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.
ISIS in the Settlement
15 December 2019
Foreign Jihadists held by the Kurds cannot be tried in Iraq due to the conditions in this country, said French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Dria on Sunday, adding that their fate is now a part of the UN-sponsored “political settlement” in Syria.
“We thought we could establish a certain judicial system with regards to the Iraqi authorities,” he told the France Inter radio, according to the AFP.
The French foreign minister headed to Baghdad on 17 October to discuss the establishment of such a system with Iraqi authorities in order to try foreign ISIS fighters, including sixty French nationals.
“Given the conditions in Iraq today, this assumption is impossible in the short and medium terms,” he said referring to the popular protests in this country that led to the resignation of the Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.
The Kurds currently hold around twelve thousand ISIS members, mostly Iraqis and Syrians.
14 December 2019
The European Union should spend more than the six billion euros ($6.6 billion) already allotted to fund Syrian refugees in Turkey, and speed up the flow of that money, the Turkish foreign ministry’s EU point person said on Saturday.
EU funds support the roughly three and a half million Syrian refugees in Turkey, after Syria’s more than eight-year war killed hundreds of thousands and pushed millions from their homes. In turn, Turkey has agreed to halt further immigration to Europe.
Astana: Different Priorities
13 December 2019
The recent meeting for “sponsors” of the Sochi-Astana process, Russia, Turkey, and Iran, in the Kazakh capital on 10 and 11 December has revealed the dominance of geo-political concerns over the interest in the priorities of Syrians. The compass shifted from Idlib in northwest Syria to the northeast of Syria, in regards to the US presence and the Israeli airstrikes against “Iranian positions.”
The three sponsor countries exchanged trade-offs in positions in order to reach common agreements that are more relevant to their interests than to the to the interests of Syrian, the constitutional reform process, or the detainees and kidnapped. The three countries were steadfast in reiterating the captivating phrase that the political process should be “owned by Syria and led by Syria in order to launch the Syrian-Syrian dialogue.”
Military developments in east of the Euphrates, which have occurred since the previous meeting of the Astana sponsors in August, have dominated the interest of the participants. They reiterated their refusal of “attempts to create a new reality on the ground, including the illegal self-administration initiatives,” and their intention “to confront all separatist agendas,” in a reference to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and its main component the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).
11 December 2019
After a long wait, lawmakers agreed to pass the “Caesar Law” that imposes new sanctions on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his regime and allies.
With a broad consensus on the bill, lawmakers hope it will be voted on and passed before the end of this week, and that it will be sent to the White House, where US President Donald Trump is expected to sign it, as it is customary for presidents not to use their veto power against defense budgets.
It was agreed that the bill would be included in the defense budget for next year in order to avoid any new delays that might hinder the passage of the bill, as what happened in the past.
The final draft of the Caesar Law stipulated imposing sanctions against al-Assad and various members of the Syrian regime, including ministers, parliament members, and others; in addition to individuals and companies that finance or provide support for the Syrian president. The bill also imposes sanctions on Syrian factories, especially those related to infrastructure, military maintenance, and the energy sector. The bill repeatedly mentions Russia and Iran and suggests imposing sanctions on them related to their support for the Syrian government. It explicitly says that sanctions will be imposed on Iranian and Russian officials who support the Syrian government.
The bill authorizes US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to support organizations that are collecting evidence against people who committed crimes against humanity in Syria from 2011 to the present so that they can be prosecuted.
Ankara Is “Dissatisfied”
10 December 2019
Turkey has not reached the intended result of conducting joint patrols with Russian and US forces in northeast Syria, said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Turkey asked the United States and Russia for the withdrawal of so-called “terrorists,” Erdogan said, referring to members of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) which spearheads the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northern Syria, adding that “they have not carried out this mission yet.”
He talked about the possibility of settling five hundred and thirty thousand people in the area that extends between the cities of al-Malkieh and Ras al-Ain in Hasakeh governorate and another four hundred and five thousand people between the cities of Ras al-Ain and Tal Abyadh in the governorate of Raqq in northeast Syria.
He also said that Turkey will host a four-way summit in February on the Syrian situation.
Russia in the Capital of ISIS
10 December 2019
The Russian defense ministry said that on the previous day, its military units entered the destroyed city of Raqqa for the first time since the beginning of the direct Russian military presence in Syria in the fall of 2015. With a focus on the “humanitarian missions,” which the Russian soldiers began carrying out in the previous ISIS stronghold through the distribution of humanitarian aid and deployment of medical teams, the main concern was conveying the scenes of destruction while blaming US forces for “the deliberate total destruction of the infrastructure.”
The Russian announcement of entering Raqqa carried a “ceremonial” character although Russian forces in Syria did not contribute to the battles that led to the undermining of ISIS capabilities in the city. A Russian military statement by the Center for Reconciliation Between Warring Parties said that as soon as the Russian military was deployed in the city, they were busy “distributing around two thousand food baskets to the population. Military doctors also started to provide medical and health assistance to all those who need it in the city.”