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Syria Today – 16 Syrians Die in Tragic Drowning; Civil Society Group Meets in Paris; Turkish Government Sworn In

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – 16 Syrians Die in Tragic Drowning; Civil Society Group Meets in Paris; Turkish Government Sworn In

On June 4th, a tragic incident occurred off the Algerian coast as a boat, transporting approximately 25 migrants, the majority of whom hailed from the city of Kobani, capsized. Among the passengers were women and children. Concurrently, in the French capital, representatives from approximately 150 Syrian civil society organizations convened on Tuesday to deliberate on their efforts within the war-ravaged Syria. Simultaneously, concerns were voiced regarding Turkey’s approach to Syria following Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s announcement of his newly-formed government, which held its inaugural meeting on Tuesday.

16 Syrians, most from Kobani, drown off Algerian coast

North Press obtained the names of some victims of a boat carrying migrants, most of whom hail from the city of Kobani, in northern Syria, off the Algerian coast.

On June 4th, a boat carrying about 25 migrants, most of whom are from the city of Kobani, including women and children, sank off the Algerian coast, while they attempted to reach the Spanish shores.

The boat set off from the city of al-Arhat, in the Algerian state of Tipaza, towards Spain. Hours later, the boat reportedly sunk.

One child from Kobani survived among the passengers of the boat.

Activists and the families of the victims said that among the victims were Masoud Mustafa Muhammad, 34, and his wife Ola Abdulrrazaq, 23, as well as their daughter Larin Muhammad, 4. They were from Kobani.

The bodies of Masoud and his wife were recovered and transferred to a hospital in Algeria, while the daughter’s body is still missing, according to relatives.

Local sources told North Press that among the missing are Saleh Youssef, 17, Yasmin Jawdat Saadi, Halima Muhammad Mustafa, the minor Faraman Adib Dali and his mother, Mahmoud Kar’o Khalil, Amira Muhammad Habash, and Ahmad Kiko. All of them hail from Kobani.

Shiyar Khalil, his wife Jamila Muhammad Ali, and their two children, Azaz and Ayaz, who are from the city of Afrin, northwest Syria, are also among the missing, according to the sources.

US losing pretexts for occupying Eastern Syria

Columnist Osama Al-Sharif wrote for Saudi Arab News an op-ed in which he argues that the US military presence in eastern Syria has shifted from primarily combating Daesh to countering Iran’s influence in the region, leading to a complex geopolitical situation with conflicting agendas and strained relationships with key actors such as the Syrian Kurds and Turkey.

The article discusses the changing dynamics in eastern Syria and the diminishing pretexts for the US occupation of the region. The US initially established ground bases in eastern Syria to fight against ISIS, allying with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The alliance successfully destroyed most of ISIS’s fighting power in the region. However, with the main reason for the US military presence becoming less of a priority, Washington’s objectives appear to have shifted.

The article highlights how Russia’s military intervention in Syria in 2015, along with the support of Iran-backed militias, helped save the Assad regime. This led to a geopolitical tug-of-war between the US and Iran, with the US increasing its military presence in eastern Syria to counter Iran’s influence. Turkey’s involvement in northern Syria further complicated the situation, as it aimed to crush the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), associated with the SDF.

The presence of US troops in northeastern Syria, amid tensions between the US and Iran, the West and Russia, and the political rehabilitation of the Assad regime by the Arab League, has raised the stakes in the region. There have been drone attacks by Iran-backed militias in Iraq against US targets in eastern Syria. A leaked US intelligence report suggests that Russia, Syria, and Iran have adopted a plan to drive American troops out through proxy attacks involving local tribes and militias.

The recent deployment of the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) in eastern Syria is seen as a response to potential drone attacks by Iran. Some in the Pentagon believe that maintaining a US presence in Syria is important for countering the influence of Russia and Iran in the region. However, the US continues to reject any contact with the Assad regime and does not support efforts to normalize ties with Damascus.

The article concludes by noting that Syria’s opposition is showing signs of readiness to negotiate directly with Damascus, and even the Kurds may seek to resume talks about an autonomy deal. These developments could boost Assad’s legitimacy and make the US presence in Syria increasingly awkward.

Madaniya 2023: Syrian civil society groups gather in Paris in new peace push

Representatives of around 150 Syrian civil society organizations gathered in the French capital on Tuesday to discuss their work in war-torn Syria, amid a regional push for normalization with the Assad regime, a report compiled by New Arab said.

Organized by Madaniya Network, the two-day conference – MadaniyaConf2023 – brought together actors of dozens of civil society groups at the Arab World Institute in Paris to discuss how they can reclaim their role in Syrian political life.

Representatives of Western states, such as the UK, were also present at the event, although organizers dismissed the idea of foreign intervention in the Syrian peace process.

Madaniya, a Syrian-led initiative, describes itself as being “independent of political and foreign influence” and “aimed at enhancing the political agency of the Syrian civic space”.

It was launched at the start of this year by a group of influencers and business people involved in politics and headed by Syrian-British businessman Ayman Asfari, chairman of the platform.

“We can’t separate civil society from the political discourse that is happening in Syria,” Asfari said at the conference.

The conference in Paris comes amid Arab states’ rapprochement with the Syrian regime.

Damascus had been left out in the cold for much of the 12-year civil war it sparked by brutally cracking down on peaceful protests. It had been suspended from the Arab League since 2011 before it was welcomed back last month.

“Restoring the political capacity within the Syrian civil space, under a civilian umbrella, does not mean an intention to replace the existing Syrian bodies participating in the political processes defined by UN Security Council Resolution No. 2254, but rather it seeks to complete her efforts,” a statement issued by organizers after the conference said.

“The goal of restoring political capacity is rooted in our belief that we, the Syrian civil actors, must actively participate in shaping all paths that can lead to a political solution, as protected by this Security Council resolution.”

No Change Expected in Turkey’s Approach to Syria as New Govt Takes Office

As soon as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the formation of his new government, which held its first meeting on Tuesday, questions were raised over Turkey’s approach to Syria, Asharq al-Awsat reported.  

In fact, the new government lineup includes three ministers who have extensive experience in handling the Syrian file, and knowledge of the minutes and details of the Russian-sponsored talks aimed at normalizing relations between Ankara and Damascus.  

The new foreign minister, Hakan Fidan, is the former intelligence chief, who initiated the first contacts with Syria and laid the basis for launching the talks through his meetings with the head of the Syrian National Security Bureau Ali Mamlouk.  

Moreover, Turkish intelligence, under the leadership of Fidan, carried out sophisticated operations targeting leaders of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the largest component of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and the killing of the supposed leader of ISIS, Abu al-Hussein al-Qurashi in Jandris, northern Syria.  

Turkish intelligence has established an effective presence in northern Syria under his leadership. 

Ibrahim Kalin, the former official spokesman for the presidency, was named as Fidan’s replacement as head of intelligence. 

Kalin is also strongly involved in the Syrian file, as he was a security advisor to Erdogan, and used to handle contacts with Russian and American representatives, as well as European officials and various circles engaged in Syria.  

The new minister of Defense Yasar Guler is a former army chief of staff. He participated in and supervised the four Turkish military operations in northern Syria from 2016 to 2020. He was commander of the ground forces during the Euphrates Shield in 2016 and the Olive Branch in 2018, then chief of staff as of 2018. He also supervised the Peace Spring operation in northeastern Syria and the Spring Shield in Idlib in 2020.  

The HIMARS Deployment And U.S. Force Posture In Syria

The United States has deployed the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) to Syria for the first time. The system, capable of lobbing six guided missiles at a distant target in quick succession and then rapidly moving position to evade retaliatory fire, became well-known following its successful use in Ukrainian service against Russian forces last year, Forbes has reported.

But why is the U.S. deploying the HIMARS to Syria now? And who does the U.S. military believe its troops in Syria might need the system to deter or strike?

In late May, the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) acknowledged it had deployed an unspecified number of truck-mounted rocket launchers to the country. It confirmed the deployment after the Turkish press claimed that the U.S. had transferred the system to its local ally the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which controls the northeast and eastern regions where the U.S. has at least 900 troops.

The main mission of the United States military in Syria is to combat the infamous Islamic State group there. However, it has also maintained the right to defend itself and retaliate against attacks by other groups, such as the Iran-backed militias that have targeted U.S. troops with rockets and explosive drones.

The HIMARS deployment coincides with another U.S. deployment in the Persian Gulf. A-10 Thunderbolt II attack planes are being sent to backfill more advanced American fighter aircraft that are departing the region for Europe and the Pacific. That redeployment may have led the U.S. military to conclude that it needed additional land-based firepower in northeast Syria to protect its troops and swiftly retaliate against potential attackers.

“The U.S. intends to have a long-term, garrison presence in northeast Syria,” Nicholas Heras, senior director of strategy and innovation at the New Lines Institute, told me. “This U.S. garrison needs force protection that can respond quickly to ranged threats on the ground, which the HIMARS system is especially effective for providing.”

“The success of the HIMARS system in Ukraine against Russian forces sends the signal that the U.S. believes that artillery fire from ground-based Russian or Russian-backed Syrian forces could be a threat,” he said.

Women took on leadership roles and changed societal attitudes in the Syrian earthquake response

A report by Action For Humanity, the parent charity of Syria Relief, and ActionAid Arab Region, released today, has revealed how attitudes towards women in Syrian society are shifting, thanks to the leadership roles women took in response to the devastating earthquakes which hit Syria and Turkiye on February 6th.

The report, Recognising Resilience: Women’s Leadership in Northwest Syria’s Earthquake Response and Beyond, launched ahead of the Syria Brussels Conference VII, highlights the pivotal role played by women in the earthquake response efforts and explores their potential to shape equitable, inclusive and sustainable approaches to post-earthquake reconstruction and post-conflict recovery in Syria more broadly. The findings were achieved through interviews with women leaders, focus group discussions, feedback consultations and a digital survey from women across Northwest Syria.

The report’s findings include:

Despite the ongoing conflict, women were more active and visible during the earthquake as first responders and in ongoing relief efforts, resulting in a shift in dynamics enabling women to assume more active and visible leadership roles.

The visibility of women during the earthquake response – working alongside men, taking on critical responsibilities, or successfully mobilizing resources – changed community perceptions of the societal contributions of women.

Women, who had previously not participated in community affairs, were able to participate in a range of leadership responsibilities extending beyond the domestic sphere.

Women took on a crucial role in resource coordination and mobilization, leading the coordination of distribution processes and actively participating in fundraising initiatives The earthquake response led to the creation of connections and networks among local and international women.

Societal norms/taboos and factors still pose significant challenges for women in assuming leadership roles, including restricted movement, and persistent gender inequality. 12 years of conflict compounded by a devastating earthquake have led to the death of many women who were not only leaders in their communities, but an inspiration for other women.

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