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Syria Today – Damascus Condemns Israel; Opposition Attacks Aleppo Countryside; France Repatriates ISIS Family Members

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – Damascus Condemns Israel; Opposition Attacks Aleppo Countryside; France Repatriates ISIS Family Members

Syria has expressed severe condemnation of the Israeli attack on Jenin City and its camp in the West Bank, denouncing it as both a war crime and a crime against humanity. According to state media reports, four individuals, including a mother and her two daughters, lost their lives due to missile shelling by Syrian opposition forces in the town of Urum al-Kubrah in Aleppo’s southwestern countryside. Meanwhile, France has repatriated a group of 35 individuals, consisting of 10 women and 25 minors, who were residing in the al-Hol camp, located in northeastern Syria. This camp accommodated thousands of individuals associated with ISIS extremists.

Syria strongly condemns Israeli aggression on Jenin, supports Palestinian people

Syria has strongly condemned the Israeli aggression on the city of Jenin and its camp in the West Bank, which amounts to a war crime and a crime against humanity.

“The Syrian Arab Republic followed with big concern the Israeli brutal aggression on our resilient brothers in Jenin of occupied Palatine, which claimed the lives of a large number of martyrs and injured scores of others,” the Foreign and Expatriates Ministry said in a statement on Monday.

The statement added that Syria expresses its deepest condolence to the families of martyrs and wounded.

It said that Syria renews its full support for the Palestinian people in their struggle against the Israeli occupation to obtain their full rights, and calls on the United Nations to take immediate action and put an end to these crimes and hold the perpetrators accountable.

The Israeli occupation at midnight launched a wide land and air aggression on Jenin and besieged it with 1,000 soldiers.

State media says opposition kills 4 from one family in NW Syria

On Tuesday, four people, including a mother and her two daughters, were killed in missile shelling by Syrian opposition of the town of Urum al-Kubrah in the southwestern countryside of Aleppo.

The state-run SANA News Agency said, “Today’s morning, terrorist organizations deploy in the western countryside of Aleppo attacked with shells safe areas in the southwestern countryside of Aleppo, one of the shells fell on the village of Tadil of Urum al-Kubrah.”

The shelling resulted in “the martyrdom of four people, including a mother, her two daughters, and their uncle, while the father sustained injuries,” according to SANA.

Additionally, the shelling caused material losses and damage to houses and possessions.

Areas of northwest Syria in the countryside of Aleppo, Idleb, Hama, and Lattakia witnessed an almost daily military escalation and mutual shelling between the government forces and the opposition, leaving casualties on both sides.

Although the de-escalation zone in northwest Syria is subject to a Russian-Turkish ceasefire agreement signed in March 2020, the area witnesses frequent mutual bombardment between Syrian government forces and opposition factions accompanied by Russian warplanes’ flight despite the entry of the ceasefire into force.

France Returns 35 Citizens from Camp in Syria Housing Thousands Linked to ISIS 

France has returned 35 people — 10 women and 25 minors — from a sprawling camp in northeast Syria housing thousands of people linked to ISIS extremists, according to Asharq al-Awsat.

Al-Hol Camp — named after a town near the Iraqi border — holds about 51,000 people, including many widows, wives and children of ISIS fighters. Iraqis make up nearly half the population, but a sizeable minority are from outside the Middle East.

French citizens made up the largest European contingent of people who joined ISIS at the height of the extremist group’s reach. With its territorial defeat in 2019, France has brought home women and children in successive waves.

All 10 of the adults, women aged 23 to 40 years old, who returned and a 17-year-old girl were detained upon arrival or scheduled to go immediately before a judge Tuesday. The statement from the French anti-terrorism prosecutor said the other children would be taken into state custody.

Syrian regime organized feared ghost militias, war crimes researchers say

In the early years of the Syrian conflict, the Syrian government established and directed paramilitary groups known as shabbiha to crack down on opponents. 

The Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA) published seven documents showing that the highest levels of Syria’s government planned and organized the shabbiha from the start of the war.

UN investigators in 2012 concluded that shabbiha militias likely committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, torture, sexual violence, and pillaging.

The documents detail the creation of Popular Committees and their incorporation of regime supporters known as shabbiha into the security apparatus, as well as their training, instruction, and arming.

The Central Crisis Management Committee (CCMC), which reported directly to Assad, ordered the Popular Committees to be trained on using weapons against demonstrators and how to arrest them.

The documents show that the Syrian government created the militias from the beginning of the conflict, contradicting previous assumptions that they were pre-existing grassroots groups.

The CIJA report identified nine massacres in Syria involving pro-government militias, including the one in Karm al-Zeytoun in Homs in March 2012.

The documents reveal tensions between some branches of the security forces and the Popular Committees, but rather than reining in the militias, the security forces instructed not to oppose them.

The evidence provided by the CIJA documents could be used in international justice cases against individuals involved in the shabbiha militias.

Universal jurisdiction cases in countries like the Netherlands, Sweden, France, and Germany could prosecute war crimes committed in Syria, based on these documents.

Watchdog Denies Syrian Claim of a chemical attack on its troops

Syria’s allegations that poison gas was used against its soldiers had “no reasonable grounds,” according to a chemical weapons watchdog. The announcement on Tuesday was in regard to two incidents in 2017.

Investigators from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) found “inconsistencies” and a general lack of evidence for Syria’s allegations that seven of its troops were harmed by chemical weapons, during clashes with rebels.

It was “concluded that there are no reasonable grounds to determine that chemicals were used as a weapon in the reported incidents,” OPCW said in a statement.

Damascus asked the Hague-based watchdog to investigate what it called two “mortar attacks with poisonous gas” in July and August 2017 during a government offensive against the Free Syrian Army and Islamist rebels, in the village of Kharbit Massasneh, in the central province of Hama.

In its claim, Syria said three soldiers were hospitalized with symptoms resembling those from a chlorine gas attack. According to Damascus, its troops exhibited breathing difficulties, muscle spasms and frothing at the mouth. It also said there were four other similar casualties in the August incident.

The OPCW investigators interviewed 18 people including casualties. The investigation led them to gather evidence including photos and videos from the hospital, plus medical records, which were conducted during several trips to Syria. 

However, the watchdog said it “faced challenges in collecting sufficient information,” stating it was unable to visit a front-line site. According to AFP, Syria provided no photo or video evidence from the location, munition remnants or blood, clothing or soil samples.

Syrian gang leader arrested with 14 other suspects in Spain

Europol supported the Spanish National Police (Policía Nacional) in dismantling an organized criminal network smuggling migrants from Syria to the EU. Law enforcement authorities from France, Germany and Norway were also involved in the investigation. 

The investigation revealed that the criminal network, possibly active since 2017, was involved in a wide range of illegal activities, including migrant smuggling and the trafficking of drugs and firearms. Well established in several EU and Middle Eastern countries, the criminal network used an unusually long and expensive route to smuggle irregular migrants from Syria into the EU; starting in Syria, irregular migrants were taken via Sudan or the UAE towards Libya. From Libya, they were taken to Algeria, before the journey into Europe via the Mediterranean. 

For the final leg of the journey, the suspects facilitated their illegal entry into Spain across the Western Mediterranean. Syrian nationals are usually smuggled through the Eastern Mediterranean, from Turkey to Greece. Although some irregular migrants remained in Spain, the final destination countries for the majority of those who managed to reach Spanish shores were France, Belgium, Germany and Norway.

The criminal network, led by a Syrian suspect, benefited from a widespread infrastructure in the countries along the route, mainly Lebanon, Sudan, Libya and Algeria. The suspects arranged for the smuggling of at least 200 migrants through the rarely-used migration route from Syria to Sudan or the United Arab Emirates. In Libya, the smugglers used corrupt officials to facilitate the transfer to Algeria, from where the migrants were transported to Spain on high-speed boats. In Europe, members of the criminal network based in Belgium, Germany and Spain coordinated the sea crossings and facilitated the secondary movements to the destination countries. The suspects charged between EUR 7,000 and EUR 20,000 per person for the trip. 

A large part of the operational analysis was developed in the framework of the Information Clearing House, created to enhance the intelligence picture of organized migrant smuggling from source and transit countries. This exchange of criminal intelligence has resulted in the detection of new trends, including new modi operandi in the migrant smuggling landscape. The exchange of intelligence related to such trends and smuggling incidents detected en route provides investigators from national authorities with valuable investigation leads on the extent of the criminal activity and the wide geographical span of such criminal network.

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