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.
Death, Destruction, and Displacement
14 March 2020
Nine years of a bloody and destructive war in Syria have left more than three hundred and eighty-four thousand people dead, including one hundred and sixteen thousand civilians. The civilian death toll includes twenty-two thousand children and thirteen thousand women, according to a report from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) on the tenth anniversary of the conflict.
The war has triggered the largest humanitarian crisis since the second world war, according to the United Nations, with the displacement of more than half of the population inside and outside of the country. It also depleted the economy, resources, and infrastructure and caused a record fall in the value of the Syrian pound.
As for the non-civilian death toll, the SOHR documented the death of more than one hundred and twenty-nine thousand people from government forces and allied militants of Syrian and non-Syrian nationalities, half of whom are Syrian soldiers, in addition to one thousand six hundred and ninety-seven Hezbollah members, which has been openly fighting alongside Damascus since 2013.
According to the SOHR, the toll includes people whose death it was able to document as a result of bombardment during battles, but it does not include those who died as a result of torture in government detentions or those who went missing and kidnapped. This group is estimated to be around ninety-seven thousand people.
In addition to human casualties, the conflict left tremendous destruction, which the United Nations estimates around four hundred billion dollars.
13 March 2020
Syrian authorities on Friday declared a set of measures to reduce the possibility of a Coronavirus outbreak in the war-torn country which has not officially announced any infections, according to the official Syrian news agency SANA.
Parliamentary elections, which were scheduled for 13 April, have been postponed. After a cabinet meeting headed by Prime Minister Imad Khamis, the government announced the “suspension of universities, schools, and public and private vocational institutions starting from 14 March until 2 April.”
“All scientific, cultural, social, and sport activities will be suspended” the government announced, while prohibiting “hookahs in cafes and restaurants.”
SANA also said that the number of workers in the public sector will be reduced by forty per cent, while working hours will be limited to 9:00 to 2:00.
The Syrian government said that quarantine centers will be set up “with an average of two centers in each governorate,” according to SANA. Syria has not announced any Corona virus deaths or infections up to now.
The Syrian health minister affirmed on Friday that his country does not have any COVID-19, according to SANA.
13 March 2020
Turkish and Russian officials on Friday agreed to conduct joint patrols in the Syrian governorate of Idlib on the weekend, said the Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar after a fragile ceasefire in the last stronghold of Syrian militants.
A Russian military delegation has been in Ankara since Tuesday to work out the details of the ceasefire reached on 5 March in Moscow between the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.
The agreement provides for the establishment of a security corridor by dispatching Turkish-Russian patrols along the M4 highway in Idlib governorate, northwest of Syria.
Idlib has come intense bombardment by Syrian forces and Russian planes since December, leaving hundreds of civilian dead and forcing around a million people to flee toward the Turkish border.
Two Children a Day
12 March 2020
Shortly before the tenth anniversary of the war in Syria, the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) appealed to governments and public opinion not to abandon Syrian children. “Every ten hours, one child dies as a result of the war,” the organization said in a statement on Friday.
UNICEF estimates the number of children who cannot go to school because of the war to be around 8.2 million children, adding that many of them have never been to school.
In recent weeks, more than nine hundred thousand people were displaced in the Syrian governorate of Idlib, fleeing toward the Turkish border. Idlib is considered the last stronghold for Islamic militants who withdrew from other Syrian governorates.
In its statement, the UNICEF said that around sixty percent of the displaced were children, adding that they suffered from violence and extreme destitution on the front lines.
12 March 2020
Twenty-six members of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization were killed in an airstrike east of Syria on Wednesday night, according to a new toll by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), after an offensive that targeted the US-led coalition forces in Iraq which left a number of casualties and deaths.
The international coalition denied that it launched raids in Syria on Wednesday night, after the SOHR suggested that its planes targeted the Iraqi militants near the border town of Bou Kamal in the eastern countryside of Deir Azzor.
The airstrike came hours after the killing of two soldiers, an American and a British, and an American contractor as a result of a Katyusha missile attack that targeted the Iraqi al-Taji military base, which houses US soldiers, north of Baghdad.
This was the bloodiest attack against US interests in Iraq for many years. No one has claimed responsibility for the missile attack on the military base.
Caesar in Congress
11 March 2020
A Syrian military defector, who documented the violations of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s security apparatus, urged the US Congress during his testimony on Wednesday to ensure that the perpetrators would be held accountable.
The former military officer, who worked as a photographer in the Syrian army and has come to be known as “Caesar,” defected in 2014 and succeeded in smuggling fifty-five thousand pictures that document the brutal practices in government prisons during the suppression of the uprising in Syria.
In an unfamiliar site in the US congress, Caesar provided his testimony to the Foreign Relations Committee wearing an oversized hoodie. Attendees and the media were asked to turn of phones and cameras.
Caesar said that despite the risks he took, he has not achieved his objective of putting an end to the violations.
After a previous testimony to the US Senate in 2014, senators passed a draft law that carried his name which imposed financial sanctions on Syria, including the cessation of reconstruction aid until the perpetrators of brutal acts are brought to justice.
The draft imposed sanctions on companies that deal with al-Assad, including Russian companies, and was recently signed by President Donald Trump in December after deliberations in the congress that went on for years.
Caesar praised the law but called on the congress to make sure it is implemented.
10 March 2020
A German court said on Tuesday that for the first time in Germany two Syrians will be tried in April for charges of torture crimes committed in the prisons of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The higher regional court in the city of Koblenz gave the green light to the trial brought forward by the federal general prosecution against two former members of the Syrian intelligence.
According to data from the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, this trial will be the first criminal trial of its kind in the world involving torture acts by the Syrian government.
10 March 2020
Turkey’s military will patrol to the north of a security corridor being set up around a highway in northwest Syria’s Idlib governorate and Russian forces will patrol the southern side, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Tuesday.
Agreement on the corridor was part of a ceasefire deal reached by Turkey and Russia last week to halt a conflict in Idlib which displaced nearly a million people in three months and created the risk of a military clash between Turkey and Russia.
The deal cemented gains by Russian-backed Syrian forces over Turkish-backed rebels but stemmed the advances of Assad’s forces and eased Ankara’s greatest fear – an influx of more Syrian migrants to join the three and a half million Syrian refugees already in Turkey.