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 info@salonsyria.com.

Constitution from Syria

23 September 2019

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moualem received the UN Special Envoy to Syria Geir Pedersen to discuss the issue of the Syria Constitutional Committee.

The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday that Syrian parties reached an “agreement” on the formation of a committee to draft a new constitution for the country, a step considered by the UN as a key gateway to the political process aimed at resolving the eight-year-long conflict.

This is Pedersen’s third visit to Syria since he started his mission at the beginning of the year.

Bombarding the PMF

22 September 2019

The operation commander of the People’s Mobilization Forces (PMF) in al-Anbar governorate Qasem Mosleh said on Sunday that the PMF is ready for any contingency that may occur on the Iraqi-Syrian border in coordination with Iraqi army forces and border guards.

During a security meeting near Qaem and with the presence of brigade commanders in Qati’ in western Anbar to discuss the security and logistic situation in Qaem and the Iraqi-Syrian border, Mosleh said, “the goals of the meeting fall under the framework of studying the security and intelligence preparation in Qati’ in western Anbar and refusing US interventions in internal Iraqi affairs, especially the Iraqi-Syrian border.”

“It has become clear for everybody that building new US bases in the area or any new US presence in that area would lead to instability in the region,” he added.

Bombardment and Truce

21 September 2019

Syrian government forces on Sunday launched tens of missiles towards areas in the southeastern countryside of Idlib, which is controlled by the Syrian opposition.

“Syrian government forces and allied armed groups present in the town of al-Hbait in the southern countryside of Idlib have bombarded the town of Maaret Hirmeh with dozens of shells, causing wide destruction in the property of civilians who displaced towards the northern countryside of Idlib,” said a military commander in the National Front for Liberation – affiliated with the Free Syrian Army.

The commander, who asked to be anonymous, told a German news agency that government forces deployed in al-Qassabieh camp shelled the villages of Um al-Sair and Hassaneh in the southern countryside of Idlib with more than forty rocket shells. Government forces also used surface-to-surface missiles to target the vicinity of the brick factory in the southern countryside of Idlib.

“The onset of military operations by Syrian government forces in Idlib governorate and the bombardment that took place is in fact targeting Nusra Front militants,” a source close to Syrian government forces, who refused to give his name, told the German news agency.

Syrian government forces took control of the northern countryside of Hama in addition to Khan Sheikhoun in mid-August. They declared a truce in Idlib countryside in late September, opening humanitarian corridors between areas they control and areas controlled by the militants.

Turkish Incursion?

20 September 2019

Turkey is ready to act on its southern border with Syria, President Tayyip Erdogan said, after warning that it could take unilateral steps if the US does not establish a “safe zone” in northeast Syria this month.

“Our preparations along our borders are complete,” Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul on Saturday before departing to attend a UN General Assembly meeting.

Turkey and the US have started joint land and air patrols along part of the border strip, but Ankara says Washington is moving too slowly to establish a sufficiently large safe zone to push Syrian Kurdish forces from the border.

Drone near Damascus

20 September 2019

Damascus said on Saturday that it downed a drone south of the country without saying where it came from, according to the Syrian official news agency SANA, in the second incident of its kind in two days.

“The competent authorities in Qunaitera governorate, and after monitoring and follow-up operations, were able to control a drone coming from the west and heading east over the town of Erneh in al-Sheikh mountain… and they downed it,” SANA quoted a field source as saying.

The source said that after dismantling the drone, “it turned out to be loaded with cluster bombs and had a highly explosive C4 booby-trap.”

The source did not directly accuse Israel or any other party. However, SANA mentioned that Syrian air defense systems engaged “Israeli and US aggressions that used planes and missiles” in recent years.

Demonstration Against Iran

20 September 2019

A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) was killed on Friday by Syrian government and Iranian gunshots and dozens of demonstrators calling for the ousting of Iranians from al-Salhieh town in the northern countryside of Deir al-Zor were also injured.

“A member of al-Asayesh – the local police force affiliated with SDF – was killed by gunshots from Syrian government and Iranian forces who fired at demonstrators that approached the checkpoint in al-Salhieh,” a source in the civil council of Deir al-Zor told a Germany news agency.

“Members of al-Asayesh, who are from the Arab component in the area, advanced to protect the demonstrators who were being shot by government and Iranian forces, after their withdrawal from al-Salhieh checkpoint and deployment at the outskirts of the town,” the source said.

Demonstrators also set out from the towns of al-Hosainah and al-Ma’mel, north of Deir al-Zor city, and headed towards al-Salhieh, which is controlled by government forces. The demonstrators demanded their restoration to their homes and the ousting of Iranian elements.

The source said that the area has been witnessing severe tensions and that al-Asayesh and SDF have called for military reinforcements. The demonstrators might storm the town with support from SDF elements, the source added.

Children Born During War

20 September 2019

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Friday that more than twenty-nine million children were born in areas of conflict during 2018.

The UN organization went on to say that at least one in five infants in the world started out their lives in a severely dangerous and tense atmosphere, including countries like Afghanistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

“Millions of families lack access to nutritious food, safe water, sanitation, or a secure and healthy environment to grow and bond. Along with the immediate, obvious dangers, the long-term impacts of such a start in life are potentially catastrophic,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.

Prolonged or repeated adverse and traumatic events could affect children’s learning, behavior, and physical and mental health.

Veto 13

19 September 2019

Russia and China used their veto power on Thursday to block a resolution in the UN Security Council drafted by Germany, Kuwait, and Belgium and approved by twelve countries that calls for imposing “an immediate ceasefire” in the governorate of Idlib, northwest of Syria, reflecting once again the deep divisions in the Security Council on this issue.

This is the thirteenth veto cast by Russia to block resolutions in regards to Syria since the war began in the country in 2011.

Equatorial Guinea abstained and the remaining 12 members of the council voted in favor.

The three countries that sponsored the draft officially asked Russia not to use its veto power against the text that was negotiated for fifteen days, however, their demand was met with refusal.

After the veto, Russia and China presented a competing draft resolution that also stipulates for a ceasefire.

But in contrast to the first drat, the Russian-Chinese draft states that “the cessation of hostilities does not apply to military operations against individuals, groups, or entities related to terrorist groups.”

Iranian Domination

17 September 2019

The fifth cycle of the Exhibition for the Reconstruction of Syria kicked off on Tuesday in the Syrian capital Damascus with the participation of hundreds of Arab and foreign countries and amid prominent Iranian presence.

“The exhibition presents an important opportunity to see what companies have to offer and for mutual benefit between showcased technologies in various sections… the exhibition is a message to the whole world that Syria has returned to its previous state, and that has been proven by the vast participation of foreign companies in the exhibition,” Syrian Deputy Housing Minister Mohammed Said al-Deen said in a statement to reporters.

The Iranian wing is the largest of foreign wings in the exhibition, with a large number of public and private Iranian companies looking for a prominent role in the reconstruction of Syria.

The Iranian ambassador in Syria Javad Tark Abadi said in a press conference that “Iranian participation is based on consolidation with Syria and a strong stance against the economic sanctions that have been imposed against it for years, nevertheless, Syria has survived in face of this embargo.”

Tamer Yaghi, the CEO of al-Bashiq company which organized the exhibition, said in a press release to reporters, “the number of participating companies in this year’s exhibition is three hundred and ninety companies from thirty-one Arab and foreign countries, with an increase of one hundred and twenty companies compared to last year.”

153,000 Left Jordan

17 September 2019

The Jordanian interior ministry said in a statement on Tuesday that around one hundred and fifty-three thousand Syrians left the kingdom and returned to Syria after the border crossing between the two countries was reopened about one year ago.

The Directorate of Syrian Refugee Affairs in the ministry said that the “number of Syrians who left the kingdom through Jaber border center since it was opened in 15 October and up to yesterday (Monday) has reached around one hundred and fifty-three thousand people, including thirty-three thousand people who hold the refugee status.”

The ministry emphasized “Jordan’s commitment to the principle of voluntary return of Syrian refugees and facilitating necessary procedures for them to leave the kingdom.”

Jordan hosts around six hundred and fifty thousand Syrian refugees registered with the United Nations, whereas Jordan estimates the number of people who took refuge in the country since the onset of the conflict in Syria in 2011 at 1.3 million Syrians.

Jaber border crossing (Nassib from the Syrian side), which is the only major border crossing between Jordan and Syria, opened after three years of its closure due to the conflict in Syria.

Nassib border crossing was closed in 2015, a few months after the closure of the old al-Jomrok border corssing, which was taken over by opposition fighters in October of 2014.

The Syrian army was able to retake control of Nassib border crossing and all of the Syrian-Jordanian border in July of 2018.

Israeli Airstrike

17 September 2019

Ten Iraqi fighters loyal to Iran were killed on Monday night as a result of airstrikes by unidentified military planes in al-Bou Kamal area, near the border with Iraq in eastern Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

The chief of the SOHR Rami Abdul Rahman told the AFP that the “airstrikes targeted three positions for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and allied groups” in the eastern countryside of Deir al-Zor, without being able to identify the party that carried out the airstrikes.

Iranian and Iraqi forces, that support Syrian government forces, are deployed in a wide area in the eastern countryside of Deir al-Zor, especially between the border cities of al-Bou Kamal and al-Mayadeen.

These strikes come after ten days of similar airstrikes by unidentified planes that killed eighteen fighters, including Iranians, in the same area.