Category Archives: Syria


BLOG 451
November 18, 2019



Each week Robert L. Wise, Ph.D., explores the Middle Eastern situation, ranging from Egypt through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the surrounding area. Wise first traveled to Israel and the neighboring countries in 1968. Two of his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.


Two issues dominate public opinion.

Israelis don’t want a third election. They hope Benny Gantz and the Blue and White alliance can form a government before the deadline shuts them down. In general, the public doesn’t want the ultra-Orthodox groups in office. Of course, these extremists have been significant in Netanyahu’s coalition that kept him in power.

One of the country’s important leaders, Avigdor Liberman declared that Gantz must accept President Rivlin’s plan that included a join Prime Ministry led government including a leave of absence for Netanyahu because of bribery charges and that he gives up the ultra-Orthodox bloc. So far, Netanyahu has refused to abandon the religious oriented bloc. Liberman’s refusal to participate in a right-wing government led to the dissolution of parliament and resulting new elections that followed.

What a mess.

The second problem is wide-spread concern because of the abrupt withdrawal of American troops from the Syrian border in an arbitrary decision by President Donald Trump. Israelis are highly aware that Christian and Muslim Kurds are running for their lives because they fear persecution by the Turkish-backed army. These people know well about the genocide Turkey visited on their people in 1915. In a similar vein, the Turks murdered 1.5 million Armenians. Today’s Kurdish survivors know well that they cannot trust the politicians. Both The Jerusalem Post and The Times of Israel report Israeli concern because they know a vacuum in the Middle East will be quickly filled by a country like Russia. Moreover, the arbitrary abandonment of the Kurds means that the current USA government could just as easily drop its relationship with other governments like Arabia and Egypt … and of course with Israel. However, Israelis have an even more immediate urgent worry. They fear that Trump’s action will be part of paving the way for Iran to come charging in for a deeper and mover permanent relationship with Syria’s Bashar Assad moving Iran ever closer to Israel’s borders. Because Iran has declared even intent of destroying Israel, the citizenry must be ever wary of such Iranian moves.

The local press reports that Israeli government officials privately view Trump’s actions as “a colossal and dangerous mistake.”

Where is it all going? Many indicators suggest a third election is probable whether the public approves or not. And the situation in Syria? Keep your guns loaded!

You might find my collection of Holy Land experiences to be helpful.
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Filed under America, Christians, Israel, middle east, Syria, Trump, World


BLOG 450
November 11, 2019



Each week Robert L. Wise, Ph.D., explores the Middle Eastern situation, ranging from Egypt through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the surrounding area. Wise first traveled to Israel and the neighboring countries in 1968. Two of his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.


In the last blog, I noted that from the point of view of the Middle East, Trump’s actions in Syria have handed Putin his first three major objectives on a silver platter. Putin is now the king maker and controls Syria. America is out.

Between 25 and 35 million Kurds inhabit a mountainous region straddling the borders of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Armenia. They make up the fourth-largest ethnic group in the Middle East, but they have never obtained a permanent nation state. Currently, they are struggling to exist.

In a recent article in The Jerusalem Post, Seth J. Frantzman noted that Turkey’s action in attempting to create a buffer zone with the Syrians by attacking the Kurds has re-written the rules of International Law. Declaring that the existence of a terrorist organization gives them the right to create a so-called safe zone or peace corridor, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has created a new doctrine with frightening implications for international affairs.

Countries like Saudi Arabia, Russian, and Egypt might conclude they can do the same if they want to make a grab for more territory. Declaring that they have a right (just as Turkey did) to expand their borders because some terrorist organization could be out, implies a new instability in establishing legal territorial boundaries. The silence in the international community seems to affirm the idea of invasion is acceptable simply because a country deems it necessary.

What is also implied in this action is the argument that more powerful states can assert their right to move across borders into less powerful countries that do not have the ability to protect themselves. Pakistan may now assert a need to grab parts of Afghanistan. Russia could say it can attack the border of Ukraine in the name of creating a “safe zone.” On and on the argument goes.

The abrupt action by President Trump in pulling American troops out of the border area has now left the impression America is no longer interested in such goals as religious freedom and stabilization. At one time America proclaimed an intention of reconstruction in some areas affected by the war with ISIS, but this now appears to be abandoned. The American assistance began in an effort to support the Kurds when ISIS moved to capture Kobani. ISIS was pushed out. Now five years later, America is walking away.

American soldiers have fought shoulder to shoulder with the Kurds and now the USA has abandoned them. If you care about people and their welfare, the implications are frightening!

You might find my collection of Holy Land experiences to be helpful.
BIBLE LANDS: An illustrated Guide to Scriptural Places
Barbpir books Publishers

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Filed under Kurds, Syria, The Middle East, Trump


BLOG 448
October 21, 2019

fake news


Each week Robert L. Wise, Ph.D., explores the Middle Eastern situation, ranging from Egypt through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the surrounding area. Wise first traveled to Israel and the neighboring countries in 1968. Two of his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.


This past week America seriously demolished its leadership role in the Middle East.

US President Donald Trump’s newly announced withdrawal of nearly all US troops from northern Syria has cemented Russia’s status as the predominant global military power actively engaged in the Middle East. This week, Russian troops arrived at military bases in northern Syria that the American army had hastily left just days earlier, in what can be regarded as both a literal and figurative handover of regional leadership and authority.

My opinion? No, this come straight out of The Times of Israel newspaper!

Many officials in Jerusalem are deeply worried about being abandoned by their superpower ally, as the American decision to gradually disengage from this part of the world which started under former US president Barack Obama when he drew a red line and then demonstrated that he didn’t mean what he said. The follow-up acts by Trump threaten to embolden Israel’s enemies: Iran and its allies and proxies in Lebanon, Syria, Gaza and elsewhere.

What does Russia’s takeover really mean for Israel? Some analysts are deeply concerned, fretting about the possibility that Moscow could use surface-to-air missiles against Israeli jets attacking Iranian targets in Syria, which would effectively end Jerusalem’s campaign against Tehran’s establishment of a military foothold near Israel’s border.

Amos Yadlin, the head of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, told The Times of Israel he counts eight main reasons that motivated Russian President Vladimir Putin to get involved in the Middle East:

1.To Make Russia Great Again;

2. To again become an influential power, after the US kept it out of Egypt (1973), Iraq (2003), Libya (2011) and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process;

3. To reduce the influence of the United States;

4. To play Middle Eastern cards in Russia’s conflict with Ukraine;

5. To control ports and air bases, something the tsars dreamed of;

6. To try out weapons developed by Russia in the past decade;

7. To save Syria’s Bashar Assad — and show the world that Russians don’t throw
their allies under the bus.

8. To fight jihadists — in Syria and not in the Caucasus.

Sound scary? Ask the Kurds who were abandoned this week and without the American cover who have been slaughtered by the Turks. Today the media inside Israel is telling the story. Israelis are genuinely worried. Even stupid decisions can have serious consequences.

You might find my collection of Holy Land experiences to be helpful.
BIBLE LANDS: An illustrated Guide to Scriptural Places
Barbpir books Publishers

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Filed under America, Israel, Syria, Turkey, United States History, Violence, War, World


BLOG 436
July 15, 2019

iran (2)


Each week Robert L. Wise, Ph.D., explores the Middle Eastern situation,
ranging from Egypt through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the surrounding area. Wise first traveled to Israel and the neighboring countries in 1968. Two of his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.


Iran continues to enrich uranium and America increases the sanctions. Where’s it all going?

Of course, predictions about what’s happening inside Iran are difficult. Their society certainly doesn’t invite American newsmen to drop by for a story. However, some aspects are discernible.

Some years ago, I was in Damascus, Syria (where Western tourists did not go!) and sitting in a hotel eating breakfast. A group of tourists came filing in. One glance said they didn’t look like Arabs or the usual racial groups one sees on the streets in Damascus. I guessed they looked like Iranians. Everybody in the restaurant had already given me a second once over. My attire, haircut, countenance, screamed American and there usually wasn’t anyone around who looked like me.

In the center of the café (as well as the taxis, rest rooms, lobbies, you name it) were pictures of Hafez al-Assad and his son Bashar, the current despot. The impression was clear; the Assads are WATCHING YOU! Not exactly, the most comfortable place for an American to be.

I noticed one couple kept looking at me. I smiled; they smiled back. After a few minutes, they got up and came over to my table. I quickly learned they thought I was a Canadian. They confided that they were trying to get out of Iran and escape to Canada. They were sure I could help them.

Because I had once worked in Canada, I could answer many of their questions. Finally, I asked why they wanted out. The wife said firmly, “The leaders of our government are crazy. The country is ruled by religious lunatics.”

Her response revealed a sharp division in Iran that exists to this day. Groups like the Revolutionary Guard are fanatical extremists while many, many of the average citizens strongly disagree with them. Periodically, there is an explosion between the extremists and the ordinary citizens with revolting in the streets.

In the current situation with sanctions crippling Iran, this division continues to deepen. The average citizen knows that to oppose the government and the Supreme Ruler will bring imprisonment and probably death. On the other hand, the government realizes that a huge percent of the population does not agree with their race to build a nuclear weapon and start a war.

While no one is saying so, probably insiders in the American government are hoping that a revolution will follow before the Islamic extremist government yields.

Keep your eyes open. Who knows what’s coming next!

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Filed under America, Iran, Syria, War


BLOG 391 April 16, 2018

    Last week’s blog was written before Assad’s chemical attack. My earlier response was to President Trump’s quip that America would soon leave Syria. Today, that entire scene has changed. The world currently knows that 40 people died from the chemical attack in Douma. Entire families were wiped in an assault that damaged many, many more people.

The Security Council of the United Nation has already begun condemnation of Syria, Russia, and Iran. British Prime Minister Theresa May said Assad and Russia “must be held to account.” Israel does not typically comment on airstrikes although they have struck inside Syria numerous times. The Israelis may have been involved in a bombing response.

With the US shooting missiles at Syria today, the situation is a front-page story again. We need to make sure we are following the situation and have a developing understanding of the situation in the embattled country. At this point in the history of the Middle East, most critics view President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry as having been hopelessly culpably naïve in trusting Russia to guarantee Assad would eliminate his weapons of mass destruction. Obama’s lack of action amounted to inviting the wolf to guard the hen house while the farmer took a nap.

The issue before us at this moment is the possibility of a confrontation between Russia and America.  Russia continues to be Syria’s major ally and probably the only reason that Assad has remained in power and the civil war not ended. Russian news sources on Tuesday reported that Russian military contractors were killed. In February, four Russian citizens were killed in Syriaby strikes related to the U.S.. Russian media claimed private contractors were part of the pro-Syrian government. However, Russia has yet lodged an official complaint.

Lt. General Jeffery Harrigian, commander of the U.S. air force in the Middle East reported that during a skirmish, the Americans. struck a Russian made T-72 battle tank after they took a shot at the U.S. forces.

However, as of this date, the most recent media reports from CBS, NBC, and ABC have indicated the U.S. attempted to avoid striking Russian forces directly. Should Russian and America become embroiled in a direct confrontation, the stakes rise dramatically. However, it is not currently clear if US missiles have achieved any important objectives. At this time, Britain, France, and Israel are standing with American policy.

Putin might want to think twice about direct retaliation.


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Filed under America, middle east, Syria


BLOG 390 April 9, 2018

Syrian children waving as U.S. forces patrol on a rural road in the village of Darbasiyah, in northern Syria. (AP Photo via APTV)

During the past week, President Donald Trump made a passing comment that the US would soon leave Syria. Apparently, this not only caught the military by surprise, but came with their objections. No one ever knows what Trump’s tweets and comments might actually mean, but the suggestion calls for another look at the Syrian Civil War. Sadly, many Americans have lost interest in the seven-year old conflict that continues to be one of the bloodiest and worst in recent history.  Nearly half a million people have been killed. Most of the citizens who fled Syria no longer have any hope of returning.

President Obama made a costly mistake when he pulled US forces back and didn’t follow up on the red line proclamation demanding Syria not use chemical weapons on its citizens which they did. Russia promptly filled the gap and has been escalating tensions with the US ever since (Remember the Crimea grab & the Ukrainian struggle?) When the US backed off in Syria, Russia brought in thousands of troops, fighter planes, and bombers that rescued Assad and his regime from total collapse. Currently, Assad survives because of Russian intervention.

Iran became even more forceful in their incursions in Syria. The only good accomplishment has been the defeat of the ISIS presence, although ISIS has popped up in other countries.

One of the costliest battlefields has been in and around Damascus. I have walked through the streets of this ancient city, including the old city with its street called Straight. I even visited the sight where the Apostle Paul received healing of his blindness when he came to attack Christians (Acts 9:10-18). Today these streets are filled with the debris of war.

Behind the scenes, Israelis have continued attacking in Syria. Major General Amir Eshel stated Israel had attacked Syrian military targets 100 times since the war began. Iran’s Quds Force and Hezbollah planned guerrilla cells and attacks that would have challenged Israel on two fronts.  However, Israel jets attacked and killed cell leaders, including the son of Hezbollah operations chief. The diabolical plot was destroyed.

Israeli targets depends on current circumstances. In mid-February, an Israeli F-16 jet shot down an Iranian drone inside Syria and came under heavy Syrian fire. In turn, the F-16 was hit by Syrian fire and crashed in Northern Israel after the two pilots ejected. In turn, Israel unleashed a wave of strikes against Syrian and Iranian targets inside Syria.

To put it another way, the US military presence remains important in the Syrian struggle, even if now somewhat marginalized. To pull out is anything but in the interest of Israel and in the long run America. Syria remains a key link in Iran’s drive to build a Shi’ite crescent across the heart of the Middle East, linking Iran to Iraq to Syria to Lebanon and giving them a foothold on the Mediterranean. Iran definitely has long-term strategic aims and isn’t about to give them up. The completion of this maneuver sets the stage for a potential war between Iran and Israel.

Get the picture? Serious business!

President Trump must not deal with the Syrian situation like declaring a Boardwalk Casino bankrupt. The lives of millions of people are at stake. If Israel is forced to go it alone, every sign indicates they will. And they have the BOMB to do it. Not a good picture.

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Filed under America, Arabs, middle east, Syria


BLOG 366 September 25, 2017

            Iran is back in the headlines. President Donald Trump’s speech at the United Nations called Iran an international pariah. While the entire rest of the world is telling Trump to leave the nuclear accord with Iran alone, Trump seems to think he knows more than all the other nations. At this point, his narcissistic tendencies are dangerous. However, in the Middle East, Iran remains a major problem not discussed at the moment. Is there something more to the current concern over Iran than the press is releasing?

Let’s take a deeper look at what has been happening in Syria. Their persistent civil war has gone on the backburner with the problems of North Korea coming to the fore, but nothing has stopped in the conflict between the US and Russia as they stand on different sides of the Syrian conflict. More is afoot than meets the eye. On October 2016, Martin Chulov in The Guardian wrote “militias controlled by Tehran are poised to complete a land corridor that would give Iran huge power in the region.” Mr. Chulov put his finger on the problem.

A similar perspective was expressed in June in The Jerusalem Post by Jonathan Spyer. He wrote, “if the US and its allies are eclipsed in eastern Syria, the result will be the establishment of a contiguous land link from Iran, across Iraq and Syria to Lebanon and the Israeli border.’ As summer ends, it is clear that in the last several months the Iranian-backed regime in Damascus has increased in its power.  Clearly, the land bridge drive is picking up steam.

Add to this configuration the possibility that Iran is building a missile factor near Baniyas Syria. Israel has maintained a policy of interception of the flow of weapons from Iran to Hezbollah, striking whenever a shipment starts through. The creation of a new missile factory in Syria would provide a new way for Iran to aid it’s friends.  Now Israel must carefully re-think what it will do next. A new missile factory in Syria would pose a serious problem for Israel. In August, Prime Minister Netanyahu told Russian President Vladimir Putin that Iran is stepping into the role that ISIS once played and that Iran continues to threaten the annihilation of Israel. The creation of a land bridge from Iran to the Mediterranean Sea would make Israel totally vulnerable. The stated intention of Iran is to use such a corridor against Israel. Netanyahu made it clear to Putin that Israel will not remain passive and allow such a passage to be established that is a direct threat to Israel.

The constant flip-flops of the Trump administration let Iran continue to march forward. There does not appear to be any consistence in the Trump foreign policy and State Department personnel have been leaving in large numbers. Virtually no legislation has happened since Trump took office and now it appears that the Health Care issue is going nowhere again. Israel is left standing in the cold.

Would somebody wake up the current administration that their lack of perception and action is allowing a land bridge to be established that in the end can actually backfire on the United States!

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Filed under America, middle east, Syria


BLOG 363 September 4, 2017

            Americans have an interesting habit of listening intently to a crisis, getting highly upset, and then in a few days forgetting all about it. Right now the disaster in Houston is on everyone’s mind. Give it a week or so and we go on to the next issue and leave Houston underwater.

Currently, the nation’s media appears to be doing so with the civil war in Syria. Not much as appeared lately, but the wheels of destruction continue to grind away in that war torn land. One of the major mistakes of the Obama Era was drawing red lines and then doing nothing when the Assad regime crossed them. Trump fired a few rockets and then went back to the latest debacle created by his administration. Without a sustained American policy and plan, the people fighting in Syria struggle on often when there is no hope in sight.

Wendy Pearlman’s book We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled, chronicles the Syrian lives that are struggling to survive. A professor of politics at Northwestern University, Pearlman speaks fluent Arabic, and has traveled extensively through the area collecting stories of what happened to the citizens. A doctor told her about the unconventional method they discovered to deal with tear gas victims. They pour cola on their faces and that counters the effects of the gas.
Amin, a physical therapist, shared how they evade security forces who dial them through the cell phones captured from people they trapped. After killing them, they dial numbers on their cells to find their next victims. Amin said they don’t delete the original phone numbers but change the name to Martyr. When a call comes in on the deceased phone, they know it’s the regime. When he opened his contact list, it was all Martyr, Martyr, Martyr.

Syria created the “weaponization of health care” as the government with more than 800 medical workers killed in hundreds of attacks. Doctors were arrested for treating injured protestors while medical supplies were withheld from besieged areas. Inhumanity continues to rule supreme.

The continuing refugee crisis remains one of the biggest challenges in memory. European countries still struggle to know how to deal with immigrate populations that swamp their cities. Syrian populations continue to attempt to get out of the country. The Geneva Convention on protecting civilians in wartime was never consistently enforced and is now openly flouted. The Syrian crisis is currently pushing the world toward nationalism and the rise of the security state. The world seems awash in chaos and uncertainty more so than at any time since the end of the cold war.

The Syrian war goes on and the whole world pays the price. The old adage, “Lord help us,” certainly applies.

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September 4, 2017 · 2:06 pm


BLOG 351 May 22, 2017

Syrian refugee washing clothes…

            STOP! Got a road sign for you. This is the last blog until June 12. Sorry, but I’ll be traveling and out of the country. As you probably know, I work with Pope Francis as his Apostolic Representative For Christian Unity. I travel all over creation talking with Catholics and Protestants about the possibility of “unity without uniformity.” That idea suggests we can be friends and fellow travelers even if some of our beliefs and perspectives are different. On June 4, Pentecost Sunday, we will gather on the Piazza in front of Rome’s St. Peter’s Basilica to celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

            Hang on! I’ll be back on June 12 with an update for you.

And what about Syria? Sorry – yes, sorry is the only word that comes to mind. I’m sorry. The world is sorry. (in the sense of mourning) Bashar al-Assad is REALLY sorry (in the sense of diabolically obscene). Having killed at least 400,000 of his own people, Assad continues to bomb, starve and gas his countrymen.

One of the actions that President Trump has succeeded in doing in his first 100 days in office was bombing Syria. Everyone applauded. Now, the next question is what comes next? Trump has been so occupied with so many controversial and divisive upheavals in government, his and the press’s attention has shifted from the Syrian civil war that rages on. The world now knows Trump is good at impulsive actions, but that’s no substitute for a complete foreign policy. One of the major failures of the Obama administration was the timid and reserved Middle East policy that gave the Russians extraordinary success in supporting Assad and his war crimes. If Trump doesn’t reverse this course, American influence in that and other areas is going out the back door. Bad news indeed!

The evidence against the Assad regime is staggering. Three tons of Syrian government documents were captured that detailed their war crimes. During this six-year war, these assaults have gone unanswered in any court. Possibly, they are worse than in any previous war. The country’s population has been displaced. Human rights groups report more than 100,000 persons are missing, detained, or killed. Tens of thousands languish in government custody. These tragedies are so severe that a United Nations commission called the actions of Assad’s government “extermination,” a crime against humanity.

What has kept Syria going? Russian vetoes in the United Nations debates are the only factor that has kept Assad from international condemnation.

The United States will continue to go through its own throes and political struggles you hear about every night on the media. For heaven’s sake, don’t let that noise in Washington drown out the cries of dying children and their mothers, of widows and the massacred.



Filed under Christians, middle east, Syria


Blog 345 April 10, 2017

            A number of years ago, I spent time in Syria and stayed in Damascus, wandering around the municipality and spending time in the ancient city. Walking down the street called Straight (Acts 9:11) proved enlightening. A number of years previous to this experience, I traveled to the Soviet Union (1985), visiting Moscow, Minsk, etc. Like Damascus, wandering down the streets and talking to the people brought insights I never would have expected. These two experiences continue to run through my mind as I listen to media reports about this week’s U.S. Tomahawk and Scud missile attacks in Syria. The past gave me perspective for today.

With the lowest approval rating of any American president in memory, Donald Trump appears to have dug himself out of a hole with the unannounced successful attack on the Syrian base from where Bashar Assad’s air force jets gassed their own people. Outside of Russia and Iran, the world applauded this attack on Assad who is unquestionably a war criminal.

During my time in Syria, I recognized the dictator’s grasp on the Syrian people. Everywhere I went from Taxi cabs to bathrooms, there were two pictures: Hafez Assad, the father smiling; Bashar Assad frowning. Their faces were unavoidable and no one would talk about the pictures or them. Bashar’s brother is a ruthless general leading many of the deadly attacks on civilians. Hafez, the father, rose to power through his military position as a general. I quickly learned that the citizens knew better than to speak ill of the Assad regime.

Could Bashar Assad kill women and children? He and his family history demonstrate they have and will – possibly again.

Russia was a different type of dictatorship that worked at being more of an enigma. From the time of the Czars, the Russian government functioned with deception. When the Soviet System collapsed, the art of deceit didn’t miss a lick. Out of the ashes of the Russian Revolution, the practice of illusion sprang back to life. Putin continues the swindle.

Apart from all of Putin’s huff and puff, Russia is not in a good place. Their economy is in trouble and the drop in oil prices has seriously impacted them. Yes, they have the big Bomb, but even Putin understands the risk of a nuclear threat.

Now, Russia is caught with its pants down in Syria. They either knew about the chemical weapons or were incompetent in handling the situation. Assad promised Obama he would get rid of chemical weapons—which he didn’t. Putin’s efforts to prop up Assad amounts to selling a Sunday School class on the idea of having Al Capone teach on kindness.

Russia will continue to scream and holler – but little more as they have no idea what Trump will do next. Syria is now back in a more defensive posture and Assad is in a kettle of hot water.

Stay tuned. More to come.

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Filed under middle east, Russia, Syria