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Syria Today – 300 U.S. Troops Deployed; Lavrov Condemns Israel

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.

An extra 300 U.S. troops are set to be deployed to the U.S. Central Command area of operations, according to Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder. Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov engaged in a discussion on the Israel-Palestinian conflict during a call with Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad on Tuesday, as reported by the Russian Foreign Ministry.

300 More U.S. Troops Deploy to U.S. Central Command

An additional 300 U.S. troops will deploy to the U.S. Central Command area of operations from the continental United States, Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said today. 

These troops will provide capabilities in explosive ordnance disposal, communications and other support functions for forces already in the region. These forces will not go to Israel, Ryder said. “They are intended to support regional deterrence efforts and further bolster U.S. force protection capabilities,” he told reporters. 

There have been more strikes by Iranian-backed militia groups on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria. The American forces are in the countries performing a defeat-ISIS mission. “Since our self-defense strikes [on Oct. 26], there have been six additional, what I would consider, small-scale attacks: Three in Iraq, three in Syria,” Ryder said.  

All told this means that there has been a total of 27 attacks with 16 in Iraq and 11 in Syria. There were no injuries or damage due to the attacks, the general said. 

Ryder encapsulated Austin’s testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee this morning. DOD submitted an “urgent supplemental budget request” to help fund America’s national security needs to stand by partners and invest in the defense industrial base. “We’re requesting $10.6 billion to help Israel defend itself, $44.4 billion to help Ukraine continue to defend itself against Russia’s ongoing aggression and $3.3 billion to meet U.S. military requirements in our submarine industrial base and to fulfill our [Australia-United Kingdom-United States trilateral] commitments,” he said.

Journalists in northeastern Syria under heavy scrutiny by the SDF

Enab Baladi highlights the repeated harassment of media professionals and journalists in the northeastern region of Syria by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) and its military wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). 

Journalists, both Kurdish and Arab, have faced difficulties in exercising their professional freedom due to restrictions on working with media outlets not aligned with the de facto forces controlling different regions in Syria. 

There are no laws protecting media professionals, and there is no union to safeguard their rights in the region. The AANES has imposed laws that limit the freedom of media workers, requiring them to obtain licenses from the Autonomous Administration to operate in the area. 

This restricts their ability to report independently, and they face surveillance and scrutiny of their activities and social media accounts. The story also mentions specific challenges faced by journalists, including the difficulty of gathering information, conducting interviews, and fear of arrest or false accusations by the authorities. 

Arrests of journalists have occurred in the past, leading to concerns about press freedom and safety in the region. The authorities have been criticized for their actions, but they have not responded to the accusations.

How violence in Syria is connected to the Israel-Hamas war

Syria’s civil war is at a stalemate, but this month the country has seen some of the worst violence in years. Could Syria’s dictator and his Russian ally be using the Gaza crisis as cover to commit war crimes?

By the time, he arrived back at the camp where he lives, everything was gone, Enad Aliwi, the Syrian survivor of a Russian airstrike this month, said.

“I found everything destroyed,” Aliwi told DW. “Our cousins, our relatives — the entire camp was about 50 families. I lost my mother, my two nieces and their mother, my sister. My niece was in her bed when she died.”

On October 24, aerial bombardment by Russian planes devastated the small tent encampment near the town of Al-Hamamah, northwestern Syria, that had been established as a displaced persons camp. Five civilians were killed altogether. Aliwi and his family, displaced twice during Syria’s long-running civil war, have been living here for the past seven years.

“The Russian plane aimed directly between the tents,” Aliwi recounted. “They were fabric tents. More than 10 of them were just pulverized. The strike was obviously intended to kill as many people as possible,” he lamented. 

This is not the only recent airstrike on civilian targets in northern Syrian areas controlled by those opposed to the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. 

During just the first half of October 2023, the volunteer group Syrian Civil Defense workers, also known as the White Helmets, say they responded to 194 attacks in northwestern Syria. So far, 62 people have been killed and 230 civilians have been injured, the White Helmets said, with around 67,000 people displaced again as they’ve tried to flee to safety near the Turkish border.

The head of the UN’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, Paulo Pinheiro, confirmed this last week, telling the UN General Assembly that the country was “witnessing the largest escalation of hostilities in Syria in four years.” 

Syrian activists also said Russia and Syria had again been using weapons banned under international law, including incendiary weapons like napalm or white phosphorus and cluster munitions. The UN is investigating this, Pinheiro has said.

And, as one Idlib local who lost a friend in the bombing told DW, previously the Russian air force had mostly bombed more suburban and agricultural areas in Idlib, but this time bombs were also dropped in central Idlib city, into more densely populated areas. 

Russia’s Lavrov Talks to Syrian Counterpart, Says Israeli Strikes on Syria Unacceptable

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday discussed the Israel-Palestinian conflict in a call with his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad, his ministry said, according to Asharq al-Awsat.

Lavrov noted “the unacceptability of Israeli air strikes on Syrian territory, which have become more frequent amid the events around the Gaza Strip” and “the danger of attempts by external forces to turn the Middle East into an arena for settling geopolitical scores”.

Israel’s military says its jets have struck Syrian army infrastructure and mortar launchers in what it calls a response to rocket launches from Syria toward Israel.

Five dangerous prisoners escaped from Tunisia’s Mornaguia jail on Tuesday, according to an official statement.

The Interior Ministry released the photos and names of the inmates, calling on citizens to provide any information they have to prevent “terrorist acts.”

Judicial sources confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat that the escapees are among the most dangerous detainees held in recent years for their involvement in terrorist cases.

They were convicted in cases linked to figures affiliated with the Ansar al-Sharia terrorist organization, al-Qaeda, and armed terrorist organizations in the Maghreb, Sahel, and Saharan African countries.

The prisoners were serving sentences ranging between life and hard labor. They were found guilty in the assassination of leftist politicians Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi in 2013.

Lawyers and journalists, who previously visited Mornaguia prison, told Asharq Al-Awsat that they were surprised by the escape, given its maximum-security measures, including placing every dangerous prisoner in a solitary cell.

Rumors claimed that the prisoners had sawed off the iron grilles of the cells. The authorities have not yet confirmed nor denied the claims.

However, Tunisian lawyers, human rights activists, and media professionals confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat that a prisoner on the loose would need to get past at least seven doors before reaching the outer gate.

They noted that the whole prison is monitored by advanced systems and is located several kilometres away from residential areas.

Journalist Sarhane Chikhaoui, who previously visited the facility for work, revealed that it is difficult for anyone who escapes the prison to reach any location before being detected by the security cameras or guards.

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