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.
Sudan and Syria
14 April 2019
Syrians are following the situation in Sudan and its effects on the situation in their own country after eight years of civil war, as thousands of Sudanese protestors continued their sit-in at the ministry of defense on Sunday to call on the army to step up the transition to a civil government. The head of the military council that replaced the former President Omar Bashir, who was ousted on Thursday after three decades in power, said a new civil government would be formed after consultations with the opposition.
The Sudanese Professionals’ Association, the main group which organized the protests leading to Bashir’s fall, demanded civilians be included in the transitional military council and for Bahsir’s close associates to leave. It also called for “restructuring the security and intelligence apparatus so that it can carry out its role and dissolving regime militias.”
The sit-in that began on 6 April, was the culmination of a protest movement that began nearly four months ago. The sit-in witnessed violent clashes last week, but the atmosphere was quite on Sunday.
On Friday, the Defense Minister Awad Ibn Awf resigned as the head of the military council one day after assuming the position. Ibn Awf had earlier announced the ouster of Bashir and holding him in custody. The new head of the military council Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan said the transitional period would go on for a maximum two years. He canceled the night curfew and ordered the release of all those detained under emergency laws imposed by Bashir.
Pedersen in Damascus for Third Time
14 April 2019
The UN Special Envoy to Syria Geir Pedersen arrived in Damascus to complete consultations regarding the constitutional committee on his third visit since the beginning of this year. The Syrian foreign ministry said on Sunday that the Foreign Minister Walid Moualem met Pederson and the accompanying delegation in Damascus.
The meeting between the two sides discussed ongoing efforts to achieve progress on the political track to find a solution to the Syrian crisis, and complete consultations on the political process, especially discussions regarding the constitution, the ministry said.
Moualem and Pedersen discussed actions taken since his last visit to Damascus in March in regards to the constitutional committee talks and the political process, according to the ministry.
Pedersen outlined steps that could be taken to reach a comprehensive political solution in Syria in accordance with UN Security Council 2254. The first step is to “build confidence and strengthen the relationship with both the government and the opposition,” and identify common grounds and issues not agreed upon, said Pedersen.
The second step is “serious engagement with the Syrian civil society,” and the third step is “working on the issue of detainees and missing persons and kidnapees,” said Pedersen considering it an important and substantial issue for him personally. In regards to the political issue, Pedersen talked about “deepening the dialogue with the government and the opposition, and working on the constitutional committee,” which was handed over to him by his predecessor Staffan de Mistura.
Russia and Turkey have recently talked about the finalization of the committee to draft a new constitution for Syria.
Russian and Turkish Harmony!
8 April 2019
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia and Turkey will jointly patrol Syria’s Idlib province. “We are basically entering joint patrolling, at least patrolling from two sides,” Putin added after talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Moscow on Monday. He also said that Russia and Turkey would continue with their efforts to bring peace to Syria.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he planned to discuss a possible Turkish military operation in Syria when he visits Moscow for talks with President Vladimir Putin on Monday, Russia’s RIA news agency reported.
“Our preparations on the border are finished, everything is ready for an operation. We can begin it at any moment. I will discuss this issue among others face-to-face (with Putin) on my visit to Russia,” Erdogan was cited as saying.
Kurds Complain About Russia
12 April 2019
A Syrian Kurdish official said efforts to forge a political deal between Kurdish-led authorities in northern Syria and the Syrian government are at a standstill and Russia is to blame. The Kurdish-led authorities revived efforts to negotiate a deal with Damascus earlier this year in the wake of a US decision to withdraw its forces from their areas, hoping Moscow would mediate an agreement that would preserve their autonomy. The picture has shifted significantly since then, however, with Washington deciding to keep some troops in Syria and the Syrian government directing new threats of military action at Kurdish-led forces if they do not submit to its rule.
Badran Jia Kurd, a Syrian Kurdish official involved in the political track, said, “Russia is still claiming that it is working on that initiative but to no avail.” Jia Kurd added that Russia had put its interests with Turkey ahead of pressing for a deal with Damascus. Russia had “not played its role after meeting the Turkish side many times and this is what led to the blocking of the path of dialogue with Damascus and Russia bears the historic responsibility,” he said.
Explosion in Raqqa
9 April 2019
A security source in northern Syria said a bomb attack in the Syrian city of Raqqa killed eight people on Tuesday, including four fighters of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
The blast also killed four civilians and wounded three members of the Kurdish-led internal security forces known as the Asayish, the source said. Witnesses said people including SDF members gathered at the scene after an initial blast, which was followed by a bigger explosion that caused the casualties.
ISIS’s Amaq news agency said the group’s militants entrapped Kurdish security forces by detonating a sound explosive device on a main street and after people congregated they detonated a car that was parked nearby.
13 April 2019
Syrian state television said on Saturday that Israeli planes targeted a military position near the governorate of Hama, but Syrian air defenses intercepted and downed some of the rockets. Citing military sources, the Syrian news agency SANA said that Israeli aircraft had targeted “one of our military positions towards the city of Masyaf.”
“The enemy missiles were dealt with and some of them were shot down before reaching their target, resulting in the damage of a few buildings and the injury of three fighters,” SANA added.
9 April 2019
Official Syrian media said that suicide bombers disguised as farmers struck an army position on Tuesday in an attack that killed three people and all the militants. The official media said the militants were dressed as local farmers when they hit the position near Taybat al-Imam, in the northern countryside of Hama, around 3 a.m.
The Ansar al-Tawheed group said three of its fighters had carried out the attack on the checkpoint in Taybat al-Imam, north of Hama city. In a statement, it said thirty members of government forces had been killed and wounded.
Violence has escalated lately in the area, the last major part of Syria held by armed opposition, straining a Russian-Turkish agreement that has staved off a major government offensive.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said ten people were killed in Tuesday’s attack in the “demilitarized” zone set up under the Turkish-Russian agreement.
Red Cross Missing Staff
15 April 2019
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has appealed for information on the fate of three employees abducted in Syria more than five years ago and last known to have been held by ISIS.
Breaking its silence on the case on Sunday, the independent aid agency identified the three as Louisa Akavi, a nurse from New Zealand, and Syrian drivers Alaa Rajab and Nabil Bakdounes. This appeal comes after US-backed forces proclaimed the capture of ISIS’s last territory in Syria last month, eliminating its rule over a caliphate it had proclaimed in Iraq and Syria in 2014.
The three were traveling in a Red Cross convoy in October 2013, delivering supplies to medical facilities in Idlib, northwestern Syria, when it was stopped by armed men. Four other people abducted with them were released the next day.
A Promise to Find a Solution to the Fuel Crisis
14 April 2019
The Syrian Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources promised a breakthrough in the fuel crisis within the few coming days. The ministry said on Sunday that the reason behind the “severe” shortage of fuel is the economic sanctions imposed on Syria, which especially target the oil sector and prevent oil tankers from reaching the country. The ministry promised that the breakthrough would begin in ten days.
Syria has been suffering from a fuel crisis for months, especially domestic cooking gas and gasoline. The crisis intensified in recent days, prompting government officials to blame the crisis on sanctions imposed on Syria and accusing the Suez Canal of contributing to these sanctions.
Syrian Prime Minister Imad Khamis said on Wednesday that the Egyptian Suez Cana has been preventing ships carrying oil to Syria from passing for six months. “All attempts and communications have failed to convince the Egyptian side from allowing at least one oil tanker,” he added.
The Egyptian cabinet denied preventing any tanker heading for Syria from passing.
The United States warned in March the maritime petroleum shipping community against delivering shipments to the Syrian government, and published a list of ships that have been carrying this out since 2016.
A statement from the Public Affairs Office of the US Department of Treasury said that the Office of Foreign Assets in the department has renewed its warning to the maritime petroleum shipping community to highlight the risks of carrying oil shipments to Syria.