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Syria Today – 10.3 Billions Pledged in Brussels in Aid; Arabs Lobby EU to Normalize with Assad; F-22s Deployed

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
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Syria Today – 10.3 Billions Pledged in Brussels in Aid; Arabs Lobby EU to Normalize with Assad; F-22s Deployed

During an annual conference hosted by the European Union in Brussels, 57 nations and 30 international organizations made funding pledges amounting to $10.3 billion. However, these pledges fell short by $800 million of the United Nations’ humanitarian appeal. In parallel, reports emerged about Saudi Arabia and the UAE pressuring European nations to reinstate diplomatic relations with Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Simultaneously, the United States is deploying F-22 fighter jets to Syria as a response to increased harassment by Russia towards U.S. forces in the region.

Donor nations scramble to find billions of dollars of funding for Syrian aid

International donors Thursday committed $10.3 billion in aid for millions of Syrians battered by war, poverty, and hunger. The Associated Press reported that the funding pledges by 57 nations and 30 international organizations at an annual European Union-hosted conference in Brussels for Syria fell about $800 million short of a United Nations humanitarian appeal.

Funding from the conference will help provide aid to Syrians in the war-torn country and to some 5.7 million Syrian refugees living in neighbouring countries, particularly Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

Syria’s uprising-turned-conflict, now in its thirteenth year, has killed nearly half a million people and displaced half of its prewar population of 23 million.

US announces $920 mln 

The United States announced $920 million in additional humanitarian assistance for Syria during an aid conference in Brussels on Thursday, the State Department said.

The announcement brings the total US humanitarian assistance to Syria and the region this year to $1.1 billion, and almost $16.9 billion since the start of the country’s war, the department said in a statement.

Germany pledges 1 billion euros 

The German government said on Thursday it would allocate 1.05 billion euros to help the refugee crisis in Syria and the region.

“It would be a fatal mistake to forget the Syrian crisis now,” Germany’s Development Minister Svenja Schulze said at a conference on Syria in Brussels.

Germany’s Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development said it supports steps taken by Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, which have accepted 5.6 million Syrian refugees.

NGOs not happy

But the NGOs attending the meeting have criticized the European Union’s conference on Syria, which was held in Brussels between June 14-15, for neglecting northeast Syria and focusing unduly on some aggressors over others. It was the seventh conference organized by the EU under the banner of ‘Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region’.

According to Izzaddin Saleh, Director-General of the Synergy Association for Victims, a northeast Syria-based NGO, the EU invited 14 other organizations from the region to participate in the conference, “but most were not able to attend because the EU did not provide the needed logistical support to issue visas to enter Belgium or EU countries,” he said in a statement to North Press.

He added that Turkey’s role as an aggressor was not mentioned during the conference. Bassam al-Ahmad, Director-General for Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ), a documentation center, who also attended the Brussels conference, made similar remarks to North Press. “There was a clear marginalization of every issue related to northeast Syria. They did not talk about security issues, Turkey’s attacks, water, agriculture, or [other] challenges. This exclusion was very visible. Their main problem is that they show themselves as if they work for all of Syria and Syrians, which is not true,” he explained.

One point of contention was the discussions surrounding the humanitarian response to the February earthquake in northwest Syria. According to al-Ahmed, the conference  neglected to talk about “the perspective of the people of Afrin or about the crimes, challenges, violations of property rights, discrimination, appropriation.” On June 12, STJ released a report detailing crimes committed against civilians and the systematic theft of earthquake relief materials by Turkish-backed forces in Afrin.

The NGO representatives say that organizers present a lopsided view of the Syrian conflict. “There was a session about justice where two girls talked well about the violations of the Syrian regime,” al-Ahmed details. “The general view of the session was the anti-Syrian regime. Why can victims of the Syrian regime have the right to represent themselves and speak but other victims do not have the right to speak on this platform about their suffering … It is not possible that the EU was not able to invite a victim from among thousands of victims of ISIS or ‘Operation Peace Spring’,” al-Ahmed said, referring to Turkey’s 2019 invasion of northern Syria.

Lebanon 

The Lebanese caretaker Foreign Minister, Abdallah Bou Habib said Thursday, June 15, that Lebanon is in need of more aid so that the country does “not turn into a massive refugee camp in the Mediterranean.”

“Lebanon is facing political and economic issues that are enlarged by the presence of Syrian refugees in Lebanon despite the donor countries’ support to Lebanon,” Bou Habib added.

“There are invisible costs incurred by Lebanon due to their presence. Our economy is already burdened by diverting resources to support Syrian refugees in Lebanon,” he said. Lebanon’s economy has been in a death spiral over the past year, as its currency has lost about 90% of its value compared to the dollar.

“The international community’s support is inadequate and we call for greater support from donor countries, the international community, and the European Union,” Bou Habib demanded at a EU conference Syria held in Brussels today.

Saudis, UAE Lobby Europeans to Restore Ties With Syria’s Assad

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been exerting pressure on European nations to restore diplomatic relations with Bashar al-Assad’s regime and ease the sanctions imposed on Syria, according to sources cited by Bloomberg

The move comes after al-Assad’s recent reinstatement in the Arab League, a significant victory for the Syrian leader who has faced extensive US and European sanctions due to his actions during the Syrian war.

Officials from Saudi Arabia and the UAE have reportedly been engaging with their counterparts in the European Union for several months, arguing that easing sanctions and taking diplomatic steps would be essential in resolving the 12-year-long conflict and revitalizing Syria’s struggling economy. They claim that such actions could encourage the return of Syrian refugees, thereby alleviating pressure on neighbouring countries like Lebanon and Jordan. However, it should be noted that UN opinion polls indicate that a majority of Syrians do not desire to return to their home country.

Prominent EU nations such as France and Germany have rejected the idea of restoring relations with Syria, stating that it would not address the root causes of the war and would be seen as a reward for a regime accused of committing atrocities against its own people. Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy coordinator, emphasized that any change in policy would depend on al-Assad’s implementation of political reforms and adherence to UN resolutions. The United States also supports this stance and recently expressed its support for the Netherlands and Canada in their legal proceedings against the Syrian government at the International Court of Justice, citing well-documented abuses.

The recent shift in Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy, characterized by a more assertive approach, has reshaped power dynamics in the Middle East. The kingdom has reconciled with Iran, its former arch-enemy, with the help of Chinese mediation, and has worked towards de-escalating the Yemen conflict. Over the past decade, both Saudi Arabia and the UAE had supported rebel and opposition groups seeking to overthrow Assad. However, their positions have changed as Assad consolidates his power, partly due to military aid from Russia and Iran. The UAE reopened its embassy in Damascus in 2018, while Saudi Arabia restored relations this year.

One motivation behind Saudi Arabia’s recent approach is reportedly its desire to curb the smuggling of Captagon, a drug contributing to addiction problems in some Gulf countries. Syrian groups have ramped up amphetamine production and export activities to generate foreign currency for the cash-strapped government and finance its military operations.

While the pressure from Saudi Arabia and the UAE continues, European nations like France and Germany remain steadfast in their opposition to restoring relations with the Syrian regime, insisting on political reforms and adherence to international resolutions as prerequisites for any change in policy.

F-22s will not deter Russia in Syria — their shows of force will

The United States is deploying F-22 fighter jets to Syria in response to escalating harassment by Russia towards U.S. forces in the region. 

The Washington Examiner argues that the objective of Russia’s actions is twofold: to push the U.S. out of Syria, which has been a long-standing Russian goal, and to gain favour with Beijing by pressuring the U.S. military. The F-22 is a highly advanced stealth fighter aircraft and is considered superior in air superiority capabilities compared to the F-35.

The decision to deploy the F-22s is seen as sensible due to the recent experiences of the 94th Fighter Squadron, which has been stationed in Poland and Estonia to deter Russian aggression against NATO’s eastern flank. The squadron also has prior deployment experience in Syria from 2018, providing them with knowledge of Russian tactics and capabilities.

The threat posed by Russia to U.S. forces in Syria is significant, with instances of Russian fighter jets jamming U.S. aircraft, engaging in aggressive maneuvers, and flying over U.S. ground forces with air-to-ground munitions. There have also been past incidents, such as the attempted attack by the Russian Wagner Group on American service personnel in 2018, which were only prevented by U.S. airstrikes.

However, simply deploying F-22s alone might not intimidate the Russians. While it may frustrate Russian radar operators and consume their aviation fuel, the key is to deter Russian threats against U.S. forces. To achieve this, the F-22s must engage in dominant maneuvering and jamming when faced with aggressive Russian actions. They should also overfly Russian ground forces with visible ground-to-air munitions if necessary. It is crucial to demonstrate to the Russians that the U.S. has the authority and resolve to counter any threats. The incident in which a U.S. Navy F-18 downed a Syrian air force jet threatening allied ground forces in 2018 serves as an example of such actions.

Unfortunately, the outlet laments, the Biden administration has shown a concerning tendency to retreat in the face of excessive Russian aggression. This retreat has been evident in actions such as incentivizing Russia to hold Americans as hostages and ordering U.S. drones to retreat from international airspace following the downing of a drone by Russia over the Black Sea. This perceived weakness is seen as a dangerous message to send to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Turkey Drone Strikes Kill 16 in Syria: Monitor

Turkey has escalated drone attacks on Kurdish-held regions of north and northeast Syria this week, killing 16 people including one civilian in a single day, a war monitor said Thursday.

AFP reported that the strikes mostly targeted Kurdish-held Tal Rifaat and Manbij in the country’s north near the Turkish border, areas Ankara has repeatedly threatened to attack.

“Turkey has significantly escalated its drone strikes since the start of the week,” with 16 killed on Wednesday alone, said Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.

The Turkish defence ministry meanwhile said its forces had “destroyed terrorist targets” and “neutralized 16 terrorists”, referring to Kurdish-led fighters.

Four fighters from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were killed when “a Turkish drone targeted a military vehicle” in Hasakeh province, which is run by a semi-autonomous Kurdish administration, the Britain-based Observatory said.

Turkish drone strikes in northern Syria’s Aleppo province killed six fighters from the Manbij Military Council, which is affiliated with the SDF, according to a statement from the council.

Four were killed as they were trying to transport children who were wounded in a ground attack to hospital, the Observatory said.

One civilian working for the Kurdish administration was also killed in a strike in the Manbij area, added the Observatory, which relies on a wide network of sources on the ground in Syria.

In the mostly Kurdish-held Tal Rifaat enclave, five Syrian soldiers died following “a Turkish drone strike on a regime military position”, according to the war monitor.

The enclave has Turkish-controlled areas to its north and regime-held territory to its south.

Economic recovery should be a priority for the Syrian government

Scientist and scholar Majid Raizade wrote an op-ed for Arab News, in which he argued that one of the most pressing issues for the Syrian government to focus on is leading the nation into a sustainable economic recovery.

The Syrian government faces the urgent task of leading the nation towards sustainable economic recovery, Rafizade wrote.

He argues that the country has been grappling with a severe economic crisis caused by factors such as prolonged internal conflict, which has damaged infrastructure and disrupted production. The political instability and uncertainty have deterred both domestic and foreign investments. 

The economic situations in neighbouring countries like Lebanon and Turkey have also had an impact on Syria. Syria’s transition from being a net crude oil exporter to an importer has resulted in significant financial losses. These issues have led to the devaluation of the currency and skyrocketing inflation, severely affecting Syrians’ purchasing power and pushing more people below the poverty line.

To address these challenges, the columnist adds, the Syrian government needs to implement structural changes and reintegrate into the global financial system. Reconstruction efforts, attracting foreign investments, addressing economic mismanagement, corruption, and promoting a robust private market are essential for economic improvement. 

He concludes that safety nets and social protection mechanisms should be established to assist the population in need. The government must prioritize economic recovery to alleviate the hardships faced by ordinary Syrians and foster prosperity.

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