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It was cold and dark in the psychiatrist's office in downtown Damascus. The electricity had just gone out, a regular occurrence these days in the Syrian capital, and he wore a jacket and scarf for warmth.
Patients used the light from their mobile phones to climb a narrow staircase up five floors. The doctor, who asked that his name not be used, says his clients used to drive from all over the country. But Syria's civil war means many can no longer reach the capital across frontlines.
When pro-democracy protests started three years ago, Syrians had access to government-subsidized health care. But in the armed revolt that followed a government crackdown on the protesters, many hospitals have been destroyed, and psychiatric facilities have become almost non-existent.
Family networks have also collapsed under the pressure of war. Like other Arab countries,Syria had a long tradition of community involvement in the individual's wellbeing. But since the war began, communities have been uprooted and entire villages and towns have been destroyed, leaving society's most vulnerable people without a safety net.
The demand for psychiatric care has never been greater. Psychiatrists find themselves overwhelmed by cases of war-related trauma.
Today in Damascus, it is not unusual to see flyers with photos of patients who have disappeared after being displaced.
Even the more fortunate patients who live at home in relatively safe central Damascus, with access to the few remaining psychiatrists, find the stress of war can precipitate a crisis.
In the case of Sawsan, a 40-year-old woman living with schizophrenia, the sounds of war trigger her agitation and paranoia.
"On bad nights, when we can hear a lot of shelling and gunfire, she gets stressed," her mother said. "(Sometimes) she locks herself in her room for days, barely coming out to eat. It's been very difficult for us."
Today, a shipment of the Syrian Arab Republic's stockpile of sulphur mustard, commonly known as "mustard gas," has left its territory. I welcome this shipment as an important step in the elimination of the Syrian Arab Republic's chemical weapons programme, said Special Coordinator Sigrid Kaag.The Joint Mission looks forward to the Syrian Arab Republic continuing its efforts to complete the removal of the remaining chemical materials in a safe, secure and timely manner, through systematic, predictable and high0volume movements.The Joint Mission encourages the Syrian Arab Republic to maintain momentum in implementing UN Security Council Resolution 2118 (2013) , and the relevant Decisions of the OPCW Executive Council.
“I welcome the unanimous adoption by the UN Security Council of resolution 2139. This is a vital step towards ensuring that humanitarian aid reaches millions of Syrians in desperate need of help, including those who have been denied their basic human right to food and medical aid.
“The adoption of this resolution, on the initiative of the UK and our close partners, sends a clear message that the Assad regime cannot be allowed to starve hundreds of thousands of its own people into submission.
“Our priority now is the full and immediate implementation of the resolution.
“I call on the Assad regime to cease the indiscriminate use of aerial bombardment across Syria, including the barbaric use of barrel bombs, and immediately adhere to the obligations set by the Security Council and allow free and unfettered access for all humanitarian agencies.
“We will not hesitate to return to the Security Council if the Assad regime fails to meet the demands in this resolution.
“In parallel, the UK will remain at the forefront of the international humanitarian effort. We will intensify our support, with our allies, for the Geneva II process, to bring about a political settlement of the conflict in Syria. The international community should show the same sense of unity we have seen at the Security Council today, to support the Geneva II negotiations.”
As Syria's war nears the start of its fourth year, Iranhas stepped up support on the ground for President Bashar al-Assad, providing elite teams to gather intelligence and train troops, sources with knowledge of military movements say.
This further backing from Tehran, along with deliveries of munitions and equipment from Moscow, is helping to keep Assad in power at a time when neither his own forces nor opposition fighters have a decisive edge on the battlefield.
Assad's forces have failed to capitalize fully on advances they made last summer with the help of Iran, his major backer in the region, and the Hezbollah fighters that Tehran backs and which have provided important battlefield support for Assad.
But the Syrian leader has drawn comfort from the withdrawal of the threat of U.S. bombing raids following a deal under which he has agreed to give up his chemical weapons.
Shi'te Iran has already spent billions of dollars propping up Assad in what has turned into a sectarian proxy war with Sunni Arab states. And while the presence of Iranian military personnel in Syria is not new, military experts believe Tehran has in recent months sent in more specialists to enable Assad to outlast his enemies at home and abroad.
Analysts believe this renewed support means Assad felt no need to make concessions at currently deadlocked peace talks in Geneva.
U.N.-Arab League mediator Lakhdar Brahimi ended direct talks between the Syrian government and opposition Saturday without finding a way of breaking the impasse in peace talks.
Saturday's talks, which lasted less than half an hour, left the future of the negotiating process in doubt and no date was set for a third session.
Afterward, Brahimi told a news conference that he had proposed an agenda for another round of talks that would focus first on ending the violence and terrorism, then on how to create a transitional governing body.
"Unfortunately, the government has refused," he told reporters, saying he would now seek consultations with the United States and Russia, the main sponsors of the peace conference, and the United Nations to see how to proceed.
"I think it is better that every side goes back and reflects on their responsibility (and if) they want this process to continue or not," Brahimi said. "It's not good for the process, it's not good for Syria, that we come back for another round and fall back into the same traps that we have been struggling with."
But he also made clear that he did not want to lose another week or more before negotiations could resume.