Syria Update

17 August 2020
Syria Update Vol. 3 No. 31_v03_Page_01
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Cry Havoc: Assassinations Spark Anti-SDF Backlash

In Depth Analysis

On 2 August, Sheikh Matsher Hammod Al Hafl of the Ekeidat (Ageidat) tribe was assassinated by unknown gunmen alongside his driver near Hawayej in rural Deir-ez-Zor. Sheikh Ibrahim Khalil Aboud Jadaan Al Hafl of the same tribe was also reported injured in the ambush. In a statement, the U.S. Embassy in Damascus condemned the two killings on August 3. Notably, the attack comes shortly after two other assassinations in rural Deir-ez-Zor the previous week targeting tribal leaders. On 29 July, Sheikh Sleiman Al Kassar, a prominent Ekeidat council member, was killed in an assault claimed by ISIS near Basira, two days before  Bakkara tribal leader Sheikh Ali Salman Al Wees was killed by unknown gunmen in Dahleh. These assassinations have sparked widespread anger amongst rural Deir-ez-Zor’s Arab tribesmen, culminating in several anti-Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) demonstrations on 4 August in the region. These demonstrations have occasionally turned violent, as in Hawayej, where five civilians and four SDF members were injured in a shootout. Locals from the towns of Thiban and Shiheil also took to the street to denounce the SDF’s approach to security, and seven civilians were reportedly arrested as a result.

While many of the demonstrators appear to believe that the SDF or the People’s Protection Unit (YPG) directly conducted the assassinations, the official stance of the Ekeidat tribe was articulated during a leadership meeting on 11 August in less directly accusatory terms. Ekeidat tribal leaders instead criticized the SDF for a “failure to manage the military, civilian, and economic affairs in the area.” The Ekeidat’s statement did, however, demand the International Coalition bear responsibility for the security chaos in Deir-ez-Zor, calling for an independent and professional investigation into the murder of Sheikh Matshar Al Hafl, and that the “administration of Deir Ez-Zor be turned over to its [Arab] people.”

Syria Update Vol. 3 No. 31_v03_Page_01
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Blood for Oil?

It is not the first time that the SDF has been accused of assassinating prominent tribal leaders, such as the  notable example of Bashir Al Hweidi, a popular Afadleh tribal leader in Ar-Raqqa, killed in November 2018. These accusations stem from the local belief that the SDF tries to eliminate prominent tribal leaders capable of rallying support against the Self-Administration, or whomever appears to be growing close to other regional actors. As COAR’s “Tribal Tribulation” paper noted, the Governments of Syria, Turkey, and Iran have certainly made relationship-building with tribal leaders a cornerstone of their policy to destabilize northeastern Syria. Regardless of the assassinations’ motive or their perpetrators, the prominent role of the Ekeidat tribe in rural Deir-ez-Zor is worth close examination.

The Ekeidat tribe is primarily based in rural Deir-ez-Zor. It is a large tribe with many eminent sub-branches, including the Bu-Saraya and the Sha’ytat. Ultimately, the Ekeidat are largely divided between SDF or the Government of Syria affiliations, usually determined by the geographic origins of the Ekeidat branch or the area its members fled to during the conflict with ISIS (many Ekeidat branches had marked hostilities with ISIS, especially the Sha’ytat). Another striking fact about the Ekeidat is they live near several of northeastern Syria’s largest oil fields: Any actor who seeks to control northeastern Syria’s oil must therefore contend with the Ekeidat, which has naturally given the tribe access to significant oil revenue benefits and more of a stake in local governance as well. However, this has frequently brought them into conflict with the Self-Administration and the SDF.

It is worth mentioning here that the recent attacks occurred a few days after the American Oil company Delta Crescent Energy LLC signed a 25-year contract with the Self Administration to develop the infrastructure of oil fields in SDF-controlled areas. The deal effectively signals a long-term U.S. presence in northeastern Syria and likely prevents any unilateral Turkish action feared by SDF in areas east of Ras al-Ain. In that sense, the oil contract is strategically important for the SDF. Moreover, with the application of the Caesar Act, the Government of Syria’s ability to obtain oil from northeast Syria was already challenging; the Delta contract may shut off access to those taps entirely.

More Powder in the Keg 

Despite tribal suspicions, any number of actors may have been responsible for the assassinations, if only for the general instability they have caused in rural Deir-ez-Zor, of which the Government of Syria is undoubtedly trying to take advantage. Media sources report that it has delegated the Al-Qaterji family (to whom the Government of Syria has given control of northeastern Syria’s oil trade) to lead a long-term operation to target and weaken the SDF and the Self Administration in exchange for future contracts in the oil industry. In addition, on 9 August the Government of Syria-aligned Ekeidat tribal leaders reportedly announced the formation of the Ekeidat Army, tasked with conducting operations against the U.S.-led coalition and the SDF east of the Euphrates following a meeting held in Deir-ez-Zor city. Similarly, on 10 August the Bakkara tribe’s Sheikh, Nawaf Al-Bashir, called for a new government-supported “Tribal Force” to confront the SDF.  The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) also reported that a meeting was held at Quamishli airport between Syrian Army officers and pro-Government Ekeidat tribal leaders to foster a popular resistance against the SDF.

Ultimately, it is difficult to judge the long term impact of the assassinations in rural Deir-ez-Zor. Anti-SDF sentiment among Arabs in northeastern Syria is common, assassinations are a regular occurrence, and the Government of Syria fomenting instability in the Self Administration is nothing new. However, with the issuance of the new oil contract, and the extreme pressure facing the Government of Syria, the stakes are extremely high and any individual incident could rapidly lead to much greater unrest. To that end, it is worth reiterating the necessity of tribal engagement as an important component of the northeastern Syria humanitarian response. There is a real risk that basing so much of the response’s local engagement on the Self Administration may jeopardize longer-term interventions by the broad perception that humanitarian actors are aligned with and indistinguishable from the Self Administration.

Additionally, as current developments highlight, the Government of Syria (among other regional actors) intends to use Arab tribes as a means of destabilizing the Kurdish Self Administration: increased protests, targeted assassinations, and politically-motivated violence are likely components of that strategy. As such, it is important to distinguish drivers of violence and instability to ensure an appropriate response. There is a real risk that all Arab violence will be presented as a “resurgent ISIS” that could, in turn, lead to disproportionate and inappropriate responses ultimately empowering extremist groups and their ideologies.

Whole of Syria Review

Syria Update

1. SDF signs long-term deal with U.S. oil company

Deir-ez-Zor governorate: It has emerged that U.S. authorities greenlighted a 25-year contract between U.S. energy company Delta Energy and the Self-Administration of northeastern Syria last month. According to the former U.S. Ambassador to Denmark and Delta Co-founder James Cain, the deal allows Delta to develop oil field infrastructure in SDF-controlled areas, primarily supporting local consumption (i.e., Self Administration areas) and international exports via Turkey and Iraq. Exceptional measures have reportedly been introduced to the U.S. sanctions regime in Syria to allow Delta to operate freely.

The deal has been widely denounced at both international and regional levels. Syria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs strongly condemned the arrangement, describing it as an illegal attempt to steal Syrian oil. A Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs press release expressed similar malcontent, describing the U.S. as an occupying power in Syria, while Turkey claimed the U.S. had ignored international law by lending support to a terrorist group. PKK leader Cemîl Bayik meanwhile said the deal was illegal and that oil resources should be extracted only for the benefit of the country as a whole.

Strategic denial

The Delta deal demonstrates greater coordination between the U.S. and northeastern Syria’s Kurdish majority leadership than has been observed on the ground in recent months. By exclusively lifting sanctions for entities and individuals involved in the Delta deal, Washington has established that its relationship with the SDF goes beyond security-related matters and further highlights that its sanctions regime intends to limit the Syrian Government’s control over the national economy. The deal also raises questions over  U.S. military presence in the region, the Self Administration’s potential to more robustly pursue its autonomist ambitions, and how much the Syrian Government will now be permitted to access the oil industry in the northeast.

The Delta deal’s 25-year term suggests that some form of prolonged U.S. military presence in the northeast is probable, at least for the medium-term. Without this presence, it is unlikely that investors would have the confidence to fund the large-scale rehabilitation needed to increase production at many of Syria’s high output facilities, nor would they be comfortable with the integrity of Syria-based supply lines and trade routes. Russia has previously attempted to cut a deal with the SDF over northeastern oil fields, but failing to do so, is now engaged in what looks set to be an ongoing and long-running game of cat and mouse with U.S. forces in the region. Several run-ins have been reported in recent months, and though Russian pressure is likely to remain a feature, no serious confrontations have taken place. Such encounters remain unlikely given the Delta deal lends U.S. forces in Syria a more deliberate mission.

A more reliable U.S. military presence is also likely to diminish concern over the prospect of further Turkish advances into SDF-held areas, allowing the Self Administration some latitude to concentrate on its various political and economic arrangements with the Syrian Government. Statements from SDF leaders reflect this perspective, several of whom have expressed relief at the oil deal and believe it constitutes the first step towards recognizing the Self Administration as an official U.S. partner. However, it must be recalled  that the PKK’s disapproval of the Delta deal means this sentiment may not be shared by all Kurdish political constituencies. This divergence could give rise to some internal differences amongst Kurds as the Self Administration pushes ahead with its political agenda at both regional and local levels.

For the time being, it is unclear how the SDF’s rivals will respond. Turkey’s plan to finance the northern safe zones with Syrian oil money now looks like a pipe dream, whilst Russian and Iranian hopes to capture Syrian oil royalties have broadly ended for the time being. For the Syrian Government, the deal looks to be especially damaging: not only does it weaken Government claims over Kurdish-managed areas, but state-linked oil companies working in the region will also now be excluded from involvement at around half the fields under SDF control. Of more immediate concern is the likelihood that Damascus will find it increasingly difficult to purchase oil from fields in receipt of American investment. In future,  however, the rate at which Delta invests in regional oil infrastructure will probably be a strong indicator of U.S. intentions in northeastern Syria, not to mention the Syrian Government’s anticipated behaviour, its allies, and the Self-Administration.

2. Rising concern over COVID-19

Whole of Syria: A rapid increase in COVID-19 cases has been reported in Government-controlled areas. Between 30 July and 6 August, the authorities reported 260 new cases and the death of around 30 doctors in Damascus and its rural periphery. Health professionals have subsequently voiced concern that the infection rate is now outstripping the capacity of the health system in Government-controlled areas, extending disquiet over the authorities’ ability to respond adequately in other parts of the country. On 10 August, the Self-Administration added 18 new cases to an outstanding total of 119 infections, whilst the first case in Al-Hol camp was reported later that same day. Local sources added that around 14 new cases were confirmed in Dar’a in early August.

Health authorities struggling to keep pace

It is clear that the COVID-19 situation is worsening and transcending front-lines in Syria. In the first week of August, the Assistant Health Director in Damascus estimated there could be as many as 112,500 cases nationwide. If this number is anything near reality, then the 25,000 hospital beds available in Government-controlled areas will soon be overwhelmed. Indeed, doctors in these areas report that people showing COVID-19 symptoms are already being turned away from intensive care units (ICU) departments due to too few bed spaces, posing a further infection risk to their communities. Meanwhile, reports of the first case in Al-Hol are indicative of the problems more poorly resourced parts of the country are expected to face controlling the infection rate and maintaining regular health services. Fears over COVID-19 coupled with reduced humanitarian access have already prompted the closure of several field hospitals near Al-Hol. As an overcrowded camp with limited access to water, personal hygiene items, tests, and protective equipment, remaining health services are likely to witness an increase in both COVID-19 prevalence and the number of people awaiting treatment for unrelated health conditions.

In Damascus and beyond, health authorities are severely handicapped in their ability to address COVID-19 as testing facilities are scarce, slow to yield results, unevenly distributed across political lines, vital equipment is in short supply and disproportionately shared, and the health sector as a whole has been severely diminished by nearly a decade of conflict and economic decline. Nationwide human resource shortfalls are also of concern should health professionals fall ill, yet sanctions and access restrictions inhibit medical administrators acquiring hold of the supplies they need to protect themselves and the public. As the virus spreads, it has been rumored the Government is pursuing a summertime herd immunity strategy. Damascus has yet to confirm or deny these claims and is reluctant to share official information, but as criticism of the Government’s response grows on social media, the arrest of dissenting voices is likely to accompany scrambled attempts to reverse the infection rate.

3. Beirut port explosion

Lebanon: On 4 August, a huge explosion struck the port of Beirut. Preliminary city-wide reconstruction costs are estimated at  around $15 billion, roughly a quarter of Lebanon’s GDP for 2019. Heavily dependent on commodity imports, destruction to Beirut’s port leaves Tripoli’s much smaller port as the only other direct entry point for international sea-based trade to Lebanon. Notwithstanding the effects of the blast on ordinary commerce, destruction to Beirut’s port will severely reduce the rate at which the country can independently recover, and how trade and business will be conducted.

Inevitably, the scale and likely prolonged duration of the reconstruction challenge has attracted considerable international attention at a time when Lebanon was already contending with a precipitous economic downturn and long-running political unrest. Offers of international support have flooded into the country, yet the means of deploying this support in ways that do not exacerbate Lebanon’s pre-existing economic and political problems have yet to be determined. Iran has reportedly called for sanctions on Lebanon to be lifted to smooth aid flows, but Lebanon’s foreign supporters will be cautious of channeling aid through institutions that the August explosion has so brutally exposed.

Increased Syria-Lebanon trade: Expedience versus due diligence

Lebanon’s much reduced sea-based trade is likely to have a number of adverse knock-on effects in Syria. It was common knowledge that Beirut’s port enabled Syrian businesses to sidestep sanctions and access international markets, yet that avenue will now be closed, and many Syrian businesses will probably suffer as a result. At the same time, the damage to Beirut is likely to increase Syria’s importance as a key Lebanese trade partner for the smuggled supply of everyday commodities and reconstruction materials. Having imported practically all of its wheat from the Black Sea region previously, the destruction of Lebanon’s main wheat silos at the port has led to well-publicized concern over medium-term food security. Both the Lebanese Government and private buyers may look to Syria to replenish grain stocks in the near-term and are likely to do so for a variety of other key items for which pre-blast logistical systems are no longer feasible. Syria is also a major regional producer of construction materials and could be called upon to supply concrete, glass, and timber products to aid Beirut’s reconstruction. Clearly, the Syrian Government will be fully aware of the opportunity to capitalize on such opportunities, not to mention a steady relaxation of sanctions pertaining to Lebanon. As such, it is highly unlikely to leave trade with Lebanon in the hands of the open market and may look to profit from the influx of foreign funds to the extent possible. Organizations responding to needs in Lebanon may, therefore, need to consider how the pursuit of their objectives might conflict with their approaches to Syria and should work to ensure that contractual due diligence is not a casualty to the obvious need for expediency.

4. Damascus: Suburban redevelopment continues apace

Damascus city: On 25 June, the Damascus Provincial Council held a special session to discuss the implementation of urban planning projects for the outskirts of the Syrian capital, including in the neighborhoods of Qaboun and Yarmuk Camp. Plans for these areas reportedly include the development of new residential areas, parks, commercial buildings, and wider streets. Objections to current proposals were permitted until 9 August, after which complaints will be reviewed and incorporated into the initial plan if considered pertinent. Once finalized, the Ministry of Public Works and Housing will issue permissions for project implementation in accordance with Law No. 23.

The project has broadly angered the residents of Yarmuk Camp, Qaboun, and a variety of Palestinian organizations, including the UK-based Action Group for Palestinians of Syria and the Hamas movement. These bodies claim that over 60 percent of existing Yarmuk camp residents would be impacted by the proposed draft plan, causing a record number of people to submit official objections to the Damascus Provincial Council on the issue.

Tightening the ‘Damascus Belt’

Despite ostensibly more pressing investment priorities amid the COVID-19 pandemic and a severely weakened economy, the Syrian Government is pressing ahead with urban planning projects to reinforce its grip on the capital. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Yarmuk Camp. Since hostilities in the area came to an end in May 2018, the Syrian Government has implemented various policies to bring the former opposition-held area and its residents to heel. Many people displaced from the area were initially prevented from returning based on spurious claims that unexploded ordnance posed an enduring safety risk. However, the most troubling development has been the 2018 decision to reassign elements of the local administration to the Damascus Provincial Council at the expense of the local Yarmuk Committee. This Committee had previously been responsible for delivering services to Yarmuk residents and also undertook property management services on behalf of real estate owned by the General Authority for Palestinian Arab Refugees. With those responsibilities now falling to the Provincial Council, Damascus has effectively annulled Yarmuk’s “informal settlement status,” integrated it into the constellation of Damascus city neighborhoods, and made the notoriously discriminatory Laws no. 10 and 23 applicable overnight.

This move not only allows Damascus to steamroll its new urban project into Yarmuk and erase much of the city’s Palestinian legacy, but it also makes it practically unfeasible for many absentees to return and reclaim their property rights under the law. Law 10  stipulates that a year will be given to property owners to provide proof of ownership, yet most have emigrated, now live in opposition-held Idleb, or have no access to land registry records to prove ownership and claim compensation. Other highly damaged formerly opposition-held areas on the periphery of Damascus face similar challenges as the Government steps up efforts to remake the city in its preferred image.

5. Tensions rise in Dar’a Governorate

Dar’a governorate: Instability in Dar’a governorate has continued, with assassinations, security incidents, and local unrest highlighting the ongoing limitations of Syrian Government control. Inter-familial and tribal disputes are said to explain many of the recent killings, but prominent local figures have also been targeted, including the Head of the Central Committee of Jasim. Several attacks on police stations and Government-run checkpoints have been reported in the vicinity of Jasim in the past week, prompting Damascus to deploy reinforcements to Jasim’s outskirts and develop plans for new military posts and checkpoints in nearby Hara and Jaydour Horan. Negotiations between State Security services and local armed factions have been held in an effort to prevent an escalation, and an agreement to conduct joint patrols was subsequently reached with local armed factions. The first such patrol took place on 12 August. Meanwhile, the Dar’a public continues to demonstrate its dissatisfaction with the Syrian Government’s security policy. On 10 August, a protest was held in Dar’a camp (in Dar’a city) to demand the release of locals detained by Government forces with protestors blocking roads and Government forces redeploying swiftly to prevent any escalation.

Restraint 

Relations between Jasim and Government forces have been fragile since the reconciliation of Dar’a governorate. Local armed factions may have agreed to surrender their weapons and settle their status with state security services, but many individuals did not abide by this arrangement and were not forced to do so. As such, Jasim effectively remained under the control of local armed factions, leaving open the prospect of later wrestling with Government forces. Local weapons proliferation and anti-Government sentiment are such that the potential of an armed insurrection in the city is now worryingly high, yet both parties have so far shown reticence for such an outcome.

The Syrian Government’s failure to release detainees as per the original local reconciliation agreement has preserved a sense of injustice and unrest in Dar’a Camp. Despite the actions of the protestors on 10 August, Government forces avoided direct clashes with the population and instead looked to contain the event. This restraint suggests a less aggressive approach to dealing with the security challenges faced by Government forces in Dar’a governorate for the time being, but it must be recalled that confrontations in the area have previously prompted Government bombardment. If such an escalation occurs, open conflict is probable, and would likely have disastrous consequences for the population amid COVID-19 and a collapsing economy.

6. Self-Administration property law swiftly repealed

Northeastern Syria: On 9 August, the Self-Administration issued Law No.7, which stipulated that if a property owner did not reside in Syria and was absent for a year from the date the statue was passed into local law, the General Council of the Self-Administration was permitted to invest in and rent the property for the benefit of the community. General Council permission to manage such “abandoned” properties was to end when the property owner physically returned to reclaim rights of ownership. Just several days later, however, Law 7 has been repealed after having been strongly condemned by absentee property owners who, with the support of the Syrian Lawyers Association, likened Self-Administration Law 7 to the notorious Law 10 of 2018) concerning the Government of Syria’s right to designate privately-held land for publicly managed redevelopment.

A law with discriminatory elements

Opponents of the Self Administration’s Law 7 contend that the Self-Administration lacks the authority and legal grounds to issue such legislation, citing contravention of both property rights safeguarded by the Syrian constitution and various international covenants. Clearly, in its current format, Law 7 would have most egregiously affected those unable or unwilling to return to their homes in the Self Administration. Legal experts have, therefore, received broad support from across the political and ethnic spectrums for quashing the move, as almost all ethnic and religious groups in the region have experienced conflict-related displacement to some degree. However, the retraction of Law 7 has been especially welcomed by the Assyrian and Armenian communities, both of which experienced some of the most severe persecution from ISIS and fled abroad in large numbers. Whether the Self Administration revisits Law 7, sidestepping local sensitivities over expatriate property ownership rights, remains to be seen. Should it do so, it will almost certainly be opposed by both absentee and current residents and is likely to face a similar countervailing campaign from local legal experts.

7. Reignition of the northwestern front?

Northwestern Syria: On 1 August,  media sources reported that joint Russian-Turkish patrols were canceled due to intense bombing carried out by the Government of Syria in areas surrounding Idleb. Ten days later, Turkey established a new military command center, “Operation Peace Shield,” in Antakya, Turkey, to oversee military operations in Syrian territory under Turkish control. It was further revealed that Turkey had also established a new military outpost in Jabal al-Akrad, Lattakia after Turkish forces were subjected to repeated attacks by Syrian and Russian Government forces. In other developments in the region, Abu Muhammad Al Julani, commander-in-chief of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), has reportedly been touring Idleb governorate during Eid al-Adha to parade the news that HTS has secured much of the governorate from extremist militia, whilst the Iranian-backed Hezbollah has reportedly deployed members of its elite “Radwan” unit to the city of Saraqab.

Tensions rise, extremists lurk

Tensions in northwestern Syria have risen significantly over the last two weeks. Not only has the intensity of Syrian and Russian Government bombing increased, but Hezbollah has now made a determined step onto the northern front. Having established two new military centers, Turkey appears to be readying itself to respond from both within and outside Syria, whilst further cooperation on the patrol agreement will almost certainly be suspended for the time being. Indeed, with Turkish entrenchment and more assertive military action from the Syrian Government and its allies, the prospect of an intensified conflict  looms large in the region. The implications for people living in conflict-affected areas will be obvious, and recent developments in the region should prompt aid actors to undertake necessary anticipatory measures. Less clear, however, are the effects of such a conflict on armed opposition actors. For instance, although it has seen its powerbase shrink in recent times, Hurras Eddin – a jihadist group, also known as Guardians of Religion – may, in fact, profit from a renewed northwestern offensive as people take up the extremist cause to defend Idleb.

Key Readings

The Open Source Annex highlights key media reports, research, and primary documents that are not examined in the Syria Update. For a continuously updated collection of such records, searchable by geography, theme, and conflict actor, and curated to meet the needs of decision-makers, please see COAR’s comprehensive online search platform, Alexandrina, at the link below.

Note: These records are solely the responsibility of their creators. COAR does not necessarily endorse — or confirm — the viewpoints expressed by these sources.

The Future of Humanitarian Aid Delivery to Syria: What is Russia’s Rationale?

What Does It Say? Russia reasons that the aid serving the persisting humanitarian needs all over the country should be channeled through Damascus now, including crossline aid. The article explains the factors behind Moscow’s position and addresses the prospects and obstacles for UN humanitarian aid flow. 

Reading Between the Lines: Given that the only remaining border-crossing Bab Elhawa will be functional for just one year, the UN, together with Russia, Turkey, the U.S., and Europe should start discussions on how to deliver humanitarian aid once the crossing is no longer functional. This dialogue could be established through a  joint monitoring mechanism on UN aid delivery. Whether the U.S. and the EU are ready to start such dialogue with Damascus to increase humanitarian outreach in Syria remains the big question.

Source: Russian International Affairs Council

Language: English

Date: 31 July 2020

Civil society organizations deal anxiously the Lebanese Government’s policy towards Syrian refugees and so-called safe return

What Does It Say?  A joint report was issued from 46 civil society organizations calling for the repeal of a paper from the Lebanese Ministry of Social Affairs. It  was given preliminary approval by the Council of Ministers, which outlined plans to organize Syrian refugees’ return to Syria.

Reading Between the Lines: The plan has inconsistent and conflicting data with that of the UNHCR and completely disregards the fate that refugees face upon their return. Additionally, it increases the risk of greater tension with host communities as the department is planning media campaigns to encourage return.

Source: Syrians for Truth and Justice

Language: English

Date: 24 July 2020

Who pays the price for Syria’s broken documentation system?

What Does It Say? Long years of war have meant Syrians have lost an array of paperwork, which endangers the spectrum of their civil rights. Women and children are at particular risk. 

Reading Between the Lines: This loss has a clear impact on women’s property deeds, the ability to confer Syrian citizenship to children, and other social risks. It also highly complicates refugee return as it jeopardizes  their safety, economic prospects, and property ownership.

Source:The New Humanitarian

Language: English

Date: 3 August 2020

Why is Greece mending relations with Assad?

What Does It Say? Greece is following growing European sentiment to mend ties with the Government of Syria and has re-established diplomatic relations with Bashar Al-Assad

Reading Between the Lines: Historical and economic ties between Greece and Syria, religious links, shifting security dynamics in the eastern Mediterranean, and the mutual stand against Ankara seemingly facilitates renormalization with the Government of Syria. It remains to be seen, however, if Greece can afford the backlash from Washington by diverting from Europe’s anti-Assad line.

Source: Middle East Eye

Language: English

Date: 5 August 2020

The formation of the Peace and Freedom Front has been announced; the organisation hopes to unify the ranks of the Syrian opposition writes Shaam News.

What Does It Say? The formation of the Peace and Freedom Front has been announced in the zones controlled by the Self-Administration. The Front held a meeting with the U.S. State Department, and explored the possibility of Front representatives participating in the Kurdish talks and its role in unifying the ranks of the Syrian opposition.

Reading Between the Lines: The Front appears to have Washington’s support to move Kurdish talks forward and improve relations with all Syrian opposition parties. The role of the Front in achieving a political solution in Syria is still unclear.

Source: The Syrian Observer (By Shaam Network)

Language: English

Date: 10 August 2020

COVID-19 in Syria: Policy Options

What Does It Say? This brief highlights challenges that contribute to the spread of COVID-19 in Damascus, eastern Ghouta and western Qalamun, and concludes by suggesting short- and long-term measures and policies for national, regional, and international responses. 

Reading Between the Lines: There is a  lack of trust in the de facto authorities across the country. In addition, there is a deterioration of economic conditions, and sanctions have an indirect impact on the health sector. These factors mean any effective, impactful, and rapid intervention to assist the country in responding to the pandemic should move beyond access-based humanitarian aid programs, and towards more comprehensive policies that account for institutional and socio-economic challenges.

Source: London School of Economics – LSE

Language: English

Date: 28 July 2020

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.