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Syria Today – Cooperation Agreement Signed with Arab States; France Honors YPG

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – Cooperation Agreement Signed with Arab States; France Honors YPG

A quartet memo of understanding was signed on Monday between Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan for cooperation in the agricultural field and the promotion of trade exchange to achieve agricultural integration between the four countries.

The memo, which was signed at the Dama Rose Hotel in Damascus, also includes enhancing cooperation in the agricultural field and exchange of experiences, information, successful agricultural experiences, and the management of nature reserves and gardens, according to SANA’s reporter.

The memo includes cooperation in the field of fighting fires, climate change, rural development, agricultural extension, production, animal health and veterinary medicines.

“Through the memo, investment projects will be presented in the field of establishing facilities for livestock and fodder and benefiting from the projects of Investment Law No. 18,” Agriculture Minister Eng. Mohammad Hassan Qatana said.

For his part, Iraqi Minister of Agriculture Abbas al-Alaywi said, “The memo is a starting point for joint work and cooperation in the agricultural sector, on which most Arab peoples depend. It also provides markets for selling the products of the four countries.”

In turn, Jordanian Minister of Agriculture Khaled al-Hanifat said: “The memo is a translation of the sincere fraternal feelings between our countries, and it helps us achieve integration in a way that serves the interest of our peoples.”

According to Lebanese Minister of Agriculture Abbas Hajj Hassan, “This memorandum is a foundational step for a joint pioneering Arab action emanating from Damascus, and we hope that it will include all Arab countries in the near future.”

Mekdad, ESCWA discuss early recovery

The Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, Dr. Faisal al-Mekdad, met on Monday, with Rola Dashti, Under-Secretary-General of the UN and Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), and the accompanying delegation.

Minister Mekdad stressed during the meeting the importance of the existing cooperation between the Syrian government and the ESCWA, and the need to work in the current and upcoming phases on plans related to early recovery from the effects of the crisis and the earthquake, leading to reconstruction and sustainable development.

Dashti is currently visiting Syria accompanied by a delegation of experts.

The visit aims to discuss possible areas of cooperation between the institutions concerned in Syria and the ESCWA to develop the environment for micro, small and medium enterprises in a way that would allow the launching of more programs which aim at transforming the ideas of small projects into living production models capable of growth and sustainability.

Mekdad referred to the impact of the unilateral coercive sanctions imposed by the United States and the West on Syria, whose repercussions became more evident after the earthquake, which revealed the falsehood of the West’s claims that the sanctions do not affect the people, calling for action to lift them immediately.

Dashti presented the action plans developed by ESCWA to deal with the essential national needs in Syria, expressing her satisfaction with the existing cooperation.

Dashti indicated that ESCWA’s work priorities in Syria are to support the infrastructure of various sectors, such as water, electricity, administration, women’s empowerment, the digital economy and other areas of cooperation.

Dashti also met with the Minister of Economy and Foreign Trade, Dr. Mohammad Samer al-Khalil and Head of the Planning and International Cooperation Authority, Dr. Fadi al-Salti.

French Senate honors YPG, YPJ for fighting ISIS

The French Senate honoured on Saturday the spokespersons for the Kurdish Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) and People’s Protection Units (YPG) in appreciation of the sacrifices made by them in fighting the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group, North Press reported.

As part of Newroz Reception held in the capital of France, Nuri Mahmud, the YPG spokesperson, and Roxsana Muhammad, the YPJ  spokeswoman, were awarded the “Medal of Honor” by the French Senator, Xavier Ecoville.

Newroz Reception is held annually by the Kurdish Businessmen Union in France, it was organized in the French Senate, as well as it was celebrated in the USA and England.

In addition to officials from the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), many French senators and politicians attended the ceremony.

A delegation from the AANES travelled to Paris to discuss the challenges facing the political process in Syria with officials of the French Senate.

In a statement to North Press, Roxana Muhammad, the YPJ spokeswoman, said, “The Kurdish Businessmen Union invited us in France to the Newroz celebration, where Nuri Muhammad and I were awarded the Medal of Honor.” 

She said they met with Pierre Laurent, Vice-President of the French Senate, and discussed the general situation in Syria and possible political solutions.

Fighting ISIS, Turkish threats, and aggression against the region, in addition to the political, economic, humanitarian, and security challenges facing the AANES, topped the talks, Muhammad added.

Ankara is not happy

But Ankara was upset with this event.

According to AP, Turkey’s foreign ministry summoned the French ambassador to “strongly condemn” the French senate’s decision to host Syrian Kurdish groups that Ankara considers to be terrorists, the Turkish state-run news agency reported Monday.

Anadolu Agency reported that Turkish officials protested to French Ambassador Herve Magro and reiterated Ankara’s expectations of solidarity from its NATO allies in its fight against terrorism. They also asked France not to support alleged efforts by Kurdish militants to “gain international credence,” according to Anadolu.

SDC demands global fact-finding committees be sent to Syria’s Afrin

The massacre committed in Jindires by Turkish-supported Syrian fighters is still flaring. 

Representative of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) in Washington, Sinem Muhammad, said it is necessary that international fact-finding organizations are sent to Afrin, northwest Syria, to reveal crimes committed by the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA).  

This came in an interview on North Press’ Washington Online, where Muhammad made her remarks when asked about the crime of killing four civilian Kurds by the SNA for celebrating Newroz in the town of Jindires west of Afrin.

She called for establishing an international fact-finding committee to be sent to Afrin to unveil racist crimes committed against the Kurds.

On March 20th, militants of Jaysh al-Sharqiya, a faction affiliated with the Turkish-backed SNA, killed four Kurds and wounded others in Jindires for celebrating Newroz.

Muhammad said this crime happened while the people in Afrin have not healed from impacts of the Feb. 6 earthquakes.

Dark days ahead for Syria’s earthquake-hit northwest

Now 13 years into the Syria conflict, northwest Syria is in ruins. Over a month since the devastating earthquake ravaged the region of 4.5 million, the humanitarian response remains a failure. Today, dark days are ahead as the war-torn region struggles to rebuild from one of the worst natural disasters in modern history.

At least 15,000 buildings are reported destroyed or damaged, leaving at least 11,000 families homeless throughout the northwest. In the numerous scattered tent settlements — and elsewhere in the region where water and sewage infrastructure is in shambles — cholera has spread, with at least two deaths reported since the quake.

Meanwhile, the capacity of the humanitarian response is extremely limited. Over 90% of humanitarian assistance to Syria moves through the hands of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, leaving most of the opposition-held territories dry of the much-needed aid, according to Steven Heydemann, a political scientist specializing in Syria.

“There is absolutely no question about the scale of the imbalance in the volume of support that is moving through the regime’s hands compared to in opposition areas,” Heydemann told The New Arab.

Large portions of the northwest are under the control of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a group previously affiliated with al-Qaeda. The group is under sanction by the UN, which has presented immense obstacles to humanitarian work and rebuilding in the besieged region.

Other parts of the northwest are controlled by opposition groups under the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA), who, unlike the Syrian government, cannot make official requests for assistance or build anything permanent in the contested territory.

Although the US announced the lifting of sanctions for earthquake-related aid to Syria’s regime-held areas, sanctions are still in place over the designated terrorist groups in the northwest. “It’s not a context that’s easy for humanitarians to navigate,” Heydemann explained.

Even in the earthquake’s aftermath, Assad has continued to carry out attacks on the opposition-held region, bombing Idleb already over 84 times since the quake.

“The continued violence creates an atmosphere of uncertainty and vulnerability and makes it difficult to move towards a stable context where reconstruction can happen,” said Heydemann.

The UN has driven the humanitarian response for Syria since the Syrian uprising 12 years ago. “The key issue for northwest Syria is the focus on the UN as the main facilitator of humanitarian work,” said Syrian political economist Karam Shaar.

“We’re at the point now where more of the aid needs to go directly to Syrian organizations,” Shaar told The New Arab.

The UN has been slammed for its slow provision of earthquake aid to the northwest. The first aid convoy into the opposition-held areas of Idlib and Aleppo — the hardest hit by the earthquake — did not arrive until four days after the quake.

There Are 13 Guantanamos in the Syrian Desert

Charles Lister wrote a detailed piece for Politico.  Lister is a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute and author of The Syrian Jihad: Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Evolution of an Insurgency.

The article discusses the ongoing threat of ISIS and the role of the US in combating its insurgency in northeastern Syria. Despite ISIS’s territorial defeat, a small force of 900 US troops remains in the region, supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in their counterterrorism efforts. However, the constant threat of attack from Iranian-sponsored militias is palpable, with the recent March 23rd attack on a US base in eastern Syria resulting in the death of a contractor and the injury of five US servicemembers. Retaliatory airstrikes were carried out, but it remains unclear if they deter further attacks. The article highlights the complex and multifaceted nature of the security situation in Syria, with the US facing the dual challenges of countering ISIS and confronting the threats posed by a hostile Iran.

While an ISIS attack during our visit underlined the terror group’s persistent threat, the reason for such a heightened awareness of Iranian threats was revealed on March 23rd, when an Iranian suicide drone hit a U.S. base in eastern Syria, killing a contractor and wounding five U.S. servicemembers. Such tit-for-tat incidents are far from new — this was the 79th Iranian attack on U.S. forces in Syria since January 2021 — but the deadly nature of the attack was extremely rare. The U.S. has not suffered a combat fatality in Syria for years. Retaliatory U.S. airstrikes on Iran-linked positions in the area followed just hours later, but it is unclear if they would be sufficient to deter further attacks. That Russia has markedly escalated its flight of fighter jets into U.S.-controlled airspace in northeastern Syria has complicated things further. One such ‘overflight’ occurred during our visit to the area — no coincidence, given the presence of CENTCOM’s leadership.

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