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.
01 December 2019
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said that more than eight hundred people were killed in November as a result of the conflict that has been going on for years.
Of the eight hundred and five people killed, there were two hundred and twenty-seven civilians, including forty-four children under the age of eighteen, and twenty-nine women, said the SOHR, adding that seventy-nine of the dead were killed by Russian war planes.
The observatory also said that among those dead there were two hundred and forty-one fighters of Islamic and militant factions, one hundred and thirty-seven of government forces, and seventy-one of Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
28 November 2019
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad signed on Thursday the general budget bill for next year with a total sum of 9.2 billion US dollars. It does not note the deficit in the electricity sector, which suffered major damage during the eight-year-long war.
The conflict has inflicted huge damage in infrastructure and great losses in the economy. The United Nations estimated the toll of destruction at around four hundred billion dollars.
The official Syrian news agency SANA said al-Assad issued the new law which “sets the allocations for the general budget for the 2020 fiscal year at a total amount of four thousand billion Syrian pounds.”
The official exchange rate is four hundred and thirty-four Syrian pounds four one US dollar. However, the value of the Syrian pound depreciated sharply in the black market, reaching its lowest level yet at eight hundred Syrian pounds to the dollar.
The 2020 budget is not different than that of this current year. However, the new budget does not take into account the losses of the electricity department.
During a session to discuss the budget, members of the parliament criticized the extent of financial deficit which increased fifty-four percent compared to this year’s budget, according to the Syrian al-Watan newspaper.
The newspaper on Wednesday reported the Finance Minister Mamoun Hamdan as saying in the budget approval session, “not all of the deficit was presented, as the deficit of the electricity department – which is seven hundred and eleven billion Syrian pounds (1.6 billion US dollars) – remained outside the budget,” and will be added to the 2021 budget.
This budget comes one week after a decree by al-Assad that increased the salaries of civil and military employees by thirty-seven to forty-six dollars. More than 2.l million employees and retirees benefitted from this decree.
Crippled Constitutional Committee
28 November 2019
UN special envoy to Syria Geir Pedersen confirmed on Friday the end of the second round of talks on the amendment of the current Syrian constitution after a dispute on the agenda prevented both government and opposition negotiators from meeting.
The committee commissioned with reviewing the constitution under the auspices of the United Nations is comprised of one hundred fifty members equally divided between the government, opposition, and civil society.
A small group of forty-five negotiators is tasked with drafting the new constitution. However, there is little hope of a breakthrough to reach a political settlement to the conflict that left more than three hundred and seventy thousand people dead.
“It turned out to be impossible to hold a general meeting of the small group, because no agreement was reached on the agenda,” Pedersen told journalists.
He added that a date has not yet been set for the concerned parties to meet.
The Syrian Pound Makes History
27 November 2019
For the first time in Syria’s history, the exchange rate for the Syrian pound on Thursday surpassed eight hundred Syrian pounds for one US dollar, amid a sharp increase in food and consumer prices.
This increase led many commercial shop owners to close their shops due to the continuous increase of prices.
A number of residents in the town of Qodsia, north of the capital Damascus, told a German news agency, “people are no longer able to buy their needs because of the increase in prices. This led commercial shop owners to close their shops in solidarity with the people. Whereas, some shops closed their doors because of the continuous increase of prices in hope that the prices tomorrow or after that might be lower.”
A government employee said that the salary increase that was applied early that week would do no good in face of the sharp increase in prices. The governorate of Aleppo – the Syrian economic capital – is in a stalemate in markets as the dollar continues to rise.
The Syrian pound has extensively depreciated since the onset of protests in mid-March of 2011. The exchange rate at the time was fifty Syrian pounds to the dollar, thus, the increase is now sixteen folds. The exchange rate according to the official bulletin of the Syrian Central Bank is four hundred and thirty-five Syrian pounds to the dollar.
Chemical Weapons Once Again
28 November 2019
Russia’s efforts to block funding for a new team to investigate the perpetrators of an alleged chemical attack in Douma, east of Damascus, failed after member states in the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) overwhelmingly voted to approve the new budget.
Moscow and its allies attempted to block the OPCW’s budget for next year because it allocated funding for a new team to investigate the facts, which would have prevented the organization from functioning. However, one hundred and six member countries voted in favor of the new budget, which was considered as a vote of confidence of the OPCW’s activities. Nineteen countries, including Russia and China, voted against the budget.
“Safe Zone” not Safe
27 November 2019
The humans right watchdog Humans Right Watch said on Wednesday that there are many violations and confiscation of homes in areas under Turkey’s control in northern Syria, where Ankara says it wants to resettle Syrian refugees.
Turkey established what it calls the “safe zone” along a one hundred and twenty kilometer stretch of land on its southern border which it captured from Syrian Kurdish fighters.
The New York based organization urged Turkey and its allies in Syria to investigate “human rights violations that constitute potential war crimes” in the thirty-kilometer deep area in Syria.
26 November 2019
The NTV television channel on Tuesday cited the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as saying that Qatar could support Turkey’s plans to settle more than one million refugees in northeast Syria after its offensive against Kurdish militants in the area.
Turkey attacked the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) last month, seizing control of a one hundred and twenty kilometers strip along its southeastern border.
Since it launched its offensive, Ankara has been urging its western allies to support plans to build new cities in northeast Syria. It says that around half of the 3.6 million refugees it hosts could be settled in this safe zone.
Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said on Tuesday that around three hundred and seventy thousand Syrians returned from Turkey to areas liberated from terrorists in their countries.
Turkey has called for an international summit for sponsor countries to support the plan. Western officials say that they will refrain from funding any project that involves involuntary return of refugees or changes the demographic composition in Syria. Ankara denies such plans.