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.
16 February 2020
A decision by the Syrian government has come into effect obligating citizens wishing to buy real estate or cars to pay for them in total or in part through banks; a move seen by experts to be aimed at stimulating the bank sector and reducing tax evasion.
Decision number 5 issued by Prime Minister Imad Khamis stipulates that “public entities legally commissioned with holding various real estate and car ownership records will not certify sales contracts (…) unless they are accompanied by proof of payment (total or partial) through a bank account of the owner.”
This new law coincides with increased government legal procedures against all who carry out transactions not using the Syrian pound, which witnessed record lows in recent weeks. The exchange rate in the black market exceeded one thousand Syrian pounds for one dollar, whereas the official exchange is rate is four hundred and thirty-four to the dollar.
The decision obligates citizens to open bank accounts in a country where banknotes are prevalent in commercial transactions and bank exchanges are practically absent.
The central bank has also approved a proposal to raise the bar for residential mortgages by three folds i.e. from five million to fifteen million Syrian pounds, and two folds for house renovations i.e. from two million for four million Syrian pounds.
The United Nations estimated the cost of reconstruction in Syria to be around four hundred billion dollars in 2018.
Analysts attribute the recent rapid “collapse” of the pound to the economic crisis in neighboring Lebanon, where Syrian businessmen deposited millions of dollars in banks that have recently imposed severe restrictions on withdrawal transactions amid an acute liquidity crisis.
15 February 2020
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Saturday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s victory in Idlib governorate, the last opposition stronghold in Syria, is “inevitable”.
For months, the Syrian government has been engaged in a military operation, with Russian air support, in the governorate of Idlib, northwest of Syria, where Tahrir al-Sham (previously Nusra) holds control, alongside other opposition and jihadist factions.
Turkey established twelve observation posts in Idlib under a ceasefire and de-escalation agreement reached in 2018 between Ankara, which supports opposition factions, and Moscow.
Bloody battles between Turkish and Syrian forces have left fourteen Turkish soldiers dead in recent days and sparked an exchange of accusations between Moscow and Ankara.
“War of Words”
15 February 2020
Turkey responded on Saturday to Russian accusations of failing to abide by the 2018 agreement, insisting that it has carried out its responsibilities in Idlib, the last major stronghold for militant rebels in Syria.
“Observation posts were established and the (Syrian) government should have stayed outside this area. Russia and Iran should have guaranteed that it stayed outside. Turkey also had responsibilities which it has fulfilled,” Tukey’s Vice President Fuat Oktay told the NTV news station.
Turkey and Russia have engaged in a war of words regarding Idlib, as the Syrian government -with support from Moscow- has intensified its offensive in the northwest, which has killed hundreds of civilians.
The Russian defense ministry said earlier this month that Turkey does not distinguish between “moderate opposition rebels and terrorists.”
The death of fourteen Turkish soldiers in Idlib by Syrian government bombardment led to increased tensions.
Downing of Two Helicopters
14 February 2020
A helicopter for the Syrian army was downed on Friday northwest of Syria and its crew were killed, in the second instance of its kind this week, amid escalating tensions between Ankara and Damascus, which has continued its advance against jihadists and opposition factions.
Syrian government forces, with support from their Russian ally, have carried out an offensive in northwest Syria since December of 2019 against the last stronghold for jihadists and opposition factions, despite warnings by Ankara.
The National Front for Liberation adopted the downing of the helicopter on Friday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the deaths of the pilots and that their bodies were found.
Turkish authorities did not immediately comment, whereas the Anatolia news agency mentioned the incident without giving any details.
14 February 2020
Israeli airstrikes against “Iranian positions” in Damascus and its surrounding have left seven people dead including four from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, in a step that was considered as a chase after the “shadows” of the leader of the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard Qassem Soleimani, who was assassinated by Washington in early January.
Tel Aviv is “now more convinced that Russia is not capable of controlling Iran’s influence in Syria, so, it decided to intensify the bombardment despite Moscow’s reservations,” a Western official told Asharq al-Awsat newspaper.
13 February 2020
The Syrian parliament unanimously declared that the killings of Armenians between 1915 and 1917 by the Ottomans is a genocide, as the tensions between Damascus and Ankara intensify after confrontations in northwest Syria.
In a statement, the parliament announced that it “condemns and acknowledges the mass killings of Armenians by the Ottoman state in the early twentieth century.”
Current Syrian territories are considered one of the most prominent arenas for Armenian massacres. Historians say that Ottoman authorities forced them to walk vast distances through the desert and then put whoever survived in detention camps.
There was a memorial in Deir Azzor (east of Syria) for the genocide of Armenians, but ISIS militants destroyed it.
13 February 2020
The offensive by the Syrian government, with support from Russia, against the last major stronghold of opposition factions has led to the displacement of more than eight hundred thousand people since December, the United Nations said on Thursday.
“Of the more than eight hundred thousand displaced people in northwest Syria since 1 December 2019 and up to 12 February 2020, it is estimated that sixty percent are children,” said the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Idlib and parts of the adjacent Aleppo governorate are home to around three million people, half of whom have been already displaced from other parts of the country. In recent years, this region has turned into a sanctuary for people fleeing or those who were evacuated from other parts of Syria that were previously under the control of the opposition. With the offensive in Idlib, these people have nowhere to flee to.
The UNHCR office estimates that around eighty-two thousand people are sleeping in the open.
12 February 2020
Government forces are expanding their deployment along the Aleppo-Damascus international road in northwest Syria in order to guarantee its security after taking full control over it for the first time since 2012, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Wednesday.
Government forces launched a wide offensive in December with Russian support in Idlib and neighboring areas controlled by Tahrir al-Sham (previously Nusra) and other less influential opposition factions.
The offensive is focused on the southern countryside of Idlib and the adjacent western countryside of Aleppo, where the M5 international road passes, which connects Aleppo with the capital Damascus and passes through major cities such as Hama and Homs all the way to the southern border with Jordan.
After weeks of bombardment and battles, government forces have completely taken over the international road for the first time since 2012, the year in which opposition factions started to expand in Syria.
10 February 2020
Turkey said that it “neutralized” one hundred and one Syrian soldiers in retaliation to Syrian bombardment that killed five Turkish soldiers in northwest Syria.
This information has not been independently confirmed.
The ministry added that Ankara continued the bombardment of Syrian positions on Monday.
Five Turkish soldiers were killed and five others injured at a previous time when Syrian forces targeted Turkish positions in Idlib governorate northwest of Syria.
Eight other Turkish soldiers were killed in the previous week as a result of Syrian bombardment.