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Syria Today – Assad Praises Putin; SDF Seizes Millions of Captagon Pills

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – Assad Praises Putin; SDF Seizes Millions of Captagon Pills

In a rare interview, Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad praised his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and called the United States a “hypocritical hegemon”. At the same time, the Syrian Democratic Forces announced on Monday seizing large quantities of drugs in a warehouse in the city of Manbij, northern Syria.

In rare interview, Syria’s Assad defends Hamas, praises Putin to pro-Kremlin journalist

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gave a rare interview this week to a Kremlin-aligned Russian news presenter from his palace in the capital city of Damascus, defending Hamas, praising Putin, and casting the United States as a hypocritical hegemon that the two dictatorships have served to humble, JPost.com reported

Assad, whose government has been fighting rebel groups for almost thirteen years in a civil war that has taken about 500,000 lives, presented Israel as the aggressor in Gaza, and justified Hamas’s October 7 invasion of Israel’s south as self-defense, insisting that the attack is justified by historical context. 

The Syrian dictator also expressed support for Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, and compared the war between Israel and Hamas to that war, asserting that Russia’s invasion of the European nation was self-defense, just as he views Hamas’s invasion of Israel to have been:

“Anyone from Israel will come and say to you, ‘but you are talking about history,’” Assad told his Russian interviewer, Vladimir Solovyov, “[but] is history separated from the past?” The Syrian president then implied that the invasion of Ukraine was a response to “attempts to encircle your country, Russia, from the south,” concluding, “Everything that happens in the present is a result of history. The situation is the same.”

UN nuclear watchdog to restart talks with Syria

Syria is poised to come in from the cold at the UN’s nuclear watchdog, with the agency’s boss travelling to Damascus this month, according to The National.

Rafael Grossi revealed he was invited by Syria’s government in order to “re-establish a meaningful, constructive dialogue”.

His talks on “remaining issues from the past” are likely to address a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor that was destroyed in an air raid by Israel in 2007.

Syria denied it was a secret nuclear site and the matter has never been cleared up to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s satisfaction.

Mr Grossi, the IAEA director general, is similarly pressing Iran to explain the presence of uranium at two undeclared sites several years ago.

He will also visit Iraq this month, expecting a “confirmation of its unwavering commitment to non-proliferation”.

Speaking at an IAEA board meeting on Monday, he warned of a domino effect if arms control is not maintained in the Middle East.

The agency is “trying to uphold the non-proliferation norm to the best of our abilities” at a time of conflict in the region, he said.

SDF seizes large quantities of drugs in Syria’s Manbij

North Press reported that the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced on Monday seizing large quantities of drugs in the city of Manbij, northern Syria.

The SDF Media Center said in a statement, “Our Military Operational Units conducted a raid on a warehouse in Manbij city suspected of concealing narcotics pills within pavement tiles.”

“On February 28 based on accurate intelligence, our Military Operational Units raided the warehouse and seized a significant cache of narcotic pills,” the statement added.

SDF further added that the quantity of drugs seized amounted to more than “20 million Captagon pills”.

The initial investigation indicated that the substances originated from Tartous Governorate on the Syrian coast, according to the SDF statement.

U.S. Urges Action on Syria’s Chemical Weapons Non-Compliance at UN Security Council Briefing

At a UN Security Council Briefing on Chemical Weapons in Syria, Ambassador Robert Wood, the Alternative Representative for Special Political Affairs, addressed the Council on March 4, 2024, in New York. He congratulated the new president of the Council and expressed gratitude to Deputy Ebo for highlighting the critical issue of chemical weapons use in Syria.

Wood emphasized the United States’ decade-long effort, alongside the international community, to denounce the Assad regime’s violations of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and UN Resolution 2118. He highlighted the regime’s repeated use of chemical weapons against its citizens and its failure to fully declare and destroy its chemical arsenal and facilities. He reaffirmed the U.S.’s commitment to pursuing accountability for any use of chemical weapons.

He drew attention to recent alarming reports by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), urging Council members to review the September 2023 report detailing Syria’s non-compliance with the CWC. He noted the OPCW’s recommendation for collective measures to prevent Syria from acquiring dual-use chemicals and equipment, underscoring the United States’ support for these measures and the importance of a Security Council meeting to discuss implementation.

Wood criticized the Syrian regime for obstructing the OPCW’s work and accused Syria’s allies of politicizing the organization’s technical efforts. He expressed concern over OPCW findings suggesting Syria retains a chemical weapons capability and cited a report attributing a 2015 sulfur mustard attack to Da’esh, aligning with U.S. assessments.

He commended the OPCW’s independent and impartial investigations, condemned the use of chemical weapons by anyone, and highlighted the need for continued international cooperation to prevent chemical weapon acquisition by terrorists. Wood underscored the threat posed by Syria’s non-compliance with international norms and committed to working with international partners to address this issue and ensure the Assad regime’s accountability for chemical weapons use.

US Defends Legal Case for Troops in Syria as Pressure Builds to Withdraw

President Joe Biden’s administration has outlined what it argues is the legal justification for the U.S. military presence in Syria as Damascus ramps up calls for the United States to withdraw amid deepening unrest in the region, Newsweek reported.

A week after Syria’s Mission to the United Nations told Newsweek that the presence of U.S. troops in the country “is illegal, illegitimate, and constitutes a flagrant violation of the United Nations Charter and international law,” a State Department spokesperson said the Department of Defense’s deployment—officially “for the sole purpose” of defeating the Islamic State militant group but increasingly mired in clashes with Iran-backed militias amid the ongoing war in Gaza—was well rooted in both U.S. and international law.

“As a matter of domestic law, U.S. ‘defeat ISIS’ activities are authorized by the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force,” the State Department spokesperson told Newsweek. “We also have specific domestic statutory authorities that authorize DOD to provide support to the SDF’s ‘defeat ISIS’ operations.”


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