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Syria Today – Assad in China Thursday; UN Aid Passes Through Bab al-Hawa

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – Assad in China Thursday; UN Aid Passes Through Bab al-Hawa

On Thursday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is scheduled to embark on a diplomatic journey to China, where he will engage in a significant bilateral summit with his Chinese counterpart. This announcement was made by the Syrian presidency in a statement released on Tuesday. Simultaneously, on Tuesday afternoon, a convoy consisting of 17 trucks loaded with UN aid successfully entered the province of Idlib through the strategically important Bab al-Hawa border crossing.

Syria’s Assad to Travel to China for Summit With Xi – Presidency

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will travel to China this week for a bilateral summit with his Chinese counterpart, the presidency in Damascus said in a statement on Tuesday.

Assad, Syrian first lady Asmaa al-Assad and a senior delegation will travel to China on Thursday for a string of meetings in Beijing and Changzhou. Presidents Assad and Xi would hold a Syrian-Chinese summit, the statement said.

Assad last visited China in 2004 to meet then-President Hu Jintao. It was the first visit by a Syrian head of state to China since the countries established diplomatic ties in 1956.

China – like Syria’s main allies Russia and Iran – maintained those ties even as other countries isolated Assad over his brutal crackdown of anti-government demonstrations that erupted in 2011.

As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, China has repeatedly vetoed resolutions on Syria, including several to extend cross-border aid operations into areas outside the Syrian government’s control.

Assad has come in from the diplomatic cold this year, with the Arab League reinstating Syria as a fully-fledged member after more than a decade of suspension.

Luxembourg FM ‘deeply regrets’ death of 3 Kurdish female fighters in Syria

Luxembourg Foreign Ministry on Monday said that the Minister Jean Asselborn is saddened by the recent death of three Kurdish female fighters in the vicinity of Syria’s Manbij city by a suspected Turkish drone attack, Kurdish Website Rudaw reported.

Candan Cudi, Servin Serdar and Nucan Ocalan from the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) were killed when their vehicle was hit by a drone near Manbij city on Friday. The YPJ blamed Turkey for the air strike. 

The Luxembourg Foreign Ministry said in a post on X (formerly known as Twitter) that Asselborn “deeply regrets” the killing of the three Kurdish fighters, adding that he had met with Serdar in 2016 “to express support in the common battle against the Islamic State [ISIS].”

Luxembourg is a member of the US-led global coalition against ISIS. 

The YPJ is the all-women wing of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) – the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). 

SDF is the main ally of the coalition against ISIS on the ground in northeast Syria (Rojava). 

Turkey has not immediately commented on the drone attack. 

Turkey considers the YPG to be the Syrian offshoot of the Kurdistan Peoples’ Party (PKK) – an armed group struggling for increased rights of Kurds in Turkey but listed as a terrorist organization by Ankara. Turkey has carried out three military operations against the Kurdish forces in northern Syria since 2016, invading key towns near the border such as Afrin, Sari Kani (Ras al-Ain) and Gire Spi (Tal Abyad).

YPJ said in a statement that Serdar was born in Dirbesiye in 1981. She had joined the PKK when she was only 17. 

She was a member of the YPJ military leadership and a member of the  SDF-affiliated Manbij Military Council, according to the statement. 

Strategic border crossing reopens allowing UN aid to reach rebel-held northwest Syria

A United Nations aid convoy reached rebel-held northwest Syria Tuesday after a vital border crossing from Turkey reopened following an agreement with the Syrian government, AP reported.

The 17-truck convoy carrying among other things, medicine, food supplements, stationery supplies and medical equipment crossed into Idlib through the strategic border-crossing of Bab al-Hawa Tuesday afternoon.

Last month, the U.N. reached an agreement with Syria’s government to reopen the crossing, used to deliver 85% of aid to Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, where the majority of its 4.5 million residents live in poverty after being internally displaced during Syria’s conflict, now in its 13th year.

The deal was agreed on after the U.N. Security Council failed to authorize two rival resolutions on July 11 to renew the border crossing’s authorization. The United States, United Kingdom, and France were key advocates of the U.N. aid delivery, whereas Syria’s key allies, Russia and China, called for delivering aid to rebel-held areas through Damascus instead.

The U.N. has been exclusively using two northern crossings to deliver aid to rebel-controlled areas since July 9, making it extremely challenging because of poor infrastructure and route length. In August, the UN sent 195 trucks loaded with aid to the rebel enclave.

“U.N. aid is the artery for the citizens of northwestern Syria. Without it, there would be a humanitarian disaster in the area,” Mazen Alloush, an official on the Syrian side of the border crossing, told The Associated Press. He said he hoped more convoys would reach the area in the coming weeks

The United Nations did not immediately comment on the aid delivery.

The Syrian conflict started as an uprising against President Bashar Assad in 2011 and was met with a harsh crackdown that plunged the country into years of civil war, killing nearly half a million people and displacing half of the country’s pre-war population of 23 million.

She was forced to live under ISIS in Syria as a child and then stuck in a refugee camp. Finally, she is home

The Independent published a lengthy report highlighting the story of a 16-year-old girl named Emina, who was forced to live under ISIS in Syria as a child and later found herself in a refugee camp. The article discusses her journey, the challenges she faced, and the broader issue of repatriation for wives and children of ISIS fighters.

Bellow are the key points from the report:

  1. Emina’s Background: Emina was born in Tirana, Albania, but spent most of her formative years in ISIS-controlled cities in Syria, including Raqqa and Baghuz. She, along with her mother and sister, was taken to Syria in 2015.
  2. Life Under ISIS: Emina’s early years in Syria were marked by a sense of normalcy, as she was very young and rarely left the house. However, as the war escalated, her family’s situation became increasingly perilous. Her father died during the battle for Baghuz, and Emina, her mother, and sister were eventually relocated to the al-Hol refugee camp, where thousands of wives and children of ISIS fighters were housed.
  3. Repatriation Efforts: Albania’s government has offered a way for its citizens to return from the al-Hol camp. Those who wish to return are transferred to the al-Roj camp before being repatriated to Albania. Emina chose to leave the camp and return to Albania, but her mother and sister decided to stay, fearing that ISIS might resurface.
  4. International Perspective: The report discusses the contrasting approaches of different countries toward repatriating their citizens from Syria. While Albania has made efforts to bring back its citizens, some Western countries, like the UK, have been reluctant to do so. The UK, for example, revoked the citizenship of Shamima Begum, a British citizen who joined ISIS, making her stateless.
  5. Challenges of Reintegration: The report highlights the challenges of reintegrating women and children who lived under ISIS rule into society. While Albania provides psychotherapy, education, and support for returning individuals, some women may still hold radical views, making reintegration complex.
  6. ISIS Threat: The article mentions concerns about the potential resurgence of ISIS in the region. While governments may be distracted or underestimate the threat, experts warn of the possibility of ISIS regaining strength.
  7. The Situation in al-Hol: The report describes the dire conditions in the al-Hol camp, where residents live in poverty with limited access to medical care. It also highlights the danger of radicalization within the camp and the vulnerability of unaccompanied children.
  8. Repatriation Dilemma: The article underscores the dilemma of repatriating ISIS fighters, which is even more controversial and challenging than repatriating their wives and children. The longer individuals remain in the camps, the greater the risk of radicalization.
  9. Albania’s Success: Albania’s efforts to repatriate and reintegrate its citizens serve as an example of successful repatriation. Despite its smaller population and fewer resources compared to larger European countries, Albania has managed to bring back and support women and children who lived under ISIS.

Overall, the report sheds light on the complex and sensitive issue of repatriation from Syria and the challenges involved in reintegrating individuals who lived under ISIS rule. It also highlights the different approaches taken by various countries in addressing this issue.

Why Clashes in Northern Syria Threaten U.S. Strategy in the Region

A Foreign Policy report discusses how recent clashes between Kurds and Arab tribes in Northern Syria, particularly in the Deir Ezzor region, pose a significant threat to U.S. strategy in the region. 

The report says since 2017, the United States has pursued a strategy in Northern Syria to prevent the resurgence of the Islamic State, counter Iranian and Russian expansion, and protect valuable oil and gas fields in the region. This strategy has been based on working with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition with internal rivalries but effective in combating the Islamic State.

According to the report, recent clashes between Arab tribes and the SDF in Deir Ezzor have exposed the vulnerabilities within the SDF coalition. This conflict has weakened the SDF’s control over the region and damaged its relationships with local communities.

Deir Ezzor is strategically important due to its significant oil and gas reserves, making it a target for both the Assad regime and its allies (Iran and Russia) and the Islamic State. Controlling these resources enhances their access to foreign currency and strengthens their regional influence.

Local Arab tribes, the article adds, in Northern Deir Ezzor have long felt neglected and accuse the SDF of diverting revenues from the region’s resources to areas with larger Kurdish populations. This discontent has fueled the recent tribal rebellion.

The United States finds itself in a challenging position. It needs both the SDF and the local tribes to cooperate to prevent the resurgence of the Islamic State. However, it has been hesitant to openly support one side over the other in the recent conflict.

The SDF’s response to the rebellion has led to the imprisonment and alienation of significant local leaders and tribal figures. This jeopardizes the SDF’s ability to maintain control and support in the region.

The rebellion has created a shared experience of resistance against a common enemy, potentially uniting previously feuding factions. This could fuel a long-term rebellion, further destabilizing the region.

The report adds that the imprisoned leaders of the rebellion may become targets for other actors seeking to exploit the situation in Deir Ezzor, including extremist groups or foreign powers.

The article highlights the need for the United States to maintain focus on Syria and the region to prevent divisions between the SDF and its Arab allies. Failure to do so could allow adversaries to undermine U.S. gains in the area.

In summary, the clashes in Northern Syria threaten U.S. strategy in the region by weakening the SDF coalition, jeopardizing control over valuable resources, and creating opportunities for adversaries. The situation underscores the complexities of the region’s geopolitics and the challenges in maintaining a delicate balance between different actors.

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