Designated in 1979 as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, the Assad regime continued its political and military support to a variety of terrorist groups affecting the stability of the region as the Syrian conflict entered its sixth year. The regime continued to provide political and weapons support to Hizballah and continued to allow Iran to rearm the terrorist organization. The Assad regime's relationship with Hizballah and Iran grew stronger in 2016 as the regime became more reliant on external actors to militarily fight the Syrian opposition. These groups played a critical role in the regime's seizure of eastern Aleppo in December. President Bashar al-Assad remained a staunch defender of Iran's policies, while Iran exhibited equally energetic support for the Syrian regime. Statements supporting terrorist groups, particularly Hizballah, were often in Syrian government speeches and press statements.

Over the past decade, the Syrian government has played an important role in the growth of terrorist networks in Syria through the Asad regime's permissive attitude towards al-Qa'ida and other terrorist groups' foreign terrorist fighter facilitation efforts during the Iraq conflict. Syria served for years as a hub for foreign terrorist fighters, and the Syrian government's awareness and encouragement for many years of violent extremists' transit through Syria to enter Iraq for the purpose of fighting Coalition troops, is well documented. Those very networks were among the violent extremist elements which terrorized the Syrian and Iraqi populations in 2016. While there was a general decline in the flow of Sunni extremist linked foreign terrorist fighters traveling to Syria in 2016, ISIS and other terrorist groups continued to attract some new recruits to Syria. Additionally, foreign terrorist fighters aligned with Iran continued to travel to Syria to fight for or with the regime.

As part of a broader strategy during the year, the regime portrayed Syria itself as a victim of terrorism, characterizing all of the internal armed opposition as "terrorists." From Syria, ISIS plotted or inspired external terrorist operations. Additionally, the Syrian regime has purchased oil from ISIS through various middlemen, adding to the terrorist group's revenue.

Syria is not in compliance with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). The United States assesses that Syria has used chemical weapons repeatedly against the Syrian people every year since acceding to the Convention, and is therefore in violation of its obligations under Article I of the CWC. There have been numerous reports of chemical weapons use by the regime during the current conflict. In 2015 the UN Security Council established the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons -UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) to identify individuals, entities, groups or governments involved in the confirmed uses of chemical weapons in Syria. In 2016, the JIM issued two reports which concluded that the Syrian Arab Armed Forces used toxic chemicals as weapons, likely chlorine, three times in Syria in opposition held areas.


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