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CNEWA’s Response to the Syrian Crisis
(2012 — December 2013)

13 Jan 2014

I- Introduction

A) Political background:

After more than 33 months of unrest, the conflict between the regime and the opposition in Syria has escalated to a full-scale civil war. Army defectors along with Islamic militants formed armed groups that wage a guerrilla war on government forces, but it seems that the sectarian conflict between the Alawite and the Sunnite was pulling fighters from across the Middle East and North Africa into the fray as well.

By December 2013, more than 130,000 people-mostly civilians-were thought to have died and tens of thousands more had been arrested. More than two million Syrian refugees had registered in neighboring countries, with tens of thousands not registered. In addition, about 5.5 million Syrians needed aid inside the country, with more than two million displaced domestically, according to the United Nations.

On the ground it seems that the control of towns and cities seesawed between rebel forces that were poorly organized but increasingly well-armed and confident, and a government that was too weak to stamp out the rebellion, though strong enough to prevent it from holding large chunks of territory. In the summer of 2012, the government withdrew to strong points, increasingly relying on air power and artillery to smash areas that rebels had seized.

They filled the regime forces with thousands of militia irregulars trained at least in part by Hezbollah and Iranian advisers in counter-insurgency operations-unlike the rebel force, which has received only sporadic supplies of relatively low-caliber weaponry from its reluctant Western and Arab allies. The Syrian army can count on steady supplies of arms and ammunition from Iran and Russia; the Syrian forces succeeded in recapturing many villages and towns in different parts of the country.

At present, the use of chemical weapons in the rural regions of Ghouta near Damascus and the death of more than 1400 civilians is considered a turning point in the conflict. The U.S. government accused President Bashar al-Assad’s forces of killing the civilians in a poison-gas attack in the Damascus suburbs on 21 August. But later on, the US and Russia reached an agreement on 14 September 2013 to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal and the Syrian regime agreed immediately. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) started to implement the agreement. The deal placed indefinitely on hold the prospect of US-led strikes on Syria as punishment for a deadly chemical weapons attack.

Finally, it seems that the major powers agreed to hold the Geneva II Middle East peace conference (or Geneva II) that would take place in Geneva in late 2013 with the aim of stopping the Syrian civil war and organizing a transition period and post-war reconstruction.

B) Economic and Humanitarian Difficulties

Since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, the Syrian economy has been hit by massive economic sanctions restricting trade with the Arab League, Australia, Canada, and the European Union, as well as other European countries in addition to Japan, Turkey, and the United States. These sanctions and the instability associated with the civil war have reversed previous growth in the Syrian economy to a state of decline for the years 2011 and 2012. In 2012, the GDP growth was negative and estimated at (- 14%), and the inflation rate was around 30%.

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