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.

 

No Opposition in Ghouta

1 April 2018

Jaish al-Islam (Islam Army) and Russia have reached an agreement that provides for the evacuation of fighters and civilians who want to leave Douma, the last enclave under opposition control in the eastern Ghouta of Damascus, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) on Sunday.

The SOHR said that the agreement provided for “The exit of Jaish al-Islam fighters and their civilian families who want to leave for northern Syria, while Russian military police enter the city,” as a first step before “government institutions are reinstated.”

Negotiations, which have been going on for a while, focused on the destination of Jaish al-Islam, and concluded by agreeing on the latter’s exit towards areas controlled by factions allied to Turkey in the north-eastern countryside of Aleppo.

Government forces reinforced their deployment around Douma in conjunction with the negotiations and prepared themselves for military action in case an agreement with the Jaish al-Islam faction could not be reached.

Jaish al-Islam leaders had repeatedly refused any solution that included their evacuation to any other area. They were seeking to reach an agreement that allowed the opposition faction to stay in Douma with Russian military police entering it as well.

This final agreement comes after another agreement to evacuate hundreds of civilians from Douma, according to the SOHR, which added that they included “activists, doctors, and families from al-Rahman Corps faction,” which left eastern Ghouta last week.

Following an aggressive aerial offensive launched on 18 February, which was later accompanied by a ground operation, government forces gradually tightened their grip on opposition factions and divided Ghouta into three separate enclaves. After pressures mounted, these factions started unilateral and direct operations with Russia that resulted in evacuations from the enclaves in Harasta and south of Ghouta.

Evacuation of members of al-Rahman Corps and civilians from south of Ghouta ended on Saturday with the evacuation of more than forty thousand people.

 

Afrin Part of Turkey?

31 March 2018

“Afrin will become part of the Turkish city Hatai,” a spokesman for the Rescue Afrin Conference said on Saturday. The conference convened on 19 March and was attended by one hundred Kurdish, Arab, Alawite, and Yazidi personalities, resulting in the election of a council of thirty-five personalities, according to the Kurdish media network Rudaw.

“Among members of the council, there are twenty-four Kurds, eight Arabs, one Alawite, one Kurdish Yazidi, and one Turkman. It will begin work relating to the reconstruction of Afrin and conducting affairs of the city,” said Shindi in an interview with the Turkish part of the website.

“They sent the list of elected members to the Turkish foreign ministry. Things will be clear within a week or ten days, and after that the council members will head for Afrin.” Shindi added.

“Turkey will appoint a governor for Afrin to manage the city, but we do not know who this governor will be. However, he will be appointed by the Turkish side who will also send a Qaimagam (sub-governor) to Afrin,” the spokesman for the Rescue Afrin Conference went on to say adding that “in addition to revealing aspects of how Afrin will be managed, some steps have been taken towards securing the city as well.”

“A police force made up of four hundred and fifty personnel has been formed,” said Shindi. Various political personalities and civil parties from Afrin in Kurdistan Syria had announced the formation of Afrin Civil Council to “administer the civil aspect of the area and work for the return of the displaced”.

 

United States: Stay or Leave?

31 March 2018

Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, called for US units not to be withdrawn from Syria. “We believe American troops should stay for at least the mid-term, if not the long-term,” said the Crown Prince in an interview with Time magazine published on Friday.

“We are knocking the hell out of ISIS. We will be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now,” US President Donald Trump unexpectedly said in a speech in Ohio on Thursday.

It is worth mentioning that the United States is leading an international coalition to fight ISIS in Syria. The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) are fighting alongside this international coalition.

The Saudi Crown Prince said that the US presence in Syria is the last attempt to prevent Iran from expanding its influence in the region, adding that Iran is working with regional militias and allies on building a land route that starts in Lebanon and passes through Syria and Iraq and reaches the Iranian capital of Tehran.

Two senior officials in the US administration said that President Trump informed his advisors that he wants to withdraw US forces from Syria very soon. The National Security Council is to hold a meeting early next week to discuss the campaign against ISIS.

President Trump ordered the Secretary of State to freeze more than two hundred million dollars of funds allocated for recovery efforts in Syria, as his administration re-evaluates the US role in the long-running war there.

The former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had pledged to provide these funds during a meeting of the international coalition in Kuwait in February.

 

Syrian Phosphate for Russia or Iran?

28 March 2018

The Syrian Parliament ratified a contract between the General Establishment for Geology and Mineral Resources and the Russian company Stroy Trans Gas on the investment and extraction of phosphate ores from al-Sharqieh mines in Palmyra.

According to the terms of the agreement, the production will be divided between the two sides, with the General Establishment for Geology getting thirty percent, while paying the value of the government’s obligations for the phosphate produced, in addition to other expenses estimated at two percent, according to Russia Today website.The contract expires in fifty years and is set to produce 2.2 million tons annually in a geological sector that is believed to contain one hundred and five million tons.

The Syrian Petroleum Minister Ali Ghanem, according to press statements, said that there is a huge reserve of phosphate ores in the mines of al-Sharqieh, which are estimated at 1.8 billion tons, adding that the production capacity of the General establishment for Phosphate and Mines reached three and a half million tons annually before the war in Syria started.

The General Director of the General Establishment for Phosphate and Mines Ali Khalil confirmed the return of the establishment’s production in the mines of Khnaifis and al-Sharqieh after they were liberated from ISIS.

Stroy Trans Gas has carried out projects in Russia including the construction of a gas treatment plant, and is constructing another plant now.

In early 2017, Syria and Iran signed memorandums of cooperation, which included Iran’s investment of Syrian Phosphate. The recent agreement reflects Russia’s quests to obtain privileges in Syria’s strategic resources.