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Syria


  • Originally published 09/16/2013

    Hot Topics: Syria

    The best of web commentary on the Syrian crisis.

  • Originally published 09/13/2013

    Syria: A Modest Proposal

    Is it any worse to eat dead people than it is to kill them in the first place?

  • Originally published 09/08/2013

    Remember the Maine?

    History provides reasons to be skeptical of the administration's chemical weapons claim in Syria.

  • Originally published 09/08/2013

    The Real Goal of Obama's Syria Policy

    A limited bombing campaign won't bring down Assad, but that's not the point -- it's to convince the government that the military situation is stalemated.

  • Originally published 09/05/2013

    Syria Is Not Kosovo

    Russia and China were also opposed to intervention in Kosovo. But that's where the similarity ends.

  • Originally published 09/03/2013

    No Good Options for Obama in Syria

    Inaction means Assad remains in power and Obama looking weak, but the president faces hurdles to action both at the UN and in Congress.

  • Originally published 05/06/2013

    Syrian castles serve as fighting positions

    Beirut — A Shiite king ruled northern Syria more than a millennium ago from behind the towering walls of the citadel in the city of Aleppo. In later centuries, Arab armies repelled medieval crusaders from the hilltop fortress, Mongol invaders damaged it and Ottomans used it as a military barracks.By 2011, the citadel had settled into what seemed a comfortable retirement as a UNESCO world heritage site and tourist attraction, illuminated at night by artistic ground lights and surrounded below by the bustling cafes of Aleppo’s old city.But today, in the third year of a bloody civil war that has killed more than 70,000 Syrians, the hulking citadel has resumed its strategic role of earlier eras. President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have taken position in it to shell their enemies, and Syrian opposition fighters say they are desperate to capture it. For both sides, what was true in war then is true now: Those who control the citadel have the power to alter the front lines....

  • Originally published 04/25/2013

    Minaret destroyed at 12th-century Syrian mosque on World Heritage list

    (CNN) -- Both sides in Syria's civil war were in rare agreement Wednesday: The minaret at a 12th-century mosque in Aleppo has been obliterated.Unclear, however, was who destroyed the tower at the Great Umayyad Mosque, which has witnessed the march of nine centuries. It was just last month that a United Nations official expressed concern about the two-year war possibly damaging the mosque, a World Heritage site.An opposition group blamed the government."Regime forces have committed today a new crime against human and cultural heritage by targeting the minaret of the mosque and completely destroying it," the Local Coordination Committees said. The group released a photograph of the mosque without its signature minaret, apparently reduced to rubble....

  • Originally published 03/29/2013

    Syria's cultural heritage under attack during bloody civil war

    Amid a two-year bloody civil war that has killed an estimated 70,000 civilians and left 2.5 million people homeless, a profound loss of another kind has unfolded inside Syria – an attack on the country's cultural heritage, as missiles demolish ancient sites and looters steal artifacts as old as civilization.  More than 12 of the country's 36 museums have been raided and at least six historical sites have been damaged – including the Crusader castle Krak des Chevaliers – since the uprising began in March 2010, according to several international groups tracking the destruction.   Aleppo – one of the most beautiful cities in the Middle East and a crossroads of Christian, Jewish and Arab cultures – is among the hardest hit by the fighting between regime forces and rebels....

  • Originally published 03/25/2013

    Jammed in Roman caves, ducking Syria’s war

    ...They live a grim existence — a routine of trying to eat, to stay warm and dry, to gather firewood and water out in the elements, all while listening for the sounds of incoming planes and artillery shells.Explanations of the origins of these underground shelters, many of which are set among other Roman ruins, vary from squatter to squatter. Some say they once were pens for livestock. Others say they were temporary quarters, occupied while more impressive dwellings were built in the centuries before Jesus. Perhaps some were crypts.Whatever the intention of those who first dug them, Syria’s caves have become essential once more, restored to modern use because their thick walls offer a chance of survival to a population under fire....

  • Originally published 03/20/2013

    Syria's ancient Palmyra on brink of destruction

    As the Syrian crisis enters its third year, an end to the violence in the country is nowhere to be seen. The world has become accustomed to rising death tolls and reports of shelling and destruction. However, another threat looms in Syria, and this time it is targeting its cultural heritage.Palmyra, one of the oldest cities in the country, has been subjected to intermittent shelling by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. The ruins of the city, which is one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites, date back thousands of years. “Bombs and rockets come in all directions,” eyewitnesses said. Assad forces have struck the Roman Temple of Bel – built in 43 A.C. – and damaged its northern wall, eyewitnesses said, adding portions and stones of the wall have been destroyed....

  • Originally published 02/26/2013

    As atrocities mount, Syrians collect evidence of war crimes with an eye toward future trials

    BEIRUT — Syrian activist Yashar hopes the security agents who tormented him during five months of detention will one day be put on trial. In detention, he says, he was locked naked in a tiny box for a week, beaten daily during marathon interrogations and blindfolded for 45 days.A whole range of groups have accelerated a campaign to gather evidence of war crimes including torture, massacres and indiscriminate killings in the Syrian regime’s war against rebels, hoping to find justice if President Bashar Assad falls. Some talk about referring the cases to the International Criminal Court or forming a special tribunal, but many in Syria hope that it’s all laid out in the country’s own courtrooms.“I want to take my case to a Syrian court and a Syrian judge who will put my torturers in the same jail where I was held,” Yashar, 28, told The Associated Press. He declined to give his full name for security reasons....

  • Originally published 02/26/2013

    Radial routes ran outside Iraq

    Spoke-like dirt paths extend as far as five kilometers from several ancient Mesopotamian cities that have been excavated in what’s now northeastern Syria. Although often regarded as transportation features unique to these more than 5,000-year-old sites, new evidence reveals similar radial paths in western Syria and southwestern Iran that date to as recently as 1,200 years ago....

  • Originally published 02/21/2013

    Moshe Dann: Hezbollah, Syria and the Golan Heights

    The presence of a reported 50,000 Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Syria to support President Bashar Assad is an indication of what Iran and Hezbollah have in mind – the preservation of Syria as a strategic asset in the regional power struggle. Losing Syria would leave Hezbollah isolated in Lebanon; a Syrian-Lebanese alliance, on the other hand, would allow Hezbollah to fortify Iranian interests in both countries.A future Syrian government would then comprise a Sunni-Hezbollah alliance, similar to the political structure in Lebanon, without Assad and the Alawites, who would become a minority protected by Hezbollah. Following the Lebanese model, Hezbollah in Syria would be a state-within-a-state, with its own army and political structure, allied with a weak, fragmented Islamist Sunni-dominated state. For Hezbollah this is the perfect solution; it allows them to function covertly without the inconveniences of diplomatic restrictions.Hezbollah can and will attack Israel, as it did in the Second Lebanese War (2006), protected by its parent state and entrenched within Syria, with vastly expanded capabilities....

  • Originally published 02/20/2013

    Syrian violence threatens ancient treasures

    Aleppo's medieval covered market has already been gutted by fires which also ripped through the city's Umayyad mosque. Illegal excavations have threatened tombs in the desert town of Palmyra and the Bronze Age settlement of Ebla, and Interpol is hunting a 2,700-year-old statue taken from the city of Hama. In a country which also boasts stunning Crusader castles, Roman ruins and a history stretching back through the great empires of the Middle East to the dawn of human civilisation, the task of safeguarding that heritage from modern conflict is a daunting responsibility....

  • Originally published 02/13/2013

    Syrian rebels loot artifacts to raise money for fight against Assad

    MAFRAQ, Jordan — To the caches of ammunition and medicines that they lug each day from this border city back into their homeland, Syrian rebels have added new tools to support their fight against President Bashar al-Assad: metal detectors and pickaxes.The rebels, struggling to finance their effort, have joined an emerging trade in illicitly acquired Syrian artifacts and antiquities, selling off the country’s past as the war for its future intensifies....

  • Originally published 02/13/2013

    Syrian official warns of trafficking in antiquities

    AMMAN, Jordan — A Syrian government official warned Wednesday of rampant trafficking in antiquities from his country and appealed for U.N. help in halting the illicit trade that has flourished during the nearly 23-month-long civil war.Syria’s turmoil has increasingly threatened the country’s rich archaeological heritage but the issue of smuggling artifacts has taken a back seat to more dramatic images as some of the most significant sites got caught in the crossfire between regime forces and rebels.President Bashar Assad’s troops have shelled rebel-held neighborhoods, smashing historic mosques, churches and souks, or markets. Looters have stolen artifacts from archaeological excavations and, to a lesser extent, museums....

  • Originally published 01/22/2013

    Mark N. Katz: Leaving Syria Ship Before It Sinks?

    Mark N. Katz is a professor of government and politics at George Mason University (Fairfax, Virginia, USA), and is the author of Leaving without Losing: The War on Terror after Iraq and Afghanistan (Johns Hopkins University Press).(CNN) -- As numerous news organizations have reported, Russia has sent two planes so that about 100 of its citizens who want to can leave Syria. Tellingly, the planes were not sent to Damascus where the security situation around the airport has reportedly deteriorated, but to Beirut instead to which the Russians departing Syria traveled by bus.In its characteristic fashion, the Russian government has denied that this is an evacuation. An unnamed Russian diplomat in Damascus, though, did not rule out the possibility of further flights. Russian naval exercises in the Mediterranean may also be the prelude to a seaborne evacuation from the Syrian coast.

  • Originally published 10/25/2013

    Unpacking the Arab Uprisings (Part 2)

    Figuring out the cause of the uprising is different from why it's perpetuated. I return to this blog after a break, with delight. I would like to continue the unpacking I started in the first post (here) by addressing a methodological point about the question causality. We need to separate the question of causality into two parts, in the Syrian and other cases: 1) What caused the uprising? And 2) What perpetuates the uprising? The answers are different. The first deals primarily with local factors and the second with a combination of factors tilting towards external ones. Even in dealing with the first question of causes, we must separate the structural from the circumstantial, by separating between the large structural reservoir of causes that built over time and the immediate causes that instigated social mobilization on a large scale. Syria, is a good case here. Herein, I will address the question of structural causes. The question of what instigated the uprising is less complex, and merits a detailed treatment once more information is available, though the facts are not too controversial. Inspired by the Tunisian and Egyptian experiences just one to two months prior, the narrative of the young kids who called for the regime’s fall on the walls of their school in Der`a constituted the first flame that ignited the heap of hay accumulating for decades. Surely, the local strongmen’s brutal response guaranteed the wider mobilization there at first, but it was bound to happen after a few such dissenting attempts. The same incident, if it had occurred one year prior, would have fizzled out within days, if not less. However, the regional domino effect and the continuing collective focus on the broader context gave that incident prominence while changing the calculus of individuals vis-à-vis the risk and potential success of taking to the streets en mass, especially in the more rural areas and small towns. The rest is bloody history. The set of structural causes that I would like to highlight, beyond the constant factor of repression, relate to political-economic factors that have engulfed Syria since 1986, when the regime effectively began shifting its social and political alliances from labor to business. Namely, I am referring to the growing relationship in the past few decades between the political and economic elite in Syria, and its continued policy implications for nearly twenty-five years. This new nexus of power pervades most global political economies but produces deleterious effects to the extent that the context allows. In many developing countries, including Syria, it is associated with the protracted process related to the unraveling of the state-centered economy, which also constitutes the rolling back of redistributive policies on which the masses increasingly relied in the absence of economic growth. I must caution in the same breath against the emphasis on such factors as singular causes for the uprisings, in Syria or elsewhere. Instead, I address this factor as a central one, not the only, one. Thus, this cannot be a comprehensive account of structural causes. Politically, the new nexus of power between the political and economic elite in Syria seems to have buttressed authoritarian rule in Syria over the past two decades, whether or not other factors contributed to this outcome. This is not simply a function of “support” for the status quo by beneficiary elites, for this is the norm nearly everywhere. It is also a form of legitimation of a changing status quo because the corollary of this particular nexus of power involves various forms of “liberalization” or state retreat: this includes a “budding,” “growing,” or seemingly “vibrant” civil society that may be considered a sign of political “opening;” a “freer” economic environment in which the state gives up its monopoly over some sectors of the economy; and a large “private” sector that purportedly grows at the expense of the state-run “public” sector, giving way to a broader dispersion of resources with economically democratizing effects. Though these outcomes are pleasing to some external actors (including that amorphous conception, “the international community”), they are not felt in any positive manner by the overwhelming majority of the population, who must fend for themselves as public provisions, jobs, and welfare dwindle. Quite the contrary, the majority of the Syrian people have seen their fortunes decline with the deepening of this alliance between state and big business since the mid 1980s.

  • Originally published 09/04/2013

    Stop Thinking of Only the "Arab World"

    For now, most serious treatments of the Arab uprisings will remain inadequate from a historical perspective, including this one! The first objective is to avoid the outlandish or lazy analytical treatments that proceed from some idiosyncratic political or cultural essence, and/or those monist approaches that reduce outcomes to one variable.