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Syria Today – 8 War Crimes Suspects Arrested in Europe

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – 8 War Crimes Suspects Arrested in Europe

DW reported that German and Swedish authorities on Wednesday said they arrested eight men suspected of committing crimes against humanity in Syria.

Germany’s  Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement that four stateless Syrian Palestinians and a Syrian national are “strongly suspected of killing and attempting to kill civilians, qualified as crimes against humanity and war crimes.”

Swedish authorities said three people were arrested for alleged crimes against humanity.

What German authorities said

Prosecutors said three men, Jihad A., Mazhar J. and Sameer S., were arrested in Berlin. Mahmoud A. was arrested in Frankenthal, Rhineland-Palatinate, and Wael S. was taken into custody near Boizenburg in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania.

According to the Prosecutor’s Office, Mazhar J. was a member of the Syrian Military Intelligence Service’s Branch 235 and was also accused of abusing at least one person in a Syrian prison. 

Jihad A., Mahmoud A., Sameer S. and Wael S.  were allegedly affiliated with the Free Palestine Movement (FPM) that controlled  Al Yarmouk, a district in Damascus, on behalf of Bashar Assad’s Syrian regime, around the spring of 2011.

The FPM had worked in close collaboration with the Syrian Military Intelligence Service including Branch 227 and 235, the so-called Palestine branch, a statement on the arrests said.

Three arrested in Sweden

A further three alleged FPM members suspected of participation in the Al Yarmouk crackdown were arrested in Sweden at the same time.

The Swedish prosecutor in charge of the investigation, Ulrika Bentelius Egelrud, said the suspects were arrested thanks to “good cooperation with Germany, Eurojust and Europol.”

Germany has taken in hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees fleeing the civil war which has been ongoing since 2011. 

Regional Conflict Intersects in Syria

The Soufan Center published a detailed intel brief on regional conflict intersecting in Syria, highlighting the country’s critical role as a battleground due to its support for Lebanese Hezbollah through key transit routes. Following the October 7 Hamas attack, Israel has escalated its strikes on Iranian and Hezbollah-linked targets in Syria. Despite its strategic relationship with Tehran, Syria has refrained from direct attacks on Israel, influenced by the Assad regime’s weakness and political differences with Hamas, as well as Russian advisories against engaging Israel.

Key Points:

Tehran’s Support Route: Syria remains crucial for Tehran’s support to Hezbollah, with an increased presence of Iranian and Hezbollah forces since 2013 to assist Assad against rebels.

Israeli Strikes: Israel has intensified its campaign against Iranian and Hezbollah targets in Syria, aiming to block the arms flow to Hezbollah, particularly since the October 7 Hamas attack.

Syria’s Non-Engagement: Although part of Iran’s Axis of Resistance, Syria has not attacked Israel directly, due to its internal weaknesses and different stance on Hamas.

Russia’s Stance: Despite its strategic ties with Tehran, Russia has advised Syria to avoid direct conflict with Israel, seeking to maintain regional stability.

Diplomatic Efforts: U.S. and French diplomats are working to de-escalate the Israel-Hezbollah conflict, but have yet to achieve significant progress.

Israeli Defense Measures: Israel’s targeting of Iranian and Hezbollah facilities in Syria aims to weaken Hezbollah in anticipation of a potential all-out offensive.

Syrian Observations: Limited Syrian response to Israeli strikes, with few rocket attacks on the Golan Heights, suggests Assad’s reluctance to escalate the conflict.

Assad’s Calculations: Assad’s decision to avoid engaging in the Gaza conflict is driven by internal weaknesses, Russian advisories, and strained relations with Hamas.

Summary: Syria’s role as a conduit for Iranian support to Hezbollah makes it a key area in the regional conflict, with Israel escalating strikes to disrupt this support network. Despite its ties to Iran, Syria has avoided direct conflict with Israel, influenced by internal weaknesses, Russian advisories, and political differences with Hamas. Efforts to de-escalate the situation continue, with limited success.

From socialism to drug hub: The evolution of Syria’s economy

In a long report, London-based Al-Majalla reports that over the past decades, Syria has undergone a dramatic transformation, shifting from a socialist state to a war-torn economy heavily reliant on illicit activities. Once known for its agricultural and oil exports, Syria is now infamous for its role in the Captagon drug trade. The ongoing civil war and the collapse of state governance have led to a fragmented landscape where armed groups and pro-regime factions dominate economic activities. This evolution has had profound impacts on society, governance, and regional stability, painting a stark picture of a country struggling to survive amid chaos and conflict.

– Background and Relationship with Lebanon: Syria and Lebanon have long had intertwined economies and politics, often described as “one country and one people in two states.” Both countries have been significantly impacted by prolonged civil wars, leading to intertwined and largely illicit economies.

– Captagon Trade: The stimulant Captagon, popular in the Middle East, has become a significant part of the Syrian and Lebanese economies. The Syrian Army’s Fourth Division and Hezbollah are heavily involved in its manufacture and smuggling. This trade has flourished due to the porous borders and the need for alternative income sources amid the ongoing conflicts.

– Economic Decline: Syria’s economy has severely deteriorated, transitioning from socialism to a war-driven economy. Years of conflict have led to the rise of black markets and the decline of state governance, with armed groups controlling various regions and engaging in illicit activities to fund their operations.

– Key Players: In Lebanon, Hezbollah controls most cross-border operations. In Syria, similar operations are managed by pro-regime organizations and the Syrian army, particularly the Fourth Division. This division is heavily involved in the Captagon trade, contributing significantly to the Syrian economy’s current value.

– Impact of War and Sanctions: The civil war and international sanctions have devastated Syria’s legitimate economy, pushing the country further into illegal activities. Oil production has declined, inflation has skyrocketed, and essential goods are scarce and expensive. The Captagon trade now forms a substantial part of the economy, with significant profits benefitting regime actors and affiliated groups like Hezbollah.

– Recent Developments: Israeli airstrikes have targeted Syria’s drug production facilities and other economic infrastructures, further crippling the economy. Humanitarian aid has been diverted to other crisis areas, worsening conditions in Syria.

– Societal Impact: The deteriorating economy has led to increased criminality, looting, and poverty. Remittances from the Syrian diaspora provide crucial support for families still in the country. However, government raids on currency exchanges have further eroded public confidence in state institutions.

– Future Outlook: With the economy heavily reliant on illegal activities and fragmented governance, Syria’s path to recovery remains uncertain. The regime’s reliance on groups like the Fourth Division and Hezbollah highlights the deep entanglement of military and illicit economic activities in the country’s survival strategy.

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