Media Anthology: June 11- June 24, 2019


ALEXANDRINA

Media Anthology

June 11 to 24, 2018

linklanguagesourceDateCategory
The occupation Israeli army shelled a location for Assad forces in Dar'a and QuneitraArabicHorryaJune 12, 2019Conflict and Military
Formally, Russia declares a ceasefire in IdlebArabicEnab BaladiJune 13, 2019Conflict and Military
A surprise attack targeted a checkpoint of Assad forces in rural Dar'aArabicHoran Free LeagueJune 13, 2019Conflict and Military
After the death of 147 of their forces in 72 hours, the villages of Tal Meleh and al-Jabin swallow 26 of the regime forces and the loyal gunmen since dawn of todayEnlgishSyrian Observatory For Human RightsJune 15, 2019Conflict and Military
Raqqa security deteriorates as US drawdown threatens northern Syria stabilityEngliahThe Defense PostJune 11, 2019Conflict and Military
Turkish Forces and loyal factions target for the first time sites of the regime forces in Hama countryside after repeated targeting of Turkish observation posts in 3 daysEnglishSyrian Observatory For Human RightsJune 16, 2019Conflict and Military
Damascus governorate amends the military checkpoints distribution planArabicEnab BaladiJune 18, 2019Conflict and Military
Russia restructures the intelligence apparatuses of the Syria regimeArabicAl Quds Al ArabiJune 18, 2019Conflict and Military
The attrition battle continues northwest of Hama and kills 35 of the regime forces, the factions, and the Jihadis in continuous attacks by the regime forces on Tal Meleh and al-Jabin villagesEnglishSyrian Observatory For Human RightsJune 20, 2019Conflict and Military
Motorcycle bomb injured 15 in Al-Bab in rural AleppoArabicEnab BaladiJune 22, 2019Conflict and Military
A daily attack and counter-attack in rural Hama ArabicAl Quds Al ArabiJune 22, 2019Conflict and Military
A new attack by ISIS members in Al-Mayadin Desert kills and injures about 15 members of the militiamen loyal to the regime forces of Syrian and non-Syrian nationalitiesEnglishSyrian Observatory For Human RightsJune 23, 2019Conflict and Military
Treasury designates Syrian oligarch Samer Foz and his luxury reconstruction business empireEnglishU.S. Department of StateJune 11, 2019Economic
Four reasons behind the fires in east SyriaArabicEqtsadJune 15, 2019Economic
Exchange rate of the Syrian lira exceeds the 600 for one US dollarArabicEnab BaladiJune 16, 2019Economic
The Syrian regime rises the price of unsubsidized fuel. What about the subsidized? ArabicRozanaJune 16, 2019Economic
Damascus Provincial Council agreed on issuing the regulatory plan for the industrial area in Qaboun ArabicEmmar SyriaJune 19, 2019Economic
The impact of ISIS collapse on fuel crisis in SyriaArabicStrategy WatchJune 15, 2019Economic
Aleppo's scattered business owners have yet to return homeEnglishynet news June 23, 2019Economic
The peasants of Ghouta are trying to revive their  lands following years of warArabicAl HayatJune 19, 2019Economic
Aqraba: The "Air force Intelligence" doesn't recognize those who reconciled with the Military Security IntelligenceArabicAl modonJune 15, 2019Governance and Service Management
Syrian universities weakened by 'brain-drain', says reportEnglishBBCJune 17, 2019Governance and Service Management
PYD forces urge employees to settle their military status ArabicJisr TvJune 22, 2019Governance and Service Management
New Syrian military councils are the SDF’s latest push for decentralizationEnglishThe Defense PostJune 23, 2019Governance and Service Management
Protests in Assad’s stronghold of LattakiaEnglishThe Syrian ObserverJune 13, 2019Social Dynamics
Muhradah: Russia protects us not the regimeArabicAl modonJune 15, 2019Social Dynamics
Eastern Syria tribes refuse to cooperate with Saudi, Kurdish separatist plansEnglishMiddle East MonitorJune 20, 2019Social Dynamics
Attempts to renew the ‘grace period’ in Dar'aArabicHoran Free LeagueJune 22, 2019Social Dynamics
An anti-regime demonstration in Dar'a Al-BaladArabicEnab BaladiJune 21, 2019Social Dynamics
Thousands of Syrian refugees could be sent back, says Lebanese ministerEnglishThe GuardianJune 15, 2019Humanitarian & Development
WFP Syria North-Western Syria Emergency Situation Report #2EnglishWorld Food Programme June 17, 2019Humanitarian & Development
Deir-ez-Zor council found 74 bodies in HajinArabicEnab BaladiJune 20, 2019Humanitarian & Development
Lebanon: Forced displacement anticipatory briefing note – 20June 2019EnglishACAPSJune 20, 2019Humanitarian & Development
Coastal breakdown in Syria creates opportunities for RussiaEnglishMiddle East InstituteJune 13, 2019International Intervention
Saudi minister visits Syria Kurdish regionsEnglishKurd PressJune 16, 2019International Intervention
A plan for Syria consists of eight sections was provided by the US to Russia and concentrated around the Iranian existence ArabicAsharq Al AwsatJune 20, 2019International Intervention
Coastal breakdown in Syria creates opportunities for RussiaEnglishMiddle East InstituteJune 13, 2019Other
Transitional justice process for ISIS members essentialEnglishAsia TimesJune 19, 2019Other
The Syrian regime’s refusal to allow the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ investigation team to enter Syria constitutes strong evidence against the regimeEnglishSyrian Network for Human RightsJune 17, 2019Other
The Government of Northern Cyprus imposes visa regime on Syrians ArabicJisr TvJune 23, 2019Other
Local intermediaries in post-2011 SyriaEnglishFriedrich Ebert StiftungJune 20, 2019Other

Syria Update: June 20 – June 26, 2019

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Syria Update

20 June to 29 June, 2019

The Syria Update is divided into two sections.  The first section provides an in-depth analysis of key issues and dynamics related to wartime and post-conflict Syria.   The second section provides a comprehensive whole of Syria review, detailing events and incidents, and analysis of their respective significance.

The following is a brief synopsis of the in-depth analysis section this week:

On June 19, the unofficial exchange rate of the Syrian Lira reached 609 SYP/USD, its lowest rate in three years; the ‘official’ exchange rate of the Syrian Central Bank remains unchanged, at 434 SYP/USD.  While the Syrian Lira has consistently depreciated since the start of the Syrian conflict, it remained relatively stable between 460-500 for nearly two years; however, beginning in January 2019, it has steadily declined to its present rate. The Governor of the Syrian Central Bank, Hazem Qarfoul, cited “speculation” and international sanctions as the primary reason for the Lira’s decline.  Qarfoul is not entirely incorrect; sanctions have had a serious impact on the Syrian economy, and currency speculation is a real concern. That said, the reasons for the Liras decline are multifaceted and not easily solved. Increased sanctions on Iran are a major contributing factor, as Iran has been compelled to withdraw important lines of credit to Syria; the dollar itself is strong relative to other currencies globally; and several other factors contribute to increased pressure on the Lira.  Ultimately however, the downward pressure on the Lira stems from the fact that the Syrian economy is in shambles, and shows few signs of recovery. The continued depreciation of the Lira will have multiple immediate impacts, to include on individual Syrian’s purchasing power, and the cost of imports. However, perhaps the largest impact of the Lira depreciation is uncertainty: ultimately, the ‘natural’ exchange rate for the Lira is unclear, and should the Lira continue to depreciate at a more rapid rate Syria could enter a hyperinflationary cycle which will be difficult or impossible to mitigate.

The following is a brief synopsis of the Whole of Syria Review:
  1. Frontlines remain unchanged in northwestern Syria in spite of continuous shelling and conflict; despite Government of Syria reinforcements, it is likely that only an agreement between Russia and Turkey will bring an end to the current offensive.
  2. Government of Syria conscription efforts intensify in southern Syria as the end of the reconciliation “grace period” looms; should the Government of Syria fail to extend the grace period or acquiesce to local demands, southern Syria will likely witness further instability.
  3. The Government of Syria held another meeting with tribal leaders from northeastern Syria, concurrent with recent U.S. and Saudi Arabian efforts to engage northeastern Syria’s tribes. Ultimately, engagement with these tribes will shape the outcome of any negotiations between the Kurdish Self-Administration and the Government of Syria.  
  4. The Chinese government offered the Government of Syria 100 new public transportation buses. China will likely take an increasingly large role in Syria’s reconstruction, primarily in transportation infrastructure as part of the “Belt and Road” initiative.
  5. The Four Seasons hotel chain terminated its management of its Syrian branch, likely due to the recent sanctions on Syrian businessman Samer Foz. There are continued concerns that Al-Baraka Bank will withdraw its management of its Syrian branch, which may have an impact on the Damascus-based response.
  6. The urban plan for the Qaboun neighborhood of Damascus city was finalized; Qaboun will be re-zoned. Ultimately, this will likely lead to the tabula rasa redevelopment of Qaboun, causing significant HLP concerns.
  7. The Self-Administration announced a new conscription policy. The policy will be applied differently in different localities, likely leading to new communal tensions; the law will exacerbate existing tensions with the Government of Syria.
  8. The U.S., Israel, and Russia held a high-level meeting in Jerusalem on the role of Iran in Syria; even if the U.S. and Israel were able to persuade Russia to reduce Iran’s influence in Syria, it is unlikely that Russia would be capable of doing so.

Syrian Lira Depreciation

In Depth Analysis

Workers at the Central Bank of Syria take inventory of cash in Damascus. Image courtesy of Qaisoun News

On June 19, the unofficial exchange rate of the Syrian lira reached SYP 609/USD. This is the lowest exchange rate recorded for the Syrian lira in three years; the last time the exchange rate hit 600 was in May 2016; that low lasted for a period of several days before the lira rapidly strengthened. Notably, the “official” Syrian Central Bank exchange rate for the Syrian lira remains unchanged, at SYP 434/USD. On June 19, in an attempt to address the spike in the exchange rate, Syrian Central Bank Governor Hazem Qarfoul went on Syrian television twice in 24 hours to explain the position of the Central Bank. Qarfoul defended the official exchange rate, arguing that the recent spike could largely be attributed to “speculation.” He also argued that the rise in the unofficial exchange rate came as part of a “systematic campaign” to weaken the Syrian economy, citing the U.S. Caesar sanctions. He also claimed that “the rise of the dollar is imaginary and has no economic justification on the ground.” Qarfoul insisted that the Central Bank was unlikely to change its official rate, stating that it “follows a conservative [monetary] policy, and [only] speaks when there is a new policy or decision.”

For several years (between late 2016 and late 2018), the lira did manage to maintain a fairly consistent unofficial exchange rate, in the vicinity of SYP 460–500/USD. However, since January 2019, the Syrian lira has steadily depreciated to its current price of ~SYP 600/USD. Thus, while the lira’s depreciation to SYP 600/USD did not happen overnight, it is still a fairly rapid decline and has sparked considerable fears that the lira will continue to depreciate. These fears are not unfounded, largely due to the fact that the causes of the lira’s depreciation are multifaceted and almost impossible to solve in the near-term.

Qarfoul is not wrong when he states that a major contributing factor to the rise in the unofficial exchange rate is international sanctions on Syria, especially on the Syrian banking sector. However, equally damaging to Syria’s economy are renewed U.S. sanctions on Iran, which have become much more intense over the past six months and have at least partially forced Iran to reduce its financial commitments in Syria. Iran provided, and expanded, numerous credit lines to Syria in the earlier stages of the conflict. Several of these credit lines have reportedly been reduced or withdrawn—the most important was a several billion dollar credit line for Iranian fuel purchases, which was suspended in October 2018 (seriously contributing to Syria’s ongoing fuel crisis).      

There are other factors for the rising exchange rate that are beyond Syria’s control—for instance, the dollar itself is currently strong relative to other currencies, which naturally impacts the SYP/USD exchange rate. A recent Syrian “anti-corruption” initiative has also reportedly increased pressure on the lira, as state employees now face increased scrutiny of their finances by security officials. The Government of Syria’s inability to make significant military progress in northwestern Syria is also reportedly a contributing factor; there is historical precedent for the depreciation of the lira when the Syrian military faces difficulties.

However, the depreciation of the Syrian lira must ultimately be attributed to the dire state of the Syrian economy as a whole. Much of the country is still in shambles, funds for reconstruction are not likely to be forthcoming in the near-term, and fuel will remain largely unavailable or expensive for the foreseeable future. The underlying structural failures of the Syrian economy are likely to cause the Syrian lira to continue to depreciate, with no clear end in sight.

The continued depreciation of the lira will have multiple immediate impacts. First and foremost, the depreciating lira will naturally impact individual Syrians’ purchasing power. This is especially true for the large majority of Syrian salaried workers (for instance, state employees) who are paid a set salary in Syrian lira; effectively, salaried employees took a ~25 percent pay cut in real terms between January and June 2019. The depreciated lira will also increase import costs; this is of critical importance, as Syria is now heavily reliant on imports of numerous goods, including fuel, food, and raw materials. However, perhaps the largest impact of the lira depreciation is uncertainty: it is not clear what the “natural” exchange rate for the lira actually is. As previously noted, Qarfoul cites “speculation” as a major concern; should the Lira continue to depreciate rapidly, Syria could enter a hyperinflationary cycle, which will be difficult if not impossible to mitigate.

Whole of Syria Review

2019JUN26 page

1. Northwestern Syria Update

Idleb, Hama, and Aleppo governorates, Syria: Throughout the reporting period, Government of Syria forces continued their attempts to advance in northern and northwestern rural Hama Governorate; notably, no actor has achieved any significant advances in the area. Media sources indicated that clashes currently center on the frontlines of Tal Milh and Al-Jbien, in Hama Governorate, which remain under the control of armed opposition groups. On June 24, several media sources reported on further Turkish military reinforcements to Hama Governorate; one source indicated that a total of 20 Turkish vehicles were deployed to the Shir Mghar observation point, in western Hama. Other media sources reported on increasing Russian dissatisfaction with the course of the military operations and with the failure of Government of Syria forces to achieve any territorial advances. To that end, the Government of Syria has reportedly deployed new commanders and generals to the frontlines in northwestern Syria. These new arrivals include the head of Syrian Air Intelligence, Jamil Al-Hasan.  Government of Syria and Russia airstrikes have continued to relentlessly target numerous communities throughout northwestern Syria.

Analysis: Government of Syria forces have reportedly suffered serious manpower losses on northern Hama frontlines, and have been unable to bring about any major changes in the zones of control on the frontlines throughout the northwest. Indeed, the Turkish government has made it clear that it is unwilling to hand over the control of territory in northwestern Syria to the Government of Syria; to that end, Turkey has reportedly empowered and supported certain armed opposition groups defending frontlines in northwestern Syria. Despite ongoing military setbacks, the Government of Syria has not shown any indication that it will halt the offensive. The conflict in the northwest will likely continue for the foreseeable future, although no territorial changes are expected. Ultimately, the conflict is only likely to cease due to Russian and Turkish negotiations, which appear to be effectively frozen.

2. Southern Syria Conscription Efforts

Dar’a Governorate, Syria: On June 21, local sources reported that civilians in Dar’a Al-Balad held a demonstration calling on the Government of Syria to release detainees and remove checkpoints at the periphery of the city; the government had established several new checkpoints in the preceding two weeks. On the same day, the Government of Syria State Security Branch in Inkhil circulated a new list of those wanted for military service. Notably, the list included the names of reconciled former combatants in Shabab Al-Sunna, who are already enrolled in the Government of Syria’s 5th Corps, as well as several deceased individuals. The Government of Syria’s renewed efforts to conscripts individuals in Dar’a align with the June 24 conclusion of the Dar’a reconciliation agreement “grace period.” Relatedly, on June 23, local sources reported that Government of Syria forces had increased their harassment of those crossing through throughout checkpoints in Dar’a Governorate; soldiers at checkpoints have reportedly been confiscating civilian identification documents and forcing civilians to sign a pledge to either refer to a military conscription office within seven days or be considered defectors. Additionally, on June 23, media sources reported that a reconciled armed opposition commander, Adham Krad, had released a statement in which he reiterated his refusal to take part in any military offensive in Idleb. Media reports indicated that reconciled representatives from Dar’a have convened a meeting with Government of Syria officials in Damascus to study the possibility of extending the reconciliation “grace period” for another six months. Meanwhile, security incidents continued throughout southern Syria; media and local sources reported on at least three attacks on Government of Syria checkpoints—in Da’el, Karak, and Deir Eladas— over the past week.

Analysis: With the formal end of the post-reconciliation “grace period,” the Government of Syria is likely to now drastically increase its attempts to conscript eligible military-age males throughout southern Syria. Naturally, this will be deeply unpopular and highly destabilizing.  Conscription is almost universally unpopular across Syria; however, this is especially true in western rural Dar’a, both because the Government of Syria is deeply unpopular and because many individuals fear deployment outside of southern Syria, to frontlines in Idleb and northern Hama. The degree to which the Government of Syria is willing to accomodate community demands is, therefore, of utmost importance. Any attempt to fully enforce existing conscription policies is likely to result in further destabilization. However, if local Government of Syria governance and security officials acquiesce to some element of local demands—perhaps ensuring that conscripts remain deployed in the vicinity of their home communities—local discontent may be partially mitigated. Ultimately, much will depend on the actual implementation of conscription, especially given that Government of Syria security services in southern Syria are engaged in serious (often violent) competition with each other, and are unlikely to follow any unified policy.

3. Government of Syria Tribal Meeting

Aleppo Governorate, Syria: On June 20, media and local sources indicated that the Government of Syria’s Head of Military Security in Al-Hasakeh Governorate, Mohamad Jandouli, had convened a meeting in Aleppo city with tribal representatives from northeastern Syria. Local sources reported that among those invited to the meeting were sheikhs from the Tay, Bani Issa, Sharabeen, Ma’amera, and Jbour tribes. The meeting echoed the content of previous Government of Syria–sponsored tribal conferences, in that it called for the restoration of the Syrian state in northeastern Syria and hailed the role of northeastern tribes in “combatting terrorism.” Relatedly, on June 22, the general commander of the SDF, Mathloum Abdi, reportedly stated that the Self-Administration has two main demands in any negotiation with the Government of Syria: first, that the latter recognizes the seven administrative units within the Self-Administration; second, that the SDF are maintained as a distinct and separate entity within the Syrian military. Abdi also reiterated the Self-Administration’s willingness to negotiate with the Turkish government.

Analysis: The race to court tribal allegiance in northeastern Syria continues to looms as one of the major issues dictating the Self-Administration’s political future in Syria. Tribal conferences and meetings have regularly been hosted by numerous national and international actors following the defeat of ISIS in northeastern Syria. Indeed, as noted in last week’s Syria Update, both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have begun to increasingly lobby tribal leaders in northeastern Syria to support the SDF and the Self-Administration. However, it should be noted that despite recent Saudi and U.S. efforts, the Syrian and Turkish governments have both forged much more longstanding ties with tribal leaders in northeastern Syria, and many Arabs in northeastern Syria have serious and legitimate grievances against the Self-Administration. In any negotiations between the Self-Administration and the Government of Syria on the political future of northeastern Syria, the latter will continue to use its longstanding relationships with tribal leaders as a major point of leverage.

4. Chinese Support for Transportation

Damascus City, Syria: On June 20, several media sources reported that the Chinese government provided the Government of Syria with a total of 100 new public buses, in addition to a group of Chinese technical support personnel to train Syrian employees on the technical operation and management of these buses. Notably, in March 2019 China also provided the Government of Syria with 100 new buses, as well as a grant of 100 million yuan (~$14,500,000). 

Analysis: Chinese support for the Government of Syria has thus far been relatively limited in scope and scale. However, all instances of Chinese support for the Government of Syria should be taken in the context of potential steps toward future large-scale Chinese investment in Syria; the latter, alongside many countries in the Middle East, are likely to be important parts of the Chinese “Belt and Road” infrastructure plan. Indeed, China has already clearly indicated that it  intends to participate to some degree in Syria’s reconstruction, as a part of its broader investment in transportation in the Middle East. Most recently, President of China Xi Jinping reiterated China’s economic interest in Syria’s reconstruction during the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) Forum, held in Beijing in April. Chinese investment in Syria will likely become an important component of Syria’s reconstruction; indeed, China will likely directly invest in the country’s infrastructure and will also to some degree complement Russian and Iranian initiatives in Syria’s private sector and natural resource industries. 

5. Four Seasons Hotel

Damascus city, Syria: On June 19, the Four Seasons hotel chain announced the termination of its management of the Four Seasons in Damascus city. The statement made by the Four Seasons did not include the reason for its decision. However, the U.S. Treasury Department recently sanctioned Syrian businessman Samer Foz along with several of his companies, including the Four Seasons Damascus. Media sources quoted an employee of the hotel, who asserted that the hotel would continue operations and that rooms were still available for booking at ~$545 per night. The hotel is the property of the Syrian-Saudi Company for Touristic Investments, initially a joint venture between Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, the Government of Syria, and the Kuwaiti Syrian Holding Company. However, in March 2018, Al-Waleed bin Talal sold his 55 percent stake in the property to Samer Foz. Of note: UN agencies contracts with the Four Seasons Damascus were worth at least $6,933,260 in 2018 alone, according to the Syria Report. A UN public information officer in Damascus, Fadwa Baroud, stated that “while unilateral and multilateral economic restrictions have been adopted by some governments and organisations against entities and individuals in Syria, the UN is only required to abide by the UN Security Council’s sanctions regimes.”

Analysis: It remains unclear under what brand or management the (former) Four Seasons Damascus hotel will operate in the future. However, hotel services will certainly continue, as the hotel is the primary hotel used by international diplomats, aid workers, and UN staff. However, the decision of the Four Seasons brand to terminate its affiliation with the Damascus branch raises concerns that other international companies could take similar measures. The specific sanctioning of Samer Foz could mean trouble for the future of Al-Baraka Bank in Damascus, for instance. Al-Baraka Bank is a major regional bank and the largest banking corporation in Bahrain (where it is headquartered). The bank has not been specifically sanctioned, but Foz recently became a major stakeholder in it—a fact that was mentioned in the recent U.S. sanctions. Critically, many national and international NGOs working in Syria, including the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and Syria Trust, hold the majority or the entirety of their funds in Al-Baraka Bank. Should Al-Baraka Bank decide to withdraw its management of the Damascus branch for fear of future sanctions, the Damascus-based humanitarian and development response would likely be severely impacted, at least temporarily.

6. Qaboun Urban Planning

Qaboun neighborhood, Damascus city, Syria: On June 19, media reports indicated that the Damascus Governorate Council had agreed to change the zoning of the Qaboun neighborhood, in northeastern Damascus, from an industrial and agricultural area to an area “to be considered for future construction and planning.” The council will reportedly begin to investigate individual property claims and appeals over the next month. Following the appeals period, plans for Qaboun will be submitted to the Damascus Governorate Executive Council and the Ministry of Local Administration, which will begin to ratify regulatory procedures under the dictates of Law 10 (2018). Notably, the council also assigned the Damascus Holding Company, the primary ‘reconstruction focused’ in Damascus and the development company which is overseeing the Marota City project in southeastern Damascus, to exclusively manage the implementation of the Qaboun master plan and all attendant contractual entities.

Analysis: Several stakeholders held critical economic interests in Qaboun and had diametrically opposed visions for the future rehabilitation or redevelopment of the area. In general, these stakeholders differed over the degree to which Qaboun should be restored to its pre-conflict state or redeveloped entirely. Qaboun was previously comprised of a large industrial area and a collection of informal and formal housing areas. Several stakeholders, most notably the Damascus Industrial Chamber, wished to see Qaboun rehabilitated and its industrial sector restored. However, other important economic stakeholders—including Mohamad Hamsho, an important businessman with links to President Assad—reportedly wished to entirely redevelop Qaboun, since the neighborhood is likely to become lucrative real estate due to its location at the entrance of northeastern Damascus. The status of the urban planning in Qaboun had been effectively frozen for several months due to these clashing visions of the future of the area.  However, the aforementioned change of zoning in Qaboun effectively means that these disputes have now been resolved; Qaboun will be largely “redeveloped.” In this case, “redeveloped” is likely to mean “entirely demolished and rebuilt, tabula rasa.”  Notably, as per the 2004 Syrian census, nearly 90,000 individuals lived in Qaboun’s formal and informal neighborhoods; it is highly unlikely that these individuals will ever return to Qaboun.

7. Self-Administration’s ‘Self-Defense Law’

Ein Issa, Ar-Raqqa Governorate, Syria: On June 22, media and local sources indicated that the General Assembly of the Self-Administration had ratified the “Self-Defense Law.” This law lays out the requirements, exceptions, and legal procedures for military conscription within Self-Administration-controlled areas of northeastern Syria. Among the most important points in the law is the age of eligibility for military service, which will span from 18 to 40. However, Article 14 of the law stipulates that the age range to be applied will be decided at the local administrative level. Local sources indicate that the new conscription laws will thus be applied differently in different areas: for example, in Al-Hasakeh and Ein El-Arab, individuals born before 1986 will be exempt; in Menbij, individuals born before 1988 will be exempt; and individuals born before 1990 will be exempt in Deir-ez-Zor and Raqqa.

Analysis: SDF conscription is widely unpopular across northeastern Syria and has been a point of contention between the administration and the local communities. The newly issued law is likely to drastically exacerbate these tensions. Essentially, the new law is being applied differently in different areas, as the age of conscription is determined on the local level; thus, a 31-year-old man from Al-Hasakeh will be conscripted while a man of the same age from Ar-Raqqa will not. This dynamic is likely to lead to considerable resentment between communities facing different conscription policies. The issuing of an official conscription law highlights the Self-Administration’s policy of creating a separate legal code in northeastern Syria. Notably, Self-Administration administrative procedures have generally existed in parallel with the Government of Syria’s—thus presenting a direct challenge to the sovereignty of the Government of Syria. Naturally, this will present significant challenges in any negotiations between the Self-Administration and the Government of Syria. Should the Self-Administration rejoin the Government of Syria in some capacity, for instance, it is unclear whether military service under the SDF would count toward Government of Syria military service requirements.

8. U.S.-Russia-Israel Trilateral Summit

Jerusalem, Palestine: On June 23 and 24,  U.S., Russian and Israeli officials held a meeting in Jerusalem, during which they discussed Iranian involvement in Syria. In attendance were the three countries’ top security advisors: U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton, Israeli National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat, and Russian Secretary of the Security Council Nikolai Patrushev. Media reports suggested that both Israel and the U.S. were expected to negotiate with Russia to curb the Iranian presence and role in Syria, but it remained unclear what both countries would offer in return. Other media sources indicated that the U.S. would likely present a plan to Russia whereby it would facilitate the implementation of UN Resoution 2254, which calls for a political settlement in Syria, and assist in “combatting terrorism” in exchange for a lessened Iranian role in Syria. The outcome of the meeting has not yet been made public.

Analysis: The unprecedented meeting between the U.S., Russia, and Israel is an indication of the continued U.S. and Israeli focus on the Iranian role in Syria. Both Israel and the U.S. are likely to attempt to convince, or compel, Russia to try to reduce Iranian influence in Syria.  However, it is important to note that these efforts are unlikely to have any major impact; even if Russia intended to reduce Iran’s influence in Syria, there are no guarantees that it would be able to do so. Indeed, various Russian attempts to curb Iranian influence in Syria have thus far had limited and negligible outcomes. In fact, over the past several months, Iranian influence on local security and political bodies in areas such as southern Deir-ez-Zor, southern Syria, and Rural Damascus has reportedly increased.

The Wartime and Post-Conflict Syria project (WPCS) is funded by the European Union and implemented through a partnership between the European University Institute (Middle East Directions Programme) and the Center for Operational Analysis and Research (COAR). WPCS will provide operational and strategic analysis to policymakers and programmers concerning prospects, challenges, trends, and policy options with respect to a conflict and post-conflict Syria. WPCS also aims to stimulate new approaches and policy responses to the Syrian conflict through a regular dialogue between researchers, policymakers and donors, and implementers, as well as to build a new network of Syrian researchers that will contribute to research informing international policy and practice related to their country.

The content compiled and presented by COAR is by no means exhaustive and does not reflect COAR’s formal position, political or otherwise, on the aforementioned topics. The information, assessments, and analysis provided by COAR are only to inform humanitarian and development programs and policy. While this publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union, its contents are the sole responsibility of COAR Global LTD, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.

Syria Update: June 13 – June 19, 2019

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Syria Update

13 June to 19 June, 2019

The Syria Update is divided into two sections.  The first section provides an in-depth analysis of key issues and dynamics related to wartime and post-conflict Syria.   The second section provides a comprehensive whole of Syria review, detailing events and incidents, and analysis of their respective significance.

The following is a brief synopsis of the in-depth analysis section this week:

The U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated sixteen individuals and entities associated with what it described as “an international network benefiting the Assad regime” on June 11. The principal targets of these sanctions are assets under the direct or indirect control of Syrian oligarch Samer Foz, and will impact important businesses in key sectors of the Syrian economy, including oil, food, transport, and trade. Questions will again be asked as to the value and purpose of the sanctions; but they are notable for the fact that Foz has now been targeted by the U.S. government, placing his other, wide-ranging business interests under the spotlight. Of most importance to the aid community will be Foz’s status as a major stakeholder in Al-Baraka Bank Syria (ABBS). ABBS has not been targeted in the recent round of sanctions, but if it were designated by OFAC, the move could have major implications for the aid response undertaken by both international and national organizations. Most INGOs are required to use ABBS as a condition of registration in Syria, and national aid actors that use the bank, such as the Government of Syria-linked Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), are now concerned about potential asset freezes. The implications for the response are potentially significant and immediately obvious: SARC, for instance, is a major implementer of ground-level programming on behalf of both the Syrian government and international organizations alike. Were an asset freeze on ABBS to inhibit SARC’s operations, the aid response is likely to experience significant disruption.

The following is a brief synopsis of the Whole of Syria Review:
  1. Turkish and Syrian forces clashed in the most serious escalation between the parties since the beginning of the northwestern offensive; the incident highlights the possibility that Russia will look to bring the Syrian and Turkish governments to the table in an effort to prevent further conflict.
  2. Violence has continued across Dar’a Governorate; the Government of Syria is expected to persist with its hitherto confrontational approach to controlling local unrest.
  3. U.S. and Saudi officials engaged tribal leaders in northeastern Syria, while the Kurdish Self-Administration established new military councils in Tal Abyad and Ain Al Arab; both initiatives aim to improve Kurdish-Arab relations but come in the context of continued mistrust.
  4. Prices of unsubsidized fuel were raised by the Syrian Ministry of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection, but pricing remains beyond the full control of the central authorities.
  5. Eight checkpoints were reportedly dismantled on the periphery of Damascus, reportedly as part of a checkpoint reconfiguration plan that had been delayed due to security concerns in the capital and nearby areas.
  6. Tit-for-tat kidnappings were reported in As-Sweida city; though tensions produced by these events are expected to be resolved by local religious figures, their mediation is only likely to temporarily alleviate civilian concerns over the mounting interventions of government security forces.
  7. Schools in Eastern Ghouta were prevented from holding examinations; students are being forced to travel to other locations via checkpoints, giving rise to concern that the Government of Syria seeks to monitor future generations in post-reconciled communities.
  8. The Kurdish affecting crop harvests across Al-Hasakeh continue, with Government of Syria figures disputing
    media accounts about the extent to which land and farmers have been negatively affected.

‘Samer Foz’ Sanctions

In Depth Analysis

Recently sanctioned businessman Samer Foz on the cover of Arabisk magazine in 2017. Image courtesy of Arabisk.

On June 11, the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated sixteen individuals and entities associated with what it described as “an international network benefiting the Assad regime.” The principal targets of these sanctions are assets under the direct or indirect control of Syrian oligarch Samer Foz, who is accused by OFAC of “supporting the murderous Assad regime and building luxury developments on land stolen from those fleeing his brutality.” The sanctions go much further than real estate, however. OFAC has also designated trading, transport, banking, oil, media, and commodity companies run by Foz and his siblings; the effects of these measures will be felt across key sectors of the Syrian economy.

Given their wide-ranging effects, observers will again ask questions as to the ethics of sanctions in conflict-affected contexts. Analysts might also speculate about their efficacy, particularly given that Foz can likely limit his exposure to international financial mechanisms by operating within Syria’s internal economic ecosystems. Others will assume the sanctions have as much to do with U.S. policy on Iran as with Syria: not only is Foz reportedly linked to Tehran, but OFAC also designated dozens of Iranian petrochemical companies last week amid tensions in the Strait of Hormuz. These are valid perspectives that demand consideration. But, for the aid community, their implications are dwarfed by the prospect that sanctions against Foz will be extended to banking services in which he is a major stakeholder.

Samer Foz has emerged as one of Syria’s most prominent business figures almost overnight. A Sunni lawyer from Lattakia, Foz inherited a leading role in the Aman Holding Group (AHG) from its main shareholder and founder, his father, Zahir. Established in 1988, AHG’s pre-war business interests were relatively modest, centering mainly on the distribution of grain, building materials, and aggregates in Syria’s northwest. The company expanded somewhat after securing contracts to import Turkish cement, in 2010, but this deal did not fundamentally alter AHG’s operations and does not explain the massive diversification of AHG’s portfolio since 2015. In only four years, Samer Foz has worked via AHG, its subsidiaries, and a series of new and family-linked entities to invest in or wholly acquire business in foodstuffs, banking, petroleum, airlines, and hotels, as well as flour mills, iron-smelting facilities, and automotive, pharmaceutical, and sugar-processing factories.

Few other business figures have risen to such prominence so quickly without links to the highest echelons of the Syrian government. It is these alleged connections that the OFAC sanctions scrutinize—and not without justification, given Foz’s well-publicized involvement in the Marota City real estate project, which is cited in the OFAC release. Foz, however, is not only a lynchpin in the delivery of the regime’s post-conflict economic agenda. Shortly before the European Union issued restrictive measures against a number of Syrian government-affiliated entities and individuals in January 2019, Foz became a major stakeholder in the two largest banks in Syria, the Syria International Islamic Bank (SIIB) and Al-Baraka Bank Syria (ABBS). Critically, ABBS accounts for a significant proportion of funds held and processed on behalf of major national and international aid organizations in Syria, making the bank an indispensable part of the Damascus-based humanitarian and development response.

SIIB has been sanctioned by OFAC since 2012, and it largely handles transactions on behalf of relatively small local organizations. However, INGOs, government-linked aid organizations, and smaller local organizations alike use ABBS. Use of ABBS was reportedly a requirement of registration with the Syrian authorities for both DRC and NRC, and likely for many other international agencies. The UN (and its Damascus-based staff) similarly uses ABBS, in part because it is linked to Gulf-based companies, which makes it one of the few institutions in Syria capable of handling regional transactions. Notably, ABBS was not specifically sanctioned in the recent round of Department of the Treasury designations. However, it was mentioned in OFAC’s sanctions release on Samer Foz, and has therefore raised fears that it will be sanctioned in the future. If ABBS were to be sanctioned, international agencies could appeal to OFAC for licenses to continue their Syria-based operations; however, the work of Syrian NGOs required to use ABBS would likely be severely disrupted.

The government-affiliated SARC and Syria Trust are two actors that would likely be deeply affected by potential sanctions on ABBS, as both reportedly have the large majority of their accounts in ABBS. Given that national NGOs linked to the Syrian government are major ground-level partners for international aid actors—not to mention the main vehicles for the delivery of aid and relief in government-held areas—sanctions targeting ABBS could effectively freeze the assets under the control of organizations undertaking the bulk of project implementation in Syria. The potential impact of sanctions against ABBS cannot be overstated: if the bank is designated and its connections to the international financial system effectively severed, much of the aid response could face a critical capacity shortfall, placing an even greater burden on the already challenging Syria response.

Whole of Syria Review

2019JUN19 COAR Syria page

1. Northwestern Syria Update

Idleb, Hama, and Aleppo governorates, Syria: On June 13, the Russian Reconciliation Center announced that Russia and Turkey had brokered a ceasefire between Government of Syria forces and the National Liberation Front (NLF) in northwestern Syria. Notably, the NLF denied it had been informed of any such agreement. Shortly after news of the ceasefire broke, the Government of Syria targeted several areas in western rural Hama Governorate, including a medical clinic near the 10th Turkish observation point, in Shir Mghar. Three Turkish soldiers were injured in this incident. On June 14, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated in a press conference that Turkey will not remain silent and “will do what is necessary” should another attack occur in the vicinity of Turkish observation points in future. Indeed, on June 16, shelling by Government of Syria forces on another Turkish observation point, in Murak, was immediately followed by retaliatory Turkish fire on a Government of Syria checkpoint in Tal Barzan. Turkish Special Forces Command units were subsequently sent to Hatay. Following this escalation, Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Walid Muallem stated in a press conference that the Government of Syria does not intend to clash with Turkish forces in the area. Meanwhile, between June 16 and June 18, a decrease in the intensity of aerial bombardment, airstrikes, and shelling was observed on frontlines in Kafr Hud and Tayr Jamlah. Attacks have since reportedly resumed, and, on June 18, the Fateh Moubin Operations Room launched another phase of its ongoing counteroffensive against Syrian government forces in the same area. The Fateh Moubin Operations Room is comprised of the NLF, Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham, and Jaish Izza.

Analysis: Direct confrontation between the Syrian and Turkish governments in northwestern Syria, specifically the incident in which Turkish soldiers were injured, is the most serious escalation between the parties since the beginning of the Syrian government-led offensive on northwestern Syria. The Turkish response so far has been firm and likely sufficient to prompt the intervention of the Russian government, both to resume negotiations with its Turkish counterpart and to prevent an escalation between Syrian and Turkish forces. What is clear, however,  is that the situation in the northwest increasingly appears to be reaching a point at which Russian, Syrian, and Turkish interests will converge and compete on active frontlines rather than in the conference room alone. Some form of agreement thus becomes more probable, but so, too, does the prospect of further incidents between the various parties resulting in escalation. Should discussion produce a formal agreement, its content is currently hard to predict, especially as Turkey has demonstrated little interest in surrendering northern rural Hama to Government of Syria forces. Uncertainty surrounding the future of Tal Refaat likely plays into Turkish thinking in this regard, but, again, the issue of Kurdish-controlled areas like Tal Refaat is far from being concluded. In the meantime, the Government of Syria’s apparent disregard for last week’s reported ceasefire demonstrates that it intends to pursue its objectives to secure the M5 highway and Jisr Al-Shugour. Further displacement and a growing civilian death toll is, therefore, highly likely.

2. Southern Syria Update

Dar’a Governorate, Syria: Explosions, assassinations, and detentions have continued across Dar’a Governorate over the past week. On June 12, media outlets and local sources reported on artillery fire against a Government of Syria Air Force Intelligence checkpoint in which several were killed and injured. On June 16, local sources reported an explosion at the Hrak subdistrict municipal headquarters; no deaths or injuries were reported in this incident. These local sources noted that the Government of Syria had rehabilitated the building and intends to use it as a base to police the city. Also, on June 15, opposition affiliates from As-Sanamayn detained three Government of Syria combatants on the Damascus-Dar’a highway in response to the imprisonment of three individuals over the past month. This prompted Government of Syria forces to detain two former opposition commanders, on the road linking Tasil to Bakkar, in western rural Dar’a, and conduct a detention campaign in Tasil. Notably, local sources report that government forces prohibit governorate residents from organizing funerals for combatants who have died during the current military offensive in northwestern Syria. As highlighted in previous COAR Syria Updates, communities in Dar’a strongly oppose the deployment of reconciled fighters from Dar’a on the frontlines in Hama Governorate. Indeed, some have defected from government forces to avoid deployment to this location.

Analysis: The Government of Syria has yet to extend its arrangement with the Dar’a negotiation committee, even though the existing reconciliation agreement has now expired. That said, this agreement has so far failed to bring about the smooth introduction of government political and military structures. To a great extent, this failure is likely due to the ongoing government-led offensive in northwestern Syria, which has diverted much of the government’s attention, although it is also symptomatic of the increasingly bold activities of local opposition groups. Local reports further note that the growing role and presence of Iran-affiliated militias has weakened the capacity of the Syrian government to control the situation, as these militias function beyond the command of the Syrian military authorities. Unable to address the situation, and needing to maintain order along its borders with Israel and Jordan, the Government of Syria has resorted to taking a confrontational approach toward restive local communities. A conciliatory approach from the Government of Syria is improbable over the near to medium term, meaning the local security situation is likely to become more volatile.

3. U.S. and Saudi Arabia to Mediate Tribal Relations

Deir-ez-Zor Governorate: On June 13, the deputy assistant secretary for House affairs in the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Legislative Affairs, Joel Rubin; the chief adviser to the international coalition forces for fighting IS in Syria, William Robak; and Saudi state minister for Gulf affairs, Thamer Sabhan, visited Omar oil field in Deir-ez-Zor Governorate. The officials held a closed meeting with commanders of the Kurdish Self-Administration’s (KSA) Executive Council, as well as a meeting with local tribal leaders and notables. Sabhan reportedly declared Saudi Arabia’s willingness to assist in the rehabilitation of communities, provided that tribes maintain good relationships with the KSA and refrain from deepening relations with the Turkish and Qatari governments. Local sources noted that Robak visited Ein Issa; during this visit, he reportedly reiterated U.S. support for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and discussed the prospect of suing ISIS combatants in international court. On June 16, media sources indicated that the KSA had announced a new military council in Tal Abyad and Ein El Arab. This council reportedly intends to enhance the capacity for self-defense in local communities and to increase community participation in local governance decision-making. Local sources add that the new councils intend to demonstrate the independence of local Kurdish governance processes from the PYD and the KSA’s central leadership in Al-Hasakeh and Quamishli. In addition, local sources report that the KSA has also announced the establishment of an investigative committee to fight corruption in military councils in Self-Administration-controlled areas.  

Analysis: Attempts by the KSA and the SDF to enhance their reputation in areas under their control are unlikely to shift the widespread public perception that they are instruments of an exclusively Kurdish national project. They have been frequently accused of sidelining local notables throughout the course of the Syrian conflict, meaning local Arab populations are likely to be suspicious of the initiatives described above. The intervention of Saudi Arabia may smooth local tensions given that many locals are linked, by virtue of extended tribal formations, to both Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. However, it is important to remember that the political positions of tribes are hard to predict and often contingent on material gain. Saudi Arabia’s ability to shift tribal political affiliations will therefore rest largely on its willingness to invest in local improvements that better the lot of local tribal populations. In this regard, it is notable that Saudi Arabia stepped in to financially support the SDF in August 2018 following reductions in U.S. funding. Yet, even if such efforts are effectively pursued by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, the extent to which these actors can ease deep-seated Arab-Kurdish tensions remains questionable.

4. Government of Syria raises fuel prices

Damascus, Syria: On June 15, the Government of Syria’s Ministry of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection issued a decree stipulating an increase in the price of unsubsidized fuel suitable for most private vehicle use. Prices for unsubsidized fuel have subsequently increased from SYP 375 to 425 per liter. Premium quality fuel prices decreased from SYP 600 to 550. Subsidized fuel prices remain the same. Upon issuing the decree, Minister of Trade Atef Al-Nadaf reportedly stated that the price of unsubsidized fuel would be reviewed and changed on a monthly basis, in accordance with the global market.

Analysis: Fuel price changes will necessarily affect practically all forms of national production and increase the cost of living, particularly in government-held areas. Prior to the war, the Government of Syria subsidized all fuel. However, restricted access to foreign oil imports, the loss of oilfields to its rivals, and much diminished national production has placed subsidy initiatives under considerable strain. As frequently reported in previous COAR Syria Updates, strategies so far adopted by the Government of Syria to mitigate the fuel crisis have been largely unsuccessful. The situation has worsened in the past week after dozens of Iranian petrochemical companies were sanctioned by OFAC on June 11, not to mention OFAC’s similar designation of two Lebanon-based oil trading companies owned by Samer Foz on June 13. For the time being, fuel price regulation remains outside the full control of central authorities, increasing the prevalence of black-market rates, trading, and monopolization by private actors.

5. Damascus Checkpoints Reduced

Damascus, Syria: On June 18, it was reported that the Government of Syria had dismantled eight checkpoints in recent months, each of which was located on the periphery of Damascus city. Reports on the matter cited Rural Damascus Governor Alaa Ibrahim stating that plans to streamline checkpoint numbers have been under consideration for some time, but have been delayed for security reasons. These plans also reportedly aim to reduce the number of checkpoints on key roads linking Damascus with nearby areas. No information on these areas under consideration is currently available.

Analysis: It must be noted that there are few sources reporting on this development, which, if true, would mark a small step towards the desecuritization of Damascus and its neighboring areas. Moreover, given the limited information, there are multiple ways in which plans to reduce checkpoints could be interpreted. Last week, the Syria Update described the removal of several checkpoints under the control of Iran- and Iraq-affiliated militia in Damascus, as well as a reduction in the number of foreign troops in the city. Reported plans to reduce the number of checkpoints could be linked to the government’s progress on its political-security objectives in Rural Damascus Governorate. Certainly, there are still numerous security-based restrictions in place in locations such as Eastern Ghouta and southern Damascus, but both areas have been under government control for well over a year now, and detentions and arrests have declined over this time. The extent of the checkpoint plan remains to be seen, but, should a pattern emerge, it will likely indicate the Government of Syria’s security priorities in reconciled areas on Damascus’s periphery.

6. As-Sweida Unrest

As-Sweida city, As-Sweida Governorate, Syria: Local media sources and social media describe a growing state of alert in As-Sweida city following a series of detentions allegedly undertaken by both local factions and Government of Syria forces. On June 17, media sources reported that local factions had accused Government of Syria Military Security of kidnapping Mohamad Shihabeddine, a local activist known for his opposition to the Syrian government. Military Security has reportedly denied its involvement in the incident. In response, the local group to which Shihabeddine is affiliated, Shouyoukh Al-Karama, clashed with government forces and detained several government-affiliated combatants. In addition, two Air Force Intelligence generals were kidnapped on the As-Sweida-Damascus  highway. The identity of those responsible for this latter incident remains unknown, and it is unclear whether this incident is related to those mentioned above.

Analysis: Kidnappings, detentions, and occasional clashes have increased in frequency in As-Sweida Governorate in recent months, and these incidents are likely to add to tensions between the resident population and Government of Syria security forces. For the time being, the Government of Syria will likely appeal to local religious leaders—namely, Shouyoukh Al-Aqel—to prevent an escalation. However, this is only likely to secure temporary reconciliation between belligerents. As-Sweida residents are generally hostile to attempts by the Government of Syria to strengthen its military and political authority, and efforts to do so have commonly been rebuffed. But the detention of As-Sweida locals by government-linked forces indicates that government-affiliated security actors are willing to forcefully pursue their objectives in the area, meaning further such incidents are probable.

7. Education in Eastern Ghouta

Eastern Ghouta, Rural Damascus: On June 15, media sources reported that the Government of Syria’s Ministry of Education had refused to open schools in Eastern Ghouta as testing centers for students, citing security concerns. Students in central parts of Eastern Ghouta were obliged to travel to alternative testing centers in Jaramana, requiring their transit through multiple checkpoints and security screening procedures. Examinations have thus been delayed, and there is reportedly concern among student populations over the prospect of detention at checkpoints. Teachers in Eastern Ghouta claim that schools in the area are capable of holding the examinations and that the closure of schools during the examination period was a punitive measure. Sources reporting on this development note that security approval is required to open testing centers.

Analysis: Since securing control of Eastern Ghouta, the Government of Syria has made little effort to rehabilitate communities, let alone to a standard commensurate with the expectations of local civilians. The continuation of this situation, in addition to the persistence of restrictions on the free movement of people, indicates that the government retains major post-reconciliation political and security objectives in the area. Although targeting schools, as the teachers claim it is doing, may not appear to immediately fulfil these objectives, the measure could be linked to the government’s interest in monitoring Eastern Ghouta’s population, specifically its future generations. Other reconciled areas with a previously pro-opposition population may therefore witness the application of similar strategies.

8. KSA limits wheat sales to GoS

Raqqa, Deir-ez-Zor, Al-Hasakeh Governorate, Syria: On June 12, media sources cited Salman Barado, Head of the region’s economy and agricultural board, as stating that the KSA will ban the transfer of wheat to Government of Syria-controlled areas. Badran Jia Kurd, a Kurdish official, indicated that the decision aims at securing a reserve of wheat for two years for local consumption, and should not be regarded as a “political decision to impose siege on Damascus.” Of note, Barado specified that local producers will be permitted to trade with government-held areas, and the restriction applies only to larger traders and state workers. This year the Government of Syria has set a higher price for the purchase of wheat from farmers than that assigned by KSA – a decision that Jian Kurd framed as an attempt to cause a schism between the administration and local farmers. Meanwhile, fires on agricultural land across northeastern Syria have continued. On June 16, the Self-Administration reportedly stated that 50 hectares of such land had caught fire in Ein El Arab and an estimated 40 percent of agricultural lands had been destroyed prior to the harvest period. The Ministry of Agriculture stated that the amount of land affected by the fires since they began, in late May, is 50,268 hectares. In this release, the ministry stated that it considered the loss of land to be small relative to the total amount of cultivated land in the country.

Analysis: The decision of the KSA to limit the supply of large amounts of wheat and grain to Government of Syria-held areas is expected to increase the pressure on the government to secure alternative supplies. Indeed, the Syrian government reportedly bought as much as 40% of the entire wheat crop produced in KSA-administered areas in 2018. Presently, however, the Government of Syria is subject to an ever tightening sanctions regime which inhibits its ability to import essential goods. Though no restrictions are in place on the Syrian government’s import of wheat, banking sanctions and asset freezes make it more difficult to do so. A Memorandum of Understanding is in place with the Russian government for the import wheat from Crimea, a deal which is expected to deliver around 1.5 million tonnes over its lifetime. But, combined with the degradation of northeastern Syria’s agricultural lands, both as a result of poor maintenance and recent local fires, the bread subsidies to which the Syrian government is committed will place an ever increasing strain on public finances.

The Wartime and Post-Conflict Syria project (WPCS) is funded by the European Union and implemented through a partnership between the European University Institute (Middle East Directions Programme) and the Center for Operational Analysis and Research (COAR). WPCS will provide operational and strategic analysis to policymakers and programmers concerning prospects, challenges, trends, and policy options with respect to a conflict and post-conflict Syria. WPCS also aims to stimulate new approaches and policy responses to the Syrian conflict through a regular dialogue between researchers, policymakers and donors, and implementers, as well as to build a new network of Syrian researchers that will contribute to research informing international policy and practice related to their country.

The content compiled and presented by COAR is by no means exhaustive and does not reflect COAR’s formal position, political or otherwise, on the aforementioned topics. The information, assessments, and analysis provided by COAR are only to inform humanitarian and development programs and policy. While this publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union, its contents are the sole responsibility of COAR Global LTD, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.

Syria Update: May 30 – June 12, 2019

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Syria Update

30 May to 12 June, 2019

The Syria Update is divided into two sections.  The first section provides an in-depth analysis of key issues and dynamics related to wartime and post-conflict Syria.   The second section provides a comprehensive whole of Syria review, detailing events and incidents, and analysis of their respective significance.

The following is a brief synopsis of the in-depth analysis section this week:

Over the past two weeks a series of political demonstrations held by the Free Patriotic Movement, a prominent Lebanese political party, have highlighted the increasing tensions between many Lebanese citizens and Syrian refugees.  However, it is important to note that the Free Patriotic Movement is not uniquely opposed to Syrian refugees. Every political party currently represented in the Lebanese cabinet is unified in their stance that Syrian refugees must return to Syria; disagreements center around the means through which this return could be facilitated, either through negotiations with UNHCR, or directly with the Government of Syria.  However, due to the fact that the that the Lebanese Government has not yet agreed to a clearly defined policy, different Lebanese ministries or local governance bodies have resorted to a series of more decentralized policies which aim to impact refugees’ residency statuses, employment opportunities, housing access, and access to health and education services; these efforts are most prevalent in the informal camps in the Beqaa valley, where several incidents have recently taken place.  Ultimately, the recent intensification of pressure on Syrian refugees in Lebanon is likely tied to deeper economic concerns, as Lebanon’s economy continues to deteriorate and the Lebanese government is likely to pass new austerity measures; Lebanon is certainly not the only country in the world to attribute poor economic conditions to refugees or immigrants. However, amidst growing pressures facing Syrian refugees, humanitarian and economic conditions for refugees may deteriorate. Considering Lebanon’s political gridlock, the decision to deport Syrian refugees will likely never be taken; however, considering the pressures facing Syrian refugees, deportation may not be the primary driver of returns to Syria.

The following is a brief synopsis of the Whole of Syria Review:
  • Conflict continued in northwestern Syria, although neither the Government of Syria or the armed opposition made significant territorial advances; ultimately, the trajectory of the offensive is dependant on a potential Russian-Turkish agreement, which does not appear forthcoming in the near term.
  • The six month reconciliation ‘grace period’ is set to expire in Dar’a governorate as security conditions continued to deteriorate; while southern Syria is not yet in open revolt, the distinction is becoming one of semantics.
  • A series of major fires ravaged agricultural land across northeastern Syria, and will seriously impact Syria’s 2019 wheat crop.  Numerous actors have been blamed, and although other factors should be considered it is likely that the fires will deepen already serious social tensions throughout northeastern Syria.
  • A series of IEDs targeted several locations in Turkish-held northern Syria; IEDs are now a weekly occurrence in northern Syria, speaking to the inability of the National Army to enforce local security.
  • A series of incidents took place in As-Sweida between local armed groups and the Government of Syria; it is likely these clashes are more related to general lawlessness in As-Sweida, as opposed to a more serious anti-Government of Syria movement.
  • Media sources reported on a notable decrease in the number of Iranian or Iraqi combatants in Damascus; some observers point to this being a sign of a Russian ‘victory’ in Syria, although Iranian economic constraints should also be considered  
  • The Government of Syria is reportedly exploring the possibility of purchasing electricity from the Government of Russia. Electricity purchases will not solve Syria’s long term electrical issues; however, considering the fact that the majority of the country faces multiple hours of electrical cuts, electricity purchases may have some impact.
  • The Government of Israel launched several airstrikes, reportedly targeting Iranian or Hezbollah military positions.  Israeli airstrikes are not unusual, however they are particularly concerning in the current regional political climate.

Northwestern Syria Negotiations

In Depth Analysis

Two flyers, designed and distributed both physically and via social media by the Lebanese Free Patriotic Movement. The first reads: “Do you know that the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon is now 40% of the Lebanese opulation.” The second reads: “Protect Lebanese workers and report violations, send an image or video to this number…”

On June 8, in an incident widely covered on Lebanese social media, flyers were distributed by the Youth and Sports Department of the Free Patriotic Movement, the political party of Lebanese President Aoun.  The flyers read: “Protect the Lebanese Workers and Report Violations….Syria is safe for return and Lebanon has had enough.” The flyer also contained a hotline number, which Lebanese citizens can call to report Syrians working illegally in Lebanon.   Free Patriotic Movement supporters have also demonstrated in several locations in Lebanon, wearing vests that read, “If you love Lebanon, hire a Lebanese.”  In response to criticism that the demonstration campaign was racist, on June 8, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement and the current Lebanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Gebran Bassil, tweeted that “Some accuse me of being racist, and I understand that the Lebanese identity of these people is not strong enough to feel what we feel, because they consider a ‘second affiliation’ that may be more important to them…it is normal for the Lebanese Government to differentiate its citizens from others citizen, i.e. foreigners, and that is not racist…”

Bassil’s statements triggered various anti-hate speech campaigns and calls for protests in Beirut. However, while Bassil’s statements and the recent Free Patriotic Movement demonstrations are certainly provocative, they are also generally reflective of the consensus of Lebanon’s prominent political parties with respect to Syrian refugees in Lebanon.  Every political party currently represented in the Lebanese cabinet is unified on the necessity of the return of Syrian refugees to Syria; disagreements center on the means through which this return could be facilitated, either through negotiations with UNHCR, or directly with the Government of Syria. However, despite the formation of the new Lebanese Government in January 2019, and ongoing discussions on possible Syrian refugee return policy options, Lebanon still does not yet have a clear stance towards its Syrian refugees.

Due to the fact that the Government has not yet set a clearly defined refugee policy, various Lebanese ministries and the Lebanese cabinet have resorted to a series of more decentralized policies, which aim to impact refugees’ residency statuses, employment opportunities, housing access, and access to health and education services.  Additionally, due to continuous political deadlock, Lebanese local authorities have expanded the powers of local governance bodies, and many Lebanese municipalities now regularly conduct surveillance on Syrian refugee communities, while many municipalities have set curfews on refugees or forced the closure of small businesses created by refugees. Highlighting these tensions, on June 7 UNHCR issued a warning to Syrian refugees in Lebanon, stating that Lebanese authorities have decided to deport any refugees smuggled into the country after September 24, 2019, as well as temporarily halt the registration of refugees at UNHCR.

Municipal and ministerial pressures on Syrian refugees are certainly a major concern; however, the most open manifestations of tension between Lebanese citizens and Syrian refugees take place in the informal camps in the Beqqa Valley, such as in Aarsal and Deir El-Ahmar. For example, on June 5, a local dispute between a member of the Lebanese Civil Defense and Syrian refugees residing in a settlement in Deir El-Ahmar escalated to the point that three civil defense members were injured, numerous refugee tents were destroyed and hundreds of inhabitants displaced, according to  UNHCR. Accounts of the incident are conflicting, but local media sources indicate that the Baalbak-Hermel governor has enforced a ban on refugee movement, and likely attempt to deport at least some refugees. Similarly, on June 4, media outlets expressed growing concerns regarding a previously announced decision to demolish concrete structures made by refugees in Arsal, which would reportedly render up to 1,400 families homeless.

The Lebanese government is unlikely to develop a clearly defined policy toward Syrian refugees in the near term.  The Syrian refugee issue is important to the Lebanese government; however, what is more important are the increasing fears of an economic collapse in Lebanon, which have exacerbated as Lebanon is expected to endorse new austerity measures in the 2019 budget draft. These economic concerns have in turn led to fears of a Lebanese Lira devaluation due to foreign currency inavailability, and have led to numerous strikes and demonstrations over the past month.  Indeed, one could clearly link the recent intensification of pressure on Lebanon’s Syrian refugees to these deeper economic concerns. Lebanon is certainly not the only country in the world to attribute poor economic conditions to refugees or immigrants; a cursory glance at international media outlets would highlight numerous similar policies and incidents taking place in the U.S. and European countries.   However, amidst growing political, legal, social, and economic pressures facing Syrian refugees, especially those living in informal camps, humanitarian and economic conditions will necessarily deteriorate. Considering Lebanon’s political gridlock, the decision to decisively deport Syrian refugees will likely never be taken; however, considering the pressures facing Syrian refugees, deportation may not be the primary driver of returns to Syria.

Whole of Syria Review

COAR Syria Update May 30-June 12 Map

1. Northwestern Syria Update

Idleb, Hama and Aleppo Governorates, Syria:  Throughout the reporting period, Government of Syria airstrikes continued to target numerous communities in northern rural Hama and southern rural Idleb governorate; cities and towns located towards the center of Idleb governorate, such as Maaret An-Numan, Idleb and Ariha, were also heavily targeted. Indeed, according to local sources, an estimated 450 airstrikes have targeted opposition-held northwestern Syria throughout the past month.  Additionally, as of June 5, heavy airstrikes have begun to target front lines in the vicinity of Jisr Al-Shughour. As of June 11, media sources reported that Government of Syria forces launched at least five small-scale offensives in Kbana, located on the frontlines in northwestern Lattakia; no advances were reported.  Clashes in northern Hama have been constant for the past two weeks, and reportedly both Government of Syria and armed opposition groups have suffered heavy casualties; again, no significant advances were reported.

Analysis:  Heavy  clashes between armed opposition groups and Government of Syria forces are likely to continue at a similar level intensity until the Governments of Russia and Turkey reach a broader agreement in northwestern Syria. Until then, a major advance by either the Government of Syria or the armed opposition remains unlikely. Both the Government of Turkey  and the Government of Russia appear to be determined to secure some objectives in northwestern Syria; for its part, Russia appears to favor a ceasefire on the current front lines, which Turkey appears to favor a return to the pre-offensive front lines. However, until an agreement is struck, the ongoing ‘war of attrition’ will continue in northwestern Syria, perpetuating the current status quo of dire humanitarian conditions.

2. Southern Syria Update

Dar’a governorate, Syria: Throughout the reporting period, local sources reported that there is a general state of alert and concern among the population of Dar’a governorate ahead of the upcoming expiration of the Government of Syria’s six month ‘grace period’ to finalize reconciliation in southern Syria; notably, after the six month grace period, all eligible military aged males will be subject to military conscription. The original ‘grace period’ expired in December 2018; however, the Negotiation Committee of Dar’a, a local body consisting of several of Dar’a governorate’s prominent local elites, negotiated a six month extension in early 2019. Concurrent with these concerns, the security situation in Dar’a governorate remains in turmoil.  Between May 30 and 31, Government of Syria security forces reportedly shot two local reconciled fighters in As-Sanamayn; this eventually escalated into open clashes with local armed individuals, and two Government of Syria-affiliated security personnel were reportedly injured. Additionally, two VBIED attacks reportedly took place in Bursra El-Harir on June 4. Of critical note, local sources reported that a large number of reconciled combatants from various communities in Dar’a governorate have defected from Government of Syria forces in order to avoid deployment to front lines in northwestern Syria.

Analysis:  The security situation in southern Syria, specifically in western rural Dar’a, has been in constant turmoil since the extension of the reconciliation agreement in January 2019. The turmoil most recently manifested as a temporary ‘besiegement’ of As-Sanamayn by the Government of Syria in May 2019; however violence is now a regular occurrence throughout many communities in western Dar’a. Given the spike in tensions and the prevalence of anti-Government of Syria sentiments, the fate of the reconciliation agreement is increasingly uncertain; if the ‘grace period’ is not renewed, security conditions will likely further deteriorate. While an open, unified, and cohesive armed opposition resurgence is unlikely, the future implementation of the southern Syria reconciliation will likely continue to be characterized as decentralized, chaotic, and violent.

3. Northeast Fires

Al-Hasakeh and Ar-Raqqa Governorates, Syria:  Local and media sources reported on massive fires taking place in agricultural land across northeastern Syria. Local sources reported that at least 30,000 acres of cultivated land were destroyed in Al-Hasakeh governorate after a fire broke out and expanded due to the wind. Another 5,000 acres were destroyed in Tal Abiad, in northern rural Ar-Raqqa governorate. Fires in agricultural areas have been increasingly frequent for the past month.   On June 7, media sources cited various local farmers who claim that the fires have been erupting at night during lower temperatures, indicating that these fires are intentional. In fact, ISIS did claim responsibility for starting one fire on May 23, however it remains difficult to discern the causes or potential actors involved in most of the fires. Local rhetoric generally accuses a range of actors, to include: ISIS sleeper cells, Government of Syria agents, SDF combatants attempting to punish Arab tribes, Arab tribal groups attempting to punish the SDF, or Turkish military forces.

Analysis: The frequency and size of the fires in northeastern Syria certainly raises the possibility that they deliberate, though the precise motive remains unclear. However, it is important to note that, despite the likelihood of this scenario, there are other contributing factors that could also be considered, to include: continuing climate change and generally high temperatures; the lack of proper agricultural infrastructure; general water shortages; and the absence of sufficient means to mitigate the threat of fire. According to local sources, the Self Administration does indeed generally disregard agricultural conditions, and its scrutiny on agricultural sectors is often limited to the administration of relevant institutions and crop pricing.   Many farmers are thus not adequately supported by any governance institutions and must deal with increased production costs, low quality fuel, and poor irrigation. The considerable amount of the 2019 wheat harvest that was destroyed will therefore have a massive impact on both the livelihoods of northeastern Syria’s wheat farmers, and potentially food availability throughout Syria. The impact of the loss in agricultural output will likely affect community perceptions of the Self Administration in northeastern Syria, and will likely vary according to the local context; perceptions will likely range between an increased distrust and scepticism of the Self Administration, or an accentuation of perceived threats posed by ISIS, the Government of Turkey, and the Government of Syria.

4. Security Situation in Euphrates Shield

Northern Aleppo, Syria: On June 2, media sources reported that a VBIED targeted a market in A’zaz city, in northern Aleppo. The explosion reportedly resulted in 14 deaths and at least 30 injuries. On the same date, additional media sources reported that one IED was detonated in Jandeiris, in Afrin district, and two IEDs detonated in Al-Bab city.

Analysis: Security incidents across Euphrates Shield areas have become an extremely common occurrence; their persistence and increasing frequency is regularly cited as evidence that the Turkish-supported National Army is unable to provide security in northwestern Syria.  Notably, explosions in A’zaz generally target civilians, whereas security incidents in Al-Bab and Afrin and their vicinity are more likely to target specific individuals. This does provide a hint to their origins: incidents in Azaz may indeed by ISIS sleeper cells, while those in Al-Bab or Afrin may be YPG insurgents or even other National Army groups.  The security situation in northwestern Syria will likely continue to deteriorate for the foreseeable future.

5. Clashes in As-Sweida Governorate

Sweida city, Southern Syria: On June 9, media sources reported that an artillery shell targeted the headquarters of the Government of Syria Political Security Branch in As-Sweida city; within the same week a similar attack targeted the Military Security Branch headquarters in As-Sweida city. Additionally, Government of Syria National Defense Forces checkpoint was targeted in early May 2019, resulting in the death of two NDF combatants.

Analysis: Tensions between the local Druze community and Government of Syria forces are not uncommon; however, while security incidents have escalated in As-Sweida, it is unlikely that serious anti-Government of Syria violence will reach the level of neighboring Dar’a governorate. Indeed, many of these incidents could very well be attributed to the general dire security situation, and the proliferation of kidnapping, killing, and looting that takes place throughout As-Sweida on a semi-regular basis.  This is compounded by the fact that the National Defense Forces, and various other Government of Syria divisions in the area, are known for their involvement in illicit drug trade and arms smuggling.

6. Iranian and Iraqi Combatants in Damascus

Damascus City, Syria:  On June 2, media sources reported on a noticeable decrease in the number of foreign combatants, specifically Iranian and Iraqi combatants, in Damascus city throughout the past year. The source indicated that several checkpoints controlled by these foriegn combatants have been removed. Furthermore, as per the same source, barricades at the perimeter of major hotels frequently used by Iraqi and Iranian combatants, as well as posters for Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, were also removed. Notably, the allegedly considerable decrease in the presence of these foreign combatants in public spaces in Damascus have reportedly been accompanied by an increased visibility and presence of Russian police across the city.

Analysis: Externally, the decrease of the presence of Iranian and Iraqi combatants in Damascus and the parallel increase in Russian presence may indicate that Russia is incrementally curbing Iranian influence in Damascus; however, the Iranian and Iraqi drawdown equally likely to be reflective of domestic issues in Iran.  Indeed, it is premature to state that Russian pressure has compelled Iran to reduce its presence in Damascus and could be equally indicative of the toll of U.S. sanctions on Iran. It is also important to note that a reduction in visibility does not necessarily reflect an actual attenuation of the role and power of Iranian militias within the Government of Syria’s military divisions and administrative structures. For instance, previous decisions to integrate Iranian-backed militias within the Syrian military may have deepened Iran’s role, rather than weakened it.

7. Purchase of Russian Electricity

Damascus City, Syria: On June 10, media sources reported that the Government of Syria Minister of Electricity, Mohamd Zouheir Kharbotli, made a statement indicating that the Government of Syria is currently considering the possibility of purchasing electricity from Russia, while stating that funding is the main impediment with regards to the purchase of electricity and associated infrastructure from Russia. Furthermore, Kharbotli also stated that both governments have signed several agreements for the rehabilitation of Aleppo Electricity Station.  Relatedly, earlier on May 26, Kharbotli stated that the Government of Syria has allocated a total of 46 billion SYP (~$89 million USD), for the rehabilitation of the electricity grid in eastern rural Aleppo governorate. Kharbotli also announced that the General Directorate of Electricity Distribution will also attempt to purchase new electrical convertors, claiming that 500 new converters are needed across Syria.

Analysis: The purchase of electricity and/or infrastructure support from Russia is unlikely to be a sustainable solution for the current supply shortage of electricity. The Government of Syria’s capacity to produce fuel and electricity has suffered significantly throughout the conflict, largely due to the destruction of infrastructure, the financial toll of sanctions, and the fact that major fuel and oil fields in northeastern Syria are either destroyed or outside of the Government’s control. Given the sanctions that Syria and its major allies, Iran and Russian, are currently facing, restoring sustainable electrical production is unlikely in the foreseeable future. However, short-term electricity purchases will certainly have an impact on the provision of electricity in Government-held areas, as nearly the entire country faces multiple hours of blackouts.

8. Israeli Airstrikes

Quneitra and Homs Governorates, Syria: Several consecutive Israeli aerial attacks targeted various military bases between June 1 and 2. The Israeli attacks reportedly targeted south and southwest Damascus city, namely Kisweh and Husseiniyeh in Rural Damascus governorate; Tal Al-Shaar, in Quneitra governorate; and the T4 military airbase in Homs governorate. As per media sources, the Israeli missiles reportedly targeted Iranian and Hezbollah military targets. The same source further indicated that the Israeli attacks on Quneitra were in response to two artillery shells launched into the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights.

Analysis:  The Israeli attacks came shortly after recent attacks earlier in May, 2019. Though Israeli attacks on Syria are not uncommon, they are currently of higher significance given heightened regional tensions. These attacks generally target armed groups or military facilities reportedly linked to the Iranian government. As such, and in light of the recent alleged attack on the petroleum tankers in Fujeirah, UAE, anti-Iran rhetoric from regional actors, and U.S.’ pressure on Iran, any attack on Iranian-affiliated forces presents the threat of a major conflict between Iran and its proxies, Israel, the U.S., or the Arab Gulf states.

The Wartime and Post-Conflict Syria project (WPCS) is funded by the European Union and implemented through a partnership between the European University Institute (Middle East Directions Programme) and the Center for Operational Analysis and Research (COAR). WPCS will provide operational and strategic analysis to policymakers and programmers concerning prospects, challenges, trends, and policy options with respect to a conflict and post-conflict Syria. WPCS also aims to stimulate new approaches and policy responses to the Syrian conflict through a regular dialogue between researchers, policymakers and donors, and implementers, as well as to build a new network of Syrian researchers that will contribute to research informing international policy and practice related to their country.

The content compiled and presented by COAR is by no means exhaustive and does not reflect COAR’s formal position, political or otherwise, on the aforementioned topics. The information, assessments, and analysis provided by COAR are only to inform humanitarian and development programs and policy. While this publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union, its contents are the sole responsibility of COAR Global LTD, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.

Media Anthology: June 04 – June 10, 2019


ALEXANDRINA

Media Anthology

June 04 to 10, 2019

linklanguagesourceDateCategory
Idleb: The regime's militia change their strategyArabicAl modonJune 5, 2019Conflict and Military
21 Turkish military vehicles have entered the observation point in Murak in rural HamaArabicEnab BaladiJune 5, 2019Conflict and Military
A new trap carried out by ISIS in east Homs; a new statistics for war of attritionArabicStep News AgencyJune 7, 2019Conflict and Military
Jihadi factions and groups continue their offensive north of Hama and Tahrir al-Sham carried out a suicide car bombing in Karnaz areaُEnglishSyrian Observatory For Human RightsJune 7, 2019Conflict and Military
Defections from Assad forces in Dar’a as they refused to fight in the north SyriaArabicHoran Free League Horan Free LeagueJune 4, 2019Conflict and Military
In 66 hours…the battle of the north-western countryside of Hama depletes the regime forces and kills about 130 members of them in 3 villagesEnglishSyrian Observatory For Human RightsJune 9, 2019Conflict and Military
Mysterious oil company a key player in IdlibEnglishAsia TimesJune 3, 2019Economic
Mystery crop fires scorch thousands of acres in Syria and Iraq — and ISIS claims responsibilityEnglishThe Washington PostJune 7, 2019Economic
Syria’s new Assad statues send a sinister message: ‘we are back’EnglishThe AtlanticJune 7, 2019Governance and Service Management
Homs vows the Assad regime againArabicNedaa Syria June 6, 2019Social Dynamics
Syria war: Abdel Basset al-Sarout dies after Hama clashesEnglishBBCJune 8, 2019Social Dynamics
A half-million IDPs and 659 persons killed following the Idleb offensive, “Response Coordinators” reportedArabicEnab BaladiJune 9, 2019Humanitarian & Development
What is Russia's strategy in Idlib?EnglishAl-MonitorJune 5, 2019International Intervention
SDF authority declines in Deir-ez-Zor, and ISIS is appearing againArabicAl modonJune 5, 2019Other
Why Syria's territorial divisions complicate reconstructionEnglishAl-MonitorJune 5, 2019Other
Understanding the characteristics of the new emerging state in SyriaEnglishChatham HouseJune 9, 2019Other

Media Anthology: May 21- June 03, 2019


ALEXANDRINA

Media Anthology

May 21 to June 03, 2019

linklanguagesourceDateCategory
The regime security apparatuses continue its arbitrary campaign in Eastern Ghouta and detain dozens of former fighters of Faylaq al-Rahman who have undertaken "reconciliations and settlements" previouslyArabicSyrian Observatory For Human RightsMay 21, 2019Conflict and Military
Syria: Detention, harassment in retaken areasEnglishHuman Rights WatchMay 21, 2019Conflict and Military
Kafr Nabutha changes the trajectory of the battleArabicAl JumhuriyaMay 23, 2019Conflict and Military
The head of the Salvation Government urges to resist Assad offensiveArabicReutersMay 27, 2019Conflict and Military
About 13,250 civilians were killed in 55 months of airstrikes escalation by warplanes of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in the Syrian territoryEnglishSyrian Observatory For Human RightsMay 30, 2019Conflict and Military
Israel strikes Syria following rocket fire; 10 Syrian, Iranian, Hezbollah militants said killedEnglishHaaretzJune 3, 2019Conflict and Military
The Palestinian Al-Quds Brigades mourns 20 of its fighters on Hama frontsArabicEnab BaladiJune 2, 2019Conflict and Military
Heavy clashes take place between the Iranian militias and the Assad’s intelligence forces EnglishDeirezZor 24June 3, 2019Conflict and Military
14 dead in an explosion in a market in A'zaz north SyriaArabicEnab BaladiJune 3, 2019Conflict and Military
Syria: Stone smugglingArabicSirajMay 20, 2019Economic
Dirty money. A British newspaper reveals the details of freezing the money of Bushra Al-AssadArabicOrient May 24, 2019Economic
The Salvation Government sets the purchasing price of wheat from farmersArabicEnab BaladiMay 27, 2019Economic
An agreement to sell most of Al-Tanak oil field’s production in Deir-ez-Zor to the regime. Assad government: Imports through land have never stopped ArabicAl SouriaMay 28, 2019Economic
Statistics demonstrate losses in agricultural lands because of fires east of the EuphratesArabicEnab BaladiJune 2, 2019Economic
Mysterious oil company a key player in IdlibEnglishAsia TimesJune 3, 2019Economic
New ‘plan’ to expropriate displaced properties in Damascus suburbsEnglishThe Syrian ObserverMay 22, 2019Governance and Service Management
The regime's government solidifies its seizure to Ein Elfijeh and delays people compensationsArabicBaladi NewsMay 22, 2019Governance and Service Management
The regime appropriates 46 billion Syiran Pounds to recover electricity in eastern rural Aleppo… The provision would be through the Tishreen damArabicAl SouriaMay 26, 2019Governance and Service Management
SDF carry out a new operation to take youth and men to the compulsory service in their controlled areas east EuphratesEnglishSyrian Observatory For Human RightsMay 28, 2019Governance and Service Management
Plans to fix the roads in As-Sweida.. people are bearing the cost of bad implementationArabicEnab BaladiJune 3, 2019Governance and Service Management
After 8 days of tight siege…the regime forces lift the siege imposed over Al-Sanamayn city after meeting with dignitaries from Hauran with the Russian forcesEnglishSyrian Observatory For Human RightsMay 23, 2019Social Dynamics
A criminal amnesty midst a security tension in Dar'a ArabicAl-AkhbarMay 24, 2019Social Dynamics
UK keeps limits on cash aid in Syria over counter-terror fearsEnglishThe New HumanitarianMay 16, 2019Humanitarian & Development
International organizations contribute to rehabilitating thousands of houses in Rural Damascus in 2019ArabicAl-IqtisadiMay 30, 2019Humanitarian & Development
Stop the carnage: doctors call for an end to Syria hospital airstrikesEnglishThe GuardianJune 2, 2019Humanitarian & Development
Field developments and displacement movements in Idleb and Northern Hama countryside and western and southern Aleppo countrysidesEnglishAssistance Coordination UnitMay 19, 2019Humanitarian & Development
Is it the time now for doctors to leave Idleb?ArabicAsharq Al AwsatMay 22, 2019Humanitarian & Development
Lebanese Army Gives Notice to Syrian RefugeesEnglishThe Syrian ObserverMay 24, 2019Humanitarian & Development
UN and humanitarian organizations: Thousands of civilians face hunger and death threat in north SyriaArabicDamaski Media AgencyMay 24, 2019Humanitarian & Development
Ten American steps in Syria to achieve three goalsArabicAsharq Al AwsatMay 23, 2019International Intervention
US Coalition strikes Syrian government boats transporting oil from eastern SyriaEnglishAl-Masdar NewsMay 31, 2019International Intervention
US 'maximum pressure' on Iran is empowering Russia in SyriaEnglishAl JazeeraMay 30, 2019International Intervention
Documents shine rare light on Syrian government crackdownEnglishAssociated Press NewsMay 21, 2019Other
As Turkey and Russia pull the strings in Syria’s Idlib, civilians pay the priceEnglishThe New Humanitarian May 22, 2019Other
Lebanon: Syrians summarily deported from airportEnglishHuman Rights WatchMay 24, 2019Other