Syria Digest: December 2, 2020

(7 minute read)

Syria in the Nation's Capital

Austin Tice: On Thursday, a resolution (HRES 17) that calls on the United States to take steps to secure the release of Austin Tice, an American citizen who went missing after being detained at a checkpoint in Damascus in August 2012, is scheduled to be taken up by the House of Representatives. Debra and Marc Tice in a recent appearance on Fox News “America’s Newsroom” once again pleaded to President Trump to take all steps necessary to free their son. They admitted it is unclear how the White House is reacting to their plea because it is so difficult to know exactly what the president is briefed on and his reaction to the information. 

War Crimes Legislation: Lawmakers are expected this week to take up a bill to strengthen the Department of State’s Rewards for Justice program. The legislation (HR 1819) expands the war crimes provision of the program to include information leading to prosecutions in national courts, not just for specific domestic tribunals and the International Criminal Court. First introduced by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) in 2017, the House passed the bill by a vote of 407 to 0.  

ISIS Campaign: Deputy Commander of the global coalition against ISIS Maj. Gen. Kevin Copsey participated in a Middle East Institute webinar this week to provide the state of play of operations in Syria and Iraq. Declaring the anti-ISIS mission in the twilight of the campaign, Copsey stated that the focus moving forward is dealing with the group’s finances and global messaging. There is concern about the Euphrates River valley in terms of ISIS efforts to exploit local tribes and using its messaging with individuals in detention camps to create a future ISIS 2.0. Copsey admitted coalition forces do not have access to many detention centers but are providing the Syrian Democratic Forces non-lethal assistance, including the expansion of two prisons in Hasaka.

Syria at the UN and Abroad

Constitutional Committee: Member of the small body of the Syria Constitutional Committee has convened in Geneva. Talks got underway on November 30 and will continue through Friday. UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen at a press conference previewed that the discussions would be a continuation of issues raised at the last round of negotiations in August. Pedersen expressed hope the talks are the beginning of establishing trust among the participants that open a discussion on other issues impacting the Syrian conflict. Pedersen also announced the small body will reconvene in January in Geneva for the next round of discussions. 

UNSC Briefing: In advance of the briefing, Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Envoy for Syria Khawla Matar and Ramesh Rajasingham, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator briefed the UN Security Council. Rajasingham’s prepared remarks estimate that three million Syrians across the country are in need of access to basic food and housing for the winter season. He estimated 9.3 million people in Syria are food insecure – an increase of 1.4 million than in 2019. Among this group, 1 million of them are deemed severely food insecure and Rajasingham expects this number to increase.  

Syrian Intelligence Official in Austria: A former senior Syrian intelligence official has been living in Austria for nearly the past five years after being granted asylum. In an exclusive report, The Daily Telegraph reported Brigadier General Khaled al-Halabi, who served as chief of Syrian intelligence in Raqqa from 2009 until 2013, first applied for asylum in France with the assistance of French intelligence in 2014. When French authorities denied Halabi on grounds he could have committed criminal acts, he was able to flee to Austria with the assistance of Israeli Mossad agents who were in touch with Austrian intelligence services.

Syria on the Ground

SDC Political Reforms: A Kurdish publication published a report that the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) has announced forthcoming actions that were the product of a series of talks across northeastern Syria. The recommendations totaled 17 reforms that will impact policy conducted by both SDC and the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria. Among the changes agreed to include: fighting smuggling, controlling borders and crossings, and reviewing taxes and customs fees; establishing a strategic economic development plan, facilitating investment, giving priority to local investment, and strengthening cohesion between religious and ethnic groups to ward off internecine conflict 

Israel Preps for Proxy Attacks: Israeli military officials have been instructed to prepare for military contingencies in response to possible U.S. military action against Iran. While not connected to President Trump’s recent decision to ask for military options on Iran’s nuclear facilities, Israeli officials told Axios now is “a very sensitive period” before the U.S. presidential inauguration. The Israeli Defense Forces are preparing for a potential attack from Iranian-backed proxies in Syria and Lebanon. In the meantime, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan recently sent a written request to the President of the UN Security Council demanding a rollback of Iran from Syria.   

IRGC Commander Killed: Reuters could not confirm his identity but reported that an airstrike killed a commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. The airstrike was carried out when a weapons shipment from Iraq crossed the border into Syria. In the course of the attack three other people were confirmed killed in the attack according to Iraqi and local militia officials. 

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. 

Giving Tuesday: For this year’s Giving Tuesday, the Syrian American Council’s executive director Suzanne Meriden is raising money on the occasion of her birthday to increase the impact of the organization's policy and advocacy work in pursuit of a free Syria. The COVID-19 crisis has touched all our lives and has caused an unprecedented need for communities and nonprofits around the world. For this year’s Giving Tuesday, consider the Syrian American Council as the recipient of your donations. As a Syrian-led organization focused on mobilizing the grassroots community, support is critical to ensure we are well-positioned to continue elevating the voice of the people of Syria to policymakers. Donate on this day of global giving and unity here.

Pharmacy Opens In Rukban Camp: A pharmacy has opened in Rukban camp in southern Syria. The free of charge pharmacy is run by the Syrian Emergency Task Force and will distribute supplies based on need. In addition to the nurses in the camp, the pharmacy will facilitate telemedicine consultations. Due to obstruction by Russia and Assad, the camp has not received UN aid deliveries since September 2019. The pharmacy will prioritize the distribution of medications and supplies for children and babies. There is also an effort by Dr. Zaher Sahloul of MedGlobal to re-open a clinic on the Jordanian side of the border, and a proposal has been submitted to the State Department to have MedGlobal run the clinic.


The unexpected journey of Syrian refugees in French Guiana”: Alicia Medina writes for Syria Direct on the hundreds of Syrian refugees who have flown to Latin American in an attempt to cross to French Guiana and eventually reach the European continent.

On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women: Ninth Annual Report on Violations against Females in Syria”: The Syrian Network for Human Rights has published its ninth annual report on the state of human rights for women in Syria, concluding that women are subject to the worst types of violations.

Charging the ‘Beatles’: Inside the case against IS militants”: Eric Tucker delves into the “Beatles” case for the AP and the long road to justice.

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