatigue as the conflict enters its ninth year. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

Syria’s war news you missed - March 14, 2019

1. The Syrian civil war enters its ninth year. An Arab Spring-inspired uprising began with protests in March 2011 and since escalated into one of the most convoluted and deadly conflicts in the world, leaving at least 400,000 people dead and millions displaced. President Bashar al-Assad's enemies have been defeated and the bulk of the country is back under his control. Yet, it is unclear how the Syrian government will be able to bring the country back from the brink, with tightening U.S. and European Union's sanctions, rebuilding cities devastated by the war, economic difficulties and the many challenges of reaching a political settlement.

2. Donors pledge $7B in aid for Syria, refugees. International donors have pledged around $7 billion in aid for Syria and Syrian refugees who fled the conflict-ravaged country, the European Union announced Thursday, as the war enters its ninth year. But it was unclear how or when the money would be made available to those in need, AP reported.

3. The United States is not discussing a Turkish offensive in northeast Syria with Turkey and believes no such operation is needed to address Ankara's security concerns, dismissing media reports to the contrary, Reuters reported. In fact, the news agency claims, the U.S. sees Turkish offensive in Syria as unnecessary.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney looks behind former Secretary of State James Baker as he stands next to former Vice President Dan Quayle, back, during memorial ceremonies for former President George H.W. Bush at the Capitol in Washington. Dec. 3, 2018 (Jonathan Ernst/Pool Photo via AP)

Syria’s war news you missed - March 13, 2019

1. Turkey says it is discussing with Russia a Syria offensive against U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces. Turkey is discussing with Russia and the U.S. a potential military offensive in a region of northeast Syria controlled by Kurdish fighters, a Turkish defense official was cited as saying by state media on Tuesday, Reuters reported.

2. Former Vice President Dick Cheney criticized President Trump foreign policy. Speaking with Vice President Mike Pence last weekend, Cheney warned that American allies were questioning the dependability of the U.S. as a result of the Trump's public statements. He specifically highlighted Trump's public complaints about the role of NATO and the surprise announcement of the withdrawal of troops from Syria, AP reported.

3. Russia and Turkey begin co-ordinated patrols in Idlib. Russia and Turkey initiated co-ordinated patrols on March 8 to implement a demilitarised zone in Syria's northwestern Idlib province, a major area held by Syrian rebels, as part of a deal struck last year, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar announced that same day, Jane's Defence Weekly reported.

Map displayed during a presentation to the International Homeland Security Forum conference in Jerusalem, June 14, 2018 (Haaretz)

Israel's Syria map

The map of today's Middle East as seen by Israel displays only two colors: red and black.

  • Red: Countries with an Islamic State presence.
  • Black: Iran-controlled countries or influence.

Why it matters: The map (above), presented by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the International Homeland Security Forum organized by the Israel Minister of Public Security and Strategic Affairs last June, is an indication of Israel's perception of the Middle East as dominated by Iran's progress and influence and a metastasizing Islamic State, far from U.S. President Donald Trump's optimistic assessments about the jihadist group's defeat in recent months.

The state of play for Israel in Syria: The Syrian civil war was not a bad development for Israel, Haaretz reported, as the two main fighting sides, the Syrian government of Bashar al Assad and its jihadist opponents, deeply hated Israel. Yet, Iranian involvement and dominance in Syria as President al Assad gradually regained its control of the country and emerged as the winner of the eight years war have exacerbated Israel's concerns.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard speaking at a CNN Town Hall in Austin, Texas on March 10, 2019 (CNN)

Syria’s war news you missed - March 11, 2019

1. Ad-hoc repatriation of Islamic State foreign fighters would strengthen jihadist networks. Between 800 and 1,000 Islamic State fighters, many of whom retain Western citizenship, are being held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) at detention centres in northeastern Syria. With the US planning to withdraw most of its troops from Syria imminently, the fate of these Islamic prisoners poses a serious challenge for European governments, Jane's Intelligence Weekly reported.

2. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard cited her experience serving in Iraq as informing her approach to Syria in an interview with CNN. When asked whether Syria's president Bashar al Assad is a war criminal, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate said, "I served in a war in Iraq, a war that was launched based on lies, and a war that was launched without evidence. [...] And so the American people were duped."

3. Brett McGurk, former Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL under both Presidents Obama and Trump, cautioned against a U.S. withdrawal on Twitter: "Given this serious situation in Syria and the SDF now holding thousands of ISIS fighters and families, the last thing we should do is plan to withdraw 90 percent of the American force. Makes no sense. The SDF needs more support right now, not less."

Illustration: Shout! News

Is Venezuela the 'Syria of the Western Hemisphere’?

Last Sunday, a former Venezuelan diplomat, Isaias Medina, in an interview for Fox News claimed that is country was the "Syria of the Western Hemisphere."

Big picture: A U.S.-supported opposition, an entrenched leader backed by Moscow, violent street protests, desperate people scrambling across borders, and the United Nations blamed for a weak response. The ongoing crisis around the last presidential elections left incumbent Nicolás Maduro and Juan Guaidó battling for the presidency of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, and brought comparison with the conflict in Syria and its embattled leader Bashar al-Assad.

What they're saying:

  • Former Venezuelan diplomat Isaias Medina pointed to the same actors as in the Syrian conflict involved in in the current crisis in Venezuela, with Russia backing up the "dictatorship" of president Nicolás Maduro. The former diplomat to the United Nations who quit the Maduro government in protest over a year ago called for the use of force to remove president Maduro.
  • "[Nicolás] Maduro did not come to power in the same way that any of these dictators did. He did not lead a military coup, nor did he inherit a country run like a family estate from his father. He was democratically elected twice. There is little similarity between the Bolivarian Revolutionary Movement, which Chavez founded and Maduro now represents, and the forces that backed and maintained these Arab tyrants in power. Chavismo is a democratic, left-wing, popular movement that has sought to invest the riches of the state to empower and uplift the poor," analyst Hussein Walid said on Al Jazeera.
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L), Russia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov (C), and Turkey's Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu pose for a photograph as they talk to reporters after Astana-format talks on the Syrian peace process at the European headquarters of the UN in Switzerland, December18 2018 (Alexander Shcherbak/TASS/Getty Images)

Syria’s war news you missed - March 4, 2019

1. The Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Council will seek a change of the Syrian Arab Republic's name, so that it will not contain any national or religious affiliation during the upcoming work of the Syrian constitutional committee as part of the Astana peace process, Russia's sponsored Sputnik media reported.

2. Saudi Arabia says it is too early to restore ties with Syria, Reuters reported. This announcement nuances the process of normalization some Arab countries had begun to undertake with a call for Syria's readmission into the Arab League and by reopening their embassies in Damascus.

3. North Korea has dodged sanctions and furtively sold arms to Syria, a private U.N. Security Council draft document obtained by CBS News finds, Axios reported.

The United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen, speaks during a press conference after the UN Security Council meeting at United Nations Headquarters in New York, United States on February 28, 2019. (Atilgan Ozdil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Syria’s war news you missed - February 28, 2019

1. Turkey is illegally smuggling Syrian olive oil over its border to be packaged and sold as Turkish olive oil, the Olive Oil Times reported. The stolen oil comes from the Kurdish Syrian region of Afrin and may already be in Europe. Bekir Pakdemirli, the Turkish Minister of Agriculture, has acknowledged that the theft of Syrian olive oil is happening, according to the Times.

2. A divided Europe over Assad as reconstruction aid is planned. Next month the European Union hosts an international conference in Brussels to raise billions in aid for displaced Syrians, a moment of reckoning for Europe's efforts to isolate Assad as the United States pulls back its troops, Reuters reported.

3. Geir Pedersen, the new U.N. special envoy for Syria, who has largely remained silence since his nomination late last year, said his goals in the period ahead are to achieve "concrete action" on detained and missing people and the convening of a committee to draft a new constitution for the war-torn country "as soon as possible," Associated Press reported. Mr. Pedersen said he also wants to begin a sustained dialogue with the government and opposition "on building trust and confidence."

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks the Ministers of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS at the US Department of State February 6, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

Syria’s war news you missed - February 25, 2019

1. Some 400 U.S. troops will remain in northern and southern Syria for peacekeeping after withdrawal, the White House said. The troops will stay in two places: in northeast Syria to assist the Kurds and others who helped to break up the ISIS caliphate; and in the south at Al-Tanf near the Jordan-Syria border, the Wall Street Journal reported.

2. Civilians evacuation from the last pocket held by the Islamic State group in Syria, the village of Baghouz in eastern Syria on the Iraqi border is wrapping up. US-backed fighters belonging to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance are then expected to launch a final assault on Islamic State militants in Syria, the Seattle Times reported.

3. Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin this Wednesday in Paris to discuss Iran and Syria. "It's very important that we continue to prevent Iran from entrenching in Syria," the Israeli premier said of the planned meeting, i24NEWS reported.

Crac des Chevaliers, a Crusader castle in Syria that was built in 1031, is included in the travel package offered by French tour operator Clio against the French government's advice. (Manuel Cohen / AFP)

Syria’s war news you missed - February 18, 2019

1. "It provides an opportunity for Russia." General Joseph Votel, the top US commander in the Middle East leading the war against the Islamic State, disagrees with President Trump's decision to withdraw troops from Syria. It is because of the same decision that Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Brett McGurk, the U.S. envoy to the coalition fighting the Islamic State, resigned. In an interview to CNN, General Votel explained why he disagrees with the president.

2. "Autonomy means the partition of Syria. We have no way to partition." Bouthaina Shaaban, a senior adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad rejected the suggestion that Damascus was willing to do a deal that would hand the Kurds some measure of autonomy, Reuters reported.

3. A French tour operator is offering a trip to Syria for next April. The group, called Clio, claims the upcoming tour is fully booked, but the French government is advising against and said the tour operator is liable if anything happens to its clients, French national radio France Info reported [in French].