Speed Reads

Say what?

There's one big problem with the State Department's Syrian ceasefire violation hotline

A U.N.-brokered ceasefire went into effect in Syria on Saturday and in order to monitor violations, the U.S. State Department set up a hotline. Only, the people manning the line don't actually appear to speak fluent Arabic.

In one instance, a reporter for the non-profit journalism organization Syria Direct tried calling in violations in Aleppo, Homs, and a number of other sites. "I didn't expect an American to answer," reporter Orion Wilcox said. "He answered in English but switched to Arabic. I started telling him in Arabic about the reports we were getting from Homs province of specific ceasefire violations... He's really struggling and can't understand me. I'm like, Why is this American guy on the phone who can't speak Arabic? I'd give a detailed account of something happening in Homs province and he would listen and his answer was: 'Homs.'"

In another instance, reporter Osama Abu Zeid tried making a call only to be told he had the "wrong number."

Osama redialed the same number, and another employee answered the call.

"Ok sir, I'm a Syrian journalist and I'd like to report a breach of the hudna [ceasefire] involving multiple airstrikes in the countryside south of Hama city — at the area where Hama governorate meets northern Homs province," Osama said.

[...] During the four-minute phone call, the operator struggled to ask basic questions regarding the incident.

At one point, when attempting to ask Osama if the strikes had resulted in any casualties, the operator instead said what appeared to be an accidental string of expletives. [Syria Direct]

Another activist said he no longer reports breaches to the State Department, citing a similar incident. "We attempted to call the [Department of State's hotline], but we don't think they understood what we were saying," activist Abu Odei al-Homsi said.

"We are mindful and working to address the difficulties that some have experienced when calling in to convey reports of violations in Arabic," a State Department official said Wednesday.