Syria Update: September 18 – September 24, 2019

Syria Update

September 18 – September 24, 2019

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on print
Share on email
Share on whatsapp

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.

Massive Protests Against Iran in Deir-ez-Zor Augur Wider Northeast Instability

In Depth Analysis

On September 20, in a massive protest march that originated in Syrian Democratic Forces-held territory, hundreds of demonstrators captured a Government of Syria checkpoint outside Salihiyeh, in rural Deir-ez-Zor, demanding that Government forces and Iran-backed militias withdraw from communities on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River. Among the demonstrators were large numbers of IDPs, as well as plainclothes Asayish internal security agents. As the protest march advanced, Government of Syria security forces opened fire, reportedly killing one demonstrator and wounding several others; according to local sources, one Asayish officer was also killed. The following day, protesters returned to the area and reiterated their demand that the Government withdraws from the small enclave on the eastern side of the Euphrates River, which encompasses several small communities, including Mirat, Hatla, and Khasham. According to local sources, a heavy exchange of gunfire between Government- and SDF-held communities situated across the river followed the protest. Although any popular mobilization of such enormous size in Syria is notable, these demonstrations are particularly noteworthy as the most high-profile confrontation between the SDF and the Syrian Government since the two actors divided their control over the Deir-ez-Zor Euphrates River valley in parallel campaigns against ISIS in late 2017; as such, the mobilizations raise the worrying prospect that deep-rooted tensions may disrupt a relative detente that has long persisted in northeast Syria.

Locally, several factors are seen as key drivers of the tensions that are now breaking out in demonstrations and clashes in rural Deir-ez-Zor. First, it is important to note that many of the demonstrators are IDPs from communities controlled by the Syrian Government or Iran-backed militias; in effect, for many of these individuals, return to these communities is in effect impossible. Second, local sources report that the SDF has promised to give demonstrators an expanded role in local governance in any communities that they are able to seize from Government control. Third, and most importantly, the protests reportedly came in response to threats made by Sheikh Nawaf Al-Bashir, the commander of the Baqir Brigade (a prominent Iranian-linked armed group in Deir-ez-Zor); indeed, in the week preceding the protests, videos circulated widely on social media showing Al-Bashir threatening that the Baqir Brigade would launch a cross-river assault to capture SDF-held territory. While such threats are not unusual in and of themselves, they have fueled local concerns in Deir-ez-Zor that implementation of northeast Syria ‘safe zone’ agreement on the Turkish border will leave front lines with the Syrian Government vulnerable to attack, with little hope for reinforcements from northern border areas.

Protesters demand the withdrawal of Government of Syria and Iranian forces from Deir-ez-Zor. Image Courtesy of Alarabiya.net

It is also important to note that the tensions in northeast Syria have an important tribal component, which has been exacerbated by various parties to the conflict. Without question, the increasing influence of Iran is an important source of underlying tension in Deir-ez-Zor. To this end, the Baqir Brigades have recruited large numbers of Arab tribesmen in Deir-ez-Zor, specifically recruiting members of the Beggara tribe headed by Sheikh Al-Bashir. However, it is also important to note that Iran is not alone in forming a strategy of tribal outreach in eastern Syria. Indeed, all parties to the Syria conflict have integrated tribal outreach as a keystone of their military and influence strategies in eastern Syria; for its part, the Self Administration has also leveraged tribal power structures as an instrument to solidify its power base. (These dynamics are documented in detail on the community level in the recent COAR report Tribal Tribulations: Tribal Mapping and State Actor Influence in Northeastern Syria.) As such, the SDF has attempted its own outreach with the E’kidat tribal confederation, a longstanding rival tribe of the Beggara and one of the most prominent tribes on the east bank of the Euphrates River, where the recent protests have occurred. Arab tribesmen have generally been ambivalent towards the SDF’s attempts at outreach, especially in Deir-ez-Zor; however, on the issue of Iran, the E’kidat leadership have demanded assistance from the SDF and International Coalition to drive Iran-backed militias from the area.

Looking ahead, the mounting tensions that have now spilled over into violent demonstrations have clear ramifications. Both the Government of Syria and the SDF have deployed reinforcements to the area. Calls for continuing protests demanding the Government of Syria and Iranian militias withdraw across the Euphrates River are mounting. Meanwhile, further counter-demonstrations in protest of the SDF are also taking place in SDF-held areas; these measures are likely to have a particularly destabilizing effect in communities such as Shadadi where the popularity of the Self Administration and the SDF is already in question. Ultimately, although protesters’ demands for a Government of Syria withdrawal are almost certain to go unmet, and direct clashes between the SDF and Government or Iranian forces are unlikely in the foreseeable future, further confrontations between proxy groups and local tribes are likely to intensify.

Whole of Syria Review

1. As UN Heralds Constitutional Committee, Self Administration, U.S. Sit On Sidelines

Damascus: On September 23, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced that the Government of Syria and the Syrian Negotiations Commission have agreed to the formation of a constitutional committee in accordance with UN Resolution 2254; according Guterres, the committee will convene “in the coming weeks.” The committee will be comprised of 150 members, with seats allocated equally to members nominated by the Government and the Syrian opposition, in addition to a third panel of ostensibly neutral civil society figures; the committee will be headed by a co-delegation representing the Government and the Syrian Negotiations Commission. While the official list of the committee members has not been published, news outlets closely affiliated to the Government have published such a list. Moreover, in terms of procedure, unconfirmed reports state that a 45-member subcommittee will draft amendments to the constitution, however, decisions will be reached within the whole constitutional committee by consensus, with deadlocks being broken by a three-quarters voting majority. In a highly consequential decision, the committee has reportedly excluded the Self Administration from participation. In response, on September 23, the Self Administration issued a statement condemning its sidelining from the UN political process, and announcing its rejection of all future outcomes of the committee.

Analysis: The creation of the Syrian constitutional committee marks an important stepping stone in the UN-led political process to resolve the protracted Syria conflict. Nonetheless, the exclusion of the Self Administration hints at potential hurdles which the committee can be expected to encounter. The Self Administration is the de facto governing authority for approximately 2.2 million individuals in northeast Syria, yet the political parties that form the backbone of the Self Administration’s governing coalition are not formally aligned with the Syrian opposition, and therefore have been excluded from the committee. In turn, this casts some doubt on the committee’s credentials as a representative of the whole of Syria. The exclusion of the Self Administration is further notable due to previous U.S. efforts to secure the Self Administration’s representation within the committee; potentially, the failure of these efforts puts the approval of the constitution by the UN Security Council at risk of a U.S. veto. More fundamentally, divergences among various constituencies within the committee itself persist. The Government has previously insisted that the committee limit itself to amendments of the 2012 constitution, whereas opposition representatives have demanded a new Syrian constitution be drafted wholesale. As such, the future course taken by the committee will be highly dependent upon its membership, as well as the members’ ability to effectively represent the interests of powerful actors who have, for a variety of reasons, been excluded from the process.

2. Nasrallah Calls For Al-Qusayr Refugees To Return From Lebanon

Al-Qusayr, Homs Governorate: On September 20, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah publicly called on Syrian refugees who were displaced from Al-Qusayr and now reside in Lebanon to begin registering their names with Lebanese General Security in order to return to Syria. The following day, local tribes in Hermel, Lebanon convened an information session attended by refugee families as well as high-level representatives of security and political actors from Lebanon and Syria. Among those present was former Syrian Minister of Reconciliation Ali Haidar, head of Lebanese General Security Abbas Ibrahim, and representatives of Lebanese political factions Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement. As of this writing, registration of names under the initiative has not yet begun. Notably, Hezbollah has maintained a significant military presence in Al-Qusayr since it supported the Government of Syria’s military offensive to capture the area in 2013; the offensive resulted in the massive displacement of the predominantly Sunni population of Al-Qusayr to nearby communities in Lebanon.

Analysis: Nasrallah’s call to repatriate Syrian refugees from Al-Qusayr may signal a long-awaited resolution to one of the most intractable and high-profile displacements in the Syria conflict; however, it is important to note that significant uncertainty over the implementation of the return process remains. As with other recent large-scale return movements in Syria, the case of Al-Qusayr highlights the crucial role played by intermediaries of return. Indeed, the standout feature of the announcement is that it came not from a state actor, but from the leader of Hezbollah, although the buy-in of both Syrian and Lebanese stakeholders will no doubt be critical to facilitating the return of refugees to Al-Qusayr. To date, the foremost issue preventing return to the area has been the securitization of Al-Qusayr under Hezbollah, primarily due to its standing as a strategic outpost situated on a key smuggling route on the Lebanese-Syrian border. Finally, it is important to note that the invitation to return to Al-Qusayr almost certainly has limitations. Indeed, in the past, Al-Qusayr refugees have applied for permission to return via Lebnaese General Security, yet frequently have been denied on arbitrary bases, likely at the (indirect) behest of Hezbollah through Syrian Government interlocutors. Despite the promising sign that returns to Al-Qusayr may be possible for many displaced residents, these returns should also sharpen the focus on the case of those refugees for whom return is effectively impossible. 

3. Salvation Government Levies ‘Zakat’ Tax On Olive Harvest In Northwest Syria

Idleb, Idleb Governorate: Throughout the reporting period, media recent reports surfaced that the Salvation Government has issued a directive ordering that olive producers in areas under its control pay what it called a “zakat” (i.e. an Islamic tithe) on olives and olive oil. Essentially, the order amounts to a new tax on olive production, although crucial questions concerning the way the order will be carried out are not yet clear, and no monies have yet been collected under the directive, as the olive harvest takes place in November. The directive stipulates that farmers who produce more than 3 kg of olive oil or harvest more than 129 kg of olives for oil production must pay approximately 5 percent of the price of olives or olive oil. Moreover, producers will be required to maintain precise records of their olive production in order to tabulate the specific amount to be paid under the fee regime. However, the Salvation Government has reportedly asked local mosques to ‘remind’ all Muslims of the religious importance of paying zakat, and requested that attendees of Friday prayers be reminded that failing to do so will carry ‘consequences’. Specific details concerning these consequences and the extent to which the Salvation Government intends to enforce the order remain unclear. However, the possibility of the Salvation Government acting upon such threats is credible.

Analysis: The importance of the Salvation Government’s new measure is twofold. First, new assessments of any kind on agricultural production are naturally a significant concern for humanitarian and development programming in northwest Syria. At the most extreme, the new Salvation Government order may jeopardize existing agricultural support programs by introducing further compliance concerns. However, the impact of the order will likely hinge upon how it is collected. Second, the imposition of new taxes is a provocative undertaking, and an indication that the Salvation Government may be experiencing financial hardship, and therefore must expand methods of generating financial revenues. Indeed, in the summer of 2019, the Salvation Government issued similar taxes on wheat production, which at the time caused great concern among local farmers. Notably, due to the fact that the Salvation Government has previously demanded that all local olive producers register their businesses with the Salvation Government, the authority now possesses a clear overview of olive production in northwest Syria. As a result of the dramatic potential implications it entails, the recently promulgated order is likely to ignite considerable discontent on the local level, especially in view of the fact that is expected to be levied against vulnerable small-scale olive producers; if the order is implemented, it may also elicit a response from institutional donors supporting agricultural programs in northwest Syria. 

4. Freezing Qaboun Urban Plan, President Al-Assad To Decide Area’s Fate

Qudsiya, Rural Damascus Governorate: On August 29, media reports indicated that a VBIED attack killed Nabil Mohamad Dib Rizma, the head of the city council in Qudsiya, west of Damascus city. The perpetrators remain unknown. Notably, Rizma was reportedly a member of the reconciliation committee of Qudsiya, and he is said to have personally played an important role in facilitating the evacuation of the armed opposition groups from the area in 2016. Although far from a common occurrence, similar incidents, primarily targeting security forces, have taken place near Qudsiya, that latest of which occurred in April 2019.

Analysis: The freeze on the Qaboun Urban Plan is a dramatic turn that follows the massive public response to the Qaboun redevelopment plan, including the submission of 740 public comments (as reported in Syria Update August 24-September 4). In essence, local industrialists have opposed the state’s plan to rezone and reconstruct much of Qaboun for mixed residential and commercial use; as a result, the plan would compel Qaboun’s traditional business class, including factory and light industrial interests, to relocate. The freeze on the redevelopment plan highlights that even formal procedural instruments are unlikely to succeed in bridging the rift between national (and international) actors seeking to benefit from reconstruction and local economic actors. More importantly, the freeze comes at a time of significant turmoil in Syria’s business community, and it is currently highly unclear which business interests will prevail in the long term. As such, the freeze also highlights the fact that Syria remains a security state in which Bashar Al-Assad remains the ultimate decision-making authority, and even formal processes are subject to presidential intervention. As such, the trajectory of the Qaboun Urban Plan is now highly uncertain. Finally, the freeze on the Qaboun Urban Plan also casts light on the role of civil initiatives in challenging the policies of government bodies and demanding that authorities be answerable, if not accountable, for policy decisions. Similar challenges over reconstruction and rehabilitation are certain to play out across Syria; to a large degree, Qaboun may serve as a bellwether of the degree to which the public can effectively push for local interests to be accommodated in post-conflict Syria.

5. Popular Resistance Threatens Public Figure Assassinations If Demands Not Met

Hara, Dar’a Governorate: On September 17, the Fajr Al-Deen Brigade of Hara, a branch of  the Dar’a Governorate ‘Popular Revolutionary Resistance’, issued a dramatic ultimatum demanding that the Government of Syria address a host of the group’s demands. Among its demands, the Fajr Al-Deen Brigade called for the Government to release detainees, restore services, refrain from harassing activists, remove barriers to university enrollment, and rehire public employees dismissed from their posts. According to the statement, if these demands are not met by October 1, the Fajr Al-Deen Brigade threatened that it would declare Hara a ‘military area’, and that it would assassinate Government-linked individuals; the threat was accompanied by a list of individuals spanning numerous sectors and governance functions in the area, including municipal employees, members of reconciliation committees, and former members of opposition-aligned local councils that were instrumental in facilitating reconciliation.

Analysis: The timing of the ultimatum issued by the Fajr Al-Deen Brigade is highly noteworthy; indeed, it follows closely after the issuance of Decree 20, a Government recruitment and amnesty measure that has been received with a high degree of skepticism in Dar‘a  (see Syria Update September 12-17). Indeed, the Government’s ability (or intention) to fulfill its promises regarding the status of detainees is likely to be crucial to the amnesty’s success in quieting restive areas where the Government’s popularity continues to be regularly challenged. This is especially true in Dar‘a, where the amnesty announcement was juxtaposed with news of continued detentions and the deaths of prisoners; throughout the reporting period, local sources reported that five prisoners from Sheikh Miskine died after being tortured in detention, while another prisoner from Ghabagheb was reported to have died in prison, also due to torture. Such conditions have been key drivers of the rapid deterioration of the security situation in southern Syria. The wide scope of the Fajr Al-Deen Brigade’s threats suggest that this deterioration is likely to continue. Specifically, these threats are likely to deter individuals from engaging in local administrative and public functions linked to the government, inevitably narrowing the possibilities of improving governance and security in the area. The threats may also have a serious impact on program implementation in Dar’a governorate, considering the important role played by local administrators in program implementation.

6. Businessmen Adapt as Crackdown Continues and Uncertainty
Pervades Syria’s Economic Climate

Damascus: Throughout the reporting period, media sources reported that the Government of Syria Ministry of Finance has seized the assets of the former Minister of Sports, Mohammad Fadi Al-Dabbas, allegedly over his implication in a number of corruption cases. Notably, Al-Dabbas has been targeted, among other reasons, in connection with former Minister of Education Hazwan Al-Waz, who was charged last week with embezzling as much as 350 billion SYP (approximately 555 million USD; for more information on Al-Waz, see Syria Update September 12-17). Moreover, Al-Dabbas is the cofounder of Dar Al-Khair Import and Export Company, and is the son-in-law of highly influential businessmen Mohammad Hamsho, whose own standing in the Syrian business community is now subject to numerous unconfirmed rumors. Additionally, several other high-ranking businessmen have also had their assets frozen over accusations of embezzlement during the past week, including the former head of the Union for Exporters, Mohammad Al-Sawah, and a co-founder of the United Industrial Investment Company, Mohammed Samer Al-Mulhi.

Analysis: As the sweeping crackdown targeting some of Syria’s most influential businessmen, government figures, and economic actors continues to cut across various sectors, its wider ramifications are becoming increasingly apparent. The most jarring result of the crackdown is that it has made it virtually impossible to determine the present or future standing of Syria’s most prominent businessmen and their associates, up to and including Mohammad Hamsho (for more on the economic measures targeting Syria’s highest-placed businessmen, see Syria Update August 29-September 4). In turn, this uncertainty has been a contributing factor in the fluctuating value of the Syrian lira, which has further complicated Syria’s business climate. To that end, local sources report that the highly well-connected Al-Qaterji business enterprise are now insistent that partners conduct large-value transactions in cash, using U.S. dollars. The pressures for other businessmen to follow suit are becoming increasingly acute. Ironically, by challenging the Syrian business community at the highest levels, the current crackdown may actually worsen the very economic conditions it is, at least nominally, meant to remedy. Consequently, the deep instability at the heart of Syria’s business climate shows no sign of abating.

7. Eastern Ghouta Faces Renewed HLP Concerns From Antiterror Measures

Eastern Ghouta, Rural Damascus:  Throughout the reporting period, reports have surfaced that civil and security actors in Eastern Ghouta continue to use HLP procedures as punitive instruments against individuals formerly affiliated with the armed opposition. On September 23, reports stated that in recent days, members of the 4th Division confiscated an unknown number of houses belonging to former leaders of armed opposition groups in Duma. This follows earlier reports that the Government of Syria Political Security Branch had recently confiscated 76 houses in Harasta owned by former local activists and members of armed opposition groups. As per these sources, Government forces have also confiscated houses along the Damascus-Homs highway, in some cases targeting homes owned by individuals whose relatives have been charged with terrorism due to their affiliation with the armed opposition. Six individuals have reportedly been detained while protesting the confiscations, five of whom were women.

Analysis: HLP concerns are one the most prominent features of the post-reconciliation administrative climate in Eastern Ghouta, yet it is important to note that urban redevelopment in the area is not exclusively an artifact of the Syria conflict. Indeed, prior to the conflict, the Syrian Government frequently expressed its intention to redevelop or expropriate informal housing in Eastern Ghouta. Although such policies were never seriously pursued, the potential windfall to be gained by actors investing in the area’s reconstruction naturally raise the incentives to seek a share in this process for all actors involved. Due to geography, high levels of destruction, and linkages to the armed opposition, Duma and Harasta are now among the Eastern Ghouta communities that are most vulnerable to redevelopment, including by means of housing expropriation. To this end, it is also crucial to note that the anti-terror legal framework adopted by the Syrian state is fast emerging as one of the key policy levers to pursue urban ‘reform’ in Syria. Given the Government’s fundamental attitude vis-a-vis Eastern Ghouta, the punitive strategy targeting former opposition communities in Eastern Ghouta can be expected to continue for the foreseeable future; however, as noted above in Point 4, the exact trajectory of these developments is likely to depend upon a relationship among business and security actors that remains in flux.

8. Damascus Detention Highlights Risk Of Post-Reconciliation Prosecution

Beit Saham, Southern Damascus: On September 23, media and local sources reported that Government of Syria security forces arrested a former Ahrar Al-Sham commander, Abu Mohammed Ghaleb; Ghaleb was reportedly arrested on a civilian court decree, for the murder of several Syrian military and Hezbollah members. Ghaleb had previously reconciled his status with the Government following the reconciliation of southern Damascus in April 2018. The reconciliation committee of Beit Sahm has reportedly attempted to intervene in order to facilitate the release of Ghalib, but failed. 

Analysis: The recent arrest of Ghaleb highlights the limitations of reconciliation agreements, and the extent to which the recently issued Decree 20 (see Syria Update September 12-17) fails to protect reconciled individuals against the various measures through which the Government can still prosecute them. Indeed, while Decree 20 commutes sentences for many classes of offenses, it does not offer protections against prosecution under civil charges. The prosecution of reconciled individuals for actions taken during the conflict has become an increasingly common occurrence. To that end, civilians or local legal officials have filed civil suits against former opposition combatants in Eastern Ghouta, Barzeh and Qaboun, Az-Zabadani, and northern Homs. It is important to note that this is not necessarily a Government-driven process; many armed opposition commanders and combatants committed abuses against civilians and local stakeholders, which has naturally fermented deep-seated grievances that still linger. Thus, the Government is to some degree encouraging community members to file cases against former opposition commanders as a means of retribution. Essentially, individual reconciliation resolves a former opposition combatant’s status with the Government of Syria, but it does not grant them immunity from their neighbors. As a result, reconciled armed opposition combatants will likely continue to be prosecuted through civil suits and be at risk of detention.

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: September 12 – September 17, 2019

Syria Update

September 12 to September 17, 2019

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on print
Share on email
Share on whatsapp

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.

Assad Issues ‘General Amnesty’, Deferring Military Service And Reducing Sentences

In Depth Analysis

On September 15, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad issued Decree 20, a ‘general amnesty’ deferring military service for Syrians who are wanted for conscription, and reducing or commuting the sentences for more than a dozen classes of offenses. Decree 20 is effective immediately, and it has the potential to be the most expansive amnesty issued since the beginning of the Syrian conflict. To that end, in limited cases, the decree reduces the sentences that have been handed down under some articles of Syria’s far-reaching Counterterrorism Law Number 19. Moreover, further articles concerning juvenile crimes, misdemeanors, minor infractions, and traffic violations may impact significant portions of the Syrian population. Nonetheless, the decree contains significant limitations, and credible doubts over its ultimate application remain to be addressed.

Despite the expansive nature of Decree 20, the most consequential provisions of the order concern Syria’s mandatory military service requirement. The decree grants a three-month deferment of compulsory military service to Syrians who reside inside Syria, and a six-month deferment to those who are wanted for service but reside outside the country. As such, the decree is almost certainly intended in large part to meet the Syrian Government’s deep need for military conscripts. Indeed, the last amnesty issued by the Government, in October 2018, contained similar provisions to defer the service requirement for those wanted for service by four and six months, respectively. Then, as now, the Government’s proximate conflict goal is recapturing the portions of northwest Syria that remain under the control of armed opposition groups. To that end, since the Government launched its offensive on Idleb in spring 2019, its advances across key communities on the edges of Hama Governorate have been slow, and Government forces have sustained high levels of casualties.

In addition to the conscription deferrals, Decree 20 contains provisions to reduce sentences for a wide array of offenses. Among the most widely discussed of these are provisions to reduce the sentences that have been meted out under Counterterrorism Law Number 19, which has furnished the Syrian state with a broad legal basis for arrests, detentions, and property confiscations since it was enacted in 2012. In this regard, however, the actual impact of Decree 20 as a reprieve for those convicted under Law 19 has been overstated. Indeed, individuals convicted of “conspiracy” to commit any crime enumerated in Counterterrorism Law Number 19 will receive a full amnesty, if they are Syrian and—implicitly—provided they were not convicted of further crimes under the law. Likewise, the decree grants amnesty to those who were sentenced under the ‘duty to report’ any crimes as specified under Law 19. Finally, the measure cuts in half the prison sentence for anyone convicted under Law 19 of causing an explosion, provided the blast resulted in no material damage. However, the more problematic and operative provisions of Law 19 are not addressed by the latest decree.

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad greets soldiers in Eastern Ghouta; the Government of Syria's deep need for military conscripts is among the drivers of the latest amnesty decree. Image courtesy of Al-Jazeera.

Decree 20 also contains numerous sentencing reductions that seemingly bear little logical relationship to the conflict—or to each other. Among these, the decree orders that a previously issued death sentence be reduced to a life sentence with hard labor. In turn, a sentence of hard labor for life will be reduced to 20 years, while a life sentence in prison will be reduced to 20 years in prison. Prisoners suffering from a terminal illness who are at least 75 years old will be released. Moreover, full amnesty will be granted for misdemeanors and minor infractions, while juvenile sentences will be cut by one third, and the fines assessed for certain traffic violations are to be reduced by half.

As with past amnesties, Decree 20 has clear limitations. In cases that resulted in personal injury, some of the reduced sentences specified are applicable only when the injured party has waived a right to compensation. Moreover, the amnesty does not offer protection against civil cases; as a result, individuals remain in jeopardy of civil prosecution. Furthermore, Decree 20 does not actually modify the security laws whose provisions it is intended (at least nominally) to mitigate; consequently, future prosecution under the auspices of laws such as Counterterrorism Law Number 19 remains a distinct possibility. Finally, crimes such as treason and espionage, under which the armed and political opposition have frequently been prosecuted, fall outside the scope of the amnesty.

Given its sweeping provisions and likelihood to touch many corners of Syria’s judicial system, Decree 20 is the broadest amnesty in Syria since Bashar Al-Assad issued a presidential decree following national elections in June 2014. However, as in the case of the 2014 amnesty, Decree 20 is unlikely to redress the chief concerns of the Syrian opposition. Indeed, in the months following the 2014 amnesty, thousands of prisoners were freed. However, the releases were widely seen as arbitrary, and considerable numbers of prisoners who were putatively eligible for release remained in detention. As a result, questions over the application of the latest amnesty are a concern of the highest order.

Whole of Syria Review

1. Russia, Turkey, and Iran Announce Syrian Constitutional Committee, Defer on Idleb

Ankara, Turkey: On September 16, the three Astana guarantors (Russia, Turkey, and Iran) concluded their fifth trilateral summit, in Ankara, Turkey. The most concrete outcome of the summit was the long-awaited finalization of the Syrian constitutional committee. Although the composition of the committee has not been disclosed, in a press conference following the summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that the committee’s member list has been “fully agreed,” and it should begin its work in coordination with the UN in Geneva “as soon as possible.” In addition to the constitutional committee, the powers also discussed the implementation of the demilitarized zone in Idleb Governorate and the ‘safe zone’ agreement between the United States and Turkey along the Turkish border in northeast Syria. Concerning the situation in northwest Syria, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stressed that no joint Russian-Iranian-Turkish military operations are being planned there. Finally, in a joint communique issued following the summit, the powers emphasized the need for the Government of Syria to reestablish its control over areas currently held by the Syrian Democratic Forces. To this end, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated his dissatisfaction with the speed of U.S. efforts to implement the ‘safe zone’ agreement, and reprised his threat to undertake military operations in northeast Syria unilaterally if the agreement is not implemented by the end of September.

Analysis: The formation of the drafting committee for the Syrian constitution resolves one of the chief obstacles in the Syrian peace process, and it comes at the conclusion of several months of abortive efforts to that effect. Nonetheless, the summit as a whole leaves little reason to hope that Russia, Turkey, and Iran will be capable of brokering a wider agreement on the most pressing points of contention among them vis-a-vis Syria in the foreseeable future. To that end, the membership of the civil society list has been hotly contested between Turkey and Russia; this divergence has primarily centered on decision-making processes within the committee and the extent of its mandate to change the constitution. As such, notwithstanding the selection of committee members, the work of the committee itself will almost certainly produce further deep disagreement. Similarly, the joint Russian-Turkish-Iranian statement failed to herald any decisive steps with respect to the future course of northwest Syria, or, for that matter, the implementation of the northeast Syria ‘safe zone’. In the absence of a grand bargain by guarantor powers regarding northwest Syria, attempts to resolve the status of Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham as per the September 17 Sochi agreement are likely to remain central. Moreover, the trajectory of the Syrian Government offensive on Idleb and Hama Governorates is likely in the near term to continue in a cycle of intermittent advances supported by heavy shelling and bombardment, punctuated by temporary truces, as the Government is likely to continue to accommodate Turkish concerns over displacement as it prioritizes its efforts to progressively secure key highways.

2. ‘Safe Zone’ Talks Turn To Refugee Resettlement

Ar-Raqqa and Al-Hasakeh Governorates: On September 13, media sources reported that, according to the joint head of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), Riyad Darar, the ‘safe zone’ agreement in northeast Syria has been “fully implemented.” Specifically, Darar stated that the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have withdrawn from areas along the border with Turkey, and have transferred control of the areas to local military councils in each of the respective communities. Subsequently, on September 15, local sources reported that members of the Tal Abiad military and civil councils and representatives of the U.S.-led International Coalition had agreed to key terms under which refugees could be hosted in the area, which has been a key demand made by Turkey vis-a-vis the ‘safe zone’. The terms stressed that returns must be voluntary and contingent upon the support of international aid and humanitarian organizations; most importantly, the SDC demanded that returnees be original inhabitants of communities in northeast Syria.

Analysis: Despite the SDC’s assertion, the ‘safe zone’ agreement is far from full implementation, and the most contentious issues related to its dimensions remain unresolved. On the whole, Kurdish officials are now as unlikely as ever to concede to the most ambitious of Turkey’s demands regarding the ‘safe zone’; nonetheless, the SDC’s willingness to host refugees signals a growing realization that in the long term, the SDC will almost certainly be forced to make further concessions to Turkey. To this end, both parties are now staking out negotiating positions with regard to returnees. To wit, on September 17, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that Turkey sought to relocate as many as 3 million Syrian refugees to northeast Syria, a number which is significantly larger than the total population of all areas currently under SDF control. Similarly, the conditions demanded by the SDC regarding refugee return effectively make large-scale return impossible, given that few of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey were displaced from northeast Syria, and the territory now under SDC control encompasses few urban areas capable of absorbing returnees on a large scale. Moreover, international assistance of the kind required to support a mass return as envisaged by Erdogan is highly improbable. Nonetheless, it is important to bear in mind that throughout the Syria conflict, Turkey’s willingness to carry out its most ambitious threats unilaterally has frequently been underestimated; likewise, analysts have consistently discounted the likelihood that Kurdish officials will make pragmatic concessions regarding the northeast Syria ‘safe zone’. As such, further SDF withdrawals are likely, and refugee resettlement remains a distinct possibility.

3. U.S. Sanctions Hawalas, Ratcheting Up Pressure On Syrian Economy

Damascus: On September 10, the U.S. Department of Treasury announced a bundle of new sanctions targeting various money exchange services and individuals providing financial support to groups the U.S. has deemed terrorists. Targeted by the sanctions are some of the largest exchange services in Syria, including: Saksouk Company for Exchange and Money Transfer, which has local branches in Syria, Lebanon, and Turkey; Al Haram Exchange, which reportedly manages money transfer from Belgium to Syria; and Al-Khalidi Exchange, which has offices in Raqqa, Mayadin, and Gaziantep, Turkey. According to the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), all of the Syrian entities targeted in the latest round of sanctions were instrumental in transferring money for ISIS when it controlled vast swathes of northeast Syrian territory.

Analysis: Over the past six months, it has become progressively more difficult to transfer money into Syria, primarily as a result of sanctions imposed by the U.S. Treasury. During this time, the lodestar guiding U.S. sanctions targeting financial transactions in the Middle East has been the broader U.S. policy to contain the regional influence of Iran, and measures undertaken under the auspices of the U.S. ‘maximum pressure’ campaign against Iran have generally been tailored to that effect. However, this latest round of OFAC sanctions primarily targeting ISIS-linked entities suggests the U.S. sanctions campaign is widening, and Syria is likely to be an area of key interest in this regard. Indeed, a month of dramatic instability in the market value of the Syrian lira has been attributed at least in part to U.S. measures to crack down on money transfers that are a key source of foreign currencies to the Syrian Central Bank, while measures to expedite the process of adding entities to the sanctions list have also been taken. Naturally, these efforts will have grave repercussions for the Syrian population, the Syrian economy, and the international Syria response, as vital remittances and foreign money transfers become increasingly difficult to conduct and the fluctuating value of locally procured goods inside Syria frustrate long-term budgeting. Given that efforts to contain Iran are among the few areas of unwavering consistency in U.S. foreign policy, challenges associated with money transfer to Syria are likely to persist for the foreseeable future.

4. ISIS Targets Local Council Workers, Raising Risk For Northeast Response

Deir-ez-Zor Governorate: During the reporting period, various media sources circulated a list reportedly published by ISIS on September 3, which contained the names of 137 civilians it has targeted for reprisals due to their cooperation with local councils and the Autonomous Administration in Deir-ez-Zor Governorate. The list urges individuals who work with the local councils and the Autonomous Administration to publicly “repent,” and it warns that individuals who fail to do so will be “kidnapped from their homes, public shops, and places of worship” or have their “homes destroyed over their heads.” Moreover, local sources reported widespread rumors that ISIS affiliates have also made verbal threats and intimidated other residents of northeast Syria for similar reasons. The threats have reportedly incited fear in communities throughout the governorate, and according to media and local sources, more than 150 individuals have renounced their past affiliation with the Autonomous Administration in local mosques thus far.

Analysis: Threats made by ISIS against actors linked to local councils and the Autonomous Administration in northeast Syria are significant, not only for local actors themselves, but for international humanitarian and developmental entities as well. In this respect, it is highly problematic that across northeast Syria, international actors are widely viewed as being closely affiliated with, if not indistinguishable from, the Autonomous Administration itself. To a certain degree, this is an unavoidable result of the access dynamics that have shaped the Syria crisis response: specifically, the reality that access in northeast Syria is contingent upon the Autonomous Administration. However, as the northeast response pivots deeper into priority need areas that were formerly under ISIS control, specifically Deir-ez-Zor Governorate, the reputational, programmatic, and security risks presented by this association will become increasingly acute. Indeed, as international actors concentrate a greater portion of their programming in areas where the Autonomous Administration is viewed with deep misgivings, it will be crucial they build community acceptance in their own right, especially through outreach to local Arab and tribal stakeholders.

5. Suspension of Education Funds Signals Mounting Challenges in Northwest Syria

Idleb Governorate: On September 16, the Response Coordination Group issued a statement declaring that “donors announced that they would no longer support” the education sector in the Idleb, Hama, and Aleppo Governorates. As per the statement, funds will be suspended from a total of 840 schools across northwestern Syria. The Response Coordination Group expressed grave concerns over the future of education in the area, highlighting that during the ongoing Government offensive, 115 educational institutions have been targeted, and causing 278 students casualties and 21 among teachers.

Analysis: The suspension of donor funding for the education sector in northwest Syria casts light on the general uncertainty that has reigned among international actors since Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham established control over virtually all of opposition-held northwest Syria in January 2019. Indeed, the rise of HTS has presented humanitarian and developmental actors with increasingly pressing questions over the viability of programming, as they face mounting challenges stemming from potential reputational, political, and legal risks associated with programming in areas under ostensible HTS control. On the institutional level, HTS has made efforts to avoid interference that would jeopardize internationally supported programming for which it lacks either the financial or technical capacity to perform itself. Nonetheless, on local levels, incidents have occurred, and donor support to various sectors in northwest Syria had already been temporarily suspended in recent months, before being restored without incident. Given this tenuous balance, the viability of such support in the long term likely hinges on the withdrawal or disbanding of HTS. To this end, despite widespread rumors that Turkey may force HTS to withdraw from frontline communities in accordance with its obligations under the northwest Syria demilitarized zone agreement, such efforts are not forthcoming. Although community needs are significant and spaces for principled engagement do exist, the challenges are also considerable.

6. Mugawir Al-Thawra Pressure Rukban Residents to Remain

Rukban Camp, Homs Governorate: Throughout the reporting period, reports have surfaced that significant disputes have broken out among residents of Rukban Camp over the distribution of aid by the UN and SARC. Some reports have suggested that families dissatisfied with the distribution attempted to confiscate aid from other families and the UN. Nonetheless, according to local sources inside Rukban, the distribution took place without incident. However, significant issues have arisen concerning the UN and SARC registration for Rukban residents who wish to leave the camp. According to these sources, members of the armed opposition group Mughawir Al-Thawra have attempted to intimidate camp residents in order to prevent them from registering their names to evacuate to Homs city and return to their communities of origin. Ostensibly, the group is resistant to further evacuations because the continuing presence of civilians inside Rukban serves both as a deterrent to Government of Syria attacks on the area, and it furnishes a lever of influence for the group itself. According to the local sources, another distribution by the UN and SARC is being planned for September 25.

Analysis: The return of IDPs from the shelters in Homs city highlights one of the key dynamics with bearing on return in Syria: the importance of intermediaries as brokers of return. Indeed, due to extremely restrictive security policies that limit mobility and access, for many Syrian IDPs, return to communities of origin is often effectively impossible. It is important to note, however, that in the absence of a coherent national policy guiding returns procedures, return remain highly localized, as evidenced by the fact that IDP returns are frequently contingent upon communities of origin, in addition to individual characteristics and identity. As such, the intervention of an outside actor such as Russia (or other local notables with connections or access to the Syrian state) is virtually required to broker return movements of any considerable size, such as the 300 Rukban evacuees held in Homs city shelters. However, the role of intermediaries does have important limitations: although intercession by an intermediary may be necessary to broker return on any large scale, it does not resolve further protections concerns. Indeed, even after reconciliation with the Government of Syria, returnees, including the Rukban evacuees now released from the shelters in Homs, remain vulnerable to further security screenings (for example, at border crossings and checkpoints), potential civil legal actions, reprisal, arbitrary detention, and conscription. For this reason, it is crucial that returns be viewed not only as a single bureaucratic step to facilitate return, but as a highly involved, ongoing process of reintegration into the Syrian state apparatus which is likely to remain ongoing for the foreseeable future.

7. Former Education Minister Faces Corruption Charges, Assets Seized

Damascus: On September 15, media sources reported that the Government of Syria has seized the assets of former Minister of Education Hazwan Al-Waz on charges that he embezzled as much as 350 billion SYP ($600 million) during his time at the ministry. Additionally, 130 employees of the Ministry of Education and the head of the Hama City Council, Adnan Yahya Al-Tearr, have also had their assets frozen on accusations of corruption. Syrian Prime Minister Imad Khamis has stated that a large number of corruption cases are currently open, and newly formed committees in all sectors will hold to account those who have “benefited from the crisis in Syria by amassing large wealth.” These cases are reportedly directly managed by the national leadership of the Baath party and, ultimately, by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.

Analysis: Widespread (and often highly public) crackdowns on corrupt practices have become a common occurrence in Syria in recent months, as the Government ramps up its efforts to restore public confidence in state institutions that are widely perceived as inept and corrupt. During this period, anti-corruption investigations have targeted numerous local officials on local levels, as well as high-ranking officials such as former Minister of Trade Abdullah Gharbi (see Syria Update for August 22-28), in addition to Al-Waz. Moreover, the recent crackdown on Syria’s most powerful businessmen, including Rami Makhlouf, is almost certainly linked to efforts to restore public confidence in Syria’s institutions. In the present context, investigations within the Ministry of Education are particularly significant for international actors working in Syria, given that education programming is often viewed as one of the ‘safest’ sectors for humanitarian or developmental programming. As such, it is crucial to note that the ongoing campaigns are likely a superficial gesture toward rooting out corruption, which is endemic at nearly all levels of the Syrian state and across its institutions. Nonetheless, anti-corruption initiatives are all but certain to continue as the Government seeks to publicly burnish its image; indeed, on September 15, Khamis told the Syrian Parliament, “you will be surprised by the persons who will be held accountable in the next few days.”

8. Syrians Swept Up In Sudan Campaign Targeting Illegal Labor In Khartoum

Khartoum, Sudan: On September 10, media sources reported that Sudanese police forces have carried out a detention campaign in neighborhoods predominantly populated by Syrian nationals in Khartoum city. The campaign resulted in the detention of several individuals who were released after paying a fine. On September 13, Sudanese Police announced a campaign targeting foreigners and those who have attained Sudanese nationality to screen their legal status; the statement was abruptly followed by a campaign on foreigners including Syrian and individuals of other nationalities. In response to the strife raised by the crackdown, the Government of Sudan has temporarily halted its measures; instead, officials have announced an ultimatum giving foreigners until November 2019 to attain the legal documentation necessary to stay in Sudan, including passports, work permits, and residency cards. Of note, the Government of Sudan issues two types of residencies for Syrians: a residency issued on the basis of war (which does not confer work rights) and work residency, both of which require a Sudanese guarantor.

Analysis: The Sudanese campaign measures on foreign labor increases the vulnerability of Syrian refugees in Sudan, as it poses threats of deportation and narrows their chances of decent livelihoods in the country. Reports indicate that Syrian refugees ability to meet legal requirement requested by the Government of Sudan is limited, given the low average their incapability to cover the costs of necessary legal documentation.  The complexity and slow pace of the bureaucratic processes, such as their need to secure a Sudanese guarantor, are other factors that might limit their chances to meet the decided deadline. Recent developments in Sudan have necessarily raised concerns on the increasingly violent measures that transitional government and military forces have adopted vis-a-vis opposition entities and civil protests in the country. In line with its current practices, the Government of Sudan is likely to pursue harsh measures against foreigners, keeping in place various structural and legal impediments that challenge their prospects to secure a long -term residency in the country. To that end, these procedures are likely to lead to the deportation of Syrian refugees, or in the least compel them to return to Syria, thereby subjecting them to potential security threats and livelihood challenges.

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: September 10 – September 16, 2019


ALEXANDRINA

Media Anthology

September 10 to 16, 2019

linklanguagesourceDateCategory
Iran-Israel clash escalates in Syria and LebanonEnglishThe NationalSeptember 9, 2019Conflict and Military
Did the truce end in Idleb? ArabicAl modonSeptember 11, 2019Conflict and Military
The regime militias loot cities and farming lands in north HamaArabicAl modonSeptember 11, 2019Conflict and Military
Large-scale detention campaigns in Dara'a and Rural DamascusArabicSyria TVSeptember 12, 2019Conflict and Military
12 deaths in a truck explosion in front of a hospital in Ar-Ra'eeArabicEnab BaladiSeptember 15, 2019Conflict and Military
The regime announced opening Morek crossing, will it withdraw from the city?ArabicBaladi NewsSeptember 15, 2019Conflict and Military
Security chaos continues in Al-Suwaidaa Province for the second day in a row with the explosion of an IED in a car that caused human and material lossesEnglishSyrian Observatory For Human RightsSeptember 16, 2019Conflict and Military
A solution to the conflict between Bashar al-Assad and Rami Makhlouf has started to form, after the later was reportedly placed under house arrest reports Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.EnglishThe Syrian ObserverSeptember 11, 2019Economic
The holding on the money of the former minister of education due to a billions-size corruption caseArabicSyria SnackSeptember 15, 2019Economic
Schools with Turkish style in north AleppoArabicAl JumhuriyaSeptember 10, 2019Governance and Service Management
The coup of Ashida' on Tahrir Al-Sham: A private and corrupted princedom ArabicAl modonSeptember 10, 2019Governance and Service Management
The regime considers decreasing the military service waiver fees ArabicQasiounSeptember 11, 2019Governance and Service Management
The launch of the Deir-ez-Zor regulatory plan third phaseArabicEnab BaladiSeptember 14, 2019Governance and Service Management
The Decree No. 20 of 2019 of general amnesty for crimes committed before 09/14/2019 ArabicSANASeptember 15, 2019Governance and Service Management
One month of grace period for Syrians in Sudan ArabicEqtsadSeptember 13, 2019Social Dynamics
2 days after he appeared on a video threatening and promising, al-Baqir brigade commander meets with Russian officers and calls on them to support “expelling the Kurds” and control the western countryside of Deir EzzorEnglishSyrian Observatory For Human RightsSeptember 14, 2019Social Dynamics
Turkey’s radical plan: send a million refugees back to SyriaEnglishThe New York timesSeptember 10, 2019Humanitarian & Development
The Arab League announces its conditions for Syria returnArabicSyria SnackSeptember 11, 2019International Intervention
Syria: A Hungarian step towards diplomatic normalisation?EnglishBBCSeptember 11, 2019International Intervention
Washington put Hurras al-Din on the terrorist listArabicEnab BaladiSeptember 11, 2019Other

Media Anthology: September 03 – September 09, 2019


ALEXANDRINA

Media Anthology

September 03 to 09, 2019

linklanguagesourceDateCategory
The palace guards interrogate Samer Darwish and chase Al-Bustan Association ArabicAl modonSeptember 4, 2019Conflict and Military
Three Russian soldiers killed in Syria – military sourceEnglishThe Moscow Times September 5, 2019Conflict and Military
The 25th Division: Syria’s Tiger Forces get rebrandedEnglishInternational ReviewAugust 30, 2019Conflict and Military
18 fighters were killed in anonymous shelling on Iranians locations east of SyriaArabicFrance 24September 9, 2019Conflict and Military
After a few days of talking about “Army of the south”, new assassination targets 3 “reconciliation” faction fighters in Daraa countryside, and head of the “Air Intelligence” branch in Daraa dies in mysterious circumstancesEnglishSyrian Observatory For Human RightsSeptember 9, 2019Conflict and Military
The lowest price since 2016, other significant crash for the Syrian LiraArabicEnab BaladiSeptember 3, 2019Economic
The paradox of Syria’s reconstructionEnglishCarnegie Middle East CenterSeptember 4, 2019Economic
The Revolutionary Guard penetrates telecommunication sector in Syria despite Russian concernArabicAsharq Al AwsatSeptember 6, 2019Economic
The political intelligence arrested the city council members in Lattakia ArabicAl modonSeptember 2, 2019Governance and Service Management
7.5 million dollars is the monthly revenue for Hay'at Tahrir Al-Sham by its control over IdlebArabicAl-7alSeptember 5, 2019Governance and Service Management
Afrin local council bans issuing IDs for Idleb and Hama IDPsArabicSyria TVSeptember 4, 2019Governance and Service Management
No Legitimacy for Joulani and his government ArabicAl modonSeptember 3, 2019Social Dynamics
Europe’s fear of refugees is the only thing that can save SyriaEnglishForeign PolicySeptember 4, 2019Humanitarian & Development
Civilians left shelter centers: The return to HomsArabicAl modonSeptember 8, 2019Humanitarian & Development
To shelter more IDPs, rehabilitating three schools in SalqinArabicEnab BaladiSeptember 8, 2019Humanitarian & Development
Through "Khatam Al-Anbiya'", Bashar ceded a big land for Iranians to establish a private port for them in TortuousArabicZaman Alwsl September 3, 2019International Intervention
To oust Iran from Syria, Israel prepares for a triple meeting with the US and RussiaArabicEnab BaladiSeptember 3, 2019International Intervention
Defense Department statement on Denmark's deployment to SyriaEnglishUS Department of Defense September 6, 2019International Intervention
Syria as it reveals the Iranian secretsArabicAl modonSeptember 8, 2019International Intervention
The bitter legacy of Turkey in AfrinEnglishAl-MonitorSeptember 7, 2019International Intervention
The West has lost confidence in its values. Syria is paying the price.EnglishThe Washington PostSeptember 6, 2019Other

Syria Update: September 05 – September 11, 2019

Syria Update

September 05 to September 11, 2019

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on print
Share on email
Share on whatsapp

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.

Driven by External Factors, Lira’s Rapid Depreciation Likely to Widen Gaps in Syrian State’s Fiscal Capacity

In Depth Analysis

On September 9, the unofficial market exchange rate for the Syrian lira (SYP) ended three weeks of progressive decline and sank to its lowest-ever value: 690 SYP/USD. Although the lira rebounded to 665 SYP/USD on September 10, the currency has nonetheless shed approximately 10 percent of its value since August, and fears are widespread that Syria’s currency may be entering a cycle of extreme volatility which authorities have few means of mitigating. Indeed, despite the widening gap between the black market and official exchange rates (the latter of which remains fixed at 434 SYP/USD), there are no indicators that the Central Bank will adjust its monetary policy or official rate; moreover, it is widely believed that Syria’s foreign currency reserves are highly depleted, and in June, Syrian Central Bank Governor Hazer Qarful effectively signaled that the Central Bank is unlikely to take additional measures to cushion a freefall in the value of the Syrian lira (see: COAR Syria Update for June 20-26). The Central Bank’s approach in this regard is highly consequential: indeed, the value of the lira is considered one of the key metrics of the health of the Syrian economy overall.

These questions reflect deep uncertainty over the long-term prospects for the Syrian economy, specifically its susceptibility to external shocks. Indeed, the proximate causes of the latest runaway depreciation in the lira are, to a large extent, beyond the remit of the Syrian state to remedy. The most significant of these triggers are likely the increasingly restrictive international measures targeting the Syrian financial sector, the mounting economic toll of the sanctions targeting Iran, and the surging demand for dollars in Lebanon.

First, tightening U.S. restrictions on the Syrian financial sector have been instrumental in stemming the flow of dollars to the Syrian Government. On September 8, it was reported that money transfer agents in the UAE and Saudi Arabia had recently ceased transferring remittances to Syria using local currencies, thus depriving the Syrian Government of much-needed foreign currency infusions, allegedly due to the threat of potential legal ramifications raised by U.S. sanctions. Much attention has been given to the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act; although the bill has not become law, its provisions for sweeping sanctions against international actors who deal with the Government of Syria make it a powerful deterrent. However, myriad related sanctions are already in effect. Indeed, on August 29, the U.S. Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctioned Lebanon’s Jammal Trust Bank, claiming the bank “knowingly facilitates banking activities for Hezbollah” and violates U.S. restrictions on conducting business with “the Government of Syria and its supporters.” Moreover, OFAC is now reportedly accelerating the process for registering individuals and entities on the U.S. Treasury sanctions list.

The Syrian lira continues its decline against the U.S. dollar. Image courtesy of Alalam TV.

Second, the dire economic conditions in Iran have also had a considerable impact on Syria. On September 5, local sources in the Damascus industrial sector stated that Iran had frozen its credit lines to Syria, including credit lines for oil, medicine, and flour, forcing the Government to use foreign currency to make these purchases. In the past, Iran has temporarily suspended this vital support in order to pressure the Syrian Government. However, the current suspension must be seen in the context of Iran’s own deep economic challenges, which are directly linked to the U.S. sanction and isolation campaign designed to contain Iran’s influence regionally. To wit, on September 4, OFAC issued updated guidelines concerning its restrictions on Iran’s international oil shipping network.

Third, the collapse of the Syrian lira since August is almost certainly linked to the instability in the Lebanese economy, which is deeply intertwined with that of Syria. Indeed, Lebanese financial institutions are reported to be the primary outlet for Syrian importers seeking to conduct international financial transactions. However, Lebanon’s long-standing economic woes have created significant political and social tensions domestically, and driven up demand for dollars (including from Syrian investors seeking high returns in dollar deposits). On September 2, these tensions culminated with a statement from Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, declaring a ‘state of economic emergency’ in Lebanon, heightening widespread speculation that the Lebanese Central Bank will allow the Lebanese lira to float on the open market. In turn, this has fueled even greater demand for dollars and put downward pressures on both the Syrian and Lebanese currencies.

Of the immediate consequences of the lira’s deepening instability, the most important is the substantial and continuous erosion of the purchasing power of Syrian consumers. The current market exchange rate represents a decline of approximately 35 percent since January 2019, when the exchange rate for the lira sat at 500 SYP/USD. The lira’s depreciation continues to drive up the price of commodities, such as food and, in northeast Syria, fuel. Anecdotally, household debt has skyrocketed, and economic anxiety on the part of Syrian wage earners is now rampant, especially among state employees, whose salaries have not been revised since the beginning of the conflict. Rumors are now widespread that low-denomination Syrian banknotes will be withdrawn from circulation, and in the absence of action by the Syrian Central Bank, a freefall in the value of the Syrian lira remains distinctly possible.

So far, as the long-term trajectory of the Syrian economy is concerned, the declining value of the lira will have acute consequences for state finances. Most notably, the Government of Syria accounts its budget in lira; as a result, the currency’s depreciation continues to widen the gap that exists between budget allocations and the actual fiscal capacity of the state, both at central and local levels. This widening gap will further complicate long-term budgeting by the state and heighten the shortfall in service provision, local administration, infrastructure rehabilitation, and developmental activities. Such shortcomings have been key drivers of conflict and instability (most notably in southern Syria, but also throughout the country). In the long term, however, these gaps are unlikely to remain unfilled. Private sector and state-linked actors from both Russia and Iran have undertaken activities in various service and economic sectors in Syria, and local businessmen are also likely to see the economic potential in filling these gaps. However, it is also the case that these gaps will remain a potential space for engagement by humanitarian or developmental actors, while the enormity of these needs is likely to provide significant latitude for shaping the trajectory of communities in Syria.

Whole of Syria Review

MAP Sep 5 - 11-ibl

1. U.S. And Turkey Begin Joint Military Patrols in Tal Abiad, Though Deep Divisions Remain

Tal Abiad, Ar-Raqqa Governorate: On September 8, U.S. and Turkish forces conducted the first joint military patrol along the Syria-Turkey border, near Tal Abiad in northern Ar-Raqqa Governorate. Although the patrol marked the first time Turkish soldiers entered Syria under the auspices of the northeast Syria ‘safe zone’ deal, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reportedly stated that current measures to implement the agreement will be “insufficient” if they limit Turkey’s involvement to “3-5 helicopter flights, 5-10 vehicle patrols, and a few hundred soldiers in the area.” Erdogan warned that if the ‘safe zone’ agreement “with Turkish soldiers is not initiated by the end of September, Turkey has no choice but to set out on its own.” Nonetheless, on September 9, U.S. Central Command stated that “the U.S. and Turkey are working together to rapidly implement the security mechanism and are on time or ahead of schedule in many areas.”

Analysis: The fact that the 1998 Adana agreement is being seriously considered as a negotiating framework isAnalysis: As the first joint U.S.-Turkish patrol carried out under the aegis of the northeast Syria ‘safe zone’ agreement, the maneuver is a symbolically important advance for Turkey. It also defies many analysts’ expectations regarding the implementation of the agreement, particularly the highly fraught nature of the partial withdrawal of YPG units from some border areas. However, it is important to note that despite this progress, the most contentious and impactful issues at stake between the U.S. and Turkey remain largely unresolved, and there are no indicators that these positions will be reconciled quickly. To this end, the divergence between U.S. and Turkish statements regarding the current progress in implementing the ‘safe zone’ are indicative of the wider gulf that continues to separate the parties’ fundamental positions vis-a-vis the depth and breadth of the ‘safe zone’. For instance, Erdogan continues to advocate for a ‘safe zone’ reaching as far as 32 km into northeast Syria, a position which is deeply at odds with the SDF position that the ‘safe zone’ area spanning the length of the border run to a depth of 5 km, and range between 9 and 17 km in sparsely populated areas between Tal Abiad and Ras Al-Ain. More fundamentally, however, it is also crucial to note that Turkey continues to view the YPG with deep-seated suspicion and as a threat. As noted in previous COAR Syria Updates, that view is unlikely to change, irrespective of the dimensions of the ‘safe zone’. As such, short of launching a full-scale military invasion of northeast Syria, Turkey is unlikely to find the means to satisfy its strategic ambitions with regard to the YPG. As a result, heated rhetoric on the part of Turkey is likely to continue, but as long as U.S. forces remain in northeast Syria, Turkey remains unlikely “to set out on its own.” of extreme importance to the ultimate trajectory of northeastern Syria.  The 1998 Adana agreement required that the Government of Syria pledge to prohibit the activities of the PKK in Syria; by citing the Adana agreement as a political framework for the Governments of Syria and Turkey, Russia has indicated a willingness to support the Turkish position with respect to the YPG/PYD, the primary military and political groups within the Kurdish Self Administration.  Additionally, the apparent involvement of Ahmed Jarba and Masoud Barzani indicates that some form of a Turkish-Russian brokered agreement, likely one which marginalizes the Kurdish Self Administration, may be forthcoming; Jarba has continuously advocated for a northeastern Syria tribal force, and Barzani has also reportedly agreed to use Iraqi Peshmerga forces to help secure a northeastern Syria ‘safe zone,’ and both are known to be aligned with the Government of Turkey.  Therefore, the negotiating position of the Kurdish Self Administration continues to diminish vis-a-vis ongoing discussions with the Government of Syria on the ultimate status of the Kurdish Self Administration as a governance body.

2. Protests in Northwest Syria Continue, Indicating Growing Discontent With Turkey, HTS

Idleb and Aleppo Governorates: Throughout the reporting period, local and media sources reported that popular demonstrations continue against Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham in communities throughout Idleb Governorate, and in several communities in northern rural Aleppo Governorate. Throughout the protests, demonstrators reiterated their demand for the removal of HTS, and they once again condemned the Government of Turkey and its cooperation with Russia over the status of northwest Syria. In response to the large-scale mobilizations, HTS deployed a limited number of security forces to contain the growing popular unrest directed against it throughout northwest Syria, and the group has mounted (comparatively modest) counter-demonstrations of support. Moreover, following the massive August 29 demonstration at Bab Al-Hawa border crossing, on September 6, HTS reportedly closed all roads leading to Bab Al-Hawa. In addition to tightening security measures, HTS commander Abu Mohammad Jolani also conducted a meeting with shura council members, tribal leaders, and local notables at Bab Al-Hawa, during which Jolani accused the demonstrators of having linkages to Government of Syria reconciliation committees.

Analysis: It is important that current dynamics in northwest Syria be understood both through the lens of broader military operations and through the lens of local, community dynamics. While the international dimensions of northwest Syria are essentially the remit of Russia and Turkey, the most pertinent considerations in many communities concern the current and future role of HTS. Maintaining popular legitimacy is a priority of almost existential concern for HTS, and although HTS remains entrenched, and even popular among a considerable segment of the population of northwest Syria, this popularity has limits, and the group’s local acceptance has increasingly been openly challenged in recent weeks. The primary trigger of the open demonstrations is the widely held belief that HTS control over northwest Syria has come to be seen as a liability both by jeopardizing humanitarian and developmental programming, and as international actors increasingly look to HTS as the chief impediment to implementing the Idleb de-escalation agreement (and ultimately resolving the status of northwest Syria). As such, popular mobilizations against HTS are an important signal that HTS may be challenged both from above, by Turkey and perhaps the Government of Syria, and from below, in local communities and potentially by other armed opposition groups. In the narrow sense, the future momentum and impact of the popular demonstrations against HTS are contingent on HTS’s willingness to resort to violence to quell these demonstrations, and the possibility of widening Government of Syria shelling, which resumed on September 8, following an eight-day ceasefire implemented by Russia. In the long term, however, the sustainability of ongoing humanitarian and developmental programs in northwest Syria will hinge upon the outcome of negotiations between Turkey and Russia (see point 4 below).

3. Unclaimed Attack On Iranian Sites In Abu Kamal Stalls Opening Of Border Crossing

Abu Kamal, Deir-ez-Zor Governorate: On September 8, media sources reported that a series of aerial attacks targeted sites affiliated with Iran in Abu Kamal, Deir-ez-Zor Governorate, killing 18 Iran-linked combatants. No actor has claimed responsibility for the attacks. Several sites were reportedly targeted, including the newly established military border crossing in Abu Kamal, as well as other positions in Abu Kamal city and its vicinity. The strikes followed several weeks of renewed discussions over the reopening of the Abu Kamal-Al-Qaim commercial crossing with Iraq. On September 9, a member of the Anbar Governorate Council, Farhan Mohamad Al-Doleimi, stated that the opening of the Abu kamal-Al-Qaim crossing would be delayed until September 10, as preparations remain incomplete.

Analysis: Although no actor has claimed responsibility, it is highly probable that the aerial attacks in Abu Kamal were carried out by U.S. or Israeli forces. Israel has frequently conducted airstrikes in Syria targeting positions linked to Iran, and in recent weeks, these attacks have become increasingly brazen and wider in scope, and included targets in Lebanon and Iraq. As for the U.S., efforts to contain Iran’s military presence in Syria lie at the very core of U.S. military objectives in the region. Increasingly, U.S. policymakers have stated that efforts to confront Iran are a key factor in the continued U.S. troop presence in northeast Syria and the At-Tanf border crossing in southern Homs Governorate, which lies along the vital Damascus-Baghdad highway. In this context, it is important to note that the Abu Kamal-Al-Qaim border crossing is a node along a potentially lucrative commercial artery linking Iraq with Syrian territory held by the Government of Syria. As such, restoring the crossing remains a shared priority for Syria and Iraq, as well as Iran. Indeed, in March, the Iranian, Iraqi, and Syrian chiefs of staff convened a trilateral summit in Damascus to resolve issues standing in the way of restoring commercial traffic through the crossing. In the months since, Iraqi officials have repeatedly stated that the crossing will be opened imminently. The U.S. has reportedly exerted pressure on Iraq to prevent the opening of the crossing; now, the possibility of further airstrikes makes opening the crossing in the foreseeable future a dubious prospect.

4. Government Forces Reposition At Murak and Khan Shaykhun, Thwarting Rumors Of Withdrawal

Murak, Hama Governorate: On September 11, media and local sources reported that a widely rumored withdrawal of Government of Syria forces from positions in Murak and Khan Shaykun in northern rural Hama on September 10 did not take place. Rather, as of September 11, Government forces have repositioned and redeployed within the areas. The rumored withdrawal coincided with the widespread understanding regarding a Russian-Turkish agreement on northwestern Syria, and it had been strongly rumored that joint Russia-Turkish patrols would take place in areas from which Government forces would withdraw. Notably, Government of Syria forces took control of Murak and Khan Shaykun in late August, when armed groups backed by Turkey retreated from frontlines in northern Hama following prolonged aerial bombardment and heavy assault by Government forces. However, Turkish forces have retained their position at the observation point in Murak even after it was entirely surrounded by Government forces.

Analysis: The rumored Government withdrawal from portions of northern rural Hama was seen as a strong signal of Russia and Turkey’s willingness to steer a course toward de-escalation in northwest Syria. Such a withdrawal is, at least for now, not ongoing, and the prospect of a wider de-escalation is highly uncertain. In effect, the rumored Government withdrawal buffeted hopes that Russia and Turkey would create a buffer zone between Government- and opposition-held areas in northwest Syria and uphold the terms of the Sochi agreement of September 17, 2018. In essence, the agreement averted a large-scale Government of Syria offensive in Idleb by offering a roadmap for de-escalation. Key terms of the agreement stipulated the creation of a buffer zone of 15-20 km from which all opposition groups should withdraw; resumed access to primary transit routes (i.e. the M5 and the M4,  the Hama-Aleppo and Latakia-Aleppo highways, respectively); and the removal of ‘terrorist’ groups (i.e. HTS). However, Turkey has been incapable of implementing the agreement by coercing HTS to withdraw from the buffer zone and/or forcing the group to dissolve. Now, the immediate trajectory of the military offensive in northwest Syria is highly uncertain, and a resumed Government of Syria military offensive, especially in areas surrounding M4 and M5, remains within the realm of possibility.

5. Russian Reconciliation Center Resettles Rukban Evacuees

Homs governorate: On September 8, media sources reported that Russia has allowed more than 300 Rukban camp evacuees to return to their home communities in Homs governorate, after they reportedly spent several months in collective shelters in Homs city. The returnees are among Rukban residents who have fled the camp since Russia opened humanitarian corridors in February. Most evacuees from Rukban were permitted to return to their areas of origin directly from the camp following reconciliation and other screening processes; nonetheless, some evacuees have been held in the shelters indefinitely. Indeed, Rukban evacuees have been subjected to security screening procedures that vary with respect to their community of origin, as well as their political and military background. For example, IDPs from Qaryatein, Mahin and surrounding areas have reportedly returned to their areas, while those from Tadmor were denied return under the pretext that Tadmor remains a military area.

Analysis: The return of IDPs from the shelters in Homs city highlights one of the key dynamics with bearing on return in Syria: the importance of intermediaries as brokers of return. Indeed, due to extremely restrictive security policies that limit mobility and access, for many Syrian IDPs, return to communities of origin is often effectively impossible. It is important to note, however, that in the absence of a coherent national policy guiding returns procedures, return remain highly localized, as evidenced by the fact that IDP returns are frequently contingent upon communities of origin, in addition to individual characteristics and identity. As such, the intervention of an outside actor such as Russia (or other local notables with connections or access to the Syrian state) is virtually required to broker return movements of any considerable size, such as the 300 Rukban evacuees held in Homs city shelters. However, the role of intermediaries does have important limitations: although intercession by an intermediary may be necessary to broker return on any large scale, it does not resolve further protections concerns. Indeed, even after reconciliation with the Government of Syria, returnees, including the Rukban evacuees now released from the shelters in Homs, remain vulnerable to further security screenings (for example, at border crossings and checkpoints), potential civil legal actions, reprisal, arbitrary detention, and conscription. For this reason, it is crucial that returns be viewed not only as a single bureaucratic step to facilitate return, but as a highly involved, ongoing process of reintegration into the Syrian state apparatus which is likely to remain ongoing for the foreseeable future.

6. Government Assessment Of Conflict Damage Evinces Shortfalls Of Lira-Denominated Budgeting

Damascus, Syria: On September 8, Syrian Prime Minister Imad Khamis stated that the Syrian Government’s preliminary assessment of damage to state sectors and institutions as a result of the Syria conflict totals 45 trillion SYP (67 billion USD, at the lira’s valuation as of September 10). Details regarding the exact methodology and geographic scope of the assessment were not reported. However, Khamis stated that 28,000 governmental buildings have been damaged, in addition to 188 state-owned enterprises and industrial facilities.

Analysis: Given that Khamis’ statement disclosed little about the methodology behind the Government’s findings, the actual utility and accuracy of the assessment are in question. The exercise is nonetheless important in its own right, as damage assessments of this kind will essentially frame the Syrian Government’s preliminary approach to rehabilitation and reconstruction. To this end, arguably the most important single dimension of the assessment is that it tabulates damages in Syrian lira. Indeed, given the dramatic instability in the market value of the lira, the fact that the Government produces its budget using lira represents a consequential challenge to its ability to establish a credible (or implementable) roadmap for rehabilitation and reconstruction (See in-depth analysis section above for further information on the rapidly shifting value of the Syrian lira). Indeed, the real value of the lira has declined by approximately one-third since the beginning of 2019; as a result of the ongoing and progressive depreciation, lira-denominated assessments, and budgets, rapidly fall out of date. Moreover, not only has the lira seen decline in its market value, its value continues to fluctuate widely. Finally, it is important to note that another factor renders such assessments progressively out of date: the ongoing offensive in northwest Syria. Indeed, so long as the active conflict continues, an accurate tabulation of the costs of the Syrian conflict will remain elusive.

7. Government of Syria Dissolves Makhlouf-linked SSNP Branch

Lattakia Governorate: On September 6, media sources reported that the Government of Syria  has ordered the dissolution of a Lattakia Governorate branch of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) that is headed by a cousin of Rami Makhlouf; the measure coincides with reported efforts by Government intelligence forces to pressure the board members of Al-Bustan Organization, also linked to Makhlouf, to step down from their positions and hand over operations to a newly appointed board. Notably, two SSNP branches (Al-Markaz and Al-Amana) are present in Lattakia, each of which maintains an armed wing that operates in ostensible violation of Syria’s multi-party law, which forbade political parties from managing associated military branches. Although Government forces have reportedly closed down the offices of Makhlouf-linked Al-Amana branch and urged its members to seek membership with Al-Markaz, yet the Al-Markaz branch has maintained its military force, Nosour Al-Zawba’, which was not targeted by the Government.

Analysis: The Government of Syria’s dissolution of the SSNP’s Al-Amana branch and its mounting pressure campaign on Al-Bustan Organization are particularly notable in light of widely rumored Government actions targeting Rami Makhlouf, including his businesses interests, Al-Bustan Organization, and now, reportedly, political entities as well. It is extremely noteworthy that these initiatives are now visible in Lattakia, where Makhlouf has enormous popularity, both as a result of inherited status and his own patronage networks; indeed, in many coastal communities, Makhlouf’s power rivals that of president Bashar Al-Assad. Naturally, the new initiatives targeting Makhluf highlight the Government’s determination to centralize and institutionalize its authority within the state structures, which have been a leitmotif of internal Government restructuring throughout 2019. The most visible of these are initiatives (apparently driven by Russia) to dismantle and remobilize nominally pro-Government paramilitary groups, contain the influence of warlords, and reshuffle the most senior military and security positions within the Syrian state apparatus itself.

8. Syrian Embassy in Oman Now Conditioning Passport Renewal On 'Reconciliation’

Muscat, Oman: On September 4, media sources reported that employees at the Syrian embassy in Muscat, Oman, have imposed new conditions upon the renewal or issuance of new Syrian passports, requiring that requestors reconcile with the Government of Syria. In addition to requiring individuals to sign reconciliation papers, embassy employees have also made passport-related requests conditional upon the individuals’ disavowal of ‘terrorist’ organizations. Finally, the procedure reportedly requires the requesters to place guilt for any death among their family members during the conflict on ‘terrorists,’ thus absolving the Government of Syria of any guilt. Notably, both men and women have reportedly been affected by these procedures, and those declining to sign the papers are refused service.

Analysis: Although they are not surprising in their own right, the conditions imposed on the issuance of new Syrian passports in Oman are the first of this kind to be reported. It is difficult to assess whether such procedures will be (or have previously been) imposed at other Syrian diplomatic missions; however, it is clear that for Syrians abroad, the imposition of such measures is a worrying development in that it raises the potential cost of conducting any kind of business with the Government of Syria. In the long term, if these procedures are replicated in other contexts, they will necessarily exacerbate an already precarious situation for Syrians residing outside Syria. In effect, by imposing further barriers to administrative and screening procedures outside Syria, the Government of Syria presents Syrians abroad with difficult decision points regarding their ability to return to Syria. In effect, Syrians will likely be forced to weigh the risks entailed in interacting with Government apparatuses (including the risk of detention, fines, or other future punitive measures as a result of the ambiguity inherent in these procedures), or resort to other measures that evade these entities altogether, including by seeking asylum.

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: August 27 – September 02, 2019


ALEXANDRINA

Media Anthology

August 26 to September 02, 2019

linklanguagesourceDateCategory
The opposition factions launched a counter-offensive against the regime forces east of IdlebArabicEnab BaladiAugust 27, 2019Conflict and Military
The regime targeted the tenth Turkish observation pointArabicAl modonAugust 28, 2019Conflict and Military
At the request of Russia…Bashar Al-Assad disbands Rami Makhlouf’s military wingEnglishSyrian Observatory For Human RightsAugust 29, 2019Conflict and Military
The National Army closed the unlicensed weapon shops in AfrinArabicEnab BaladiAugust 31, 2019Conflict and Military
The regime forces raided East Qalamoun towns searching for deserters from military serviceArabicStep News AgencySeptember 1, 2019Conflict and Military
Between opening and banning import, conflicting interests between industrialists and tradersArabicIndustry NewsAugust 26, 2019Economic
'They are going to deliver this oil to Syria': How an Iranian supertanker is flouting Trump's sanctionsEnglishCBC NewsAugust 28, 2019Economic
Assad orders measures against Rami Makhlouf's companies EnglishAsharq Al AwsatAugust 28, 2019Economic
Refugees In Germany Did Not Bring Higher Risk To GermansEnglishForbesAugust 29, 2019Economic
The holding of Pharaoh Group money in SyriaArabicEnab BaladiSeptember 2, 2019Economic
740 objections against the Qaboun industrial regulatory plan ArabicIndustry NewsAugust 27, 2019Governance and Service Management
Confiscating opposition people's properties and transferring them to  the regime's deadsArabicGhouta Media Center August 29, 2019Governance and Service Management
IDPs under olive trees are faced by a governmental warning in IdlebArabicEnab BaladiAugust 25, 2019Governance and Service Management
Because of a football match, dozens of injuries among civilians in LattakiaArabicEldorar AlshamiaAugust 28, 2019Social Dynamics
Exodus grows as fighting rages in north-west SyriaEnglishBBCAugust 24, 2019Humanitarian & Development
UN Security Council considers Syria resolution calling for Idlib truceEnglishMiddle East EyeAugust 29, 2019International Intervention
New judicial position concerning SyriaEnglishSwedish Migration AgencyAugust 29, 2019International Intervention
Airstrike hit Damascus, Israel announced failing a plan for Faylaq Al-Quds against it in SyriaArabicEnab BaladiAugust 25, 2019International Intervention
Syria: Debates won’t change realityEnglishMiddle East InstituteAugust 29, 2019International Intervention
A dramatic turning point, 40 Gulf businessmen arrived in Damascus today to participate in Damascus International Exhibition ArabicAlalam TVAugust 27, 2019Other

Syria Update: August 29 – September 04, 2019

Syria Update

August 29 to September 04, 2019

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on print
Share on email
Share on whatsapp

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.

Rami Makhlouf Among Syrian Businessmen Targeted in Rumored Crackdown

In Depth Analysis

On August 27, rumors surfaced that Government of Syria security officials conducted a crackdown targeting many of Syria’s most influential businessmen, including Rami Makhlouf, the most prominent businessman in Syria and the cousin of President Bashar Al-Assad. As of September 3, details regarding the extent and nature of the reported crackdown have not been verified, but it has been reported that as many as 29 of Syria’s top businessmen are now under effective house arrest, including Makhlouf, two of his brothers, and their father. Further widespread media coverage indicates that Government authorities have seized business assets from many of these individuals, and conducted raids and arrested executives at the offices of multiple businesses owned by Makhlouf, including the lynchpin of his business empire, the telecom network Syriatel. Local sources confirmed that investigations have indeed occurred at Makhlouf’s offices; although the exact nature of these measures is currently unknown, it is clear that some form of sweeping operation touching the highest levels of the Syrian business community is underway.

If the most dramatic rumors are proven true, Makhlouf’s arrest and the associated crackdown on Syria’s most elite business circle would represent one of the most significant upheavals in the internal workings of the Syrian state (and regime) since the start of the conflict. Indeed, through vast networks of shell companies, the Syrian business elite directly perform numerous functions that lie under the nominal purview of the Syrian state itself. For example, the upper echelons of Syria’s business community (often relying on their own business proxies) have played a vital role conducting foreign business transactions on behalf of the Syrian Government, evading international sanctions, bankrolling Government-aligned private militias, and by financing reconstruction and rehabilitation projects.

The significance of measures targeting Makhlouf is difficult to overstate; he is the face of the Syrian business elite, and his business interests touch (and in some cases, dominate) virtually every sector of the Syrian economy, including mobile telecommunications, real estate, finance, construction, infrastructure, petroleum, and consumer goods. Moreover, through Al-Bustan Association, Makhlouf has funded multiple Government-aligned militias. Considering the depth of his involvement in state operations, and his familial ties to the Al-Assad family, Makhlouf should be viewed not only as a pillar of the Syrian state apparatus, but also as a central actor within the Syrian regime itself. As such, state-sponsored actions against Makhlouf (like those targeting other high-level businessmen) would require the direct orders of President Al-Assad.

Naturally, theories concerning the cause of the reported crackdown abound, but are nearly impossible to confirm, given the deeply secretive nature of the Syrian regime. The most widely reported theory suggests that the crackdown was triggered by Makhlouf’s refusal (or inability) to accede to a demand by the Syrian regime that he transfer as much as $2-5 billion, reportedly at the request of Russia, in consideration of its support to the Syrian Government during the conflict. It has also been widely suggested that the crackdown is part and parcel of wider Russian initiatives to contain Iranian influence in Syria, motivated primarily by Makhlouf’s close relations to Iran. Indeed, given that Syria’s business elite are instrumental to the operations of the Syrian state itself, it is unlikely that a campaign of such magnitude could be carried out without the involvement of Russia. However, while economic and geopolitical considerations may have influenced the rumored crackdown, neither on its own adequately accounts for the breadth of the campaign reportedly now underway.

Rami Makhlouf, Syria's most prominent businessman. Image courtesy of Alaan TV.

To this end, it should be noted that a crackdown on some of Syria’s most influential businessmen coincides with far-reaching Russian initiatives to dismantle Syria’s sprawling network of warlords and centralize authority under formal state structures. Throughout 2019, Russia has undertaken clear efforts to systematically restructure the Syrian military and to incorporate various paramilitary structures under state command and control, including those commanded and financed by Syrian elite businessmen. Most recently, on August 28, it was announced that the elite Tiger Forces, and other militias previously funded by Makhlouf, would be placed under the Syrian Arab Army central command. These efforts to centralize authority are not only limited to the military; in July 2019, the long-serving head of the National Security Office, Ali Mamlouk, was also removed from his post alongside numerous other high-ranking security officials, likely due to Russian pressure. Ultimately, Syrian military and security organizations are deeply intertwined with business and political networks. As such, it may be the case that the measures taken against Syria’s business elite is merely the next step in the escalating campaign undertaken by Russia to reorganize, centralize, and institutionalize Syria’s contentious and often competing political landscape.

Finally, it is important to note that the Government of Syria itself also has incentives to redefine the relationship between the Syrian state and the business elite. Fundamentally, the Government faces a crisis of confidence that is driven in part by the role of businessmen who are widely perceived as a drain on state resources and a contributing factor in the ineffectiveness and corruption of state institutions. Moreover, many of the elite businessmen who have staked out sectoral monopolies in Syria (including Makhlouf) are now under international sanctions. As such, they pose a liability, and their continued dominance over the Syrian economy impedes efforts to rehabilitate Syria’s physical infrastructure and its image—both internationally and domestically. In this context, it is important to note that a key demand of Syria’s Sunni business community is for reforms that create a more competitive business environment in Syria. In some sense, in the long term, the Government will almost certainly be forced to undertake efforts to burnish its public image, including through public-facing anti-corruption measures. Naturally, the likelihood that any such campaign will genuinely root out the corruption that pervades state structures is low. To this end, it should be noted that to date, no businessmen in Al-Assad’s immediate family are known to have been targeted within the ongoing crackdown.

Given the high degree of uncertainty surrounding the events now unfolding at the highest levels of the Syrian regime, it is important that rumors concerning a Government crackdown on businessmen be parsed carefully. However, if the most dramatic of these rumors prove true, they will stand as the firmest evidence to date that a sweeping and long-running effort to reshape the structure of the Syrian state may now have expanded to the Syrian elite business community, and through it, the Syrian economy itself. The ultimate direction of these changes remains to be seen, but it is clear that highly significant restructuring of power, authority, influence, and control may now be well underway.

Whole of Syria Review

MAP 09.03.2019_FINAL

1. Protests in Northwest Syria Indicate Growing Popular Discontent With Turkey, HTS

Idleb Governorate: Beginning on August 30, a series of large-scale popular protests broke out across northwest Syria. The most significant demonstration took place at the Bab Al-Hawa border crossing in northern Idleb Governorate, during which protesters stormed the border crossing facility, prompting Turkish forces to close the border crossing indefinitely, after firing tear gas and shooting into the air to disperse the sizeable crowd. Demonstrators at Bab Al-Hawa protested against the continued Government of Syria-led military offensive on opposition-held northwestern Syria, and they condemned Turkey’s coordination with Russia, as well as its failure to mitigate the humanitarian consequences of frequent Government shelling and bombardment. According to local sources, the demonstration at Bab Al-Hawa fueled subsequent protests that swept across communities throughout northwest Syria, namely Saraqeb, Maaret An Nu’man, Ariha, Atareb, Atma, Kherbet Eljoz, Salqin, Harem, and Kafr Takharim; however, in contrast with the Bab Al-Hawa demonstration, protesters in these communities condemned Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham’s presence in their communities, which is increasingly perceived as a liability amid rumors that HTS will be the focus of future efforts to ‘resolve’ the status of northwest Syria. Notably, in Atareb, HTS combatants reportedly shot protesters. Finally, the protests also coincide with an announcement by the Russian Defense Ministry on August 30 that a unilateral ceasefire on the part of Russia and the Government of Syria would go into effect in northwest Syria on August 31. Although no airstrikes were recorded in the area, various media sources reported that the Government of Syria continued shelling rural communities in eastern and western Idleb Governorate.

Analysis: In many ways, the demonstration at the Bab Al-Hawa border crossing between Syria and Turkey embodies one of the Government of Turkey’s gravest concerns with respect to northwest Syria: the possibility that a continuing Syrian Government offensive in Idleb will trigger a massive humanitarian displacement toward, and potentially into, Turkish territory. The timing of the ceasefire announcement by Russia is unlikely to be coordinated as a response to the protest at Bab Al-Hawa; however, in a more general sense, the ceasefire may nonetheless signify Russia’s willingness to accommodate Turkey’s interests concerning further displacement. To that end, although the trajectory of northwest Syria remains uncertain, any underlying Russian-Turkish agreement over a continued northwest Syria offensive may stipulate that future piecemeal territorial advances made by the Government of Syria into opposition-held areas be punctuated by intermittent ceasefires, slowing the Government’s advance and blunting the effects of any massive, unchecked displacement of civilians northward toward Turkey. In this context, it is also notable that local rumors increasingly concern the possibility that further Russian-Turkish initiatives to resolve the status of northwest Syria will revolve around the dissolution of HTS and/or the Salvation Government. As the Turkish-Russian approach to northwest Syria continues to take shape, it is increasingly likely that HTS will be subject to overt pressures to withdraw or dissolve, both from Turkey and from communities themselves.

2. Objections To Qaboun Urban Plan Signal Opposing Reconstruction Visions of Syrian Government And Industrialists

Qaboun, Rural Damascus Governorate: On August 27, media sources reported that the administrator of urban planning for Damascus Governorate, Ibrahim Diab, has received 740 formal objections to the Qaboun Urban Plan since it was issued on July 3. According to a statement from Diab, the formal complaints primarily concern the plan to redevelop Qaboun as a predominantly residential area, with limited allowance made for commercial spaces. Qaboun was previously one of Damascus’ largest industrial neighborhoods; as such, local industrialists objected to the rezoning, which will force them to relocate to nearby Adra Al-Omaliya, and may cause them to lose property rights. Objections also pertained to the Government’s damage assessment for Qaboun; as the legal pretext for the Government’s decision to implement a newly rezoned urban plan, rather than rehabilitate the existing industrial area, the assessment is an issue of heated contention between the Governorate of Rural Damascus office and the Damascus Chamber of Industry. Reportedly, the Damascus Engineers Union has assessed the damage in Qaboun as ranging between 2 percent and 16 percent, compared with the Governorate’s assessment that 80 percent of the area was damaged. As per Diab’s statement, the objections to the plan are being reviewed by technical committees, and will be decided upon at a meeting on September 3.

Analysis:  There are several stakeholders who have critical economic interests in Qaboun, and their visions for the future rehabilitation or redevelopment of the area are diametrically opposed. In general, these stakeholders differ over whether Qaboun should be restored to its pre-conflict state or redeveloped entirely. Naturally, Qaboun’s industrialists would prefer to rehabilitate Qaboun’s industrial area; however, other business interests would reportedly benefit from entirely demolishing large tracts of Qaboun in order to fully redevelop the area residentially, in a similar manner to the Marota City project. The future status of Qaboun is thus indicative of two important dynamics which will only increase in prominence in post-conflict Syria: the extreme importance of various urban plans, both as a reconstruction issue and an HLP issue; and the degree to which government-linked ‘civil society’ entities, such as the Damascus Engineers Union, are increasingly willing to directly challenge the policies of government bodies. Indeed, although the Government of Syria retains the ability to enforce its economic policies and ‘developmental’ vision on the vast majority of Syria’s population, it is nonetheless bound to stakeholders whose interests it will likely be forced to accommodate, at least in part.

3. U.S. Airstrike In Idleb Highlights Wide Latitude Of U.S. Military Operations in Syria

Kefraya, Idleb Governorate: On August 31, media sources reported that a U.S. airstrike targeted Hurras Al-Deen, Ansar Al-Tawhid, and other groups at a training camp between Kefraya and Idleb city in northwestern Syria. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the strike killed at least 51 people, including multiple high-ranking figures. U.S. Central Command issued a statement indicating the airstrike targeted Al-Qaeda leaders responsible for attacks “threatening U.S. citizens, our partners, and innocent civilians,” adding that “the destruction of this facility will further degrade Al-Qaeda’s ability to conduct future attacks. Northwestern Syria remains a safe haven where AQ-S leaders actively coordinate terrorist activities throughout the region and in the West.” Notably, the U.S. airstrike was conducted only hours after the Government of Syria agreed to implement a ceasefire in northwest Syria.

Analysis: The timing of the U.S. airstrike, in the midst of a tenuous ceasefire in northwest Syria, is highly provocative, and it casts further attention to the fact that the U.S. continues to pursue its military agenda in Syria with a considerable degree of independence of other international actors involved in the conflict. To that end, Russian officials condemned the U.S. airstrike and stated that it jeopardized the fragile ceasefire. Moreover, they noted that the U.S. failed to give adequate prior warning of the airstrike to either Russia or Turkey, the international powers with the greatest direct stake in northwest Syria. In this context, it should be noted that the pace of U.S. airstrikes in Syria has diminished considerably since Syrian Democratic Forces captured the final territorial foothold of ISIS, at Baghouz in rural Deir-ez-Zor Governorate, in March. However, the U.S. is likely to continue to conduct airstrikes, especially in northwest Syria, largely irrespective of the trajectory of developments on the ground.

4.Qudsiya Assassination Presages Possibility Of Widening Attacks On Public Sector Figures

Qudsiya, Rural Damascus Governorate: On August 29, media reports indicated that a VBIED attack killed Nabil Mohamad Dib Rizma, the head of the city council in Qudsiya, west of Damascus city. The perpetrators remain unknown. Notably, Rizma was reportedly a member of the reconciliation committee of Qudsiya, and he is said to have personally played an important role in facilitating the evacuation of the armed opposition groups from the area in 2016. Although far from a common occurrence, similar incidents, primarily targeting security forces, have taken place near Qudsiya, that latest of which occurred in April 2019.

Analysis: Security incidents are not uncommon in the vicinity of Damascus city; however, only on rare occasions have individuals in public sector posts been targeted in these attacks. Furthermore, the timing of Rizma’s assassnation is especially notable, given that it follows closely after a series of assassinations targeting municipality heads in Dar‘a Governorate. However, an important distinction must be made between the high-frequency attacks in Dar‘a, which are increasingly targeting public employees and individuals due solely to their nominal affiliation with the Government, and the infrequent attacks in Rural Damascus; thus far, attacks in Rural Damascus have primarily targeted actors affiliated with security forces. Indeed, the type of anti-Government insurgency that now appears to be taking shape in southern Syria (as noted in the COAR Syria Update August 22-28) remains unlikely in the vicinity of Damascus. Nonetheless, attacks on public sector figures, no matter how rare, do have the potential to directly impact ongoing humanitarian and developmental programming, for which public sector figures are often key local stakeholders and focal points.

5. Quamishli Water Shortage Presages Future Tensions Between Syrian ‘War Economy’ Actors and Rehabilitation

Quamishli, Al-Hasakeh Governorate: Throughout the reporting period, local and media sources reported that a severe water shortage has affected western neighborhoods in Quamishli city. On September 1, the head of the Municipalities Committee in the Autonomous Administration, Yousef Masoud, stated that the “necessary steps” had been taken and that water would soon be available; however, as of September 3, local sources indicate that normal water service has not resumed. In response to the shortage, which has now lasted seven days, the Autonomous Administration has begun water distribution to the affected neighborhoods once weekly through trucking companies owned by individuals closely affiliated with the Autonomous Administration; however, this service continues to fall far short of local needs. To this end, local sources give conflicting reports on the feasibility for private businessmen to acquire licenses and requisite approval to operate in Quamishli and fill this gap.

Analysis: The water shortage in Quamishli highlights a fundamental paradox that is likely to persist throughout Syria as service provision networks are rehabilitated: although initiatives to restore effective service provision and infrastructure are imperative for the long-term stability of communities throughout Syria, restoration of these services conflicts with the immediate interests of actors who have arisen to fill the economic and service ‘gaps’ created by the conflict itself. Without a doubt, in the case of Quamishli, numerous factors unrelated to the war economy compound the shortfall in service provision capacity, including damage to water networks and stress exacerbated by internal displacement to the community. Nonetheless, it is important to note that in Quamishli, as elsewhere throughout Syria, the local reliance on private companies to fill a vital service gap has created a system in which some local actors have considerable incentive to oppose the rehabilitation of state-managed networks. Nonetheless, it is important to note that in some cases, these actors can be integrated as functional pillars of post-conflict economic systems. In many cases these actors are likely to retain a considerable role in post-conflict local economies; as such, their roles are likely of key importance for development and humanitarian actors. For further analysis of the Syrian war economy and the role played by these actors, please see COAR’s recent paper Beyond Checkpoints: Local Economic Gaps and the Political ​Economy of Syria’s Business Community​.

6. Syrian Interim Government Elects New Turkman PM, Potentially Boosting Turkish Influence Over Opposition Entities

Istanbul, Turkey: On August 29, media sources reported that Abd El-Rahman Mostafa has been elected as the new prime minister of the Syrian Interim Government during internal elections conducted by the National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces. The Coalition’s also approved seven ministerial positions to a new cabinet. Numerous pro-opposition social media activists rejected Mostafa’s appointment, attributing his election to his staunch support for Turkey rather than his personal capacities and competences. Mostafa is descended from a Turkmen family in Jarablus, in northern rural Aleppo Governorate, and has been heavily involved in Turkmen opposition movements since 2012, and he has served as both vice president and president of the Turkemen Council. Mostafa was also elected as vice president of the National Coalition in 2017 and as its president in 2018.

Analysis: The fact that the new prime minister of the Syrian Interim Government is viewed as being closely aligned to Turkish interests is certainly not a surprise; however, it is impactful. The Government of Turkey naturally exerts considerable influence over the Syrian Interim Government, yet there are certainly Emirati, Saudi, and Qatari stakeholders within the body as well. Thus, the election of Mostafa is noteworthy in that it may be an indication that the Government of Turkey aims to increasingly co-opt the other political streams within the opposition and thereby present itself as the exclusive guarantor of the interests of opposition political bodies. Locally, within regions that are nominally governed by the Syrian Interim Government (namely, northern Aleppo), there is some likelihood that Mostafa will advocate for an increased role for the Turkmen community, given his longstanding history of advocacy within the Turkmen community for ethnically based mobilization and political action throughout the course of the conflict. It remains unclear how this will manifest on the ground; however, it may trigger or exacerbate existing communal tensions between Arab and Turkmen communities in northern Aleppo.

7. As Hezbollah-Israel Confrontation Continues, Further Escalation Remains Unlikely

Southern Lebanon: On September 1, Hezbollah issued a statement announcing it had destroyed an Israeli military vehicle in the vicinity of the Avivim military base in northern Israel, killing and injuring Israeli soldiers. However, an Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) statement later denied any casualties or injuries had occurred as a result of the attack. In retaliation, on the same day, the IDF shelled border areas in southern Lebanon. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that “Israel will decide on future action on Lebanese border depending on how events develop”. Hezbollah’s attack came in response to the Israeli ‘drone attack’ in Beirut on August 25 (see COAR Syria Update for August 22-28), after which Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah stated that decisions over future attacks on Israel would be left to field commanders.

Analysis: The escalating, albeit short-lived confrontation between Hezbollah and Israel is unlikely to trigger a wider conflict in Lebanon in the near future; however, it will certainly accentuate the confrontations between Israel and Hezbollah in both Syria and Lebanon. Ultimately, it is not clear that either Israel or Hezbollah is willing to enter open conflict, which would likely include an Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon or Syria.  However, confrontation is likely to continue, with incremental escalations in frequency and severity. For instance, Hezbollah’s response to Israel’s ‘drone attack’ in Beirut was limited and generally proportional, and thus was primarily aimed at its domestic supporters in Lebanon, emphasizing its role as the primary resistance force capable of protecting Lebanon from Israel. Similarly, Israeli retaliation was also limited, and Israeli statements have (thus far) been relatively restrained, and should be taken in the context of the upcoming Israeli elections. However, in light of the recent international pressure on and isolation of Iran and affiliated groups throughout the region, regional unrest will certainly continue for the foreseeable future.

8. Sweden Modifies Asylum Assessment For Syria, Renewing Focus On Divergent Conflict Trajectories In Syria

Stockholm, Sweden: On August 29, the Swedish Migration Agency announced a new ‘judicial position’ regarding Syrian applicants for asylum in Sweden. In effect, the assessment modifies a past policy that granted asylum to Syrians irrespective of where in Syria they had fled from. Based on a new security assessment of evolving conflict conditions in Syria, the policy now divides Syria into multiple zones for asylum purposes. As such, applicants from certain governorates that are deemed to have a “reduced level of conflict” (i.e. Hasakeh, Dar‘a, As-Sweida, Lattakia, Quneitra, Rural Damascus, and Damascus) will now be processed for asylum on the basis of a protection-related assessment conducted on an individual basis, reflecting specific community or individual concerns. Additionally, the assessment noted that certain areas (i.e. Aleppo, Idleb, Homs, Hama, Deir-ez-Zor, and Ar-Raqqa) continue to witness “indiscriminate violence”, and “no one who is domiciled or has their ordinary residence [in these governorates] will be deported to there.” Notably, the policy change will not affect asylum applications that were in-process prior to the change in judicial position.

Analysis: Changes to Swedish asylum procedures for Syrians which had been in place since 2013 are emblematic of a growing consensus within the international community that different regions within Syria are on increasingly divergent conflict trajectories. Both regionally and in the wider international context, questions related to the status of Syrian refugees and asylum seekers retain deep political and economic significance. As such, international actors are increasingly interested in assessing local conditions in Syria, within the scope of updating their own assessments and policies related to Syria. To a degree, this is a fundamental part of the architecture of the humanitarian response (especially concerning refugees). Moreover, notwithstanding the frequent bombardment of opposition-held areas of northwest Syria, much of Syria has been free of large-scale armed conflict since the summer of 2018; with notable exceptions, renewed large-scale clashes in Government-held areas are now highly unlikely. In this context, the most important questions related to international policies for Syria asylum will be procedures and means of identifying specific areas deemed ‘safe’ or ‘unsafe’. More fundamentally, it is important that such policies recognize that many Syrians have displaced from Syria for a variety of reasons including personal status, sectarian identity, or political affiliation; as such, for many Syrians, no part of Syria will be safe, irrespective of the trajectory of the conflict.

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.