May 26, 2017

Update 12:55 p.m.: The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights now reports that over 100 civilians were killed Thursday in a pair of airstrikes in eastern Syria, up from earlier reports of 35 dead in a single airstrike. "There were two rounds of strikes: one Thursday night and the second after midnight, targeting buildings housing families of [Islamic State] fighters," said the Syrian Observatory's Rami Abdel Rahman. Our original post appears below.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State in the Middle East killed at least 35 civilians in airstrikes in eastern Syria on Thursday, the same day the U.S. Central Command admitted to accidentally killing at least 105 Iraqi civilians in Mosul in a March targeting of two snipers.

The eastern Syrian town targeted Thursday is held by ISIS. "Among the dead are at least 26 relatives of [ISIS] fighters, many of them women and children, including Syrians and Moroccans," the head of the Syrian Observatory, Rami Abdel Rahman, told France 24. "The other nine are Syrian civilians and include five children."

Monitors aren't sure how many civilians have been killed by the U.S.-led coalition, but Airwars, a London-based group of researchers and journalists, puts the number at 366 in Iraq and Syria in April alone. The group "said it had seen civilian fatalities surge since U.S. President Donald Trump came to power and gave greater leeway to battlefield commanders," France 24 writes.

The Syrian Observatory, also based in Britain, estimates 225 civilians were killed in coalition strikes between April 23 and May 23. Before the Thursday report, the United States military had claimed 352 civilians had been "unintentionally" killed since 2014.

"Our condolences go out to all those that were affected," Major General Joe Martin said in a statement following Thursday's report on the Mosul bombing. "The coalition takes every feasible measure to protect civilians from harm." Jeva Lange

May 22, 2017

As President Trump was in Saudi Arabia on Sunday, being treated like royalty, his United Nations ambassador, Nikki Haley, was touring the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan, home to about 80,000 Syrian refugees, half of them children. "We're the No. 1 donor here through this crisis. That's not going to stop. We're not going to stop funding this," Haley said. "The fact that I'm here shows we want to see what else needs to be done." The U.S. is "not pulling back" in the region, she told reporters, but "engaging more," citing Trump's airstrike on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's air base.

Trump has proposed steep cuts to foreign aid, including the United Nations and agencies such as the ones helping refugees from Syria's civil war, and has twice tried to stop all refugees from entering the U.S.; both attempts were blocked by courts, though the second one is being appealed. Haley didn't directly address Trump's budget proposal, saying she knows the funding is "going through the budget process within Congress," and said she supports strengthening the refugee vetting process and noted that all the refugees she spoke with wanted to go back home to Syria, not to the U.S.

Haley has been an unusually outspoken U.N. ambassador serving alongside an unusually taciturn secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. More than 5 million Syrians have fled the country's multifaceted conflict between Assad, the Islamic State, anti-Assad rebels, and various outside partners. "This is all in the name of our Syrian brothers and sisters," Haley told aid workers after inspecting a food convoy. "We want you to feel like the U.S. is behind you." Peter Weber

May 6, 2017
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Russia, Iran, and Turkey agreed on May 4 to organize four "de-escalation zones" in Syria, documents released by the Russian foreign ministry on Saturday revealed, maintaining the areas for at least six months.

The zones are mostly in opposition-held territory and are intended to offer some respite from the brutal violence of Syria's six-year civil war. The largest zone is expected to include Idlib province, the site of last month's chemical weapons attack, though maps will be finalized in the coming month.

If successful, the zones will facilitate humanitarian aid and a degree of normalcy for civilians. The Bashar al-Assad regime, which is allied with Russia and Iran, said it would respect the agreement but also promised to continue fighting the opposition's "terrorism" wherever possible. The Turkish-allied rebels criticized the zones for not including all of Syria and said the deal was reached without adequate opposition input. Bonnie Kristian

April 21, 2017

Secretary of Defense James Mattis on Friday asserted Syria's Bashar al-Assad regime still has chemical weapons, though he did not present evidence for his claim.

"There can be no doubt in the international community's mind that Syria has retained chemical weapons in violation of its agreement and its statement that it had removed them all," Mattis said at a joint press conference with Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. "The amount of it I don't want to get into it right now," he added. "We don't reveal some of that detail because we don't want to reveal how we're finding out."

Assad denies holding chemical weapons, and he has claimed the chemical attack in Syria earlier this month was faked. More than 80 people were killed by what is believed to be sarin gas, and President Trump authorized a 59-missile strike on Assad regime targets in response.

For more on chemical weapons on Syria and how the U.S. should react, check out this analysis from David Faris at The Week. Bonnie Kristian

April 16, 2017
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Citing Asma al-Assad's posts on social media in support of her husband, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Britain's Liberal Democrats are calling on the U.K. home secretary to revoke the passport of Syria's first lady, who was born in Britain.

Tom Brake, foreign affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, has written to Amber Rudd, requesting that she use her authority to rescind Asma al-Assad's citizenship. "The first lady of Syria has acted not as a private citizen but as a spokesperson for the Syrian presidency," he said, and the British government should tell her to "either stop using your position to defend barbaric acts, or be stripped of your citizenship." They have the support of Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi, who said Asma al-Assad is "very much part of the propaganda machine that is committing war crimes."

Asma al-Assad was educated in Britain and worked as an investment banker before marrying Bashar al-Assad in 2000. Following a chemical weapons attack earlier this month in Syria believed to have been carried out by the regime, a social media account for Asma al-Assad posted a message calling the retaliatory strike by the U.S. an "irresponsible act that only reflects a shortsightedness, a narrow horizon, a political and military blindness to reality and a naive pursuit of a frenzied false propaganda campaign." Catherine Garcia

April 15, 2017
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An explosion believed to be caused by a car bomb killed at least 39 people fleeing villages near Aleppo, Syria, on Saturday, local news outlets reported.

The bomb hit a group of buses heading into the city to escape fighting in or near the residents' towns. The buses were among a convoy of vehicles carrying about 5,000 people which was delayed at a checkpoint outside the city since Friday.

Children are reportedly among the dead, as were about 20 rebel fighters, said an unnamed rebel leader. The van thought to have been used in the attack was marked as a humanitarian relief vehicle. Bonnie Kristian

April 13, 2017

An American-led airstrike Tuesday killed 18 Syrian fighters who were assisting in the fight against the Islamic State, The New York Times reports.

Coalition allies had requested Tuesday's strike, believing they had "identified ... an ISIS fighting position." It was in fact a "fighting position" of the Syrian Democratic Forces, who are assisting the U.S. in the fight against ISIS.

The United States Central Command called the strike "tragic" and said "the coalition's deepest condolences go out to the members of the S.D.F. and their families."

There have been two other instances in the past month where American-led airstrikes killed civilians or allies. The Pentagon is investigating airstrikes that killed dozens of civilians in a mosque in Syria and as many as 200 people in a building in Mosul, Iraq. Jeva Lange

April 13, 2017

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad claimed in an interview with AFP that the chemical weapon attack in Idlib last week was a "fabrication" by the U.S. to justify a military strike on a Syrian airfield. "Definitely, 100 percent for us, it's fabrication ... Our impression is that the West, mainly the United States, is hand-in-glove with the terrorists. They fabricated the whole story in order to have a pretext for the attack," Assad said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has also recently claimed without evidence that opposition rebels in Syria are planning fake chemical attacks to increase U.S. involvement in the country. "We have seen it all already," Putin said in reference to the suspicions about weapons of mass destruction that drove America's 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The White House said Tuesday that it has intelligence that confirms Assad used sarin gas on his own people. U.S. authorities additionally suspect Russia of having attempted to help Assad cover-up the attack by bombing a hospital that was treating victims. The White House said Tuesday that Assad and Putin are promoting "false narratives" in an attempt to distract from their own involvement. Jeva Lange

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