Syrian Democratic Forces to announce an Armenian unit

Today's news roundup

1. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) will announce the formation of an Armenian battalion. The unit is to consist of 50 fighters, Massis Post, an Armenian-American community newspaper, reported. The region under SDF control in northern Syria includes an Armenian community.

The new unit's insignia features an Armenian National Flag (Red-Blue-Orange} and Mount Ararat:

2. Jordan-Syria ties stumble over fate of Jordanian detainees, Al-Monitor reported. The two countries exchanged parliamentary visits in what was seen as a positive sign of a warming of bilateral ties, late last year. This recent development reflects the reality that Jordanian-Syrian ties have a long way to go before normalization.

3. Islamic State kills regime fighters across Syria, Reuters reported. These attacks reflect that although the Islamic State lost its last territorial enclave in Syria at Baghouz near the Iraqi border last month to U.S.-backed forces, it still has fighters holding out in the remote central desert and capable of striking.

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Islamic State's violence drives Syrians toward Christianity

Today's news roundup

1. Christianity grows in Syrian town once besieged by Islamic State, Reuters reported, referring to Kobane, in northern Syria. The Evangelical movement is the beneficiary, not the traditional Eastern churches. Converts say the experience of war and the onslaught of the Islamic State claiming to fight for Islam pushed them to distance themselves from Islam.

2. Astana process moves forward: Kazakhstan will host new peace talks on Syria, backed by Iran, Russia and Turkey in effort to reach a political settlement for the conflict on April 25 and 26, The New Arab reported. The United Nations and Jordan are expected to attend as observers.

3. Gas shortage plagues Syria. U.S. sanctions are partly in blame, this thread on Twitter discussed. Yet, Reuters pointed to the halt in Iranian credit. Tehran is itself the target of U.S. sanctions reimposed since President Donald Trump withdrew from a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and several world powers.

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Lebanon's Maronite Church deplores U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan

Roundup of top Syria conflict news - April 18, 2019

1. British taxpayers will pay for legal aid to Islamic State's bride Shamima Begum. The 19-year-old, who left east London in 2015, was stripped of her citizenship in February, after she was found in a Syrian refugee camp, the BBC reported. Ms Begum played an active role in the Islamic State's reign of terror as a member of the "hisba", which punishes those found flouting the group's laws on how to dress and behave, The Independent reported.

2. Associated Press published a map of the military campaign against the Islamic State from the group's greatest territorial gains in 2014. Gray shows areas occupied by the IS and allied groups.

3. Maronite bishops in Lebanon deplored the U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan in a statement released at the end of the Bishops' monthly assembly, the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation reported.

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Suicide bomber targets U.S.-led patrol in Syria's northeast

Roundup of top Syria conflict news - April 10, 2019

1. A suicide bomber was killed after attempting to use a vehicle rigged with explosives to target a patrol convoy for the U.S.-led international coalition fighting the Islamic State in Syria's northeast, near the town of Shaddadeh in Hasakeh province, The Associated Press reported. This came three months after the deadly attack against coalition and U.S. troops in Manbij claimed by the Islamic State.

2. The U.S.-Turkey showdown continued since last week's decision to stop F-35 fighter jet parts delivery to Turkey in retaliation for Ankara's decision to move ahead with the purchase of a Russian surface-to-air missile system. On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has reaffirmed his country's purchase of a Russian-made missile defense system, The Associated Press reported.

3. There is still no clear international policy about how to deal with the Islamic State militants captured in Syria. Western countries with citizens among the fighters captured by the Syrian Democratic Forces have been reluctant to repatriate them. As of late, Austria said it wants its citizens who have fought for Islamic State to be tried in U.N.-style tribunals in the Middle East rather than brought home for prosecution, Reuters reported.

Exclusive

Interview: "ISIS wives" want to go to Turkey instead of home

Women branded as "ISIS wives"--accused of being widows of Islamic State supporters, detained in a camp operated by the Syrian Democratic Forces said in an interview that they would rather go to Turkey than return home. Amongst the reasons invoked is the freedom to wear the niqab--face-covering clothing--that Turkey grants.

Why it matters: As the Islamic State has been loosing its last territory in Syria, Western and other countries have been confronted with what to do with the thousands of their citizens who joined the Islamic State. Some governments are reluctant to take back home-grown fighters and their families. Western media have predominantly described "ISIS wives" as wanting to return home. This interview refutes that claim.

This interview was conducted on March 8, 2019 by Mr. Ahed Al Hendi, an activist, writer and humanitarian, and former journalist with Voice of America, in the Al Houl detention camp in northern Syria.

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Iran recruited thousands of Afghan Shiites to fight in Syria

Syria's war news you missed - April 1, 2019

1. Security officials in Afghanistan worry that Iranian-backed Afghan veterans of the war in Syria will one day become a secret army for Tehran in Afghanistan. Returning home as Syria's war winds down, these fighters face suspicion and fear. Iran paid, trained and armed thousands of Afghan Shiites to fight in Syria to defend its ally, President Bashar al-Assad, The Associated Press reported.

2. The Pentagon will sustain budget for arming the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) amid United States pullout. The Defense Department is doubling down on its support for the SDF in eastern Syria, as the Trump administration's top envoy for Syria confirmed that the United States would continue to keep a residual troop presence in the war-torn country for the foreseeable future and the Department of Defense decided to sustain $300 million in U.S. backing for the SDF, Al Monitor reported.

3. Syria's Druze feelings mixed about Trump's recognition of the Golan Heights. Some Druze residents of the Golan Heights protested the United States recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the territory, but others welcomed it, Al Monitor reported.

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Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces call for international tribunal for Islamic State detainees

Syria's war news you missed - March 27, 2019

1. Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) call for international tribunal for Islamic State detainees. The SDF has detained some 1,000 foreign fighters, whose home countries are reluctant to take them back, BBC reported. Speaking to the BBC, one SDF official, Abdul Karim Omar, told the BBC they were struggling to cope with the thousands who emerged from the last Islamic State enclave of Baghuz, in the east of Syria.

2. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is set to testify before Congress today. Pompeo first appears before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations to discuss the Trump administration's FY 2020 budget request. Then the Secretary testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee where members will likely ask about the rationale behind the U.S. reportedly zeroing out stabilization assistance in eastern Syria.

3. Syrian Kurds demand autonomy before merger with Assad's army. Syrian Kurds will merge their forces into President Bashar al-Assad's military if he agrees to grant them some measure of political autonomy, an envoy in Moscow said, Bloomberg reported.

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Using new maritime big data techniques, U.S. sanctions hit Iran's oil lifeline to Syria

Syria's war news you missed - March 25, 2019

1. Assad loyalists are turning on Syria's government as living standards deteriorate. Damascus' residents say life has become more difficult in recent months than at any point in the past eight years. Acute shortages of fuel, cooking gas and electricity have left citizens shivering in darkness through an unusually cold winter. The Syrian currency, which had plunged and then stabilized after the war broke out, is sliding again, sending prices soaring, The Washington Post reported.

2. U.S. sanctions hit Iran's oil lifeline to Syria, using maritime big data. Iran has been unable to deliver oil to Syria since January 2, according to maritime-data provider TrankerTracker.com. The use of new big data techniques led to Egypt turning back an Iranian tanker headed for Syria over U.S. Treasury warning, The Wall Street Journal reported.

3. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that Turkey will take the issue of the Golan Heights to the United Nations. On Friday, in a speech at a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation on Friday, Erdogan said the legitimization of the occupation of the Golan Heights cannot be allowed, Reuter reported.

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Syria’s war news you missed - March 22, 2019

1. Iraq will open vital border crossing with Syria. The move would allow increased flow of goods along a route the U.S. worries would ease Iran's transport of weapons to its allies in Syria, the Wall Street Journal reported.

2. The United States endorsed Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. The U.S. is the first country to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan, which the rest of the international community regards as disputed territory occupied by Israel whose status should be determined by negotiations between Israel and Syria, Associated Press reported (via Real Clear Politics).

3. Iran denies joint raid with Turkey against Kurd rebels, AFP reported. On Monday, Turkey announced joint bombing raids with Iran against Kurdish rebel group PKK in Iraq's northern mountains. Yet, state media in Tehran denies the claim.