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Syrian President Assad makes gains in Southern Syria, but radical Islamists and Kurds hold on to North as humanitarian crisis continues.

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JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore. And welcome to this edition of The Prashad Report.

Now joining us is the man behind the segment, Vijay Prashad. He is the Edward Said Chair at the American University at Beirut, and he’s the author of many books, including The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South. And he’s also a regular contributor to The Real News.

Thanks for joining us, Vijay.


DESVARIEUX: So, Vijay, what have you been tracking related to Syria?

PRASHAD: Well, you know, there are at least two things that should be or three things that we should focus on. The first is that the humanitarian crisis continues. You know, the situation is bad. Winter is going to descend on Syria, and the UN has declared that it is not going to be possible to tend to the needs of millions of people. A million Syrians right now are living under conditions of siege, and they are not being able to get provisions. So that’s the first thing. It’s a very dire situation for Syrians inside Syria.

The second issue, I think, that needs some focus is that the government of Syria’s military has been exerting itself in the south and has taken very large sections of the south from a rebellion–particularly in the south it’s falling apart. So, for instance, along Highway 5 that runs from Daraa up to Hama, Homs, all the way towards Aleppo, the regime has been [making] some serious progress taking back towns and cities.

I was told by couple of people, including somebody who had been part of the fighting with the Free Syrian Army, that the regime has slowed its progress, largely to build up morale among its own troops. That may be true, because right now, in two different flanks, the government troops are moving quite slowly. One is up Highway 5, as I mentioned, through the Qalamoun Mountains to the town of Qara, where the fighting has taken place today. And, you know, from that region, the fight essentially runs along the border with Lebanon. Thousands of Syrian families have fled to the Lebanese border as the troops move north, you know, out of Damascus. Qara, I should tell you, is just about 30 or 40 kilometers north of Damascus. Further north, near Aleppo, the regime has come in from the southeast towards Aleppo Airport and seems poised to take Aleppo back.

So the second point I wanted to make was that in the South, that is, from Daraa to Damascus and up to Aleppo, it appears that the government is taking control of its territory.

Things are quite different in the north, and that’s the third point I wanted to make. So from the midsummer, it has been the case that the very radical Islamists who identify with al-Qaeda have been attempting to create a belt from Iraq all the way across to northern Syria, and indeed they have succeeded in some measure. So large parts of northern Syria have been held by the group that calls itself, that fashions itself as the ISIS, that is, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham–in other words, of Syria. But they are also fighting internally with another radical Islamist group called Jabhat al-Nusra. So at some points these groups have been working together, but at other points they have been at cross purposes. But no question that in the north, the ISIS, which is also known as [Da’ash], has been able to secure for itself some bases, you know, particularly the border towns with Iraq and then the border towns with Turkey, the Azaz border crossing, which they took from the Northern Storm brigade.

But in the north, it is not an easy road for the ISIS. They have not been fighting against the [government] troops, largely because it seems the government troops have withdrawn from the area to concentrate on their fight in the southwest of the country, you know, the route along Highway 5. Who has been fighting against the ISIS in the north are the Kurdish militias, particularly a group that calls itself the YPG, the popular committees. You know. And just last week, the popular committees, which have had some military success against ISIS, have constituted their land as Western Kurdistan. So they’ve declared a kind of notional independence in the northwestern part of Syria.

So right now, if I was to characterize the situation in Syria, there’s a serious humanitarian problem that continues. It appears that in the south, the government forces have the upper hand. It appears in the north there is a divide between the ISIS on one side and the Kurds on the other.

Given this kind of fractured landscape, it has been almost impossible for the UN to bring the parties to Geneva to have a meeting which they call Geneva II. Of course, it looks very unclear that any of the parties will be able to have a decisive victory. So despite the fact the government forces are moving north, it’s unlikely that they will be able to take on fully the ISIS or the Kurds.

So given [that there] seems to be some kind of, you know, not stalemate, but the impossibility of a full military victory, you know, one should, I think, continue to press [for] some kind of political settlement. But that is not in the offing, at least in the near term.

DESVARIEUX: Alright. Vijay Prashad, thank you so much for joining us.

PRASHAD: Thank you.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and (with Noam Chomsky) The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power.