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.
Dissipation of Sovereignty: Russia Rewards Netanyahu
Reuters and Enab Baladi
3 – 4 April 2019
Russian President Vladimir Putin told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday that Russian special forces troops in Syria had found the remains of a US-born Israeli soldier missing since 1982. “Our soldiers together with Syrian partners established his resting place. We are very happy that they will be able to give him the necessary military honors at home,” Putin was quoted as saying. He added that “Russia found the body of the soldier in coordination with the Syrian army, and our soldiers brought him to Israel.”
The official Syrian news agency (SANA) said that the Syrian government was not aware of handing the remains of the Israeli soldier Zachary Baumel to Israel. “Syria is not aware of the issue concerning the remains of the Israeli soldier. This is yet more evidence that proves the cooperation between terrorist groups and the Mossad,” SANA reported a media source as saying.
Zachary Baumel, who was 21 when he fought in Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, was declared missing in action along with two other soldiers in the Battle of Sultan Yacoub. A Russian news agency reported Putin as saying that the task of finding the remains had been difficult.
Dissipation of Sovereignty: Trump Disregards our Rights
7 April 2019
US President Donald Trump said on Saturday that he made the controversial decision to recognize Israel’s 1981 annexation of the Golan Heights after getting a quick history lesson during a conversation on a different subject.
Speaking at the Republican Jewish Coalition gathering in Las Vegas, Trump said he made the snap decision during a discussion with his top Middle East peace advisers, including the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
“I said, ‘Fellows, do me a favor. Give me a little history, quick. Want to go fast. I got a lot of things I’m working on: China, North Korea. Give me a quickie,” Trump said to laughter from the Las Vegas crowd.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Trump last month. At their 25 March meeting, Trump signed a proclamation officially granting US recognition of the Golan as Israeli territory, a dramatic departure from decades of US policy. The move, which Trump announced in a tweet days prior, was widely seen as an attempt to boost Netanyahu who is up for re-election on April 9.
“We make fast decisions. And we make good decisions,” Trump said on Saturday.
Children’s Suffering Post-ISIS
7 April 2019
Children at al-Hol camp suffer from malnourishment, stunted growth, and broken legs according to the paramedics’ log for children who were transferred from the battle field to the crowded clinic, which lacks even the most basic medical services.
Medical centers are filled with teenagers missing limbs and women with shrapnel and bullet wounds. The exodus during intense fighting of more than sixty thousand people from ISIS’s final redoubt of Baghouz is overwhelming medical staff in eastern Syria who struggle to cope at the camp.
Scores of people, mostly children, have died on the 150-mile (240-kilometer) journey to al-Hol or soon after arriving, aid groups say.
The intense bombardment and fighting to dislodge the extremist group cost countless lives and wounded many more people, including the wives of fighters, their children, ISIS supporters, and other civilians trapped in the enclave.
Exchange of Bombardment in Idlib
6 – 7 April 2019
At least fifteen people were reported killed on Sunday in shelling by government and opposition forces in northwestern Syria, further straining a Russian-Turkish ceasefire deal for the region. The agreement has come under strain in recent weeks: the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said forty-five people had been killed in the last five days alone, most of them by government shelling of opposition-held areas.
Syrian official media said five people had been killed in government-held Masyaf.
The foreign ministers of France, Germany, Britain, Canada, the United States, Italy, and Japan on Saturday noted “with mounting concern the escalation in Syrian military activity in the de-escalation zone in Idlib over recent weeks”, according to a communique issued after a Group of Seven meeting.
Turkey has deployed forces into Idlib under an agreement with Russia and Iran. Jihadist insurgents of the Tahrir al-Sham group hold sway on the ground.
The United Nations says Idlib and the adjacent areas are sheltering some three million people, half of whom have been uprooted from other parts of Syria by the war.
Fate of Extremists!
5 April 2019
The French interior minister Christophe Castaner said on Friday that interior ministers from the Group of Seven industrialized nations still have different views over how to handle jihadists and their families in Syria and Iraq.
The US representative, under-secretary Claire Grady, reiterated at the meeting of G7 interior ministers in Paris the US position that these foreign fighters should be returned to their countries of origin.
A United Nations human rights investigator said on Thursday, Iraq must ensure that ISIS leadership faces justice for alleged war crimes and genocide against civilians, not just charges of belonging to a terrorist group.
Four men, two Iraqi and two Syrians, were sentenced to death by a Baghdad court on 30 October on charges of membership of ISIS (a banned terrorist organization), according to Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. Their identity has not been revealed but she described them in a statement as “four senior affiliates of the ISIS leadership.” She added: “The trial should have shed light on the inner workings of ISIS and created a crucial judicial record of ISIS crimes against people.”
Manbij and Turkey Once Again
4 April 2019
Turkish military sources said that the work between Turkey and the United States to implement an agreement over the Syrian town of Manbij is proceeding more slowly than desired. The sources said that Turkey is making efforts to speed up the process, referring to an agreement between the NATO allies to a complete withdrawal of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) from the town.
Turkey and Russia have conducted three coordinated patrols in the mainly Kurdish-controlled northern Syrian region of Tel Rifaat and plan to continue the patrols, the sources said.
Algeria Learns the Lesson from the Syrian Conflict!
2 April 2019
The Algerian news agency said on Tuesday that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned on Tuesday, after weeks of mass protests. This came after army chief of staff Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah demanded constitutional measures to remove Bouteflika (82 years). Bouteflika presented an apology to the Algerian people in his resignation letter.
Libya did not Learn from our Experience!
7 April 2019
Residents said that eastern Libyan forces (Libyan National Army-LNA) carried out air strikes on the southern part of Tripoli on Sunday and made progress toward the city center, escalating an operation to take the capital as the United Nations failed to achieve a truce.
The LNA, which backs a parallel administration in the east, launched last week an advance on Tripoli in the west, home to the internationally recognized government.
The offensive intensifies a power struggle that has fractured the oil’s and gas’s producing country since the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.
The LNA reached the southern outskirts of the capital on Friday and says it took the former international airport, though the Tripoli military officials deny this. At least one warplane carried out an air strike in the area and the LNA is now some eleven kilometers from the city center, a resident said, adding he could see the troops as forces loyal to the Tripoli government withdrew.
The UN mission to Libya called on Sunday for a truce for two hours in southern Tripoli to evacuate civilians and wounded, it said in a statement without giving details. However, the true was not observed by evening, one UN official said.
In another sign of the situation worsening on the ground, a contingent of US forces supporting the US Africa Command evacuated Libya for security reasons, a U.S. statement said without giving any further details.