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Welcome to the archives of Syria Deeply. While we paused regular publication of the site on May 15, 2018, and transitioned some of our coverage to Peacebuilding Deeply, we are happy to serve as an ongoing public resource on the Syrian conflict. We hope you’ll enjoy the reporting and analysis that was produced by our dedicated community of editors contributors.

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Social Media Buzz: Mourning Assad’s Foreign Fighters

Millions of Syrians are using social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Skype to disseminate and discuss the conflict. Each week Syria Deeply monitors the online conversation in English and Arabic, pulling out the highlights in a feature called the Social Media Buzz.

Written by Mohammed Sergie Published on Read time Approx. 2 minutes

For many months in 2011, Facebook was almost exclusively used to disseminate the views (and news) of anti-regime activists. A large number of Syrians didn’t so much as dare to “like” pictures of comments, for fear their virtual disobedience would be picked up by the country’s notorious intelligence agencies, the Mukhabarat.

Some pro-Assad pages popped up, but they usually stuck to state-sanctioned news and anti-imperialist propaganda. Commentators on these pages who appeared to be genuine supporters of the Assad regime would occasionally complain about seemingly apocryphal posts. Even now, it seems that those administering sites such as the Bashar Al Assad fan page, which has over 400,000 subscribers, don’t stray too far from Damascus’ official line.

Other pages have been gaining prominence in recent months, which are more vehemently pro-Assad. They report on clashes that never make the official evening news, and publicize the names of the Syrian (right) and foreign fighters who died defending the Assad regime.  Akramah News Network, which focuses on news from the Alawite neighborhood of the same name in Homs, carries its fair share of pro-regime rhetoric, but also includes rare photographs of life in regime-controlled Homs and criticism about the lack of basic services in those areas.

Just as death notifications in chat forums and Facebook pages helped researchers confirm the presence of Libyan, Tunisian and other foreign Sunni jihadis fighting with rebels and Jabhat al-Nusra (the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria), pro-Assad and Hezbollah sites have provided evidence of the presence of Shiite sectarian fighters, whose death notices, broadcast through social media, have given their fans a voice.

The Defense of Sayyida Zainab Shrine page hasn’t been shy in publishing names and biographical data about the Lebanese fighters affiliated with Hezbollah, a U.S.-designated terrorist group, who died fighting Syrian rebels (left). It’s believed that Zainab, the granddaughter of Ali – the Prophet Muhammad’s nephew and, in the view of Shiites, his rightful heir – is buried at a shrine in Damascus (although another tomb is located in Cairo.) Despite the competing shrines, protecting the Damascus tomb has become a powerful rallying cry for Shiites from Pakistan to Lebanon.

For observers of the Syrian conflict, both Sunni and Shiite jihadi pages, however distasteful the sectarian rhetoric and hate speech, provide rare access into conversations that were rarely examined before the era of social media.

And there’s a new blog to follow this week. It’s by Hassan Hassan, a columnist for the Abu Dhabi’s The National, who’s been closely following the Syrian conflict. He is one of the first writers to explain the complex tribal and political subtext of his native Deir Azzour province. Hassan previously focused on Twitter and his personal Facebook page to post breaking news and translations of important documents and comments, and is now pouring that effort into the latest must-read blog.

Finally, a video that went viral depicts the incredible risks that residents of Aleppo are taking to cross between the regime and rebel-controlled sides of the city. As fighting rages along many front lines, the crossing in Bustan al- Qasr is now the safer route. The video below depicts what “safe” now means in Aleppo.

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