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Syria Digest: September 23, 2020

(7 minute read)

Syria in the Nation's Capital

ISIS Detainee Charged: The U.S. is pursuing criminal charges against a naturalized American citizen who traveled to Syria to fight for ISIS. Federal prosecutors charged Kosovo-born Lirim Sylejman on terrorism charges, where according to the indictment, from November 2015 through February 2019, he provided material support and received training from ISIS. Sylejman was captured by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and recently transferred into FBI custody. While under detention by the SDF, he told CBS News he was unrepentant as to his actions. 

Hezbollah Sanctions: Last week, the U.S. imposed sanctions on a number of Lebanese companies officials believed to have ties to Hezbollah. The Department of State announced designations for Arch Consulting and Meamar Construction, and their overseer Sultan Khalifa As’ad who the U.S. considers a Hezbollah official. The announcement alleges Hezbollah worked with a former Lebanese government official to ensure that the two companies won millions in government contacts, where portions of the funding were directed to Hezbollah’s Executive Committee. 

Syria at the UN and Abroad

Dutch Suit Against Syria: Spurred by Russian vetoes blocking the referral of human rights violations to the International Criminal Court, the Netherlands is seeking legal action against Syria over the Assad regime's human rights violations under international law. The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced a note was issued to the Syrian Government holding it responsible for torture under the UN Convention against torture. The note requested the two countries enter into negotiations to establish a dispute settlement. If Syria refuses to cooperate, the Netherlands would consider submitting the case to arbitration; if that fails the case would be submitted to the International Court of Justice.  

COVID-19 in Refugee Camps: The global pandemic of COVID-19 has now put at risk the Syrian refugee population in Jordan. ACAPS, an NGO that monitors humanitarian crises, reported that Jordanian officials earlier this month confirmed two cases of the virus in the Azraq refugee camp and three additional cases in the Zaatari refugee camp. ACAPS noted that due to government policies on movement restrictions and curfews related to COVID-19, refugees have limited access to supplies, including healthcare. 

Jordan Deports Refugees: Human rights organizations are condemning Jordan over the forcible removal of dozens of refugees out of the country to the Rukban IDP camp. A member of one of the councils administrating the camp told The New Humanitarian it was estimated that 39 people were ejected from Jordan in the past two and a half months. Amnesty International documented that 19 civilians were sent to Rukban in August. Forced eviction was done on the basis that these individuals or members of their families were accused of committing crimes. These incidents are known to the United Nations, and the UN High Commission on Refugees has held meetings with Jordanian officials on non-refoulement of refugees.    

Syria on the Ground

Idlib Deal?: Reports have surfaced that Turkey and Russia may have reached an agreement that will allow pro-regime forces to launch an offensive to seize territory to secure the M4 highway in Idlib. The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) analyzed that Turkey earlier this month had pulled back opposition fighters from southern Idlib towns in the Jabal Zawiya area. ISW concluded that pro-regime forces will resume their campaign to retake greater Idlib in the coming weeks if Turkish forces withdraw from portions of Idlib Province as part of a negotiated agreement with Russia. ISW found that any agreement would have Turkey agreeing to pull its forces back to the M4 highway security corridor, effectively ceding everything south of the M4 road to the Assad regime.  

US Sends Troops into Syria: The response to a Russian assault on an American convoy patrolling eastern Syria is a heightened military presence on the ground. Pentagon officials confirmed that additional forces were deployed into eastern Syria. In a statement, the U.S Central Command announced they have increased the frequency of U.S. fighter patrols over U.S. forces and deployed Bradley Fighting Vehicles. The Air Force Times was told by an Inherent Resolve mission spokesman, “The mechanized infantry assets will help ensure the force protection of coalition forces in an increasingly complex operating environment in northeast Syria.” The New York Times reported that it amounted to an additional 100 troops and extra aircraft.  

Syrian-Syrian Talks: The Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) has undertaken a series of meetings with local officials in northern and eastern Syria. A pro-Kurdish publication provided extensive notes of the initial meeting between the SDC and Arab tribal leaders. Both sides laid out stark positions regarding hold negotiations with Damascus and the role of Russia, and they discussed governance issues by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria. This came within the backdrop of Special Envoy for Syria Joel Rayburn and U.S. Special Representative for Syria James Jeffrey meeting with senior Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) leaders, and members of the Kurdish National Council. Initial reports say that the political arm of the SDF agreed to a U.S proposal for equal power-sharing. Additional meetings are scheduled to take place into October. 

Humanitarian Work and Civil Society in Syria

We are proud to be highlighting the work of humanitarian and civil society groups both outside and within Syria that are striving for a free Syria. 

Refugee Scholarships: A new set of EDU-Syria/EDU-Jordan program fully-funded scholarships was announced for vulnerable Jordanian and Syrian refugee youth for the upcoming 2020/2021 academic year. The EDU-Syria/EDU-Jordan program is managed by the German Jordanian University and funded by the European Union through the EU Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis and the EU Madad Fund. It is led by the German Jordanian University in partnership with multiple institutions in order to support higher education, vocational education, technical training and special entrepreneurial training, labor market-oriented courses, and high school summer programs. To date, they have awarded 1,800 scholarships with the end goal of awarding 3,000 scholarships.

Analysis

857 Medical Personnel Killed and 3,353 Others Arrested and Disappeared Since March 2011, Nearly 85% by the Syrian Regime”: The Syrian Network For Human Rights has published a new report regarding the targeting of medical personnel and facilities by the Syrian regime and its Russian and Iranian allies, which has worsened the COVID-19 situation in Syria.

The South Syria Deal: Two Years Later”: Ibrahim Hamidi writes for the Center For Global Policy on the situation in southern Syria in the two years following the “South Syria Deal”, concluding that the region remains “violent and insecure” and the southern city of Daraa is largely empty.

The Gordian knot of Kurdish unity talks in Syria”: The latest for MENASource by the Atlantic Council by Rena Netjes and Lars Hauch covers the unity talks between the Kurdish National Council, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), and allied Kurdish parties.

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