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.
Russian Style Truce
18 January 2020
Five civilians were killed, including four from one family, in a Russian airstrike that targeted a village in northwest Syria within the context of a military escalation in the area that has been going on for days, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
An AFP reporter on Sunday saw the bodies of the family wrapped in winter covers and placed on the floor in a hospital in the western countryside of Aleppo, waiting for family members to recognize them so they can be buried. Paramedics in the White Helmets (the civil defense in areas controlled by militant factions) transported the bodies the previous night.
Idlib has witnessed an escalation of bombardment since Wednesday despite the ceasefire declared by Russia – which supports Damascus whereas Turkey supports the factions.
Four Russian Soldiers
17 January 2020
Four Russian soldiers were killed on Friday in an offensive by Syrian opposition factions against a military position from which Russia manages operations in the eastern countryside of Idlib, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said on Friday.
The SOHR said that this comes on the third consecutive day of a new escalation of military operations by the Syrian government and the Russian “guarantor.” It said that more than one thousand and seven hundred and ninety-six aerial and ground strikes have been carried out in the last seventy-two hours mainly against the eastern, southern, and southeastern countryside of Idlib and the western and southern countryside of Aleppo.
Failure of the Truce
16 January 2020
United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet called on Friday for an immediate cessation of hostilities in Syria’s opposition-held Idlib province, saying the latest ceasefire attempt had yet again failed to protect civilians.
Turkey, which for years has backed Syrian opposition, agreed a truce with Russia that was supposed to have taken hold in the bastion of three million people in the northwest earlier this month.
Around three hundred and fifty thousand Syrians, mostly women and children, have fled Idlib since early December, and sought shelter in border areas near Turkey, the United Nations said on Thursday.
Three Turkish Soldiers
16 January 2020
Three Turkish soldiers were killed on Thursday by a car bomb in an area in north Syria controlled by Turkish forces, said the ministry of defense in Ankara.
“Three brothers-in-arms were martyred in a car-bomb attack during a road check,” the ministry said in a brief statement.
Turkish forces are deployed in several areas in north and northeast Syria, where Ankara has launched three military operations between 2016 and 2019 that targeted the Islamic State and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) – which Turkey characterizes as “terrorists”.
16 January 2020
UN investigators on Sunday called for thousands of children of Islamic State militants to be repatriated from Syria to their families’ countries.
The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria said in a report that the children were in a “particularly precarious” situation since they often lacked official papers.
“This, in turn, jeopardizes their rights to a nationality, hinders family reunification processes, and puts them at a higher risk of exploitation and abuse,” the report said.
The UN says around twenty-eight thousand children of foreign fighters are living in Syrian camps – twenty thousand of them from Iraq.
Thousands more are believed to be held in prisons, where teenage children are being detained alongside adults.
After the collapse of the self-proclaimed caliphate of the Islamic State last year, foreign fighters from nearly fifty countries were detained in Syria and Iraq.
Many of their relatives are held in the overcrowded al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria, home to around sixty-eight thousand people and where more than five hundred people – mostly children – died in 2019.
It is estimated that around seven hundred to seven hundred and fifty children with European links are being held in camps in northeast Syria, with three hundred of them said to be French.
Some countries have started to repatriate the children – with or without their parents – on humanitarian grounds.
But the UN investigators criticized the practice of revoking citizenship of suspected Islamic State fighters used by countries including Britain, Denmark and France.
The Cave and the Doctor
15 January 2020
A young doctor, who managed an underground hospital in eastern Ghouta during the Syrian civil war was awarded a European award for extraordinary humanitarian acts.
Amani Ballour, a pediatrician was named this year’s recipient of the Council of Europe’s Raoul Wallenberg prize, awarded in honor of a Swedish diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Jews from Nazi persecution in Hungary during World War II.
Ballour was described in the council announcement on Wednesday as a young doctor who finished university in 2012 one year after the start of the Syrian conflict and began as a volunteer helping the wounded in a makeshift clinic.
The clinic was located in the eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of Damascus, which was under the control of rebels and besieged and bombarded by government forces.
Within a few years Ballour was heading a hospital known as the Cave with some one hundred staff, operating in underground shelters.
Ballour is the subject of a National Geographic documentary, also called “The Cave.”
According to National Geographic, Ballour left the hospital and eastern Ghouta in March 2018 as government forces launched a final assault on the enclave.
Ballour will be presented with the award on Friday. The day also marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of Wallenberg’s arrest in Budapest by Soviet forces after the city was liberated. He was never again seen alive in public.
15 January 2020
Dozens of residents in Sweidaa governorate, south of Syria, held their first ever protest against the deteriorating economic situation in the country.
The Syrian official news agency SANA said on Wednesday a few people gathered in a square in the center of Sweidaa and started chanting “we want to live… we want to live.”
The Syrian pound suffered a new loss today as the exchange rate for of 1 US dollar exceeded 1,070 Syrian pounds in the capital Damascus and Aleppo and 1,080 in Idlib.
Syrian markets in general have witnessed major recession in all regions under the control of the Syrian government, the opposition, and the Syrian Democratic Forces.
Most Syrians have lost their savings especially as the Syrian pound reached its lowest rate, which became twenty times less in value since the beginning of the crisis entering its tenth year. The exchange rate for 1 US dollar was 50 Syrian pounds in early 2011.
A Strike in Depth
14 January 2020
Strikes that targeted the military T4 airport – which Damascus accused Israel of carrying out – killed at least three militants affiliated to Iran, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) on Wednesday.
A Syrian military source accused Israeli planes of carrying out an “aerial aggression” against the airport located in Homs governorate, according to a statement reported by the official news agency SANA. Syrian air defenses “confronted… the enemy missiles and brought down a number of them,” the source said.
The T4 military airport is in the eastern countryside of Homs in middle Syria, which is considered an area of Iranian influence. Syrian government forces as well as Iranian forces are stationed in the airport, whereas the Russian presence there is limited to a number of consultants.
Israel did not claim responsibility for the bombardment, as the spokeswoman for the Israeli army refused to comment on a question by the AFP.
These strikes coincided with a strike by unidentified planes against positions for government forces and allied groups in east of the country, according to the SOHR.
Rescue of one hundred Syrian
14 January 2020
Cyprus police said on Tuesday that they saved one hundred and one Syrian immigrants spotted in the Mediterranean, southeast of the Island which suffers from an influx of immigrants.
A marine patrol found a thirty-three-meter-long boat carrying immigrants eighteen nautical miles off of Protaras, a famous beach resort in southeast Cyprus.
The police added that the Syrian immigrants, eighty-eight men, six women, and seven children, were transferred to a reception center near the capital Nicosia.
The boat started its journey in Mersin, Turkey, noting that this sea route has become common for smugglers, the police said.
Syrians constituted more than three percent of asylum seekers in Cyprus in the second quarter of 2019. Cyprus has repeatedly alerted the European Union because of the influx of refugees.
In August, Cyprus called on other countries in the European Union to receive five thousand of the immigrants who arrived at the island, to alleviate “the disproportionate pressures and serious challenges” facing this county of less than one million people.
Figures by the European Statistics Office indicate that Cyprus is the European country with the highest rate of refugee reception compared to its population.
Syrian – Turkish Meeting
13 January 2020
The Syrian side in a trilateral meeting (Syria, Russia, and Turkey) in Moscow on Monday called on the Turkish side to completely comply with the sovereignty of the Syrian Arab Republic and immediately and completely withdraw from all Syrian territory.
The Syrian side, represented by the head of the National Security Bureau Major General Ali Mamlouk, called on the Turkish side, represented by the head of the Intelligence Service Hakan Fidan, to comply with its commitments under the Sochi agreement on Idlib in 17 September 2018, especially in regards to clearing the area of terrorist and heavy weaponry and opening the Aleppo-Lattakia and the Aleppo-Hama roads, according to the official Syrian news agency SANA.