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Day 1,107: Will this be the greatest tragedy of the Syria conflict?

This polio outbreak never would have happened with uninterrupted health care infrastructure. But now it's spreading to Iraq.


A Syrian child gets a polio vaccination at a clinic in Damascus on November 20, 2013. (LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)

Today is Day 1,107 of the Syria conflict.

"The current polio outbreak in Syria — now with one confirmed case in Iraq — is arguably the most challenging outbreak in the history of polio eradication." That quote is from UN relief agency UNRWA, reported in The Guardian this morning.

To understand the tragedy and the horror of this outbreak, it's helpful to know the backstory: Before the outbreak was confirmed in October, Syria hadn't seen a polio case since 1999. In the original batch of cases confirmed by the UN, most of the victims were babies and toddlers. The case in Iraq that has prompted the fresh concern is that of an unvaccinated six-month-old in Baghdad. Iraq had previously been free of polio since 2000.

Polio is 100 percent preventable, with vaccination. But once it has set in, it can cause paralysis, deformity, and occasionally death.

And again, as the early cases make clear, the individuals likely to be getting the disease are disproportionately children who haven't yet been vaccinated. 

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Day 1,106: "Are you a good rebel or a bad rebel?"

The US Government needs to know.


Glinda, the Good Witch of the North (Youtube/Warner Bros/MGM)

Today is Day 1,105 of the Syria conflict.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, because he's not fighting enough battles of his own at the moment, has promised military action should Syrian militants of either side target the tomb of Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire. (The tomb is technically Turkish territory within Syria, and has its own guard.)

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has told the UN half of Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles have been removed.

And the US State Department yesterday, admitting that the Syrian peace talks in Geneva had stalled, offered some clues about the US position in the testimony of Anne W. Patterson, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, titled "Syria After Geneva: Next Steps for US Policy."

Patterson said that the United States is currently "working to strengthen the moderate Syrian opposition" while "organizing [itself] to address the growing challenge of violent extremist fighters in Syria." In other words, there are two kinds of rebels, according to the US government: good rebels and bad rebels. The US would like to help the good rebels and contain the bad rebels.

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Day 1,105: Syrian rebels reach the sea

That sounds a bit too Lawrence-of-Arabia, doesn't it. Nevertheless.

Today is Day 1,105 of the Syria conflict.

Remember the seaside village mentioned yesterday, that rebels were struggling to take? They took it.

"This is the first area of coast in Syria to be liberated," said one fighter in the announcement video posted online, according to Reuters. The individuals in the video bore the banner of the Islamist Ansar al-Sham brigade.

This is the second rebel victory in Latakia this week, the first having been the Armenian town of Kasab on Monday. The Guardian says the opposition in Latakia is now closing in on Bashar al-Assad's home town of Qardaha, as well as the port city of Latakia which gives the governorate its name.

The New York Times today reports that CIA director John Brennan has expressed concern "about the use of Syrian territory by the Al Qaeda organization." 

The conflict continues.

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Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud attends the 25th Arab League summit at Bayan palace in Kuwait City. (Yasser al-Zayyat/AFP/Getty Images)

Today is Day 1,104 of the Syria conflict. 

The members of the Arab League can't agree which group should be representing Syria at the summit in Kuwait, which opened today. Iraq, Lebanon, and Algeria don't want to give the role to the Syrian opposition (for reasons why, check out this interview with an Iraqi politician).

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Salman, on the other hand, insisted that, despite the increasing presence of terrorist groups in the Syrian opposition, "there is a legitimate resistance in Syria that was betrayed by the international community and left as a prey in the face of an oppression force." He also called on the international community to combat the terrorist presence on the ground in Syria.

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This map shows you just how much damage the Syrian conflict has done to its (and our) heritage

Along with the massive civilian casualties, Syria's civil war has seen the destruction of iconic heritage sites and artifacts. We created this interactive map to show you some of the ancient treasures that have been permanently ruined.

Day 1,103: Syrian rebels take "last remaining Armenian village in the Middle East"

Anti-Assad forces have taken the village of Kasab, the only surviving village from the Armenian genocide of 1915.


The location of the village of Kasab, in Syria. (Google Maps)

Today is Day 1,103 of the Syria conflict.

Rebels have taken the village of Kasab and, with it, a border crossing into Turkey.* 

It's hard to imagine either side shedding many tears over this fact right now, but Kasab, as the AFP writeup notes, was "the last remaining Armenian village in the Middle East," which is to say the sole village in the area to survive the genocide that occurred from 1915-1917 under the Ottoman Empire during World War I. The German-language ethnic map below shows the rough location of Armenian populations as of 1914. Armenian populations today are clustered either in the modern Republic of Armenia, further east, or in the Armenian diaspora communities in Russia, the United States, France, Lebanon, Georgia, and other countries. Most of the Armenian residents of Kasab have fled the current conflict.


Armenian communities shown in blue. (Wikimedia Commons)

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Lebanese army soldiers patrol a street near the capital's Tariq Jedideh district, following clashes between pro- and anti-Damascus factions on March 23, 2014.

Today is Day 1,102 of the Syria conflict.

Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan — who's got his own problems at present — announced Sunday that Turkish fighter jets shot down a Syrian warplane earlier today after it violated Turkish airspace.

A Syrian military spokesman, unsurprisingly, called this an act of "blatant aggression," saying that the plane had been attacking rebels from Syrian, not Turkish, airspace. He also said the pilot ejected safely.

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Day 1,101: Jordan's king tells Lebanese to get out of Syria

Also, a UN aid convoy is halted, and Russia's 'defiance' over Crimea may be giving Assad hope.

People inspect buildings reportedly hit by an explosives-filled barrel dropped by a government forces in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on March 21, 2014. (Baraa al-Halabi/AFP/Getty Images)

Today is Day 1,101 of the Syria conflict.

Saturday, pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat published a piece in which Jordan's King Abdullah II quite reasonably suggests that Lebanese fighters in Syria go home and stay there. Here's the translation from Lebanon's The Daily Star:

“The security and political situation in Lebanon is very delicate ... Lebanon cannot bear the intervention by any side in the Syrian conflict,” he said. “Out of concern for the security, stability, sovereignty and security of Lebanon, we emphasize the need for the non-intervention of any Lebanese side in the conflict in Syria,” he said, describing any interference in the Syrian war as “unconstructive.”

For the backstory here, see our earlier post recapping the troubling situation this week in the Lebanese town of Arsal. Lebanon's Hezbollah is currently openly fighting in Syria on the side of Assad's forces.

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Albania has an Al Qaeda problem. And it's starting to fight back

TIRANA, Albania — The eight people arrested included two radical imams, Genci Balla and Bujar Hysi, believed to be the spiritual leaders of an extremist Islamist group. The news comes amid growing concerns about the number of ethnic Albanians from Albania, Macedonia and Kosovo reported two have joined militant groups fighting in Syria.

Day 1,100: What if your son wants to go fight in Syria?

This is a serious problem for some communities in Europe.


A picture taken on March 20, 2014 shows items left behind in the renowned Crusader castle Krak des Chevaliers near the Syria-Lebanon border after forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad seized the fortress. (Sam Skaine/AFP/Getty Images)

Today is Day 1,100 of the Syria conflict.

Yesterday this blog mentioned the Syrian government's fight to re-take the famous Crusader castle Krak des Chevaliers and the surrounding town of al-Hosn. Today there are pictures from after the capture. One of those is above and another four are below.

Reuters Canada today has a disturbing and moving piece about parents in France trying to fight their own sons' radicalization, and losing the battle when those sons head off to Syria. The parents don't think the approaches European governments have taken to combat such radicalization is helping.

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