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.
Farewell to Saraqeb
1 February 2020
Like other towns and villages in its vicinity, Saraqeb is empty of its residents after government forces advanced in the southern countryside of Idlib and took control over the city of Maaret al-Noman, the second largest city in Idlib, last week as part of the ongoing escalation in the area.
City streets are desolate with buildings crumbled and others totally destroyed as a result of the airstrikes. It is the scene in many cities affected by the escalation in Idlib governorate – home to three million people.
In light on the military escalation with Russian support, the United Nations has registered the displacement of three hundred and eighty-eight thousand people since December, especially from Maaret al-Noman and its countryside toward safer places in northern Idlib close to the border with Turkey.
A few months ago, Idlib constituted a refuge for families displaced from towns affected by the escalation. Its population exceeded one hundred and ten thousand people back then.
Arrest of a “Rebel” in France
31 January 2020
The French Judiciary charged a former leader in the Syrian group Jaish ali-Islam (Army of Islam) with war crimes and torture. He is suspected of being involved in the disappearance of the well-known activist Razan Zeitouneh in 2013.
The previous spokesman for the group was arrested on Wednesday in France. He appeared in front of an investigation judge in Paris on Friday, who charged him of torture, committing war crimes, and complicity in enforced disappearances, according to a judiciary source who spoke to the AFP.
The suspect (32 years) resides in France on a student visa as part of the Erasmus Program for students. He was arrested in Marseille, south of France.
NGO’s said in a joint statement that the detainee went by the name of Islam Alloush, but his real name is Majdi Mustafa Nimeh. They said that Nimeh was “a leader of Jaish al-Islam,” the group which “numbered more than twenty thousand people and was mainly present in eastern Ghouta up to 2018.”
The NGO’s added that Islam Alloush was a captain in the Syrian army before he defected and joined Jaish al-Islam. He was close to its commander Zahran Alloush.
Jaish al-Islam is suspected of kidnapping the Syrian lawyer and journalist Razan Zeitouneh and her husband Wael Hammadeh along with two of their associates Samira Khalil and Nazem al-Hamadi on 9 December 2013.
Russian – Turkish Sparring
31 January 2020
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened Moscow with an “incursion” in north Syria by launching a “new military operation” in Idlib, indicating that the Adana agreement signed with Syria gives his country the right to defend its southern border.
There is a violation of the agreement in the Syrian Idlib carried out by the Syrian government with Russian support, Erdogan said in Ankara. “We will not stand by and watch the practices of the Syrian government and the bombing of civilians on our border with Syria.”
Erdogan added that the Adana agreement (signed between Ankara and Damascus in 1998) gives Turkey the right to defend its southern border with Syria. He said that Turkey would not hesitate to do all that is necessary, “including using military force.”
Russia is “fully complying with its commitments under the Sochi agreement on Idlib. However, continued terrorist attacks in this area a source of deep concern for Moscow,” spokesman for the Russian presidency Dmitry Peskov said.
“Unfortunately, this area still remains a gathering point for a great number of terrorists who are continuously carrying out terrorist attacks against the Syrian armed forces and also against the Russian base in Hmeimeim,” Peskov said, adding that this situation “cannot but invoke our deep concern.”
29 January 2020
Heavy silence hangs over the city of Maaret al-Noman, northwest of Syria, where streets have been deserted and homes which survived the destruction have been abandoned. Only the renowned mosaic panels remain mostly intact in a museum, which was not spared the repercussions of the war, according to a report by the AFP from Maaret al-Noman.
After weeks of violent battles and airstrikes, which forced tens of thousand of people to flee, the Syrian army took control of Maaret al-Noman, the second largest city in the governorate of Idlib situated on a strategic international road after opposition factions controlled it for seven years.
Movement in the city is limited to a few Syrian soldiers. Four months ago, however, one hundred and fifty thousand people lived in Maaret al-Noman, which is now more like a ghost town after its residents abandoned it.
Just like other archeological cities, Maaret al-Noman had its share of destruction. In February of 2013, opposition fighters decapitated the statue of Abu al-Alaa al-Maari (973-1057) one of the most prominent Arab poets and a descendant of the city.
The most important aspect of the city is perhaps its huge museum which hosts more than two thousand square meters of ancient mosaic panels that go back to the Roman and Byzantine eras. It also was not spared the repercussions of the war.
In June of 2015, the Independent Association for the Protection of Syrian Ruins said that the museum was subject to bombardment by two “barrel bombs” that left “severe damage.”
Few panels maintained their form and were not touched, including a rectangular panel showing four animals running after each other and on top of it a circular panel for a man carrying bunch of grapes.
Only the Syrian Pound
28 January 2020
The Syrian interior ministry said that it arrested the head of a media company for dealing with the US dollar, in addition to the Syrian director Fadi after a raid on his office for the same charge.
Golden Line for Media Production said in a statement they day before yesterday that the police had closed its office in Damascus and arrested its manager Nayef al-Ahmar for dealing with currencies other than the Syrian pound. Several Syrian actors expressed surprise at the closure of the company.
Twenty Villages and Three Million Civilians
27 January 2020
Damascus said that the Syrian army was able to take control of Maaret al-Noman after weeks of violent confrontations and bombardment, bringing it closer to its objective of retaking control of a strategic international road.
Idlib governorate and surrounding areas – home to three million people, half of whom are displaced – have been witness to a military escalation by government forces and their Russian ally since last month. The escalation is mainly focused in the southern countryside of Idlib and the western countryside of Aleppo, where an international road that connects Aleppo and Damascus passes.
In recent days, the battles and bombardment focused on the city of Maaret al-Noman and led to the death of one hundred and forty-seven people from government forces and one hundred and sixty-eight people from militant factions, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Observers say that government forces are using their recent attack in Idlib to gradually regain control of parts of Idlib and Aleppo where this road passes in order to take full control of it.
Tahrir al-Sham (previously Nusra) controls most parts of Idlib governorate. Other less influential factions are also present.