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The debate over chemical weapons in Syria gets real

STEPHEN STARR

Military brass and politicians from Tel Aviv to Washington are clamouring to decide whether chemical weapons have been used in Syria over the past number of months.

The accusations Activists say two attacks took place in and near Aleppo in March and earlier this month, one outside Damascus in March and one in Homs late last year.

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How a Damascus suburb turned into a killing zone

STEPHEN STARR

In late 2010, after three-and-a-half years of living in Syria’s capital, Damascus, I moved out to an apartment in the Damascus suburb of Jdeidet Artouz. If activist reports are to be believed, over the weekend this town was the scene of one of the worst massacres Syria has seen since protests began two years ago.

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Syria’s forgotten casualties: The chronically ill

STEPHEN STARR

Syrians suffering from chronic illnesses such as cancers, heart disease and diabetes are among the forgotten victims of the two-year conflict, says Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Canada executive director Stephen Cornish, who returned from Syria recently.

“People are slowing dying of cancer because they can’t get their oncology treatment; there are no dialysis or oncology wards,” Mr. Cornish said of the situation in northern Syria.

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Are we seeing Bashar al-Assad’s second wind?

STEPHEN STARR

Talks of tipping points, battles for Damascus and a regime on its last legs have all proved to be false dawns over the past number of months. So just how badly off is President Bashar al-Assad’s government?

On the battlefield, the regime has proved stubbornly resistant. In the north, government forces on Sunday broke out of their Wadi al-Deif and Hamidiya military bases and outflanked rebels that had been besieging them for months, according to both activists and pro-government media. Districts of central Homs have been retaken by the government in recent weeks and rebels have been successfully fought off in Quneitra, along the Syrian-Israeli demilitarized zone.

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The West’s dilemma: Who is the official opposition in Syria?

STEPHEN STARR

Aron Lund is a Swedish researcher who writes on Syrian jihadists for the Swedish Institute for International Affairs. He is also one of the best-informed observers of the insurgency in Syria. Here, he speaks to Syria Live.

Syria Live: Is it possible to put a figure on the number of foreign fighters in Syria today? Are foreign fighters a serious threat to regional stability?

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Solutions to the conflict: What do Syrians think?

STEPHEN STARR

Followers of events in Syria will be well aware of the various fixes put forward by commentators and experts on TV, in newspapers and online.

But little, at least in English-language analysis, has emerged of what solutions Syrians themselves think would work best.

Below is a very small window into what Syrians see as solutions for ending the conflict.

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Live-tracking sexual violence in Syria

STEPHEN STARR

A report released Wednesday by Women Under Siege, a group documenting sexualized violence in Syria, has for the first time attempted to measure such atrocities in an ongoing conflict.

Epidemiologists from Columbia University, the Syrian-American Medical Society and Syrian activists and journalists, have helped Women Under Siege document and collect data to figure out where and how women and men are being violated.

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Ottawa helps Syria’s refugees, but won’t do anything to end the war

Stephen Starr

In Amman on Sunday, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird announced the doubling of Canada’s aid to Jordan to $13 million to help assist with the burden of Syrian refugees in the kingdom.

Canada has a proven, if unremarkable, history of sending money to assist people affected by the conflict in Syria.

By February, it had sent $23.5 million to assist with the crisis, with $9.3 million of that going to humanitarian assistance inside Syria, and the remainder to support Syrians seeking refuge in neighbouring countries. Ottawa announced additional funding of $25 million at a major international donor conference in Kuwait last January.

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Food aid being sold in Syrian stores, activists say

STEPHEN STARR

Since late last year, there have been reports of foreign food aid being sold in stores across government-controlled parts of the city of Homs.

An activist in the city now says more types of tinned fava beans have been found for sale at stores in the city.

The photo accompanying this post is one of three sent that show tins of fava beans with the World Food Program’s logo displayed and the message ‘this can not for sale.’

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Syria’s Kurds, deeply divided, may determine the war’s outcome

WLADIMIR VAN WILGENBURG

Kurds, numbering more than two million, are a critical group in the greater Syria conflict. So far, they have sided with neither the regime in Damascus nor revolutionary forces fighting President Bashar al-Assad.

For decades they have been seeking greater autonomy from the Syrian state and, depending on how the current conflict plays out, they stand to be the great winners – or losers – of the Syrian revolt.

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Weekend meltdown sends opposition back to square one

STEPHEN STARR

It’s been a chastening few days for the Syrian opposition.

Opposition head Moaz al-Khateeb resigned on Sunday in order to “work with a freedom that cannot possibly be had in an official institution,” and blamed the international community for its inaction (his statement here). His National Coalition colleagues then refused to accept his resignation.

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Iman mosque bombing: Targeting pro-government clerics in Syria

STEPHEN STARR

An attack on the Iman mosque in central Damascus Thursday afternoon in an apparent suicide bombing is unlikely to do the country’s revolutionary forces any good.

Syrian State TV blamed “terrorists” – the government’s catch-all term for rebels opposing its rule – for what it called a suicide bombing. It said at least 41 people were killed.

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Did chemical weapons kill people in Syria today?

Stephen Starr

Has the Syrian government, having used SCUD missiles, air strikes and just about everything else, now deployed chemical weapons in its fight against opposition forces? Or do rebels now have chemical weapons as part of their arsenal? Was an “attack” that, according to some, killed 25 people in Aleppo today, an accident of some kind?

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Two years on, Syria burns while the world fiddles

STEPHEN STARR

It is easy to forget two years on that the revolt in Syria started with protesters in the streets bearing their chests to the rifle barrels of armed government forces.

Over the months that followed, the steady internationalization of the conflict – where countries often haphazardly backed or opposed the uprising – has escalated. The conflict today is a fully-fledged proxy war pitting long-standing enemy states against each other. This time the theatre of war is the plains, mountains and deserts of Syria.

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Aleppo activist Edward Dark: ‘People here don't like the regime, but they hate the rebels even more’

STEPHEN STARR

Activist Edward Dark has been in Aleppo, Syria’s second city, since the outbreak of revolt. Here he talks to Syria Live about life in the city.

What is life in Aleppo like? Is there electricity, water and internet access? Can people go out shopping and visiting cafes? What are people talking about on the street? Are schools and university open?

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Health care has become a major target in Syria’s conflict

Stephen Starr

Right from the start of the mass uprising against the regime of Bashar al-Assad two years ago, Syrian government authorities targeted people providing medical assistance to protesters. It was systematic.

Pharmacies in districts where protests took place were raided and proprietors were threatened against helping people who demonstrated in the streets. Hospitals that treated protesters and rebel fighters were closed down and doctors arrested and often tortured.

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Is justice for Syria held hostage by Canada’s stand on Israel?

David Petrasek

The Canadian government has yet to fully explain its reason for refusing to support an initiative to persuade the United Nations Security Council to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court. This follows Foreign Minister John Baird’s refusal last month to join a call by almost 60 other countries – including almost all of Canada’s allies – for the Security Council to use its authority to grant the ICC jurisdiction to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria.

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Capture of UN peacekeepers may have long-term consequences

STEPHEN STARR

The kidnapping of 21 Filipino peacekeepers close to the Syrian Golan Heights is instructive for two reasons.

It demonstrates the government of President Bashar al-Assad is now losing control of territory along Syria’s most sensitive border – the one it shares with Israel.

It also points out that the disparate groups of rebel brigades and fighters hoping to overthrow the Assad regime are no angels -- if the idea even existed -- and will go to any lengths to get what they want.

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The drums of war beat louder for Syria

STEPHEN STARR

After meeting Qatar's Prime Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani this week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told a news conference he was convinced weapons being sent by Qatar to Syrian rebels were being transferred to “moderates” among the disparate groups of fighters.

Astonishing.

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How important is the rebel takeover of Raqqa?

STEPHEN STARR

Monday’s images of a huge statue of former Syrian president Hafez al-Assad being pulled down in Raqqa, a provincial capital 160 kilometres east of Aleppo, are some of the most dramatic to emerge since Syria’s revolt began almost two years ago.

Rebels including the Islamist group Jabhat al-Nusra have succeeded in ousting government forces from most parts of the city over the past few days. A spokesperson for the Syrian National Council declared the city independent on Monday.

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Contributors

Stephen Starr

Stephen is a global journalism fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs and contributes to the Globe's Syria coverage. He is the author of 'Revolt in Syria: Eye-Witness to the Uprising.'

Follow Stephen on Twitter @stephenstarr