The World Today for April 11, 2024

NEED TO KNOW

Stuck in Celestial Hades

SYRIA

Residents of the upscale Mazzeh neighborhood in the Syrian capital of Damascus were stunned when an airstrike recently reduced the Iranian consulate to rubble. Thirteen people, including two generals and five others in Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, perished in the attack.

Israeli forces who have been carrying out strikes against Iranian positions in Syria for years were widely believed to have conducted the bombing. These attacks have intensified, however, since Hamas staged its attacks on Israel on Oct. 7, eliciting a devastating response that has caused a humanitarian disaster for Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip, wrote CNN.

As international observers ponder whether Iran might attack Israel in response, potentially widening the fighting that is now happening in the Gaza Strip and beyond, the air strike led many Syrians to recall the fighting that they have experienced in their country’s ongoing civil war.

“When I moved to Damascus in 2022, I thought the war was over,” Rasha Saleh, 33, an NGO worker who formerly lived in Aleppo, a northern Syrian city where extreme combat occurred between Syrian rebels and central government forces loyal to dictator President Bashar al-Assad, told Agence France-Presse. “But it seems that’s not the case.”

While the worst fighting ended some years ago, the Syrian civil war recently passed its 14th anniversary, noted Voice of America. As many as 500,000 people died and 13 million were displaced in the war that started in 2011 as civil unrest against Assad’s regime.

A major earthquake, the proliferation of disease, and the failure of the state to educate millions of children have also destabilized the country, according to Crux. Around 16.7 million people in Syria are in desperate need of humanitarian aid, the United Nations added recently.

Today, Syrian forces and their Russian and Iranian allies are still fighting the anti-government rebels in northwest Syria, where they and Turkish-backed forces still control ground. In northeastern Syria, US-supported Kurds control territory they won from the Islamic State.

A car bomb recently exploded in Azaz near Aleppo, for instance, killing at least seven people. A Turkish-backed militia that opposes Assad’s government runs the town. It’s not clear who carried out the attack, the BBC wrote.

Protests, meanwhile, still break out against the government occasionally. In August, demonstrators marched against the high inflation rate and deteriorating economic conditions, and demanded the government step down. In December, people commemorated the revolution and said it wasn’t over.

And in a twist, protesters have been taking to the streets over the past month across Syria’s rebel-held northwest against its jihadi rulers, demonstrations sparked after a rebel fighter died in rebel custody, VOA reported. About half of Idlib province and parts of Hama, Aleppo and Latakia are controlled by former al-Qaida affiliate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, led by Abu Mohamed al-Jolani.

“Our demands are clear: Overthrow Jolani, free the prisoners, put an end to the security grip they have on us,” one protester told VOA. “Down with Jolani” is a common refrain, echoing the chants that were used against Assad, the Economist wrote.

As residents of rebel-held areas chafe under the harsh rule of their upstart leaders, Assad these days is no longer the pariah he once was in the Arab world. The Arab League reinstated Syria in 2023, for example, the Brookings Institution noted.

The world is waiting to see how the civil war will end, concluded World Politics Review. Will Assad, who is 58 years old, ever step down or face being ousted? Will the rebels finally cave for good? Who will finance the country’s reconstruction when the war ends? Will Iran, Russia, Turkey, or the US choose to cede their influence in Syria so that the country can reclaim its sovereignty?

Although analysts believe it might take years to receive answers to those questions, the country is trying to move forward in one respect: Tourism. Over the past two years, travel agencies in Turkey, the Gulf, Russia, Pakistan, Iran and China, have booked trips to the country that continues to struggle to rebuild from the war. Some Western visitors trickle in, too.

According to the Syrian state news agency, two million people visited last year.

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