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.
“Committee” is Better
8 November 2019
The opening round of the first Syrian peace talks in more than a year went “better than most people would have expected”, said the UN special envoy to Syria Geir Pedersen, although delegates described a chilly atmosphere with those from opposing sides not yet shaking hands. Representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition met in Geneva to discuss a future constitution, part of plans for a political settlement to end eight and a half years of war. Expectations for the talks have been low, with Damascus and its Iranian and Russian allies having made gains on the battlefield that left them few reasons to grant concessions.
The government delegation had been seeking to hold the next round of talks in Syria’s capital, which the opposition had strongly resisted. The talks are focused on drawing up a constitution with a view to eventually hold elections in Syria, a less sweeping agenda than at UN-sponsored talks earlier in the war. In Geneva last week, the one hundred and fifty delegates agreed the composition of a smaller forty-five-member drafting body tasked with writing a draft of the constitution that would be eventually presented to Syrian voters.
After ten days of talks, there was no immediate agreement on the release of thousands of detainees, an issue that Pedersen has underscored as key to building confidence. Nor was there consensus on whether delegates from the so-called small group in charge of drafting the constitution would adapt a 2012 constitution or start afresh with a new one.
Talks between the parties were often heated, delegates said, particularly on the issue of “terrorism”, a term used by the government side to refer to insurgents, with the government body seeking to incorporate this within the constitutional reform project. The opposition side resisted this.
Syria with Equal Opportunities!
11 November 2019
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad said the Syrian presidential elections in 2021 would be open to anybody who wants to run and that there would be numerous challengers for the presidency.
Al-Assad, who made the comment in an interview broadcast on Monday on the Russian television channel RT, faced two challengers at the 2014 election which he won by a landslide, but which his opponents dismissed as a charade. “Last time we were three and this time of course we are going to have as much as they want to nominate. There are going to be numerous nominees,” Al-Assad said.
President Al-Assad said that the Syrian government is socialist and has rejected privatization and so has the syndicates. “The majority rejected neo-liberal policies because we realized they would destroy the poor,” he said, adding “we still have the public sector and we are still supporting the poor and providing support for bread, fuel, and schools… we have not changed that policy, but we opened the doors further for the private sector. Therefore, you cannot call this a liberalization of economy.”
It should be mentioned that Syria has adopted liberal economic policies since the 1980’s, which accelerated in the 1990’s and 2000’s.
Bombardment of Idlib
8 November 2019
UN rights spokesman Rupert Colville said on Friday that more than sixty medical facilities have been hit in Syria’s Idlib governorate in the past six months, including four this week, and appear to have been deliberately targeted by government-affiliated forces.
The Northeast Between Turkey and Russia
8, 9 November 2019
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed Turkey’s military offensive in Syria in a phone call on Saturday, Turkey’s presidency said.
Turkey launched its cross-border offensive one month ago, saying it aimed to drive Kurdish-led forces from the border region and create a “safe zone” to settle Syrian refugees.
It halted its advance under a deal with the United States which called for the withdrawal from the border of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). Erdogan later agreed on a separate deal with Moscow, which also called for the YPG to withdraw at least thirty kilometers from the border, but has since said that neither Washington nor Moscow has been able to deliver on the deals.
The Turkish statement on Saturday said Erdogan and Putin confirmed their commitment to the accord they struck at a meeting in the Black Sea resort of Sochi which also paved the way for joint Russian-Turkish military patrols inside Syria.
Explosion in Suluk
10 November 2019
Turkey’s defense ministry and local emergency workers said eight people were killed when a bomb exploded on Sunday in an area of northeast Syria controlled by Turkish troops and their Syrian rebel allies. The ministry said the bombing, which it blamed on the Kurdish YPG, took place southeast of the Syrian town of Tal Abyad which Turkey captured in a military offensive that began one month ago.
Turkey halted its military advance when it struck deals with the United States and Russia calling for the YPG to be moved at least thirty kilometers away from Syria’s border with Turkey. The village of Suluk, where Sunday’s explosion took place, is around ten kilometers south of the border. A small truck exploded outside a bakery there, an emergency worker said.
Oil is for the SDF
6, 7 November 2019
The Pentagon said on Thursday that revenue from oilfields in northeastern Syria will go to US-backed forces rather than the United States itself.
During a news conference announcing the death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a US raid last month, Trump had raised the possibility of American oil companies taking over the oilfields in northeastern Syria, currently operated by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Washington’s Syrian Kurdish allies.
His comments drew sharp rebukes from lawyers and experts, who said the move was likely a legally dubious one. On Wednesday, a senior State Department official said there was no direction from the White House to pursue such a way forward.