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State Dept. Tip Line for Syria Ceasefire Violation Tips Has One Big Problem

The State Department set up a hotline for people on the ground in Syria and activists in the know to report violations of the ceasefire that went into effect Saturday.

Expect they didn’t put people on the other end of the line who could understand the helpful tipsters.

The ceasefire brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart appears to have been violated from the get-go by Bashar al-Assad’s forces. Jihadi groups like the al-Nusra Front and ISIS are not party to the ceasefire agreement. Kerry said he would try to encourage Russia to conduct airstrikes on those groups instead of non-jihadi Assad opponents.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner acknowledged today that the violation tip line wasn’t exactly user-friendly.

“We did — in order to help monitor the cessation of hostilities in Syria — we did set up an information hotline that was staffed 24/7 where violations could be reported,” Toner told reporters at the daily briefing. “I think the number of different apps, also phone, e-mail, text, Whatsapp, telegram and Google Voice, and the information hotline was part of our broader Syria team and it was staffed by State Department personnel, some of whom spoke or speak Arabic.”

But, as it was noted to Toner, some reported trying to report violations and not being able to get through to an Arabic speaker.

“We have received reports of violations and obviously added them to — or fed them into the overall — the pipeline or the task force that is monitoring the ceasefire and reviewed every allegation. But as you note, there were some language issues among some of the volunteers,” Toner said.

“And granted, these are — these again are State Department employees who are doing this in addition to their usual jobs. But we are aware that there were some language issues as you note, and we’re working to correct those, obviously, because it’s important that we have Arabic speakers that were able to field incoming calls.”

Toner said that “given the time limits on setting this up, probably some of the language skills weren’t properly vetted.”

“We’re working to address that,” he said.

Toner said the fired technically hasn’t ceased, but has been reduced to “an overall reduction in airstrikes on the Syrian opposition and civilians from where we were before the cessation of hostilities began.”

“We are concerned about reports of Syrian regime tank and artillery attacks against civilians near Latakia, near Homs and Hama as well as around Damascus,” he said, noting that “the first kind of line of monitoring compliance is among the parties themselves, but obviously, they need to be able to report where they see violations taking place.”