The following is a selection by our editors of significant weekly developments in Syria. Depending on events, each issue will include anywhere from four to eight briefs. This series is produced in both Arabic and English in partnership between Salon Syria and Jadaliyya. Suggestions and blurbs may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
8 July 2019
Despite the explicit rejection of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) – member of the ruling coalition in Germany – to the United States’ demand to send German ground troops to Syria, there is preliminary openness to Germany’s role in the Syrian mission on other levels.
Fritz Felgentreu, a defense affairs expert in the party’s parliamentary bloc, told the German newspaper Rainersche Post on Monday that continuing to support the elimination of ISIS is in Germany’s interest, “however, we certainly cannot send soldiers to Syria for legal reasons.”
The United States asked Germany to support the war against ISIS remnants by sending ground troops to help the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in north-east Syria.
The US Special Envoy to Syria James Jeffrey and the International Coalition Against ISIS want the German government to send training troops, logistic experts, and technicians from the German army.
Iraq Wants a Settlement
8 July 2019
Iraqi President Barham Salih called on Sunday for a political settlement to the Syrian crisis to end the suffering of the Syrian people.
During a meeting with US Special Envoy to Syria James Jeffrey and US Ambassador to Iraq Matthew Tueller, the Iraqi president stressed “the importance of finding a political settlement for the situation in Syria and ending the suffering of our Syrian brothers and helping them confront terrorism, while emphasizing that our priority is protecting Iraq’s security, stability, and sovereignty.”
Jeffrey reiterated “the United States’ keenness to strengthen its relations with Iraq in all areas and its desire to expand joint cooperation and coordination on emerging issues at the regional and international levels.”
Airstrikes Against Idlib
7 July 2019
At least twelve civilians, including three children, were killed on Sunday as a result of government strikes on areas in northwest Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
Idlib and neighboring areas, which are controlled by Tahrir al-Sham (previously Nusra) and home to three million people, have been subject to an escalation of bombardment for more than two months accompanied by fierce battles concentrated in the northwestern countryside of Hama.
The SOHR registered the death of six civilians as a result of shells fired by government forces while they were working in farms in the village of Qastoon in the northwestern countryside of Hama.
It also reported the death of a child as a result of airstrikes on the village of al-Ziyadiyeh in the countryside of Hama.
Four other civilians, including a man and his child, were killed in an airstrike on the countryside of Ma’eret al-No’man in the southern countryside of Idlib.
A child was killed in a missile attack on a farm in the village of Jadariya in the western countryside of Idlib.
This toll comes after the SOHR said that twenty civilians had been killed, including six children, as a result of Syrian-Russian shelling of the area since late Friday.
Since the beginning of the escalation in late April, at least five hundred and forty civilians have been killed as a result of Syrian and Russian airstrikes and bombardment, in addition to eight hundred and fifty-nine people from jihadist factions and seven hundred and forty-eight people from government forces and allied militants, according to the SOHR.
The bombardment and shelling have damaged at least twenty-five medical facilities and forty-five schools in the southern countryside of Idlib and northern countryside of Hama, according to the United Nations.
Oil Tanker Seized
7 July 2019
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghachi said on Sunday that the Iranian oil tanker intercepted by British authorities in Gibraltar was not destined to Syria, contrary to what authorities in London confirm.
In a press conference in Tehran, Araghachi said that the Grace 1 tanker was carrying “Iranian oil” and that “contrary to what the British government alleges, the tanker was not heading toward Syria… it was going somewhere else,” without saying where the vessel was going.
“The name of the Syrian port mentioned by the British (Banias) does not have a dock capable of receiving such a large tanker.”
Araghachi said that the vessel “is a super tanker able to haul two million barrels… and therefore it cannot pass through the Suez Canal,” to go to the Mediterranean.
British forces had earlier arrested the Iranian vessel near Gibraltar, south of Spain, in an operation considered by Tehran as an act of piracy.
According to authorities in Gibraltar, the ship was seized in British waters in an area claimed by Spain as part of its kingdom.
Iran called for the “immediate” release of the ship, however, British courts ruled that it can be seized until 19 July.
A Gulf Guest to Assad
7 July 2019
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad received on Sunday Oman’s Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah.
Developments on the regional and international fronts were discussed during the meeting, especially attempts to obliterate Arab historical rights in light of the current crises and difficult circumstances in the area, Syrian news agency SANA said.
Al-Assad and bin Alawi also discussed the political and economic challenges imposed on the whole area and how to confront them in various arenas.
Return to al-Qsair
7 July 2019
A local Syrian official said on Sunday that around one thousand people from the city of al-Qsair in the western countryside of Homs have returned to their city after being displaced for more than seven years.
“Nine hundred and sixty-nine people from four hundred and forty-two families returned to their homes in al-Qsair. These families lived in Hissyeh, al-Braij, and al-Qalamon after their displacement, which has lasted more than seven years,” Tony Kasuhah, a member of the city council in al-Qsair, told a German news agency.
Kasuhah said that another patch of the city’s inhabitants would be returning in the upcoming days after rehabilitating basic services in the city.
A source in the Syrian opposition said that the return of the city’s inhabitants was “ceremonial and a media stunt on part of the Syrian government,” adding that “most of those who returned are employees in the Syrian government and were forced to return to send a message to the world that the government is working on bringing displaced people back to their areas.”
Al-Qsair, located near the border with Lebanon, is considered one of the major cities in the governorate of Homs. It has a population of around fifty thousand people and more than eighty villages are associated with it.
“Pressuring” Syrians in Lebanon
5 July 2019
Human Rights Watch on Friday condemned the Lebanese authorities’ order to tear down cement rooms built by Syrian refugees in unofficial camps, considering it “illegitimate pressure” on them to return to their county.
The Lebanese army started on Monday to demolish cement rooms in the camps in eastern Lebanon, after the authorities gave refugees living in the border town of Arsal a deadline to demolish the room that are considered “illegitimate” by the authorities and raise the fears of officials that these camps may turn into permanent settlements.
“This crackdown on housing code violations should be seen for what it is, which is illegitimate pressure on Syrian refugees to leave Lebanon,” Human Rights Watch refugee rights director Bill Frelick said.
“Many of those affected have real reasons to fear returning to Syria, including arrests, torture, and ill-treatment by Syrian intelligence branches,” he said
The demolition order affects around thirty-five thousand Syrian refugees living in various areas in Lebanon, according to the UN High Commission for Refugees. Between twelve thousand and five hundred to fifteen thousand of them live in Arsal, including at least seven thousand and five hundred children, according to human rights groups, which said earlier that less than half of the rooms that should have been demolished in Arsal were actually brought down by the refugees themselves.
Lebanese authorities estimate the number of current Syrian refugees in Lebanon at around one and a half million, whereas data from the UN refugee agency puts the number at less than one million.
Explosion in Sweida
3 July 2019
Five civilians were killed on Wednesday in a suicide explosion in the predominantly Druz city of Sweida south of Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
“The suicide explosion used a motorcycle and targeted a street in the Qanawat area northeast of Sweida city… this resulted in the death of five civilians and the injury of thirteen others,” head of the SOHR Rami Abdul Rahman told the AFP.
The official Syrian news agency SANA said that “a number of martyrs” fell in the explosion and posted photos showing a burned motorcycle and blood stains on the ground.
This is the first suicide attack in the governorate after the large-scale attack about one year ago on 25 July, which was claimed by ISIS and left more than two hundred and sixty people dead.
At the time, ISIS kidnapped thirty Druz women and children, most of whom were freed after three and a half months of their kidnap. ISIS executed a number of the abductees as well.
200 Corpses in a Cemetery in Raqqa
2 July 2019
A specialized local team in northern Syria found at least two hundred corpses, some of them believed to belong to victims of ISIS, inside a new mass grave in Raqqa city, a local official told the AFP on Wednesday.
Yaser al-Khamis, head of the first response team in Raqqa, said, “the grave includes dozens of holes, each one has five corpses.” He also mentioned finding the corpses of five people wearing orange uniforms, which is what the radical group forced its hostages to wear. The SOHR confirmed the same number of corpses inside this graveyard.
2 July 2019
Syria on Tuesday accused Israel of committing “state terrorism” after Israeli airstrikes which targeted several military positions and killed fifteen people including six civilians, according to the SOHR.
“Israeli authorities are increasingly practicing state terrorism,” the Syrian foreign ministry said in a statement carried by the official SANA news agency.
“The latest heinous Israeli aggression falls within the framework of ongoing Israeli attempts to prolong the crisis in Syria,” it added.
Israeli missiles targeted late Sunday military positions near Damascus and in the governorate of Homs. Damascus said its air defenses downed a number of these missiles, without specifying the targeted positions. The SOHR, however, said the missiles hit several military positions where Iranian and Hezbollah fighters are deployed, including a center for scientific research and a military airport.