Syria Update

31 August 2020
Syria Update Vol. 3 No. 32_v04 (1)_Page_01
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Self-Administration steps back from negotiations, as attacks step up across the northeast

In Depth Analysis

Tensions are simmering across northeast Syria as senior Kurdish political leadership effectively abnegated political negotiations with Damascus following months of talks that yielded few tangible results. The negotiations have been running on fumes for months. Critically, the reversal follows several high-profile events that have stirred the pot east of the Euphrates River, including a provocative deal to grant the U.S. firm Delta Crescent Energy a contract to rehabilitate Self-Administration oil infrastructure (see: Syria Update 17 August). The deal is one of many issues Damascus has seized on as it seeks to build local momentum in the region by exploiting grievances among Arab and tribal populations. Against this background, assassinations of prominent tribal leaders with antagonistic relations with the Self-Administration demonstrate that the stakes can scarcely be higher. Meanwhile, armed incidents involving U.S. and Russian forces as well as reported ISIS attacks have come into the spotlight. In parallel, Turkey has stepped into the fray once more as water access for nearly the entire population of northern Al-Hasakeh governorate has been cut, a move widely viewed as a bid for leverage over the Self-Administration. Altogether, the incidents paint a picture of a region in which local parties to the conflict, regional actors, and international powers are all deploying increasingly hostile tactics to tip the balance of power and secure parochial self-interests. As developments continue, several key trends are important for understanding the trajectory of the region.

Trend No. 1: Self-Administration-Government of Syria negotiations collapse

Despite the appearance that the parties were en route to a detente, recent events have driven a wedge between the Self-Administration and the Government of Syria. On 23 August, senior Kurdish politician Aldar Khalil of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) repudiated official meetings with Damascus. Khalil stated that Syrian authorities are not serious about negotiations with the Kurdish-led Self-Administration and added that Russia failed to facilitate talks. Moreover, Khalil accused the Syrian government of responsibility for the assassinations that targeted several prominent tribal leaders and local notables in Deir-ez-Zor governorate in recent weeks (see: Syria Update 17 August), and he called out Damascus for pinning blame on the the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

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Maintaining the balance of power 

The apparent collapse of normalization talks with Damascus, and the exclusion of the Self-Administration from the Constitutional Committee process in Geneva (see: Whole of Syria Review), effectively set the stage for the Self-Administration to walk away from the negotiating table. Of note, the impetus for negotiations between the Self-Administration and Damascus was Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring in October 2019. Facing the prospect of a U.S. military withdrawal and an unchecked incursion by Turkey and its local allies, the SDF had little choice but to enter discussions with Damascus, midwifed by Russia. Much has changed since then. The U.S. withdrawal has been recast as a mere repositioning, although longer-term strategic objectives for the shrinking American military presence in eastern Syria remain ill-defined. For now, the U.S. has seemingly doubled down on its desire to retain “access” to the country, as the Delta Crescent Energy deal suggests an American intention to shore-up the oil sector in Self-Administration areas and boost the local administration’s bottom line.

According to Khalil, had the Syrian Government negotiated with the SDF in good faith, the U.S. oil deal would not have gone forward. However, walking away from the Damascus talks likely says more about the dead-end reached in current discussions than it does about changing political attitudes within the Self-Administration over the long term. Indeed, crossline service agreements with Damascus continue, including electricity-sharing and dam management agreements. These realities reflect the acknowledgement on the part of Kurdish leadership that the Government of Syria will remain a critical interlocutor. The Self-Administration may be willing to walk away from the bargaining table now, but it is unwilling to flip the table altogether.

Trend No. 2: Americans and Russians spar as both test the other’s limits

Conflicting mandates and competing objectives in northeast Syria have also strained relations between the U.S. and Russia in recent weeks. On 24 August, U.S. forces reportedly attempted to block a Russian military patrol near Al-Malikiyah along the Turkey-Syria border, prompting Russian forces to retaliate by intentionally ramming the U.S. armored vehicle, causing light injuries among several U.S. soldiers. Shortly following the incident, the head of the Russian armed forces accused the U.S. of causing the collision. Commander Vasilyevich Gerasimov stated that the U.S. violated existing agreements, and claimed that Russian forces “took the necessary measures.” In turn, John Ullyot, a spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council, stated that the Russian actions were “unsafe and unprofessional.” Ullyot accused Russian forces of breaching the de-confliction protocols agreed upon in December 2019. Notably, this run-in follows shortly after several reported incidents in mid-August in which Syrian Arab Army forces, directly and indirectly, targeted U.S. forces in northeast Syria.

Pressure Points

Run-ins between the U.S. and Russian forces have become more frequent following U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to draw down U.S. forces from Syria in October 2019. In the subsequent scramble to reposition U.S. forces, Russia expanded its footprint across the northeast, placing the two sides in close and recurring contact. Though both parties seek to avoid deadly clashes and a repeat of violent confrontation, such encounters could provide fertile ground for miscalculation and escalation. This prospect is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, given the increasing pressure on U.S. forces to preserve a presence in northeast Syria.

Certainly, Russian interest in the development of Syrian energy resources remains axiomatic. While Russia’s economic reach in Syria has been contained to areas west of the Eurphrates, the recent U.S. energy agreement will have piqued Moscow. To some extent, the deal has focused the U.S. mission in the region, which will likely make both sides more determined to pursue their objectives in close competition. That said, the terms of the Delta deal, the scope of resulting investment, and the impact on the Self-Administration’s relations with Damascus remain unclear. Consequently, the long-term agenda of an American presence in Syria remains subject to change, particularly as domestic political pressure builds in the U.S. against a military deployment that has crept far beyond its original anti-ISIS mandate.

Trend No. 3: Seeking pressure, Turkey turns off the taps

On 13 August, the Alouk water station, the main water supply for Al-Hasakeh governorate, stopped pumping water amid a reported increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in northeastern Syria. It is reportedly the thirteenth time the station has been taken offline since January. Water supply from Alouk station reportedly resumed on 25 August, however, following technical repairs allowing water to reach several towns in Al-Hasakeh governorate. That said, continued power cuts in the region have disrupted the water flow and have prevented pumps from working at full capacity. Additionally, the water collection point that feeds Al-Hasakeh city was reportedly only half-full at the time of writing.

A Turkish job?

Since early 2020, multiple reports have indicated that the Turkish-linked Syrian National Army (SNA) is responsible for cutting the water supply. Alouk station is among the most critical pieces of basic service infrastructure in northeast Syria, and it supplies Self-Administration-controlled areas in Al-Hasakeh governorate, including major population centers such as Al-Hasakeh city, Tal Tamer, and Hole camp. Humanitarian organizations and the UN have been keen to highlight this downstream effect, raising concerns over sanitation and the spread of COVID-19, which continues to pose a major, largely unchecked public health risk in Syria. It is important to note that damage to the station caused by armed clashes in October 2019 has been fully repaired. There is currently no maintenance-related issue to explain why Alouk should discontinue operation. However, it is likely the Turkish-linked groups have cut the water supply to compel the Self-Administration to fulfill an agreement between the parties to provide electricity from the SDF-controlled Tishreen hydroelectric dam to Turkish-held areas further north, in return for water from Alouk. Further interruptions are probable as long as the Turkish-linked groups feel they have been given short shrift, or as they seek to build leverage over Kurdish leadership on other points of contention.

Trend No. 4: ISIS, in some form, lingers

Meanwhile, ISIS continues to claim public responsibility for deadly attacks in rural areas of the northeast. On 21 August, media sources reported that ISIS claimed responsibility for an explosion that targeted a Russian patrol near Deir-ez-Zor city, killing a Russian general and injuring two soldiers. On 26 August, it was then reported that ISIS had attacked and killed three Iraqi police officers outside the Iraqi city of Al-Qaim, near the Syrian border at Abu Kamal.

Local sources cite media reports that the intended target of the attack in Iraq was a National Defense Forces commander from Mayadeen, while further reports note that the Russian general was not deliberately targeted in the attack. These incidents demonstrate several realities about the persistence of ISIS operational cells in eastern Syria. Most importantly, the attacks are likely meant to prove that ISIS has not disappeared altogether and continues to pose a local security threat, including to aid actors. The selection of targets is likely intended to show a continuation to targets seen as supportive of the Government of Syria, namely its crucial allies, Russia and Iran. Moreover, although the rural Iraq-Syria border is notoriously porous, the cross-border attack demonstrates at least a modest ability on the part of the group to plan and execute attacks across contexts. While the terrorist outfit  is no longer a territorial entity capable of suborning large-scale coordinated attacks or complex initiatives outside the region, the latest incidents highlight that ISIS-linked actors continue to solicit attention. If ISIS is indeed responsible for these incidents, the events will be seen as an indication that disparate cells nominally loyal to ISIS remain capable of taking out targets when they choose, and response actors must plan accordingly.

Whole of Syria Review

Syria Update Vol. 3 No. 32_WebMapv02

1. COVID-19 derails Constitutional Committee in Geneva

Geneva: On 24 August, the 45-member small group of the Syrian Constitutional Committee convened in Geneva for its first session since the Syrian negotiations process ground to a halt nine months ago. Almost immediately, however, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, suspended talks after three committee members tested positive for COVID-19, breaking off negotiations Pedersen had described as “constructive.” The meetings resumed on 27 August with new health precautions in place. Of note, the session marked the third round of talks intended to cement a consensus Syrian constitution, following the failed second attempt that halted after the delegations failed to agree to an agenda. Pedersen previously characterized the objective of the current round of negotiations as building confidence among the parties, with priority issues being the release of detainees and abductees, clarifying the fate of the missing, creating a “safe environment” for the returns, approving a constitution, and conducting elections, among other issues related to the armed conflict itself.

Syria sinks as delegates dicker in Geneva

As with much else in global affairs, the committee was derailed by the coronavirus pandemic. Delegates had been tested before departure and again upon arrival in Geneva. The UN did not disclose the identity of the delegates infected with COVID-19. However, it is worth noting that Government-held Syria is in the depths of a severe COVID-19 outbreak, even as the Syrian state puts up a wall of silence on the issue. Due to low levels of testing and considerable secrecy in Government-held areas, it is widely believed that coronavirus has raged through these areas in recent weeks, while healthcare workers have sounded the alarm over inefficient sanitation procedures in health facilities, the lack of protective equipment, inadequate testing protocols, and the deaths of healthcare staff (see: Syria Update 3 August and 17 August).

Despite a failure to show substantive progress, Pedersen described the round of talks as “encouraging,” and he noted that all sides “are keen to meet again.” When this does happen, the process will still face long odds. To date, the Government of Syria has successfully navigated the conflict without making substantive concessions. Having fended off a highly splintered political and armed opposition, Damascus has been emboldened to the point of triumphalism. Its willingness to make necessary concessions is now among the chief impediments that will hamper the long Geneva process in the months — and potentially years — to come. Damascus’s rigidity on marquee issues such as the fate of detainees and the missing is demonstrative of its strategy and the roadblocks ahead. Damascus may be refraining from revealing the fate of detainees in hopes of leveraging the issue to greater effect in the future, yet there are also pragmatic considerations at stake. The Government of Syria is likely hesitant to face the potentially explosive political consequences of disclosing that many of the missing — largely opposition-aligned fighters and political activists — are already dead, although it has alluded to this reality in the past.

In the meantime, living conditions and economic turmoil in Syria are expected to worsen at pace. Of note, U.S. Syria envoy James Jeffrey stated that the Caesar sanctions had a “serious political and psychological impact” on the Al-Assad regime and its inner circle, thus raising hopes that U.S. pressure could break the logjam in Syria. Jeffrey observed that the Geneva negotiations took place “under some Russian pressure.” This may indicate that although Damascus is deaf to the pleas of opposition factions, it cannot entirely ignore its most crucial benefactor. Be that as it may, there is little indication that the Government of Syria has softened its stance, despite Moscow’s prodding or the intensification of the U.S. “maximum pressure” campaign. On the contrary, Jeffery added: “I have seen no indication that the Assad regime has given up its dream of a military victory beginning with Idleb.”

2. Attack targets Russian-Turkish patrol as military tensions persist

Jabal Al-Zawiya, Idleb governorate: On 24 August, local media sources reported that a joint Turkish-Russian patrol was attacked on the M4. Shortly afterward, a group calling itself the Khattab Al-Shishani Brigade claimed responsibility for ambushing the patrol, the third attack on such patrols since 14 July. Meanwhile, Russian airstrikes intensified on towns and communities in northwest Idleb, providing aerial cover for Government of Syria forces attempting to advance into Jabal Al-Zawiya, the most prominent enclave of opposition-held territory south of the M4 in northwest Syria. Reports indicate that heavy fighting took place between the Government of Syria forces and Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) in southern Idleb. Of note, the incidents followed a speech in which President Bashar Al-Assad insisted on the necessity of “liberating the rest of the occupied land” — an apparent reference to the recent escalation in Idleb.

No quiet on the northern front

Although tensions in southern Idleb and Jabal Al-Zawyia have persisted over the past week, it is unlikely that a large-scale Government of Syria military offensive into northwest Syria will materialize in the foreseeable future. In recent weeks, media sources have increasingly reported that a “full-fledged” offensive in Idleb may be looming. However unlikely a large-scale military operation is in actual fact, a limited offensive initiated by the Government of Syria across southern Idleb remains possible, given the patterns of deployment, the respective strategic capabilities of the actors involved, and the developments taking place in the region. Indeed, the purpose of the recent military escalation is likely to settle parts of southern Idleb and establish clearer territorial lines for Turkey, Russia, Syria, and the hodgepodge of local armed groups, the most nettlesome of which is HTS. For instance, the Turkish military posts established in the region (see: Syria Update 17 August) are likely to serve as defense parameters for the Government of Turkey that delineate its areas of control in northwestern Syria. As such, the likelihood of a limited offensive into southern Idleb against HTS is not implausible, as it would also establish clearer parameters for the Russian and Syrian forces, while driving HTS further into northwest Syria, to Turkish-controlled areas behind frontlines that are seemingly hardening.

3. Gas pipeline explosion knocks out Rural Damascus electricity

Dhameer and Adra, Rural Damascus governorate: On 24 August, media sources reported that an explosion occurred in the Arab Gas Pipeline between Dhameer and Adra in the Rural Damascus countryside. The Government of Syria oil minister, Ali Ghanem, claimed that the explosion resulted from a terrorist attack. To date, no actor or group has claimed responsibility for the incident, although the Government of Syria is adamant in its claim that the incident is an act of sabotage to undermine Syria’s stability and fuel a state of chaos, economic turmoil, and worsen already dismal living conditions. According to media reports, all three Syrian power stations that connect to the 1,200-kilometer pipeline – Nasiriyah, Deir Ali, and Tishreen – went offline due to the incident, causing widespread power outages in the countryside surrounding the Syrian capital. Local sources indicate that after the explosion, power in some parts of Rural Damascus was cut for approximately 30 hours, although it is not clear if this was the case throughout the affected area. Even after the issue was resolved and baseline functionality was restored, power in many areas of the governorate remained limited to six hours a day.

Lights out

There is little evidence to suggest the explosion was the result of deliberate sabotage. Certainly, the Arab Gas Pipeline has been targeted on several occasions throughout the conflict, including by opposition forces seeking to hobble services in Government-held areas. However, such an attack is unlikely under present conflict circumstances, and the generic claims of “terrorist” sabotage by the Government should be viewed with skepticism. More important is that the incident draws attention to Syria’s derelict services infrastructure. In particular, it highlights the wobbly power system and the central government’s inability to stabilize the electrical grid, let alone improve its capacity to provide basic services. In southern and central Syria, 33 percent of Syrians reported that electricity was a priority need, as of June 2020, according to a survey by UN and local implementing partners, making electricity one of the most under-performing sectors in the country.

The negative prospects for services and electricity, in particular, will only worsen as time passes. The absence of needed maintenance will have near- and long-term consequences. System failures will become more common over time, and ordinary Syrians will continue to feel the pinch from persistently diminished service capacity. In the long-term, systemic neglect will aggravate already dismal economic conditions by contributing to Syria’s nearly total deindustrialization, thus compounding the immense livelihoods challenges that already exist. It is anticipated that productive sectors of the national economy will continue to go offline.

Private initiatives to reverse Syria’s de-electrification have failed. Although multiple deals have been signed, including one to create an integrated Iranian-Iraqi-Syrian electrical power system, they have borne no fruit, likely due to the involved states’ strained budgets and the diminished prospect of returns for investors. As a result, it is probable that a “generator mafia” will cement its position in Syria in the long term, as seen in neighboring Lebanon. For the international donor-funded Syria response, these conditions will conspire to make rehabilitating Syria’s shambolic infrastructure more costly and more complex politically. Livelihoods, DDR, and other challenges will bedevil aid actors for the foreseeable future.

4. Arnous forms new government

Damascus: On 25 August, Bashar Al-Assad issued Decree No. 210 of 2020, assigning Prime Minister Hussein Arnous the task of forming a government. On 30 August, Syrian state media announced that a new government had been formed. The moves follow recent parliamentary elections, and they come as the Syrian Government revealed a nationwide military reassignment, with particular changes in As-Sweida governorate, where fierce anti-Government demonstrations broke out only months ago.

Reshuffling the deck

Implicit in Arnous’s mandate is the need to form a government capable of addressing popular economic demands without challenging the delicate status quo. It is important to note that changes in government and security services are not uncommon in Syria. Such shifts often reflect the intention of power brokers to make public changes to placate the street while moving behind the scenes to reassert control over state apparatuses, as well as client networks and systems of patronage. As such, new governments in Syria introduce new faces to public office, but policies seldom change, and never without direction from the top. The newly formed government is highly unlikely to break this mold. Arnous is himself emblematic of this paradigm, having won his post on 15 June after the dismissal of Imad Khamis, who was a sacrificial lamb as Syria plunged into the most volatile period of its ongoing economic crisis.

The popular tensions stoked by this crisis were highlighted nowhere more poignantly than in As-Sweida. Reassignments within the military and security apparatus, particularly those taking place in As-Sweida, likely reflect Damascus’s intent to redefine the public face of its approach to the restive area. The demonstrations in Sweida city were particularly rattling to Damascus, as they were characterized by heavy anti-Government sentiment. Protestors chanted anti-Government slogans and engaged with local news outlets to openly express their anger at the authorities’ mismanagement of the economic situation. These protests resulted in several arrests, which led to an escalation between the local armed groups and the Syrian authorities. While the involved parties managed to de-escalate the tensions, it is no secret that the Druze armed factions and the Syrian Government have always had a precarious relationship. At present, it remains unclear how and if the assignment of new actors to the police department and the criminal security branch in As-Sweida governorate will alter the current dynamics. However, it is an indication that Damascus has not lost sight of the area and its potential capacity for dissent.

5. Desperate, Damascus issues new wheat tender aimed at the EU

Damascus: On 26 August, media sources reported that the Syrian Grain Establishment had submitted a new tender for wheat. Reportedly, a previous tender for 200,000 tons of wheat from Russia in July has been extended until 14 September. It also submitted another tender for an additional 200,000 tons of wheat with a deadline for 9 September, ostensibly hoping that an EU supplier would fulfil it. Reportedly, this marks the first time in several years that Syria has turned to the EU for wheat, as the Black Sea region and Russia have been the Government of Syria’s go-to for almost all of its wheat imports since the onset of the conflict.

A friend without seed is a friend in need

The Government of Syria has several weak points, vis-a-vis grain supply. The most obvious is the loss of territory — and therefore, domestically produced wheat — to rival actors, most notably the Self-Administration (see: Syria Update 8 June). Also critical are Syria’s diplomatic isolation and deepening financial crisis. A lack of foreign currency reserves has impinged upon access to the hard currency needed to access foreign markets. The cataclysmic blast in Beirut on 4 August is a further, unwelcome shock to the import and financial systems that have served as Syria’s de facto gateway to the outside world, including for wheat purchases.

The extension of the July wheat tender is probable evidence of the Government of Syria’s distress. Russia has pledged wheat aid to Syria. It is not clear whether more than 25,000 tons has arrived, out of a reported 100,000 tons promised. Notably, Russia had previously suspended wheat exports amid the coronavirus pandemic. As such, Russia’s apparent stinginess is likely driven by protectionist tendencies, yet it is clear that Moscow is hesitant to dip into its abundant wheat resources or leave cash on the table to fill bellies in Damascus. While this reality may be a driver of Syria’s resort to Europe for wheat, it is also likely that Damascus is testing the waters in hopes that Europe will risk U.S. wrath to shore up wheat silos in Government of Syria-held areas. Already, more than 90 percent of Syrians are impoverished, and 77 percent of Syrian households report that food is among their top three priorities. As economic conditions worsen, food security concerns will continue to rise (see: Syria Update 22 June).

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.

Syria’s Second 2020 Bond Issue Oversubscribed

What Does It Say? The Central Bank of Syria’s treasury bonds auction on 10 August raised more capital than anticipated, although fewer banks participated than for any bond issued since 2010.

Reading Between the Lines: Syria is in a detrimental downward economic spiral that is only getting worse. Opening the bond to depositors was likely intended to make up for the shortfall of the previous bond, issued earlier this year. That some banks sat on the sidelines evinces the widespread nature of doubt in the state’s ability to repay the bonds in the future.

Source: The Syria Report (paywall)

Language: English

Date: 26 August 2020

Transformative justice and gender in HLP rights 

What Does It Say? Many housing, law, and property (HLP) laws are discriminatory towards women, which has caused them to “voluntarily” give up their ownership rights to male relatives.

Reading Between the Lines: The gendered dimension to the laws lays out numerous potential pitfalls for widows and women property owners. These realities are often overlooked by aid programming that pays lip service to gender without integrating an operationalized strategy to mitigate gendered impacts.

Source: Enab Baladi

Language: Arabic

Date: 27 August 2020

I work as a medic in Syria, where an unreported Covid-19 crisis is unfolding

What Does It Say? An unnamed medic writes that the COVID-19 pandemic in Syria is far more grave than the Government of Syria is reporting. Hospitals are running out of equipment, including body bags for those who have died, and official figures are believed to underrepresent cases and death tolls.

Reading Between the Lines: As Syria’s COVID-19 response founders, healthcare workers are proving to be important whistleblowers speaking truth to power as caseload far exceeds Government statistics.

Source:The Guardian

Language: English

Date: 24 August 2020

The Effects of the Rafik Hariri Assassination Verdict On the Syrian Regime and Its Allies

What Does It Say? The results of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), set up in the Hague to investigate the assassinaton of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri in 2005, are likely to have lasting effects on Hezbollah’s stance in Lebanon and the Government of Syria’s relationship with many Lebanese political parties.

Reading Between the Lines: Syria has long been peceveid as culpable in the assassination, a view that is evident in the massive protests that took place in the wake of Hariri’s killing, in which demonstrators demanded Syria leave Lebanon. Although the verdict implicated Hezbollah, a close ally of Damascus, the STL failed to pin blame on the organization. In either case, the tribunal stated nothing that was not already conventional wisdom.

Source: Jusoor for Studies

Language: English

Date: 24 August 2020

Demographic change in Syria during the rule of the Assad family

What Does It Say? Syria is an ethnic patchwork, which the former leader Hafez Al-Assad’s managed with his iron fist, preserving an imbalance order predicated on conflict-avoidance, the capture of minority support, and the fear of sectarianism. However, Bashar Al-Assad’s rule saw policies and mismanagement that failed to maintain that order, which fueled dissent and broke down the carefully managed system.

Reading Between the Lines: Syria has seen multiple periods in which governance has been predicated on the management of ethnic minorities and policies akin to demographic change. The conflict has broken open the floodgates in this respect, and localized armed conflict has produced ethnic violence, displacements, and population transfers on a large scale.

Source: Harmoon Center for Contemporary Studies

Language: Arabic

Date: 28 August 2020

Assad tends to his base by making amends with the Makhloufs

What Does It Say? Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad traveled to Rami Makhlouf’s ancestral home to meet with the Makhlouf family to reconcile their differences following the fallout with his cousin, a now-disgraced businessman.

Reading Between the Lines: The Syrian regime has been walking a fine line by publicly demoting and humiliating Makhlouf. Although Al-Assad’s power is immense, it is not absolute, and appeasing the wealthy Makhlouf family and affirming ties to a traditional power base of the Syrian regime is key to maintaining a grip on power.

Source: Middle East Institute

Language: English

Date: 26 August 2020

The Lure of Regional Hegemony

What Does It Say? Under Erdogan, Turkey is carrying out its strategy to become a regional powerhouse in the Middle East and Africa, with increasingly bellicose actions in eastern Mediterranean adding to a long list of regional conflagrations where Turkey has sought to tip the balance in its favor.

Reading Between the Lines: Turkey’s ambitions are likely to have lasting and significant implications for the region, although there can be little doubt that Turkey’s unchecked adventurism in Syria was a pivotal moment in its regional rise.

Source: Carnegie

Language: English

Date: 27 July 2020

Bashar al Assad’s social media

What Does It Say? In an address to the newly elected Syrian Parliament, Bashar Al-Assad left the chamber as his blood pressure reportedly dropped. Before news could get out, security actors swept through attendees’ phones to ensure no one could leak the information.

Reading Between the Lines: In addition to its potential implications for Al-Assad’s health, the incident demonstrates the Government of Syria’s obsession with controlling the narrative. The sweep is also evidence that as individuals move closer to power, they find themselves with less room to maneuver independently, not more.

Source: TRT World

Language: English

Date: 17 August 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.