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Major Players in the Syrian Conflict | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Aleppo in ruins / REUTERS photo

Syrian and Russian planes raided the countryside in the Idlib and Hama provinces more than 150 times. Khan Sheikhoun was among the towns that were hit “with bombs, rockets and projectiles that fell in the form of mass of flames on the targeted areas, causing the outbreak of fire in them.” On April 17, Khan Sheikhoun and its surroundings suffered more strikes. On April 18, the south of Idlib province, not far from Khan Sheikhoun, was targeted again, and a large family including nine children was reported killed. On the same day, the Assad regime also hammered the Northern countryside of Hama province, also close to Khan Sheikhoun, and barrel bombs were reportedly dropped on a town about 15 miles away.

No use of chemical weapons came up in the reports, and casualty counts are unavailable, But incendiaries, barrel bombs and missiles can do just as much damage to civilians as gas.

The US strike has done nothing to deter the vicious bombing of the areas in south Idlib and north Hama, which are controlled by moderate rebel and Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups. The regime, having sustained negligible losses from the Tomahawks, went about the business of trying to recover lost territory, and it did so with a vengeance.

Its Russian support in the area didn’t diminish, either. At an April 11 briefing, Colonel General Sergei Rudskoy said that “the Russian Aerospace Forces continue supporting the Syrian army and militia detachments, which are fighting against ISIS and al-Nusra Front groupings”; Al-Nusra Front is the former name of a Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate, based in Idlib.

For its part, the US military went ahead with its own priorities in Syria. On April 18 and 19, for example, the US conducted 21 strikes in Syria, all against ISIS targets.

The US has clearly stepped up its efforts toward that goal, conducting more airstrikes in Syria and — as a consequence — inflicting more collateral damage.

In other words, since US President Donald Trump ordered the Tomahawk strike on Shayrat, the major players in the Syrian conflict have gone about their business as if nothing had happened. It’s a relief that the action didn’t lead to a direct clash between Russian and US militaries — but then, their priorities are still aligned on ISIS.

It has been noted that Trump is willing to go further to defend his “red lines” than Barack Obama was.

As one of Trump’s habitual diversions, the Shayrat strike has succeeded brilliantly. Analysts are struggling to read Trump instead of mocking him. He’s getting praise from people who used to dismiss him, including some former Obama aides. And as for the voter base, there’s plenty of time until the next election to worry about it.

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