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.
Golan Present, Syria Absent
31 March 2019
Arab leaders said on Sunday they would seek a UN Security Council resolution against the US decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and promised to support Palestinians in their bid for statehood.
Arab leaders, long divided by regional rivalries, ended their annual summit in Tunisia calling for cooperation with Iran based on non-interference in each other’s affairs.
Arab leaders who have been grappling with a bitter Gulf Arab dispute, splits over Iran’s regional influence, the war in Yemen, and unrest in Algeria and Sudan sought common ground after Washington recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan.
“We, the leaders of the Arab countries gathered in Tunisia… express our rejection and condemnation of the United States decision to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan,” Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said.
He said Arab countries would present a draft resolution to the UN Security Council and seek a legal opinion from the International Court of Justice on the US decision. It warned other countries away from following Washington’s lead.
Trump signed a proclamation last week recognizing the Golan Heights as part of Israel, which annexed the area in 1981 after capturing it from Syria in 1967.
Trump’s earlier decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital also drew Arab condemnation. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz told the Arab leaders his country “absolutely rejects” any measures affecting Syria’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi said the Arab summit needed to ensure the international community understood the centrality of the Palestinian cause to Arab nations.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who also addressed the meeting in Tunis, said any resolution to the Syrian conflict must guarantee the territorial integrity of Syria “including the occupied Golan Heights”.
Trump Unites Friends and Foes
26 March 2019
US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights united Washington’s Arab allies and its regional foe Iran in condemnation.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait criticized Monday’s move to recognize Israel’s 1981 annexation and said the territory was occupied Arab land. Riyadh and Abu Dhabi said it was an impediment to peace. Iran echoed the comments, describing Trump’s decision as unprecedented in this century.
During a visit to Washington by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump signed a proclamation on Monday officially granting US recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory.
Israel occupied the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in 1981 in a move the UN Security Council declared unlawful.
Trump senior adviser Jared Kushner visited the Gulf Arab region last month to seek support for the economic portion of a long-awaited peace proposal for the Middle East. Gulf Arab states host US troops and are important for Washington’s regional defense policy.
United States “Isolated”
28 March 2019
During an emergency meeting for the UN Security Council called for by Syria, the United States defended US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, a position condemned by the other fourteen members.
Russian Deputy UN Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov said that this was “a disregard of international law” and a “violation of UN resolution,” stressing that this “recognition is null.”
Belgium, Germany, Kuwait, China, Indonesia, Peru, South Africa, and the Dominican Republic condemned the unilateral decision that runs counter to international consensus that has been adhered to so far.
“The Golan Heights are Syrian land occupied by Israel,” said the Kuwaiti UN Ambassador Mansour al-Otaibi. “We call for the liberation of the Golan territory,” he added.
The United States expressed its approval for maintaining the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) despite Trump’s decision to recognize Israel’s recognition of the plateau.
US diplomat Rodney Hunter told the council that the U S decision on the Golan Heights does not affect the truce or undermine the deployment of the peacekeeping mission. “UNDOF continues to have a vital role to play in preserving stability between Israel and Syria,” he told the council.
“The United States is concerned by the Secretary-General’s reports of continued military activities and presence of the Syrian armed forces in the Area of Separation,” Hunter added.
“UNDOF’s mandate is crystal clear. There should be no military activity of any kind in the Area of Separation, including military operations by the Syrian armed forces… The United States is also alarmed by the reports of Hezbollah’s presence in the Area of Separation,” he said.
The “Resistance” Option?
26 March 2019
The Secretary General for Hezbollah Hassan Nasrallah on Tuesday called for adopting the “resistance” option to retake lands occupied by Israel, after Washington recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Syria Golan plateau. He also called on the Arab League to take actions in the upcoming summit in Tunisia.
In a televised speech broadcast by Manar TV channel, which is affiliated with his party, Nasrallah said that the “only option” for Syrians and Lebanese to retake their lands which Israel occupies, and for the Palestinian people to obtain their “legitimate rights” is “resistance, resistance, resistance … at a time in which the resistance has created numerous victories and a time in which the Resistance Axis is strong.”
He described Trump’s move as a “pivotal event in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict,” and reflects “disrespect and disregard for the Arab and Islamic worlds… just for Israel’s sake and Israel’s interest.”
Nasrallah stressed that Trump’s decision “is a fatal blow to the so-called peace process in the region, which is based on land in exchange for peace,” adding that this would have not happened if it were not for “the world’s silence” after Washington’s recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital last year.
Nasrallah said that condemnation statements “are no longer useful” to confront the US recognition.
An Airstrike in the Depth
28 March 2019
Syrian air defenses repelled an Israeli air “aggression” early Thursday that targeted the northeast of Aleppo in northern Syria, according to the Syrian official news agency SANA.
“Army air defenses repelled an Israeli air aggression that targeted a number of industrial sites in Sheikh Najjar industrial zone, north-east of Aleppo, and downed a number of the hostile missiles,” the official SANA news agency said, citing a military source. “There were only material damages,” the source added.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said the Israeli bombardment hit ammunition depots belonging to Iranian forces killing seven allied militants. The SOHR said the militants were non-Syrian troops allied to Iranian forces. Five Syrian soldiers were also injured, according to the SOHR.
A number of residents of Aleppo city told AFP that the attack led to a power cut in the whole city.
Israel has intensified its bombardment in Syria in recent years, targeting Syrian army positions and Iranian and Hezbollah targets. It repeatedly insists that it will continue to confront what is described as Iranian attempts to cement its military presence in Syria and send advanced weapons to Hezbollah.
On 21 January, the Israeli army announced that it launched airstrikes that targeted depots and intelligence and training centers affiliated with the Iranian al-Quds Brigade, in addition to weapons depots and a position near Damascus international airport. The airstrike killed twenty-one people, including Iranian forces and allied forces, according to the SOHR.
The strikes come after the US President Donald Trump signed a proclamation on Monday recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Syrian Golan Heights, which was occupied by Israel in 1967 and annexed in 1981, a move that has not received recognition by the international community.
First Attack After Defeat
26 March 2019
ISIS claimed responsibility on Tuesday for an attack in northern Syrian city of Manbij that killed seven fighters from a local council that administers the city and falls under the umbrella of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The attack is the first of its kind since the declaration of the end of the “caliphate.”
“Soldiers of the caliphate attacked a checkpoint… west of Manbij city last night and exchanged machine fire with them,” said a statement circulated by jihadist accounts on Telegram.
The group claimed responsibility shortly after council spokesman Sherfan Darwish announced the “martyrdom of seven fighters in a terrorist attack on one of our checkpoints at the entrance of the city” at night. He told the AFP that sleepers cells affiliated with the group are responsible for the attack.
The Manbij Military Council administers the city which is located in Aleppo governorate.
The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Rami Abdul Rahman confirmed the number of casualties and told the AFP, “This is the first attack of its kind since the liberation of al-Baghouz from ISIS.”
The SDF announced on Saturday the complete elimination of the “caliphate,” which the group had declared in Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014. The SDF also announced the start of a “new phase” to eliminate sleeper cells in coordination with the US-led international coalition.
“After the victory over ISIS, we have entered the phase of sleeper cells. These sleeper cells are being activated and carrying out attacks but we will foil their operations,” Darwish said.
The Nidus of Jihadists
30 March 2019
Wrangles with guards and violent fights break out in al-Hol camp in eastern Syria, as thousands of women and children of foreign ISIS fighters cram in the camp that has turned into a nidus of jihadists which could explode at any moment.
ISIS’s “caliphate” has been eliminated, but it left behind it thousands of extremist supporters, from Syria or foreigners who come from France, Tunisia, or Russia. Some of them were imprisoned while others were transferred to refugee camps run by Syrian Kurds.
In al-Hol camp alone, more than nine thousand foreign women and children were isolated in an area designated just for them, with a fence separating them from the rest of the refugees. Foreigners were separated from the rest due to their close links to ISIS.
Kurdish authorities are calling for the restoration of foreigners to their countries for fear of the “danger” stemming from the presence of thousands of them in the camp. Women and children “need rehabilitation and re-integration into their original societies, or else the will be future terrorists,” Omar Abdul Karim, one of the officials, said.