April 15 - 22, 2014
Syrian National Coalition Warns of Massacre in Tufail near Lebanon
A delegation of the SNC headed by Ahmed Jarba is in Saudi Arabia meeting with senior Saudi officials as a part of diplomatic efforts to consolidate the relationship between the SNC and Arab and Western countries. On the agenda are the state of the Free Syrian Army as well as relief aid and education. In recent weeks, the latter has been receiving prominent coverage both in Syria and abroad as school systems continue to disintegrate across the country.
Badr Jamous, Secretary General of the SNC, warned the Lebanese government of a possible imminent attack by Assad in the town of Tufail, a region of northeastern Lebanon but only reachable through Syrian territory.
Lebanese authorities on Tuesday sent aid convoys to Tufail where many residents have been trapped. The town’s citizens, though they vote in Lebanon, rely on Syria for school, work, medical treatment and foodstuffs. However, heavy fighting in the surrounding Qalamoun mountains area has resulted in routes to Syria being blocked.
Lebanon’s Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said that assistance would be provided to the residents of Tufail and Syrians seeking refuge in the town. Approximately 1000 Lebanese and 3000 Syrian civilians are trapped in Tufail according to Lebanon’s High Relief Commission chief Mohammed Kheir.
Chlorine Attacks Claimed in Harasta
Pro-opposition Smart News reported that a bomb attack on the outskirts of Harasta in the Damascus countryside killed a member of the Free Syrian Army while also wounding 15 others. Doctors treating the wounded claimed the injured appeared to have ingested toxic gases consistent with chlorine gas-laced bombs.
The SNC also reported toxic gases in the northwestern province of Idlib. It is reported that regime forces dropped barrel bombs of toxic gases on the neighbourhood of Tal Minnis resulting in suffocation of several people while other casualties were reported from heavy machine gun fighting.
These reports follow fresh allegations in the past month, which implicate the Assad regime and/or armed rebel forces as having used once more chemical weapons in the civil war.
Assad visits Maaloula on Easter
President Assad travelled to the historic Christian town of Maaloula over the Easter holiday. The town was seized from rebel control by the Syrian government last week. The President was briefed on the vandalism and destruction the town has endured and attributed wholly to “terrorists”.During the trip Assad also met with members of the Syrian army and National Defence Forces to thank them for their work fighting terrorists.
The visit reiterated the goal of the regime over the past three years to present itself as a champion for minority sects in an insurgency marked by Sunni Muslims.
French Journalists Released
Four French journalists held hostage since June were released on Saturday near the border with Turkey. The four were reportedly kidnapped by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, a conservative armed rebel group with a reputation for taking foreigners hostage.
The journalists are reported to be in sound health though their capture reiterates the perilous situation within Syria, as it remains the most dangerous place in the world for journalists.
The World Food Programme in collaboration with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent is providing food assistance to over 8400 families including in the town of AlGhazlanya, east of Damascus. The town has become a centre for families displaced by the fighting, seeking shelter in unfinished buildings and lacking basic infrastructure.
The Destruction of Yarmouk
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) reported that 20, 000 of Yarmouk’s residents have been deprived food assistance over the past week. A Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus, Yarmouk has suffered shortages of essential goods due to the continued fighting. The camp was seized by rebel factions in December 2012 and has since been targeted by regime forces. The ensuing fighting between rebels and regime forces has significantly reduced the population of the camp and further deteriorated living standards. It is reported that members of the camp will be organizing peaceful rallies in the near future to push for the removal of armed forces from its premises.
Government forces pushed for control of Old Homs where rebels hold control of 13 neighbourhoods but to no avail. The National Defense Force militias and Syrian government fought fiercely yet despite many rebels surrendering, government forces were not successful in securing control.
Rebels advanced for the first time since June 2012 in the area, moving into the neighbourhood of Jeb al-Jandali on Saturday. Reporting from inside one of the rebelheld neighbourhoods, activist Ahmed Yasseen stated that Jabhat al-Nusra carried out the advance following the detonation of a car bomb.
However, by the end of Tuesday, the rebels had reportedly withdrawn from the recently captured town due to lack of manpower to secure the new area.
Children’s education is a key concern for many parents in Syria as many are worrying of a “lost generation” as families continue to be displaced and their hildren left without necessities like schools. The Al-Rajaa School Club in Homs is a centre for children with disabilities to continue their education.
38 Barrel Bombs Dropped on Tuesday
Rebel-controlled parts of Eastern Aleppo were hit with 38 barrel bombs on Tuesday evening following a plea for humanitarian assistance by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The Syrian army is fighting for the region.
Boris Michel, head of the ICRC delegation in Syria, explained the deteriorating situation in Aleppo and the need to apply international humanitarian law. Routes to health care services, food and other basic necessities have been cut off due to the fighting. Electricity shortages are also prevalent as are limited access to clean water creating a dire situation for remaining residents in need of essential services.
Francesca Borri, an Italian-born journalist reporting on the situation in Aleppo, has cited the fighting in the city to be “carpet bombing…day and night, around the clock, everywhere.” Situated in the north east of the country, the country’s largest city Aleppo was once a growing urban area with an estimated population of 2.13 million inhabitants in 2004. That number has now decreased to an estimated 1.6 million in 2014 as the city continues to endure heavy damages to basic infrastructure and security, leaving its inhabitants with no choice but to leave or suffer. Such a decline will have devastating consequences for future growth as the city, along with much of the rest of the country, will have to reconstruct from scratch.
“Indiscriminate bombing on such a scale, of such a savagery, undermines attempt at relief,” said Borri in her interview with the Norwegian Refugee Council. Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Jan Egeland, called for the UN and regional actors to act more effectively and immediately.
“If we are not able to increase our efforts for the people in Aleppo, I am afraid it will place itself in the history books alongside names like Rwanda and Srebrenica – places where we had all information about what was happening, but where we did so little,” stated Egeland.
Activists from civil society organizations have compiled a survey of schools destroyed by the fighting and the state of the education system in Aleppo. Surveying twenty districts, they found that half of the city’s schools were damaged or destroyed. The destruction is reportedly due to regime attacks as armed opposition groups had used these schools as their headquarters.
Children have begun to look upward upon entering and exiting the school each day as they survey the skies for warplanes and helicopters. Most drawings include images of barrel bombs, rockets and destroyed homes.
“A Lost Generation”
Many of the advancements Syria had made over the past ten years in terms of urbanization and education have certainly been reversed over the past three years. The centres enduring the most violence have seen the greatest drop in education: Al-Raqqa, Idleb, Aleppo, Deir, Azzour, Hama, Homs and Darra’a. As of December 2013, 4000 Syrian schools have been destroyed since the fighting began in 2011.
A UNICEF report on the deteriorating status of education in Syria since the fighting began found that the right to a quality education, a right established under the convention on the Rights of the Child, “is being violated daily and on an appalling scale.” Some communities cannot cope with the influx of students and this has resulted in overcrowded schools without sufficient supplies and sanitation facilities. In other areas, schools have been turned into battlegrounds with children witnessing their fellow students and teachers coming under fire. Remaining schools have been turned into shelters for displaced peoples.
Those children in refugee camps in other parts of Syria and the region have found difficulties adjusting to education in a different language, with a different curriculum not to mention the psychological tension of having to live in a constant state of insecurity and loss.
Prior to the fighting, Syria was making strides in the realm of education. In March 2011 97% of primary age children were attending school while 65% of secondary age children were as well. Between 2004 and 2009, the government’s education budget had been steadily increasing from 15 to 19% of GDP.
While many groups of civilians have voluntary joined forces to try and ameliorate the situation, many fear that the countless challenges to securing education for Syria’s children will create a ‘lost generation’. Schools provide a community in and of themselves -a place of security for intellectual and social growth and the opportunity to form lasting bonds across different striations of people. In the absence of such critical learning sites and compounded with the traumas of war, Syria’s children -those able to survive their plight- risk enduring severe psychological distress as well as stunted literacy skills, for years to come.
Presidential elections have been announced for June 3rd and have already been criticized by the international community as a “parody of democracy”. It is believed that the elections will only consolidate further Assad’s rule and undermine the reaching of a settlement in the conflict through peace talks. One of the key facets of the peace talks was the establishment of a transitional government that excluded any participation on the part of the Assad regime. Assad has not announced his bid for presidency though it is believed he will.
Parliamentarian Announces Candidacy
Aleppo-born Member of Parliament Maher Abd al-Hafiz Hajjar was the first candidate to announce that he will be running against Assad in the June presidential elections. Hajjar is a member of the government-sanctioned opposition, distinct from those opposition forces backed by Western forces and deemed ‘terrorists’ by the Assad regime. He is not thought to have a viable chance of winning.
The Assad family has held control of Syria since 1971 and the likelihood of fair and free elections in the war-torn country are non-existent. Elected in 2000, Bashar alAssad and his Baath Party won another seven-year term in 2007 with more than 97% support of 12 million voters.
In both elections he was the only candidate. However, the 2012 constitution allows for multiple candidates to run. Despite this new rule, it is still believed that the majority of candidates will be approved by the regime thus creating an illusion of plurality while consolidating Assad rule further.
The Internet has exploded with news of the Syrian presidential elections with harsh criticism from the international community and propaganda from within Syria. The following is a popular image retweeted widely to convey the sentiment of political plurality in the country:
Meanwhile, the regime has also begun its presidential campaign.
“Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently”
Launched on April 16th, The Raqqa campaign has been spearheaded by activists to highlight the abuses of ISIS in the region. With more than 10,000 Facebook likes and 100 Twitter followers, the campaign aims to “expose the crimes and abuses committed by ISIS militiamen who are controlling the city, and the extent of its relationship with the Assad regime.”
The efforts follow the implementation of social and economic restrictions by ISIS on civilians in the region. The campaign hopes to highlight the troubles of the people living in the region and the eventual departure of ISIS from the region. The campaign in Raqqa is an example of the divisive and increasingly violent nature of the opposition and the civil war. With so many different opposition factions that are increasingly conservative and extremist, Syrian civilians are left with no option but to leave if not risk their lives further within the country.
Agence France-Presse have released an infographic on the Syrian refugees fleeing the conflict: