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 email@example.com.
Ramadan Under Bombardment
27 May 2019
Near the Turkish-Syrian border, numerous families have made their new homes amid olive fields, erecting their own tents using colored sheets tied to the trees. During the month of Ramadan, these people rely on scarce aid or simple meals they prepare on primitive stoves.
Mona (31) says as she keeps her children beside her while preparing the food, “The day only ends with great difficulty. We are spending Ramadan here against our will.”
“We used to sit under the grape orchard in our house. It was a nice place. Water and electricity were available. We were living in grace,” she said sadly remembering the previous Ramadan.
“What a difference between where we were and what we have become!” she added.
In this Ramadan evening, Mona barely managed to fry some potatoes for her children along with three dishes of yogurt and cucumber, hoping this would satisfy their hunger.
Mona, who left her home more than twenty-one days ago in the northern countryside of Hama, said: “Sometimes, there isn’t enough food. Today, I just fried potatoes.” She added that the aid is scarce and mainly made up of rice and chicken, and that four days have passed without her family receiving anything at all.
Since late April, more than two hundred thousand people have been displaced from their homes in the southern countryside of Idlib and northern countryside of Hama, according to the United Nations. They fled violent bombardment by government forces and their ally Russia, in addition to fierce clashes between Tahrir al-Sham, which controls Idlib governorate and surrounding areas, and government forces.
The displaced people did not find any better place to settle down other than the olive fields near the border town of Atmeh. There are no sanitation services in the place, to which they only brought simple belongings they could carry.
In addition to the influx of displacement, twenty medical facilities have been targeted in the ongoing bombardment since late April, rendering nineteen of these facilities inoperable, according to the United Nations. Around two hundred and ninety civilians, including more than sixty children, have died since 20 April, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
Bearing a Child in Prison
26 May 2019
After spending around four years in Syrian government prisons where she was suspended from her wrists and subject to beating, torture, and disease, Hasna Dbeis says she is determined to forge a new life for her and her child who was born in detention.
The road ahead is still difficult for this thirty-year-old woman, who has suffered to find a source of living, especially after she left prison last year only to find her family members dispersed, missing, or killed. The people in the area where she used to live in eastern Ghouta had gone to the northwest of the country.
Dbeis is one of tens of thousands of Syrians who spent most of the years of the conflict behind bars for participating or supporting the protests which started out peacefully and then turned into a bloody conflict.
Dbeis, who is originally from the town of Harzmma in eastern Ghouta, participated in the crowded popular demonstration in 2011, according to what she told the AFP. Then she volunteered in one of the medical points to treat people wounded during the protests, which were confronted by government forces. She was two months pregnant when she was detained in eastern Ghouta in August of 2014 and accused of “collaborating” with opposition factions, a charge which she denies.
During years of imprisonment, she was shuffled around various intelligence branches and detention centers. She remembers how she was kept in solitary confinement for forty days in a cell littered with garbage and filled with insects. Her suffering only worsened when she was transferred to an intelligence branch where “I was surprised to see my brother and father there. They were tortured right in front of me,” Dbeis said.
After she had her child Mohammed, she was transferred to al-Fayhaa prison in Damascus. “The new baby came into my life and I didn’t know what to do in the detention center,” she said.
Mohammed grew up in prison, but he was not alone, as there were other children for other female detainees charged with affiliation to ISIS.
“I used to dream of walking in the street with my child and entering a store to buy him clothes like normal mothers do,” she said
In April of 2018, the prison warden told her that she would be released, which she thought was a joke in the beginning. Mohammed was three and half years old at the time.
Dbeis thought she would be going back to her family home in eastern Ghouta. However, when she arrived there, government forces told her to go on buses carrying the last installment of people leaving Douma under an agreement to evacuate those who refused the settlement with Damascus, according to Dbeis.
She was not aware of the military operation launched at the time by government forces in eastern Ghouta and the evacuation agreements to areas in the north that came after that. She then found herself with her child in areas controlled by opposition faction in the northern countryside of Aleppo.
As for Mohammed, it was his first life experience outside the confinement of prison. Dbeis recalled how when he saw a vegetable carriage, he ran towards it and took a tomato. “He quickly started eating it. It was something he had never seen before,” she said.
Dbeis then moved from the northern countryside of Aleppo to Idlib. She managed to get in touch with one of her sisters who was living in Damascus. She learned that a third sister and their younger brother were living in nearby Idlib governorate.
After some time, the three siblings met. She never expected the answers she got for her numerous question. Her mother had died, her husband was killed “for collaborating with the opposition,” her two younger sisters were arrested two years ago, and there were no information regarding her father and brother in prison.
“After hearing about my family’s heart-wrenching fate, I decided to start a new life … and to work in order to make a living,” she said.
Hit and Run North of Hama
26 May 2019
On Sunday, Syrian government forces, with support from allied militants, were able to regain control of the town of Kafrnboodeh in the northern countryside of Hama, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
This came after targeting the town with more than six hundred and seventy-five strikes from the air and the ground by government planes, helicopters, cannons, and rocket launchers, the SOHR said in a press release.
The SOHR added that there are still fierce clashes between the two sides on the eastern and northern outskirts of the town, in an attempt by opposition factions to re-enter the town.
The SOHR mentioned heavy losses by both sides during a few hours of fierce clashes accompanied by hundreds of aerial and ground assaults, in addition to the targeting and destruction of vehicles. At least twenty-eight members of opposition factions were killed and at least sixteen members of government forces and allied militants were also killed.
Officials in the Syrian opposition and militant sources said on Saturday that Turkey provided new weapons for a group of opposition fighters to help them confront the massive Russian-supported Syrian offensive.
Russia is providing support to the Syrian army’s aerial and ground offensive in its attempt to take control of the last major area still under opposition control in the northwest. A western intelligence source said that Washington gave the moderate Turkey-supported opposition fighters the “green light” to use the TOW rockets that had been stockpiled in the last campaign.
The retreat from Kafrnboodeh was an upset to a Russian goal of a speedy military campaign to gain another slice of heavily populated Idlib governorate.
Lebanon Deports Syrians
24 May 2019
Five human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, denounced Lebanon’s deportation of sixteen Syrians upon their arrival at Beirut airport and after “summarily” procedures, despite the fact that some of them were registered refugees and expressed their fear of returning to their country. They were sent back to Syria through al-Masnaa border crossing east of Lebanon.
Lebanese authorities estimate that there are currently one and a half million Syrian refugees in the country, whereas data from the UN refugee agency puts the number at less than one million. Lebanese officials have been repeatedly called for returning Syrians back to their country as the war effectively ended in several areas where the government was able to regain control in the last two years.
According to a report by organizations, seventy-four per cent of Syrians present in Lebanon have no legal residence in Lebanon and therefore they face the threat of detention.
Chemical Weapons Once Again
23 May 2019
The State Department said on Thursday the United States has received numerous reports that appear consistent with chemical exposure after an attack by Syrian government forces in northwest Syria, but it has made no definitive conclusion as to whether they used chemical weapons.
“We do have numerous sources including interviews with those present during the attack that did report that a number of opposition fighters were taken to local hospitals and presented symptoms that were consistent with chemical exposure,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus told reporters.
Rebels fighting on the mountainous western edge of Syria’s last big rebel enclave of Idlib said on Sunday that the army had shelled them with poison gas, leading some to suffer choking symptoms. They said they had not documented the attack because they were under bombardment when it occurred.
The Trump administration has twice bombed Syria over President’s Bashar al-Assad’s government alleged use of chemical weapons, in April 2017 and April 2018.
German Raid Against Syrians
22 May 2019
The police in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia carried out a major security raid against an Iraqi-Syrian organization called Peace 312, in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
The local Interior Minister Herbert Reul said some eight hundred police stormed forty-nine properties in the state, adding that special forces from the police participated in inspecting eight properties.
Reul said that counterfeit money, drugs, a computer, mobile phones, and data storage devices were confiscated during the raid. He said that there are thirty-four suspects, most of whom are from Syria or Iraq.