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Syria Revolution - 2014

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2014
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Two rounds of peace talks at the start of 2014 ended without agreement, and the spring saw the Syrian regime regain two key rebel strongholds, Yabroud and Homs. By the end of 2013, more than 130,000 people had been killed, and millions of people had either been displaced or become refugees in neighboring countries. The Syrian conflict devolved from peaceful protests seeking political reform to a confrontation between ethnic and religious groups. The Syrian conflict has been marked by a continuous but unequal escalation of armed violence throughout the country. Levels of violence have varied geographically due to the interplay of a number of factors: the strategic importance of a particular area, the deployment and strength of Government forces, the sectarian composition of the local population and anti-Government armed groups’ organisation and access to logistical support.

At least 150,000 people had been killed in Syria's three-year-old civil war, a third of them civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on April 01, 2014 . The UK-based Observatory, which monitors violence in Syria through a network of activists and medical or security sources, said that real toll was likely to be significantly higher at around 220,000 deaths. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that the deaths also included almost 8,000 children. The Syrian Observatory said, according to its figures, more than 58,000 members of government forces and nearly 38,000 opposition fighters have been killed. The Syrian Observatory also reported 364 membersof Lebanon's Shi'ite Hizballah movement have been killed in the Syrian conflict.

Syria's fractured rebel movement faced a series of setback in the the Spring of 2014, with regime forces capitalizing on infighting to claw back territory from opposition factions. With the Iranian-backed Assad regime making steady progress, western states are reportedly warming to the idea of upping the level of aid in order to force him to the negotiating table. The fall of the city of Homs - formerly the epicenter of the revolt against Assad - in early May, was one of the most serious blows yet to the rebel movement.

In the latest in a series of setbacks for rebel forces, Government troops ended a year-long siege of Aleppo's main prison on 22 May 2014. Syrian forces entered the complex in the key northern city, days after launching a push to dislodge opposition fighters. The rebels surrounding the site had repeatedly attacked the prison hoping to free the detainees being held inside by government forces. Assad’s forces and rebels have been fighting for two years in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city before the start of the three-year civil war, and the countryside around it.

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad announced elections 03 June 2014, which he won - predictably - by a landslide. That same month, the United Nations announced that it had completed the removal of Syria’s chemical weapons—and the extremist Islamic State group (IS) in Iraq and Syria announced it had established a caliphate.

The Government, with affiliated militia, adopted a “contraction” of forces strategy in facing the mounting insurgency. While focusing on holding major cities, Government forces also besieged restive towns with layers of security. Towns under armed group control suffered intensified artillery and aerial shelling. Other, mostly rural, areas were abandoned completely by Government forces, but continued to be shelled. Besides conventional ammunition, other types of ammunition were used, including cluster aerial bombs and artillery shells.

Violence increased dramatically in and around major cities, in particular Damascus and Aleppo, where anti-Government fighters advanced to neighborhoods close to the cities’ centers. Mounting tensions led to armed clashes between different armed groups along a sectarian divide. Such incidents took place in mixed communities or where armed groups had attempted to take hold of areas predominantly inhabited by pro-Government minority communities. Some minority communities, notably the Alawites and Christians, formed armed self-defence groups to protect their neighborhoods from anti-Government fighters by establishing checkpoints around these areas. Some of those local groups, known as Popular Committees, were said to have participated alongside Government forces in military operations.

The conflict in Syria evolved into a war of attrition that increasingly put civilians at risk. Anti-Government armed groups conduct their operations from within densely populated civilian areas, putting civilians in the line of fire and causing them to flee their homes. By using civilian objects, such as schools for military purposes, anti-Government armed groups subject civilians to the dangers of war. Government forces conduct their military operations in flagrant disregard of the distinction between civilians and persons directly participating in hostilities.

Public order was breaking down in rebel-held areas of Syria, with widespread looting, crime running rampant and rebel factions fighting among themselves, according to refugees escaping to Lebanon. The refugees painted a bleak picture of mounting violence and lawlessness as civilians scramble to overcome shortages of food, water and fuel. The looting and infighting among rebel units added to the misery of civilians who managed to survive during two years of civil war.

The conflict continued to be waged by both Government forces and anti-Government armed groups with insufficient respect for the protection of the civilian population, in clear violation of international humanitarian law. The Government continued its indiscriminate shelling and aerial bombardment of civilian areas, while in several instances anti-Government armed groups located military objectives within or near densely populated areas.

Mass atrocities by Government forces and non-State armed groups continue to take place in Syria, causing immeasurable suffering to civilians, according to a UN report released 27 August 2014. The report stated that the continuous influx of foreign fighters and the success of extremist groups – such the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham – were among the factors which had contributed to a spillover of violence affecting international peace and stability. “Risks of the conflict spreading further are palpable”, it emphasized.

The report, based on 480 interviews and a wealth of documentary material, chronicles the unimaginable brutality and human cost of the Syrian conflict. Fighting has engulfed civilian areas, destroying the barest possibility of normal life. The impact has been particularly grave for women and children, whose most basic rights are being infringed daily. “Hundreds of civilians are dying each day as the fighting goes on with no regard to law or to conscience,” said Paulo Pinheiro, Chair of the Commission.

In areas of Syria under IS control, particularly in the north and northeast of the country, Fridays were regularly marked by executions, amputations and lashings in public squares. Civilians, including children, are urged to watch. Bodies of those killed are placed on display for several days, terrorizing the local population. Women have been lashed for not abiding by IS’s dress code. In Ar-Raqqah, children as young as 10 are being recruited and trained at IS camps. IS forcibly displaced Kurdish communities in northern Syria. Journalists and other media workers were systematically targeted.

The Commission reported that “members of IS have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in Aleppo and Ar-Raqqah governorates including acts of torture, murder, enforced disappearances and forcible displacement.” “ISIS poses a clear and present danger to civilians, and particularly minorities, under its control in Syria and in the region,” Pinheiro warned. Other non-State armed groups continue to commit violations, including summary executions and shelling deliberately targeting civilians. Many of these killings are massacres, as defined by the commission. Homs city has been rocked by over a dozen car bombs since this April. Jabhat Al-Nusra has claimed responsibility for some of these attacks. Armed groups continue to shell Government-controlled areas of Aleppo and Damascus, causing civilian deaths and injuries.

The Government continued to commit violations, including war crimes and crimes against humanity, with impunity. Between January and July 2014, hundreds of men, women and children were killed every week by the Government’s indiscriminate firing of missiles and barrel bombs into civilian-inhabited areas. In some instances, there is clear evidence that civilian gatherings were deliberately targeted, constituting massacres.

The Commission reported that Government soldiers at checkpoints prevented injured civilians from reaching hospitals. Hospitals in restive areas continued to be targeted and Government forces refused to allow aid deliveries of essential medicines and surgical supplies. Humanitarian aid continued to be obstructed as a weapon of war. In Government prisons, detainees were subjected to horrific torture and sexual assault. The methods employed and conditions of detention support the commission’s long-standing findings of systematic torture and mass deaths of detainees.

The report also stated that, in April and May 2014, Government forces used chemical agents, likely chlorine, in eight separate incidents in western Syria. Children are increasingly recruited by non-State armed groups and by the Government’s Popular Committees to participate in hostilities and provide support. The breakdown of family and community networks, often due to the death or disappearance of men, has left women and girls vulnerable and primarily responsible for the care of their families. This vulnerability persists even in their lives as refugees, with sexual violence and child marriage on the rise in certain camps.

Some states [such as Iran and Russia] continued to deliver mass shipments of arms, artillery and aircraft to the Syrian Government, or contribute with logistical and strategic assistance. Other states, organizations and individuals support armed groups with weapons and financial support. The weapons they transfer to the warring parties in Syria are used in the perpetration of war crimes and violations of human rights. The Commission recommended the imposition of an arms embargo and called on the international community to curb the proliferation and supply of weapons.

The United Nations said 22 August 2014 that more than 191,000 people had been killed since the start of the Syrian conflict in March 2011. The UN Human Rights Office says probably many more have been killed than the latest report indicates. The report said its documented death toll had doubled since a year ago. The monthly death toll in Syria remains between 5,000 and 6,000 lives - an extraordinarily high number.

As alliances shifted and countries re-defined themselves, the long-standing goals of some key players in the Middle East may soon compete with Western goals. This could ultimately threaten efforts to defeat Islamic State fighters. In the fight against Islamic State militants, Gulf countries emerged as military leaders, conducting airstrikes and hosting the bases used for the aerial campaign. Saudi Arabia and the UAE stepped up their image as being real Middle Eastern military powers rather than their traditional roles of more cautious foreign policy.

It may be impossible to end the civil war in Syria without the Assad regime, which despite all odds was still standing. And as long as the war in Syria continued, Islamic State fighters would have space to operate, even if they are defeated in Iraq. Both the US and Saudi Arabia remained steadfast in its opposition to the Assad regime but also committed to defeating the Islamic State first.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said 09 October 2014 that any intervention in Syria would have to be part of a broader military action to create a buffer zone in Syria and a no-fly zone to protect it. Many suspect some politicians are happy to have Turkey's troops sit on the border watching two enemies - IS and the PKK - wipe each other out. Since beginning its strikes against IS in Syria, US officials deflected concerns about helping Assad, arguing IS advances must be the priority.

Rami Abdel Rahman, the director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said 02 December 2014 the organization had documented “the killing of 202,354 people since March 2011,” in the country’s civil war. More than 130,000 of those killed were combatants from the two sides. “Of the total, 63,074 of the killed were civilians, including 10,377 children,” he said. Among the anti-regime fighters killed, 37,324 were Syrian rebels and 22,624 were non-Syrian jihadists. On the government’s side, there were 44,237 soldiers, 28,974 members of the paramilitary forces, 624 members of Hezbollah, and 2,388 Shiite fighters from beyond Syria and Lebanon.

Syrian government forces had detained at least 215,000 Syrians since the beginning of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, now in its fourth year, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR). A report released 17 December 17, 2014 said detainees were held in a sprawling prison and detention center underworld, where torture and starvation are systemic. With so many detainees, “government forces started using, from 2012, schools, stadiums and villas as detention facilities” in a network of camps reminiscent of the Nazi era in Germany.

More than 100 prisons and detention centers are believed to be operating. The report by SNHR, an independent non-profit that relies on activists on the ground to gather information, said it has documented the details of 110,000 of the 215,000 it estimates to have been detained since the start of the Syrian conflict in March of 2011. The worst abuses are occurring in detention centers overseen by local militias from the so-called National Defense Army and Popular Committees, the report’s authors assert.

The rebels had been fighting a war on two fronts. On the one front, Assad’s military carried out 2,000 airstrikes between October 20 and November 29 alone, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, killing more than 500 Syrians, even as US planes were in Syrian skies. The regime looked poised, to take Syria’s second city, Aleppo, unless the United Nations can achieve a proposed freeze in fighting, which would allow much-needed aid to reach the embattled population and give parties a brief opening for diplomacy.

On the second front, the Islamic State group reached from North Africa through the Middle East, Pakistan and South Asia and into Southeast Asia. Mainstream rebel forces lost battle after battle to ISIS, as well as to the al-Qaida affiliate, Jabhat Al Nusra.

Valerie Amos, the U.N.’s top relief official, told the Security Council that she had “run out of words” to fully explain the “brutality, violence and callous disregard for human life” witnessed in Syria today. “The parties to the conflict continue to ignore the most basic principles of humanity,” Amos said. “In many parts of Syria the level of violence has worsened, with civilians continuing to pay heavily with loss of life, serious injuries, psychological trauma, ongoing and recurring displacement and massive damage to property and infrastructure.”

76,021 people died in Syrian war in 2014, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Of those, 33,278 were civilians, said the UK-based NGO, which has been monitoring the situation in Syria. The prolonged conflict has claimed over 191,000 lives in its first three years, according to the estimates, provided by the United Nations in August 2014.




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