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Syria Today – Assad to Visit China; Fuel Allocations Reduced

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – Assad to Visit China; Fuel Allocations Reduced

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is scheduled to lead a prominent delegation on an official visit to China in the upcoming weeks. The purpose of the visit is to engage in discussions with Chinese authorities regarding the enhancement of bilateral relation, particularly economic ties. Simultaneously, a source within the Aleppo City Council disclosed that the Syrian government has recently decreased the allocation of fuel for service facilities by 25%. This reduction is a result of a decreased fuel allocation specifically designated for the city council.

Syria’s Assad preparing to visit China ‘in coming weeks’

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will be leading a high-ranking delegation for an official visit to China in “the coming weeks” to hold talks with authorities in Beijing on the expansion of bilateral relations, according to a report, Iranian Press TV reported.

The Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar reported on Sunday that Assad would be leading the politico-economic Syrian delegation to China.

“A high-ranking Syrian delegation is likely to visit the Chinese capital in the coming weeks to hold high-level meetings with Chinese officials to discuss the development of bilateral relations between the two countries,” the Beirut-based daily said.

The Lebanese newspaper quoted unnamed officials in Syria as saying that the visit would be “very important” as Assad would meet Chinese President Xi Jinping in an official ceremony.

“Assad’s visit will constitute a strategic milestone in the course of Syrian-Chinese relations, and an additional strong dose of the Chinese role in the region,” the paper added.

According to the Lebanese newspaper, the visit, which comes after 12 years, highlights China’s keenness to throw its weight behind the legitimacy of Assad and his government at the international level despite the US attempts to obstruct the path of Arab-Syrian reconciliation and hinder Syria’s political progress.

The paper added that China would help Syria prevent its economic collapse and contribute to the Arab country’s reconstruction projects after more than a decade of foreign-backed militancy left a sizable portion of Syrians in destitute.

The visit also confirms China’s desire to expand its role and presence in the West Asia region, and to send messages to the US administration about ignoring the Western concerns that Beijing has observed in recent years, Al Akhbar stressed.

The report said Assad is expected to attend a conference on China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) next month on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the plan’s announcement.

One of the most prominent routes for the BRI to reach Europe is through the Mediterranean, which means passing through Syria from Iraq and Iran, and before that, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The passage takes place via the western Syrian port city of Latakia or via land transportation.

Dozens of Syrians are among the missing in catastrophic floods in Libya, a war monitor says

A Syrian dentist, a confectioner who made mouthwatering Arabic sweets, a carpenter.

According to AP, Syrians from all walks of life had left their war-torn country for the Libyan city of Derna over the past years, looking for work and better opportunities.

Now, dozens of them are missing and feared dead after Mediterranean storm Daniel unleashed catastrophic flooding that tore through the coastal city on Sunday night, wreaking destruction and washing entire neighborhoods out to sea.

The death toll has eclipsed 11,000, and more than 10,000 are missing. Five days on, searchers are still digging through mud and hollowed-out buildings in Derna, looking for bodies.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitoring group, says that 42 Syrians have been confirmed dead in Libya while the real number could be as high as 150.

The victims include both Syrians who were living and working in Libya long term, and Syrian migrants who were using Libya as a transit point in efforts to reach Europe, most often by way of perilous voyages across the Mediterranean Sea, in unsafe boats organized by smugglers.

Inside the camp in Idlib harbouring wanted French fighters

In late April, Ben* illegally crossed the border from Syria to Turkey. MEE reportes.

The Frenchman scaled the three-metre concrete wall that has separated the two countries since 2015. In his arms was Sarah, his three-year-old daughter, born in Idlib province.

Sarah’s mother, who is also French, explained in a propaganda video that she had chosen to remain in Syria among a combat group close to al-Qaeda.

After more than nine years with the same group, Ben, 26, had decided to give himself up.

“He can’t wait to get back to France,” his mother, who did not wish to give a name, told Middle East Eye after his escape. “I’ve been waiting almost 10 years for this miracle.” 

A few days after scaling the wall, Ben went to the French embassy in Istanbul with his child. He was handed over to the Turkish authorities, who eventually deported him to Paris, where he has been indicted for having joined a terrorist group. He faces up to 30 years in prison.

“When Ben left, he was still a child,” Ben’s lawyer in France, Florian Lastelle, told MEE. “Over time, he became a responsible father and realised that he could not raise his child in that area.”

“He is aware that he will remain in prison for several years, but the main thing for him is that his daughter is in France. She goes to school, she will flourish in her country.”

Ben left France in December 2013, a few days before Christmas. He had just converted to Islam, and was just 16. 

Several friends left with him, all minors, all from the same district of Nice and all indoctrinated by one man: Omar Diaby, alias Omar Omsen. 

The French-Senegalese, wanted by France through an international arrest warrant, is considered by French intelligence services to be the biggest recruiter of French people to fight in Syria. 

Over the years, he turned his small unit into an independent private community of French fighters, living in a walled-off camp atop a hill near the border with Turkey.

A local source told MEE that 80 adults live at the camp, 60 of them French, according to CAT, the Center for the Analysis of Terrorism, based in Paris. 

And with them live nearly a hundred children. 

Omsen applies his version of so-called Islamic laws there. By leaving the group, Ben incurred the wrath of his former “friends”, who are now accusing him of kidnapping his daughter, Sarah. 

“This child does not belong to France, she is Syrian,” explained a spokesperson for the group in a message sent to MEE. 

“We don’t want our children to grow up in France. This little girl has no business being in a home with French people.” 

A French ‘brigade’ in Syria

Omsen’s group calls itself Firqat al Ghouraba, meaning Foreigners’ Brigade.

When the first fighters settled in Syria near Samarda in 2013, they lived in makeshift tents on a hilltop a few metres from the Turkish border, in Harem town. 

Today, their camp looks like a private complex, as seen by MEE. They have built houses, a prayer room, a school and even a football pitch with a green artificial turf. All framed by a high green fence. 

“Our perimeter wall has held up well, despite the lack of foundations,” boasts one of the group’s members in an interview with MEE after the violent earthquake that struck northwest Syria and Turkey last February.

*Names changed to protect the identity of the interviewees 

Iraq steps up repatriations from Daesh camp in Syria, hoping to reduce militant threats

Iraq is stepping up repatriation of its citizens from a camp in northeastern Syria housing tens of thousands of people, mostly wives and children of Daesh fighters but also supporters of the militant group.

It’s a move that Baghdad hopes will reduce cross-border militant threats and eventually lead to shutting down the facility.

After US-backed and Kurdish-led fighters defeated the Daesh group in Syria in March 2019 — ending its self-proclaimed “caliphate” that had ruled over a large swath of territory straddling Iraq and Syria — thousands of Daesh fighters and their families were taken to the camp known as Al-Hol.

Many of them were Iraqi nationals.

Today, Iraqi officials see the facility, close to the Iraq-Syria border, as a major threat to their country’s security, a hotbed of the militants’ radical ideology and a place where thousands of children have been growing up into future militants.

It’s “a time bomb that can explode at any moment,” warned Ali Jahangir, a spokesman for Iraq’s Ministry of Migration and Displaced. Since January, more than 5,000 Iraqis have been repatriated, from Al-Hol, with more expected in the coming weeks, he said.

It is mainly women and children who are sent home. Iraqi men who have committed crimes as Daesh members rarely ask to go back for fear of being put on trial. Those who express readiness to return, have camp authorities send their names to Baghdad, where the government does a security cross-check and grants final approval.

Once in Iraq, the detainees are usually taken to the Jadaa camp near the northern city of Mosul, where they undergo rehabilitation programs with the help of UN agencies before they are allowed back to their hometowns or villages.

The programs involve therapy sessions with psychologists and educational classes meant to help them shed a mindset adopted under Daesh.

Iraq has been urging other countries to repatriate their citizens from al Hol, describing the camp at a conference held in June in Baghdad as a “source for terrorism.”

At the gathering, Iraq’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmad Sahhaf said it was critical for all countries with citizens at Al-Hol “to repatriate them as soon as possible in order to eventually close the camp.”

The alternative, he warned, is a resurgence of the Daesh group.

The heavily-guarded facility, overseen by Syrian Kurdish-led forces allied with the United States, was once home to 73,000 people, the vast majority of them Syrians and Iraqis. Over the past few years, the population dropped to just over 48,000 and about 3,000 were released since May.

Those still at the camp include citizens of about 60 other countries who had joined Daesh, which is why closing Al-Hol will require efforts beyond Iraq and Syria, an Iraqi Defense ministry official said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

The camp currently has 23,353 Iraqis, 17,456 Syrians and 7,438 other nationalities, according to Sheikhmous Ahmad, a Kurdish official overseeing camps for displaced in northeastern Syria. And though the foreigners are a minority, they are seen by many as the most problematic at Al-Hol — persistently loyal to the core Daesh ideology.

So far this year, Ahmad said, two groups of Syrians have left the camp for their hometowns in Syria. Earlier in September, 92 families consisting of 355 people returned to the northern city of Raqqa, once the capital of the Daesh caliphate. In May, 219 people returned to the northern town of Manbij.

Syrian nationals are released when Kurdish authorities overseeing the camp determine they are no longer a threat to society. The release of other nationalities is more complicated, since their countries of origin must agree to take them back.

Those of non-Syrian or Iraqi nationalities live in a part of the camp known as the Annex, considered the home of the most die-hard Daesh supporters. Many of them had traveled thousands of miles to join the extremist group after Daesh swept across the region in 2014.

In late August, 31 women and 64 children from the camp were returned to the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan on a special flight, the Kyrgyz Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced and thanked the US government for providing “assistance and logistical support” for the repatriation.

But other countries — particularly in the West — have largely balked at taking back their nationals who were part of Daesh.

Syrian government reduces fuel share for service facilities by 25%

A source from the Aleppo City Council said on Sunday the Syrian government reduced the fuel share for service facilities by 25 percent due to reducing the designated fuel share for the city council.

The Council of Ministers of Syria reduced the designated fuel share for government facilities by 65 percent for all facilities in all governorates in an unannounced decision, which led to a reduction in the level of services provided for the population, the source said.

The source, who preferred to remain unnamed, told North Press this reduction will result in cutting the number of field tours for street sweepers and garbage trucks, which will subsequently lead to the accumulation of garbage in streets.

This decision will aggravate the health and environmental situation, in addition to forcing the population to rely on the private sector to remove the garbage, which augurs an increase in numbers of insects and rodents in the residential buildings and hence increase pandemics and diseases, according to the source.

Government-held areas suffer from acute shortage in fuel due to corruption and stealing in the fuel company and the service sectors which will in turn impact the lives of the people and increase expenses of the service facilities in removing the garbage in the future, the source noted.

Syria has been experiencing a severe economic crisis for several years. The inflation rate in Syria has skyrocketed due to a combination of factors, including the ongoing civil war, economic sanctions, and a shortage of essential goods.

The high inflation rate in Syria has had a devastating impact on the country’s population, with many struggling to afford basic necessities such as food, housing, and healthcare. The ongoing conflict in Syria, coupled with the economic crisis, has led to a humanitarian catastrophe, with millions of Syrians displaced and in need of aid.

The Unyielding Struggle: Suweida Protests and the Deepening Crisis in Syria

The protests in the southern city of Suweida, Syria, have persisted for over a month, with demonstrators demanding economic and political reforms from the government in Damascus. These protests are significant and have intensified as Syrians face the economic repercussions of the ongoing conflict, Arab News reported.

Several key factors contribute to the persistence and intensity of these protests:

Economic Hardship: The catalyst for these protests was the government’s decision to reduce fuel subsidies and increase gasoline prices by nearly 250 percent in August. These austerity measures have led to hyperinflation and exacerbated the economic crisis in Syria. The Syrian pound’s sharp depreciation on the black market has made daily life extremely challenging for ordinary citizens, with many struggling to afford basic necessities.

Widespread Poverty: Even before the recent fuel subsidy cuts, a significant portion of Syrians in government-held areas were living below the poverty line. The dire economic conditions have pushed an estimated 90 percent of citizens below this line, contributing to widespread suffering and food insecurity.

Lack of Basic Rights: Beyond economic concerns, Syrians are frustrated with their government’s ongoing suppression of basic rights and civil liberties. The protests encompass not only economic demands but also calls for political, social, and civil rights, public freedoms, and the release of detainees.

Changing Public Sentiment: There has been a noticeable shift in the willingness of the Syrian populace to openly criticize their government and leadership. This shift in sentiment, as noted by analysts, indicates growing dissatisfaction and a desire for change.

UN Warning: The United Nations’ special envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, warned that the economic situation in Syria has become worse than during the height of the conflict. This underscores the severity of the crisis and the urgency for change.

Humanitarian Suffering: With approximately 70 percent of the Syrian population in need of humanitarian aid, local charities are struggling to meet the increasing demand. The government’s withdrawal of subsidies has placed a greater burden on civil society, expatriates, and humanitarian organizations.

Policy Challenges: Policy measures that could alleviate the economic crisis, such as reducing tax evasion, addressing corruption, and cutting military expenditures, are deemed unfeasible due to the lack of political will and representative institutions.

In summary, the protests in Suweida reflect a complex and dire situation in Syria, driven by economic hardship, poverty, frustration with government policies, and a broader desire for political change. The protests signal a growing willingness among Syrians to voice their discontent openly, raising concerns for the government’s ability to address these multifaceted challenges effectively.

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