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Why Russia cannot withdraw from Syria

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March 15 · Issue #81 · View online
MENAroundup
MENAroundup
MENA Roundup is a weekly publication containing insightful articles on politics in the Middle East, focussing on Syria and Iraq. lars@menaroundup.com

Notions
  • Southern Syria, the area around Daraa in particular, has been a relative quiet front since the US and Russia negotiated a cessation of hostilities last summer. But as rebels targeted regime positions with artillery in order to take revenge for the onslaught in Ghouta, the Assad regime resumed airstrikes. Daraa is the only area where the US is involved in a so called deescalation zone. Watch closely how far Washington is willing to enforce it. 
  • Eastern Ghouta has been cut into three pieces. The most intense fighting is taking place in the southern piece and around the Harasta front. Duma, Jaysh al-Islam’s stronghold in the northern piece, will probably be the last contested area. Meanwhile, the evacuation of some dozens civilians and limited aid access for the UN/the Syrian red crescent cannot hide the truth: The Assad regime besieged Eastern Ghouta for years and even targeted the population with Sarin gas (and yes, this is a fact). What is happening now is the final blow. There is no humanitarian goodwill, only exploitation of the monopoly on aid access. 
  • While the Assad regime also resumed airstrikes against Idlib and northern Hama, rebels launched a small offensive in northern Hama and seized some territory. What is interesting, though, is that Turkey is about to set up new observation posts on Idlib’s western border area only some kilometers north of the frontlines. Its not clear what Turkey’s plans are, but within the last weeks, the Turkish military has established a belt of military outposts that effectively shields large parts of Idlib against regime forces. 
  • The jihadi reshuffle in northwestern Syria continues. Fighters loyal to Al Qaeda recently reorganized in a group called Hurras ad Deen that is in opposition to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). The formation once again shows that HTS is not a Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliate.
  • The city of Afrin will be surrounded soon if there is no political change that affects the situation on the ground. I talked to Pawel Pieniazek, a Polish journalist who is in the area, on Sunday and he confirmed that the YPG enjoys support but people are afraid as Turkish forces and allied rebels tighten the rope. Many civilians are trapped in the city as the checkpoints were closed in the last days. Shelling/airstrikes have already started.
Articles worth reading
A Trail of Broken Ceasefires in Syria A Trail of Broken Ceasefires in Syria
Russia’s Greatest Problem in Syria: Its Ally, President Assad Russia’s Greatest Problem in Syria: Its Ally, President Assad
'Just a matter of timing': Battle-hardened Hezbollah relishes next war with Israel 'Just a matter of timing': Battle-hardened Hezbollah relishes next war with Israel
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