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.
Administration for East of the Euphrates
8 December 2019
The Syrian newspaper al-Watan reported Syrian parliament member Nawaf al-Molhem as saying that a delegation from Damascus, which includes various parties and members of the parliament, presented to dignitaries and forces in northeast Syria a “local administration” project under the Syrian constitution of 2012, adding that these dignitaries and forces did not reject the project, but they did not give their approval either.
It is worth noting that there is a de facto “self-administration for north and east Syria.” This area is controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), of which the Kurds make the most prominent component.
“Dissemination of Death”
7 December 2019
Nineteen civilians, including eight children, were killed on Saturday in an aerial bombardment by Russian and Syrian warplanes in Idlib governorate in northwest Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
Idlib has witnessed clashes and bombardment that killed dozens of civilians and fighters. It was the subject of a truce agreement a few months ago that halted a wide-scale offensive by government forces. Russian aerial bombardment on Saturday left nine civilians dead, including three children, in the city of Bilyon and four other civilians, including one child, in the village of al-Barah in the southern countryside of Idlib, said the SOHR.
Government forces targeted the village of Ibdita in southern Idlib with explosive barrels, killing five civilians, including three children. A child was killed in an airstrike by government forces on a village east of the governorate, according to the SOHR.
The ongoing bombardment has injured around forty people.
8 December 2019
The second trial of Rifaat al-Assad, the uncle of current Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, begins on Monday in Paris, France. He is charged of “illegal enrichment” by using embezzlement to build a real-estate empire in Paris, estimated to be worth ninety million euros.
However, the defendant’s seat will be vacant. Defense lawyers for Rifaat al-Assad (82) told the AFP that the youngest brother of the late Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, who resides in Britain, will be absent for “medical reasons.”
Rifaat al-Assad’s trial will continue until 18 December. He is accused of “money laundering within an organized gang” for aggravated money laundering and embezzlement of Syrian public funds between 1984 and 2016, charges that he all denies.
6 December 2019
The Kurdish issue “is in fact a bomb” that threatens the whole Middle East, said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday, calling on Kurds to accept dialogue with the Syrian government.
“I hope our Kurdish friends learned from the experience of US elusiveness that there is no other way than reaching a deal with the Syrian authorities,” Lavrov said.
“The Kurdish problem is in fact considered a bomb that affects all countries in the region,” Lavrov said in his speech in the Mediterranean Dialogue Forum 2019 in Rome, Italy.
Lavrov reiterated his support for the so-called Astana process, an attempt supported by Russia, Turkey, and Iran to calm tensions and give preference to talks between warring parties in Syria.
Russian Base in Qamishli
6 December 2019
A big Russian military convoy, the third of its kind, arrived in Qamishli airport in northern Hasakeh, carrying military and logistical equipment to support the Russian presence in the area. The Sputnik reporter in Hasakeh governorate said, “a huge military convoy, affiliated with Russian forces, arrived in Qamishli international airport north of Hasakeh coming from the governorate of Aleppo and using the international road known as 4M (Hasakeh – Raqqa – Aleppo). It is the third of its kind that has arrived by land to Hasakeh governorate since the implementation of the understanding between the Syrian government and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) with Russian guarantees, which coincided with a Turkish military operation in northeastern Syria.”
The Qamishli airbase is situated at the far northeast of Syria, around five kilometers from the Syrian-Turkish border.
The reporter said that after the arrival of these military reinforcements to Qamishli airport, Russian forces in Syria will likely announce in the coming days the establishment of a Russian military base in north east Syria.
Russian forces have been deployed in Syria since September 2015 to support the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his fight against radical organizations and the armed opposition.
Deportation of Syrians
5 December 2019
The interior ministers of German states that are controlled by a majority of the Socialist Democratic Party and the Christian Democratic Alliance agreed on the need to ease procedures for deporting Syrian criminals who have committed serious crimes to their country, according to Hans-Joachim Grote, the interior minister of Schleswig-Holstein who presides the periodical presidency of the conference of interior minister of German states.
According to the German foreign ministry, there is no region in Syria where refugees can return without risk. “Those who are known to be from the opposition or dissident — or deemed as such — face sanctions and repression, and even direct threat to their lives,” said a foreign ministry report made public at the start of the month.
Explosion in a Convoy
4 December 2019
An explosion that targeted a convoy of Turkish forces in northern Syria, which is under control of factions allied to Ankara, has left a number of dead and injured people, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
A convoy for “Turkish forces” was targeted by a car bomb “as it was heading to al-Baldaq base west of Jarablus city in the eastern countryside of Aleppo,” the SOHR said.
The observatory did not give a specific toll for the number of dead and injured people and only mentioned that a number of “Turkish forces” were injured in varying degrees.
The SOHR said that there is “confirmed information that a number of Turkish troops fell dead,” which coincided with Turkish planes flying over the area.
“Useful” Four-way Meeting
3 December 2019
French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson held a “useful” meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that lasted for around one hour, after the escalation of tensions in the Syrian issue, but without dispelling “all ambiguities” according to Macron.
The meeting which was held in London before the NATO summit was “good and useful,” according to Merkel, but was “only a start of a longer discussion because time was very limited.”
She said that a new meeting could be held in February.
Relations between Paris and Ankara were strained after the Turkish offensive on northern Syria against the Kurdish People’s Protection Unites (YPG), a main ally of western countries in the battle against the Islamic State.
Turkey is displeased of France’s support to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and its backbone: the YPG, which Ankara considers to be a terrorist group and an extension to its archenemy the Kurdish Labor Party (PKK).
Emirates Flirting with al-Assad
3 December 2019
The United Arab Emirates’ Chargé d’Affairs to Syria has praised President Bashar al-Assad for his “wise leadership”, in one of the strongest expressions of support yet from a country that once backed Damascus’s enemies in the civil war.
The two countries restored diplomatic ties last year and the UAE’s vocal support will be welcome by al-Assad, who has wrested control of most of his country from rebels and jihadists and is seeking to shed his status as pariah to much of the outside world.
Children on the Fronts
2 December 2019
Around twenty civilians were killed on Monday in an airstrike by government forces and their Russian ally in the governorate of Idlib, northwest Syria, which has witnessed battles in the last two days that killed dozens of fighters. The battles are considered to be the fiercest since the truce agreement reached three months ago, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
On another front that is ten kilometers far, eleven civilians were killed, including eight children, in Turkish artillery bombardment that targeted a city controlled by Kurdish forces in an area where Russian forces are deployed, according to the same source.
The SOHR said on Monday that thirteen civilians were killed in government bombardment that targeted a popular market in the city of Maaret al-Noman in the southern countryside of Idlib.
Three other civilians were killed in airstrikes by Syrian and Russian war planes in various areas in southern Idlib. A woman and her two children were killed in a Russian strike that targeted the central prison of Idlib as she was visiting one of her relatives, according to the SOHR, which added that a number of prisoners managed to flee.
In the city of Tal Rafaat in the northern countryside of Aleppo, eleven civilians, including eight children, were killed on Monday as a result of “Turkish artillery bombardment near a school as students were leaving for home,” according to the SOHR. The victims were displaced from neighboring Afrin, from which tens of thousands of people fled after Turkish forces and allied Syrian factions launched an offensive against it last year.