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Syria Today – Assad Takes Control of Aid; Heatwave Wreaks Havoc; Senior HTS Member Killed

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Under HTS Protection, UN Aid Convoy Enters Idleb from Regime territory
Syria Today – Assad Takes Control of Aid; Heatwave Wreaks Havoc; Senior HTS Member Killed

Syrians who fled President Bashar al-Assad’s rule fear he may soon be able to choke off badly needed aid as Damascus acts to establish sway over U.N. assistance into the rebel-held northwest, the last major bastion of the Syrian opposition, according to Reuters. Meanwhile, temperatures are reaching record-high levels in crisis-hit Syria. At the same time, a newly formed opposition group killed a senior member of the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham.

A tussle at the U.N. Security Council over the aid operation has played to Assad’s advantage, with his ally Russia vetoing an extension of its mandate this week and paving the way for Damascus to approve one itself – but on its terms.

Aid workers said the outlook for one of the world’s biggest humanitarian operations had been thrown into doubt, with Syria’s demands for “full cooperation and coordination” raising fears of big complications ahead for their work.

“Ever since we heard about the decision, all the families in the camp have been lost, confused, scared,” Abu Ahmad Obeid, a father of seven who has lived in a camp in the northwest since fleeing his home in government-controlled territory in 2018, told Reuters by telephone from the region.

“We rely on that aid for everything – medical support, food, everything,” he said.

The northwest is home to 4.5 million people, 2.9 million of whom were displaced during a shattering conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people since it spiralled out of anti-government protests that were met by deadly force.

NGOs and individual states have long organized unilateral aid convoys into the northwest. But U.N. agencies will not cross the border without government or Security Council approval, which lapsed on Monday as members struggled to convince Russia to extend the operation for more than six months.

Damascus then gave the nod for the operation to continue via the Bab al-Hawa border crossing from Turkey for six months. Damascus has long rejected the operation as a violation of sovereignty, saying aid should be delivered from within Syria.

For Assad, it marks the latest in a series of developments that have gone his way on the international stage, after fellow Arab states brought him back in from the cold.

The move is seen to offer him a potential source of leverage over Western states that largely finance aid operations, and gives him a way to put pressure on a rebellious region which is held by armed groups that have fought to topple him.

Living in ‘an oven’: Heatwave grips displacement camps in Syria

Under a scorching sun, Hamida Dandoush sprinkles water on her tent in an attempt to cool it down, hoping to alleviate the high temperatures for herself and her family, Al-Jazeera reported.

The 62-year-old woman from the town of Maardabsah is residing in the Saharah camp near the Syrian-Turkish border, where approximately 80 displaced families are enduring harsh living conditions amid the intense heatwave striking the region.

“We live as if we are inside an oven, struggling to breathe due to the heat inside the tent. If it weren’t for the water we sprinkle on the tent, we would have died from the intense heat,” Dandoush told Al Jazeera on Saturday.

Dandoush, who lives in a tent with her daughter and grandchild, said that every day she makes seemingly futile attempts to cool things down, including placing her grandchild in a plastic container and pouring cold water over him.

“If elderly people like us cannot bear this weather, how can young children?” said Dandoush. “Yesterday, my grandson started trembling and had difficulty breathing, so we took him to the hospital, and they told us it happened due to the heat inside the tent.”

Warm weather affecting displaced people living in camps in northwest Syria is expected to escalate in the coming days, further exacerbating the suffering of those living in tents, which lack cooling mechanisms and are made of nylon fabric that intensifies the reflected heat.

The Syrian Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, has warned people not to expose themselves to the sun for prolonged periods in the coming days as temperatures rise above 42 degrees Celsius (108 degrees Fahrenheit). They also advised increasing water and fluid intake to avoid dehydration and cautioned against placing gas cylinders in the sun to prevent fires.

“The heatwave coincided with an increase in the number of fires in the current month. Our teams have extinguished more than 200 fires since the beginning of this month, including 93 fires in agricultural lands, 21 fires in forests, 36 fires in civilian homes and 10 fires in displacement camps,” said Ahmad Yazji, a board member of the Syrian Civil Defence.

More than 811 camps in northwest Syria suffer from a lack of necessary water, while other camps cope with reduced water allocations due to a decrease in water support from donor organizations and increased water consumption caused by rising temperatures, according to Syria Response Coordination Group, a local humanitarian organization.

Russia, Iran quietly coordinating in Syria to pressure US, official says

Russia and Iran are collaborating in Syria to exert pressure on the United States, with Russia aiming to control Syrian airspace and the IRGC supplying weapons to attack US bases, Al-Monitor has reported

The coordination involves mid-level Quds Force leadership and Russian forces in Syria, with collaborative planning, intelligence sharing, and a convergence of interests. The official cites incidents of Russian pilots harassing US drones and warns against conceding territory or airspace to Russia and Iran. While conflicts with Iran-backed groups have temporarily subsided, the flow of weapons to these groups continues. 

The US maintains dominance in the skies with the deployment of F-22 fighter jets and is cautious about potential escalations. The official suggests that Russia may attempt to shoot down American drones. US-Russian communication via a deconfliction line remains active. 

The official also highlights Russian surveillance over US bases and the sharing of intelligence between Russian and Iranian forces. The US is concerned about the ongoing flow of weapons and rockets to Iran-backed groups. 

A senior US military official stated that there has been no change in US behaviour in Syria since the fall of ISIS. Despite occasional heated exchanges, a deconfliction line remains open between the US and Russian sides. While Russian and Iranian commanders in Syria are not currently seeking a major firefight with the US, Russia may attempt to shoot down American drones. The Russian military announced counter-drone and air defence exercises, but the US official doubts their occurrence. Russian surveillance, including a recent overflight, continues over US bases in Syria, raising concerns about their intelligence gathering. While conflicts with Iran-backed groups have temporarily quieted, the flow of weapons to these groups persists. The US Air Force maintains dominance in the Syrian skies, and the deployment of F-22 fighter jets has influenced Russian behaviour. Further potential US deployments remain undisclosed, but the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is considered useful for defensive measures. US F-16s will begin patrolling the Persian Gulf in response to recent tanker seizures by Iran.

UN says the Damascus-proposed conditions for aid delivery to northwest Syria are ‘unacceptable’

The United Nations agency responsible for overseeing humanitarian aid has described conditions placed by the Syrian government on aid deliveries from Turkey to northwest Syria as “unacceptable,” AP reported.

The future delivery of aid across Syria’s northern border was thrown into question Tuesday after the U.N. Security Council was unable to agree on either of two competing proposals to extend the mandate for bringing aid from Turkey by way of the Bab al Hawa border crossing.

Two days later, Syria’s ambassador to the U.N. said Damascus would give voluntary permission for the U.N. to use the crossing for six months, on condition that aid delivery would be done “in full cooperation and coordination with the government,” that the U.N. would not communicate with “terrorist organizations” and their affiliates, and that the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent would run aid operations.

In a letter sent to the Security Council on Friday, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press on Saturday, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, said the Syrian proposal called two of those conditions “unacceptable” for carrying out “principled humanitarian operations.”

The prohibition on communicating with groups considered “terrorist” by the Syrian government would prevent the U.N. and partner organizations distributing aid from engaging “with relevant state and non-state parties as operationally necessary to carry out safe and unimpeded humanitarian operations,” the letter said.

Stipulating that aid deliveries must be overseen by the Red Cross or Red Crescent is “neither consistent with the independence of the United Nations nor practical,” since those organizations “are not present in north-west Syria,” it said.

The letter also noted that the Syrian government’s request that aid deliveries should be carried out in “full cooperation and coordination” with Damascus requires “review” and that the mechanism for aid delivery should not “infringe on the impartiality.., neutrality, and independence of the United Nations’ humanitarian operations.”

Aid delivery to the rebel-held enclave in the northwest has been a perennial point of contention during Syria’s 12-year-old uprising-turned-civil war.

The Syrian government of Bashar Assad and its ally, Russia, which is a member of the Security Council, want all aid deliveries to be run through Damascus. Opponents of Assad and humanitarian organizations say this could lead to aid being diverted from the vulnerable population in the northwest.

Newly formed Syria militant group kills HTS commander in Idleb

A senior member of the hardline Syrian Islamist militant group Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) was killed on Friday by a newly emergent group that set up its own checkpoint in the Idlib countryside, according to The New Arab.

The group, which calls itself the Revolutionary Shield Brigade, said it assassinated HTS commander Ibrahim Muhammad al-Ali – also known as Abu Suhaib Sarmad – in a video posted to social media earlier this week.

The militants posted pictures of the slain commander during his detention and after his killing.

In June, a video was released showing masked militants announcing the formation of the Revolutionary Shield Brigade.

The group demanded that HTS release detainees and threatened to target its members if their demands were not met. In another video released at the end of June, the group said it had shelled an HTS military base in Harza near the Syria-Turkey border.

The attacks on HTS come as the hardline group, which dominates rebel-held areas of Syria, faces protests against its rule in Idleb and Aleppo provinces, amid a series of raids and arrests conducted by HTS aimed at quashing dissent.

Camps for displaced civilians deliberately bombed in Syria, investigation reveals

A shocking new report has revealed a disturbing pattern of deliberate and deadly bombings targeting internally displaced people (IDP) camps within war-torn Syria, Al-Arabiya Network reported.

The study, led by the Syria Justice and Accountability Center, titled “Desperate for Safety, Targeted for Destruction: Intentional Attacks on IDP Camps in Syria,” uncovered evidence that Syrian and Russian armed forces repeatedly struck camps housing civilians despite their clear identification as non-combatant areas.

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The Syrian conflict has displaced over 13 million Syrians since 2011, with approximately seven million forcibly displaced within Syria itself.

IDPs are among the most vulnerable populations in conflict-affected regions, subject to routine rights violations and limited access to safety and security.

The report highlights the Syrian government and its allies, including Russia, as the perpetrators of these deliberate attacks on IDP camps between 2014 and 2022.

While some previous attacks had garnered media condemnation, this report provides evidence that these were not accidental or limited to military targets in proximity.

Rather, the deliberate targeting of IDP camps was a calculated strategy employed by the government and its allies, the report found.

The investigators meticulously reviewed over two million videos documenting the Syrian conflict stored in their database known as Bayanat. By cross-referencing this material with social media, media channels, and satellite imagery, the researchers verified the authenticity of the evidence and established a clear pattern of deliberate targeting.

The report identified 17 incidents where IDP camps were targeted, with the Syrian government or its allies implicated in all but one of these attacks. Witnesses have reported that the targeted camps were subject to reconnaissance flights prior to the bombings, indicating the intentional nature of these attacks. Some camps, such as al-Naqir, were repeatedly attacked on multiple occasions.

The report focused on specific incidents between 2014 and 2022 in areas including camps near the villages of al-Naqir and Abdeen, and camps near the outskirts of the village of Qah, in Kafr Jalis. In these cases, the report confirmed the prior knowledge of the Syrian forces and their allies regarding the civilian nature of these camps. The Syrian government and its allies disregarded this knowledge and proceeded with the strikes, causing immense harm and suffering to innocent civilians.

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