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.

Potential Crisis in Idlib

Enab Baladi

During her meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angel Merkel called for avoiding a humanitarian crisis in northern Syria. “Avoiding a humanitarian crisis in Idlib, Syria and surrounding areas is a crucial matter,” AFP reported Merkel as saying during the meeting with Putin in Berlin on Saturday, 18 August. Merkel stressed that both Germany and Russia bear the responsibility of finding a solution to stop the fighting in Syria. She said that she discussed the issues of constitutional reforms and potential elections with Putin in their previous meeting in Sochi last May. On his part, Putin reiterated his call for EU countries to support reconstruction projects in Syria, citing millions of refugees distributed in EU countries, Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, and stressed the need for them to go back to their country. (Enab Baladi)

There are many reports indicating that the battle for Idlib will take place soon. The Operation Room for the Southern Countryside of Aleppo (ORSCA) declared several villages in the southern countryside of Aleppo as a “military zone” and asked residents to evacuate. In a statement on Thursday, 16 August, ORSCA said the zone included villages near or on the frontlines with the Syrian government; they include: Jazraya, Zammar, al-Othmanieh, Jdaidet Talafeh, Hweir al-I’eis, Tal Bajer, Baness, and Birneh. The statement called on residents to evacuate the aforementioned villages and take all necessary measures within forty-eight hours for the “sake of their lives.” (Enab Baladi)

 

United States is Financing Stability Through Allies

17 August 2018

Reuters

US President Donald Trump’s administration is seeking to cut down on foreign aid, including that allocated to reinforcing stability in areas no longer under ISIS control. On the other hand, the US is encouraging allies to increase financing for reinforcing stability. On Friday, the US administration said that it has secured three hundred million dollars from its partners in the coalition, which would be used towards stabilizing the country, including one hundred million dollars pledged by Saudi Arabia. The Emirates also pledged to offer fifty million dollars in new funding. Australia, Denmark, the European Union, Taiwan, Kuwait, Germany, and France all also pledged to offer money.

Senior Advisor to Secretary of State David Satterfield said that there will be no international funding for the reconstruction of Syria until a “credible and irreversible” political process starts to end the Syrian conflict. “There will be no aid for Syria through international agreement unless the UN confirms that a credible and irreversible political process has started.” (Reuters)

 

Russia and Returning the Refugees

14 & 17 August 2018

Reuters

Due to Russia’s interest in the issue of returning Syrian refugees, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Tuesday that the West’s position on Syrian refugees surprised Moscow and that the conditions were suitable for the refugees to return to their homes. Lavrov spoke after holding talks with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu. In a related context, Russian news agency TASS reported the ministry of defense as saying that Minister Sergey Shoygu discussed the issue of the return of Syrian refugees to their country with his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar during their talks in Moscow on Friday. (Reuters)

On Monday, Russian foreign ministry said that a four-way summit between the leaders of Russia, France, Turkey, and Germany is “scheduled for the near future.”

 

De Mistura and Reconstruction

16 August 2018

Enab Baladi

UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan De Mistura affirmed the need to prioritize a political solution over reconstruction projects in Syria during his meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.  De Mistura and Pompeo discussed the need to find a political solution in Syria for all sides and to avoid a humanitarian crisis in Idlib, State of Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on Thursday, 16 August. The two sides agreed that any discussion of reconstruction in Syria is “premature,” alluding to the need to work on the political solution process and conduct free and fair elections according to UN Security Council resolutions before exercising pressure to return refugees to their county. Pompeo said that the return of refugees to Syria must be safe and under the umbrella of the UN. De Mistura and Pompeo discussed the progress achieved through the constitutional committee after the opposition and the government named their delegates to the committee. (Enab Baladi)

 

Iraq Bombs ISIS in Syria

16 August 2018

Reuters

Iraqi planes bombed a gathering of ISIS fighters inside Syria who were planning cross-border attacks border that left a number of ISIS fighters dead, according to a statement from the Iraqi army on Thursday. The planes targeted an “operation room” where ISIS members were meeting. ISIS, which once occupied a third of Iraqi territory, has been largely defeated in Iraq, however, it still poses a threat along its border with Syria. “According to intelligence, those terrorists who were killed were planning criminal operations using suicide vests and intended to target innocents in the next few days inside Iraq,” the military said in a statement. (Reuters)

 

Kurds in Negotiations

14 August 2018

Reuters

On Tuesday, Head of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) Riadh Darrar said that the SDC visited Damascus the previous week to hold another round of talks with the government. A delegation that includes member from the US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which controls one quarter of Syrian territory, held talks in Damascus this month in the first public meeting. These visits highlight efforts by Kurdish-led authorities to open new channels with the Syrian government, as they seek to negotiate a political agreement that preserves their self-rule inside Syria. Darrar said that the SDC held new talks on decentralization and the constitution. The talks included a proposal from Damascus for the self-rule areas to participate in the local elections that will take place next month, Darrar added. He said that the SDC insists on keeping its structure of governance and self-rule in any future elections and that Syrian officials proposed several matters that are still immature. “We need to agree on service provision first and this could build trust between us.” (Reuters)

 

Iran Continuing with Its Policies

13 & 15 August 2018

Reuters and Enab Baladi

Iran will not rein in its influence in the Middle East despite mounting US pressure on Tehran to curb its regional activities, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Qatar’s al-Jazeera television channel. (Reuters)

Iran’s policy in Syria has economic, political, and military aspects. The Ministry of Housing and Public Works in the Syrian government has made deals with Iranian companies on building residential units, including housing projects. An Iranian economic delegation reached an agreement with the ministry of housing on building thirty thousand residential units as part of the General Establishment for Housing’s project, the Iranian news agency IRNA said on Wednesday, 15 August. According to the agreement, the projects will be in Damascus, Aleppo, and Homs and the Iranian private sector will be responsible for the construction works. The two sides agreed on forming a team of Iranian contractors to supervise the work of the Syrian construction sector, according to IRNA, which also said that the Syrian Housing Minister Houssain Arnous promised the Iranian companies to provide necessary conveniences. (Enab Baladi)

 

Syria Exporting Electricity

13 August 2018

Enab Baladi

Lebanese Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil announced his approval to draw electric energy from Syria on 13 August. He said that “Syria offered to give electric energy to Lebanon in reasonable prices. There was a Syrian delegation headed by the minister of energy two weeks ago. They gave us a proposal that is less than the ships or even the power plants, with the possibility of up to three hundred and fifty megawatts.” This announcement comes after the huge losses that the electricity sector in Syria suffered and the immense need for electrical power in the near future. (Enab Baladi)