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Syria Today – British Soldiers Under Investigation for War Crimes; Turkey Rejects Accusations of Abuse

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – British Soldiers Under Investigation for War Crimes; Turkey Rejects Accusations of Abuse

Five members of the British special forces are currently under investigation for potential war crimes allegedly committed during their operations in Syria, as part of the Western military intervention in the nation’s prolonged civil conflict. Simultaneously, Turkey has dismissed accusations made by a human rights organization regarding its culpability for certain abuses and potential war crimes, primarily targeting Kurdish inhabitants in northern Syria.

Five British special forces soldiers investigated in Syria war crime probe

Five British special forces soldiers are under investigation for possible war crimes committed during operations in Syria, as part of Western military intervention in the country’s years-long civil war.

The case concerns members of the special forces — who conduct covert operations and are known as the SAS — over the alleged murder of a suspected militant in Syria two years ago.

The soldiers from the UK’s elite military branch are being investigated for use of excessive force during the operation, which resulted in the man’s death.

The SAS has been carrying out secretive missions in Syria for several years amid the 12-year civil war between the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and rebel groups, which has plunged the country of 21 million into economic and political turmoil.

As first reported in the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper, an independent review by the Defence Serious Crimes Unit has put the case forward for prosecution on murder charges to the Service Prosecuting Authority – the military’s criminal prosecution arm.

The five individuals have been accused of using excessive force in shooting the suspect dead rather than arresting them. It is the first time the incident has come to light.

According to military sources quoted by the newspaper, a suicide vest was found near the suspect but he was not wearing it when killed.

The soldiers have denied the allegations and insisted that the man was a legitimate threat.

A spokesperson from the UK’s Ministry of Defence told the newspaper: “We hold our personnel to the highest standards and any allegations of wrongdoing are taken seriously.

“Where appropriate, any criminal allegations are referred to the Service Police for investigation.”

Turkey rejects accusations by a human rights group that it committed abuses in Syria

Turkey has rejected allegations by a human rights group that Turkey bears responsibility for some of the abuses and possible war crimes carried out mostly against Kurdish residents in northern Syria, Associated Press reported.

Human Rights Watch said in a 74-page report released on Thursday that the alleged abuses were committed by Turkish forces and also by Ankara-backed armed factions in areas they control in northern Syria.

A senior Turkish Foreign Ministry official denied the accusations on Friday, insisting that the report by the New York-based watchdog “did not reflect the realities on the ground” and ignored Turkey’s security concerns.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government protocol, also insisted that Turkey fully respects “international humanitarian law.”

Since 2016, Turkey has launched three major operations inside Syria, targeting Syria’s main Kurdish militia — the People’s Protection Units or YPG, a U.S.-backed faction that Turkey considers to be a terrorist organization and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK.

The Human Rights Watch report — titled “Everything is by the Power of the Weapon: Abuses and Impunity in Turkish-Occupied Northern Syria” — documents allegations of abductions, arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention, sexual violence and torture.

The human rights group said that it also found that the Turkish army and intelligence agencies were involved in carrying out and overseeing abuses.

The Turkish official asserted that the Syrian opposition now runs and controls areas that were cleared of militants by the Turkish forces.

The opposition had made “significant progress” in improving human rights in those areas and was cooperating with U.N. agencies, the official said.

Khaled Hboubati retains presidency of Syrian Red Crescent for next four years

The Syrian businessman, Khaled Hboubati, who is close to the regime, has maintained his position as President of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) for a new term from 2024 until 2028.

According to Enab Baladi, a new executive board was elected, and pursuant to this, two deputies to Hboubati, a secretary of the organization, and two members of the executive office were named.

Hboubati was first appointed as President of the Red Crescent in December 2016 by a decision from the former Prime Minister of the regime, Imad Khamis, following the amendment of Article “20,” which granted the Prime Minister the right to choose one of the four candidates for the organization’s board of directors, even if that choice was from outside the board.

Hboubati’s appointment came as a replacement for Abdul Rahman Attar, who had spent more than 25 years in the position, following official orders for him to resign. At the time of his appointment, Hboubati was not a member of the executive office or the board of directors of the organization, nor even among its staff, according to a report by the Pro Justice organization.

Since Hboubati took over the presidency of the Red Crescent in 2016, the organization has been directly associated with the regime. It had lost any signs of independence after 2011, when the government of the regime indefinitely suspended the Red Crescent elections, got rid of independent management members, and dismissed the qualified staff, according to a report published by the American magazine, Foreign Affairs, in September 2018.

Jordan’s Syrian Refugee Response and Discriminatory Development Aid

Israeli website MEMRI published an extended report on the intricate dynamics and consequences of Jordan’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis, particularly through the lens of the Jordan Compact and its impact on development aid distribution. 

On March 6, 2024, Shaddin Almasri highlighted the challenges and discriminatory aspects of Jordan’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis and the broader implications of development aid strategies. The tragic death of eight Syrian farm workers in a traffic accident in June 2023 underscored the perilous conditions faced by migrant labourers in Jordan, including those from Syria, Egypt, Sudan, and impoverished Jordanians. These conditions stem from unsafe transportation practices and a broader system that often pits Syrian refugees against other migrants and refugees due to policies prioritizing national origin in labor access.

Jordan, home to approximately 2.9 million refugees and asylum seekers, has benefited from international support, particularly from the EU and the US, aimed at containing refugee populations. The Jordan Compact, established in 2016, exemplifies this approach, offering aid and improved trade in exchange for creating economic opportunities for Syrian refugees. While aimed at integrating Syrians into the workforce, this agreement has inadvertently marginalized other vulnerable groups, such as Palestinian, Iraqi refugees, and migrant workers from Egypt, by creating a tiered system of benefits based on nationality.

The Compact aimed to address economic development and migration impacts by facilitating 200,000 jobs for Syrian refugees and offering Jordan concessional financing. However, its narrow focus on Syrians has been criticized for excluding other groups and for its transactional nature, linking refugee support to economic productivity. This has particularly disadvantaged non-Syrian refugees, who face increased deportation risks and limited access to employment opportunities, deepening their economic precarity.

Efforts to transform Jordan’s labor market have included liberalizing work permit regulations for Syrians, especially in agriculture and construction, sectors previously dominated by migrant workers under the exploitative kafala system. However, these reforms have not extended to non-Syrian refugees, who continue to labor under more restrictive conditions.

While the Jordan Compact represents a significant policy shift towards integrating Syrian refugees into the labor market, its implementation has reinforced disparities among migrant and refugee populations in Jordan. The focus on labor-oriented development aid, despite its intentions, has led to a more fragmented and unequal system of support, raising questions about the sustainability and fairness of such approaches in addressing the complex challenges of refugee and migrant integration.

Applying Ukraine Precedent, DOJ Should Use Funds Forfeited from Lawbreakers in Syria to Assist Victims

In an insightful opinion piece, Ambassador Stephen J. Rapp and Alyssa Yamamoto propose that the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) utilize forfeited assets from lawbreakers to aid victims of the Syrian conflict, drawing inspiration from a precedent set with Ukraine. This suggestion comes in the wake of the DOJ’s innovative action of transferring nearly $500,000 in forfeited Russian funds to Estonia, intended to support Ukraine amidst its struggle against Russia’s unlawful aggression. The funds represent a fraction of the international effort to provide reparative measures to Ukraine, demonstrating a creative approach to supporting victims of international law violations.

However, Rapp and Yamamoto highlight a disparity in the DOJ’s approach to similar situations, particularly regarding Syria, which has been engulfed in a devastating conflict for over a decade, marked by grave violations of international law. They point out that the DOJ currently controls over $600 million in assets forfeited from Lafarge S.A., a company that admitted to providing material support to terrorist organizations, including ISIS and Al-Nusrah Front, to maintain operations of a cement plant in Syria. The authors argue for a consistent and transparent methodology by the DOJ in reallocating such forfeited assets to assist victims of the crimes these funds are associated with.

Drawing parallels between the cases of funds forfeited from Russian and Lafarge’s Syrian involvements, Rapp and Yamamoto advocate for a victims-centered approach, suggesting that the DOJ could employ a similar strategy used in the Estonia-Ukraine scenario to benefit Syrian victims. They suggest the potential for international cooperation, possibly with France, given its assistance in the Lafarge investigation, to facilitate the disbursement of these funds to Syrian victims through an intergovernmental Syria Victims Fund.

The piece underlines the importance of such an initiative in providing justice and support to victims of atrocities in Syria, calling on the DOJ to leverage its discretionary power in a manner that prioritizes victim restoration. This proposal not only seeks to address the immediate needs of Syrian victims but also to establish a principle of equity and justice in the handling of forfeited assets linked to international law violations. The authors conclude by urging the U.S. to seize this unique opportunity to demonstrate a principled, coherent, and victim-centred policy in asset forfeiture and disbursement, thereby reinforcing the United States’ commitment to supporting victims of grave international crimes.

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