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 email@example.com.
In the Eighth Year!
15 March 2019
During theeighth yearof the Syrian tragedy, the Syrian government was able to retake control of eastern Ghouta in April before a snap recapture of al-Rastan and Talbieseh pocket, and then in June, it took control of Daraa, the opposition stronghold, in the south. In September, Russia and Turkey made a deal on Idlib and the opposition-held northwest of Syria, which calmed frontlines but Tahrir al-Sham seized control of much of the area and violence continued. The Syrian Democratic Forces, backed by the international coalition, took control of the last area under ISIS control in eastern Syria. The United States decided to leave some troops in Syria after it had previously declared their withdrawal.
Brussels III for Announcements
14 March 2019
The United Nations won almost seven billion dollars in aid pledges for Syria on Thursday, in light of the continued Syrian crisis and divisions concerning how to deal with the Syrian government. The emergency aid pledges came at a conference at which Western donors have had to wrestle with the question of whether to begin providing reconstruction assistance.
The United Nations is seeking $3.3 billion for aid to people inside Syria and $5.5 billion for refugees in the region this year. It drew more in pledges than last year when it asked for a similar amount but received less than two-thirds of its request.
The European Union, the world’s biggest aid donor, pledged 2 billion euros ($2.26 billion) for this year, a sum which includes money already agreed for Syrian refugees in Turkey under a deal with Ankara to take in Syrians.
Mark Lowcock, the UN under secretary general for humanitarian affairs, said that emergency aid would not solve the Syria crisis. “It requires a political solution,” he said. That underscored Europe’s dilemma in its efforts to isolate the Syrian government. The EU has repeatedly made longer-term reconstruction support conditional on a UN-led peace process to end a war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people. Germany, France, Britain, and the Netherlands are forthright in defending a policy of withholding reconstruction money until a transition begins that would lead to Assad leaving power. However, if that were not to happen, European diplomats say they would see it as Russia’s responsibility to seek a solution, given its outsized military role and support for Assad. “The road to stability runs through Moscow,” a European diplomat said.
The United States “Sells Out” the Golan!
11, 13 March 2019
The US State Department changed its usual description of the Golan Heights from “Israeli-occupied” to “Israeli-controlled” in an annual global human rights report released on Wednesday. The move came amid intensified efforts by Israel to win US recognition of its claim to sovereignty over the strategic plateau it captured from Syria in the 1967 war and effectively annexed in 1981, a step not recognized internationally. There was no immediate comment from Israeli leaders on the US terminology change, which stopped short of a formal declaration accepting the territorial claim.
The Golan–like the West Bank and Gaza Strip, territories also taken by Israel in the June 1967 conflict–is regarded internationally as occupied under a UN Security Council resolution passed later that year.
On Monday, Republican US Senator Lindsey Graham toured the Golan with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and pledged to lobby the Trump administration to recognize the area as belonging to Israel.
Breaking with a decades-long policy, and drawing Palestinian accusations of pro-Israel bias, President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017. He moved the US Embassy to the contested holy city from Tel Aviv last year.
A Crossing Between the Euphrates Shield and the Government
17 March 2019
The “National Army” openedAbu al-Zandain crossing between government-held areas and the Euphrates Shield areas in the northeastern countryside of Aleppo. The spokesman for the “National Army” Major Yusuf Hammoud said on Sunday that the “National Army” took the decision to open the crossing after consulting with its brigades. The crossing will stop the increased profits gained by Kurdish forces because vehicles leaving the area towards the Syrian government areas had to pass through Manbej, and therefore, were subject to increased taxes. The proceeds of the crossing will go for all formations of the “National Army,” and will not be restricted to one brigade, which will provide support for the region. The crossing lies west of al-Bab city near al-Shamawieh village, which is controlled by the Syrian government.
11 – 17 March 2019
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said on Sunday over sixty thousand people, mostly civilians, had flooded out of the Islamic State militant group’s last enclave in eastern Syria since a final assault to capture it began over two months ago. Among them were five thousand militants, the SDF said.
SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said hundreds of militants and their families had surrendered overnight in the spot where hardline insurgents have been mounting a desperate last-stand defense. “We had expected the surrender of a large number of terrorists and their families but only a small group came out,” Bali said.
Artillery shelling and airstrikes resumed on Sunday afternoon after a lull in fighting. The SDF said one thousand and three hundred and six “terrorists” had been killed alongside many who were injured in the military campaign that began on 9 January, while eighty SDF fighters had been killed and sixty-one injured. The SDF said another five hundred and twenty militants had been captured in special operations in the last Islamic State bastion.
Former residents say hundreds of civilians have been killed in months of heavy aerial bombing by the US-led coalition that has razed many of the villages in the area along the Iraqi border. The coalition says it takes great care to avoid killing civilians and investigates reports that it has done so.
Delayed Turkish Attack
13 March 2019
The United States is not discussing a Turkish offensive in northeast Syria with Turkey and believes no such operation is needed to address Ankara’s security concerns, a US official toldReuters on Wednesday, dismissing media reports to the contrary. A Turkish defense official was cited by Turkish state media on Tuesday as saying Ankara was discussing with the United States and Russia a potential offensive in a region of northeast Syria controlled by Kurdish-led fighters.
French Children of ISIS!
15 March 2019
France saidon Friday it had brought back five young children from camps in northern Syria, but repeated its position that adult citizens who had joined ISIS abroad should stay where they were and face justice. The children were either orphans or unaccompanied in the camps, the foreign ministry said in a statement. Western nations have been wrestling with how to handle suspected militants and their families seeking to return from combat zones in Iraq and Syria, as well as those in detention, as ISIS teeters on the verge of defeat.
French government policy had been to refuse taking back fighters and their wives. But officials say US President Donald Trump’s announcement that he was pulling troops out of Syria is forcing a rethink.