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Syria Today – Damascus Inks Partnership with Beijing; Arab FMs Talk Syria; Attack Against SDF

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – Damascus Inks Partnership with Beijing; Arab FMs Talk Syria; Attack Against SDF

In the previous week, President Assad held discussions with Chinese President Xi Jinping, during which President Xi declared the formation of a “strategic partnership” between Syria and China. In parallel, on Saturday, the Foreign Ministers of Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq convened to deliberate on matters of economic and political collaboration, as well as regional concerns, notably the ongoing Syrian crisis. Simultaneously, on Friday night, an assault was carried out targeting a location held by Kurdish-led forces with U.S. support in the Deir-ez-Zor province of eastern Syria.

Leaders of Syria and China announce strategic partnership as part of Asian Games diplomacy

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has been largely isolated internationally since the beginning of the civil war in 2011, recently concluded a visit to China that may have far-reaching implications. This visit marked his first to China since 2004, making him the only Syrian president to have made such a trip. The isolation of Assad’s regime intensified after his government’s crackdown on Arab Spring protests in 2011 and during the ensuing civil war, leading to accusations of war crimes, including the use of poison gas and barrel bombs, torture, and extrajudicial killings.

In May, Assad attended an Arab League summit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, marking his return to the international stage after over a decade of suspension due to the civil war. This move displeased Western leaders, but it hinted at the potential for rehabilitating Syria’s diplomatic ties. Assad’s visit to China seems to be a significant step in this direction.

Upon arriving in Hangzhou, Assad received a warm welcome, with celebratory music and colorful costumes. During his visit, he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who announced the establishment of a “strategic partnership” between Syria and China. Xi expressed China’s willingness to cooperate with Syria, support each other, and work together to defend international fairness and justice. He also vowed to aid Syria in resisting foreign interference, preserving national independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity, as well as strengthening its counterterrorism capabilities.

This partnership is expected to encompass cooperation through China’s Belt and Road Initiative, also known as the New Silk Road, which Syria joined in 2022. It could lead to increased imports of high-value agricultural products from Syria, potentially aiding its economic recovery. However, the extent of financial aid from this partnership remains uncertain.

Unlike Iran and Russia, which have directly supported the Assad regime in the Syrian civil war, China has not taken a direct military role but has used its veto power on the UN Security Council alongside Russia to block resolutions targeting Syria. China’s interest in strategic investments in Syria could provide access to Mediterranean ports, such as Latakia and Tartus, aligning with the New Silk Road initiative and opening new prospects for trade and connectivity.

Assad’s visit to China also reflects President Xi’s desire to challenge the influence of the United States and its allies. Xi has welcomed representatives of countries ostracized by Western powers, and this visit further solidifies China’s role as a player in global politics. However, it is unlikely to improve Assad’s standing with the US and EU, as no Western country is currently receptive to receiving him.

Assad’s visit to China represents a potential turning point in Syria’s international relations. The establishment of a “strategic partnership” between Syria and China, along with potential economic cooperation through the Belt and Road Initiative, could reshape Syria’s diplomatic landscape and its economic recovery prospects. However, it also highlights China’s geopolitical ambitions and further isolates Assad from Western countries.

FMs of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan discuss Syria, regional issues

Foreign Ministers of Egypt, Jordan and Iraq met on Saturday to discuss economic and political cooperation, and regional issues including the Syrian crisis, North Press reported.

The meeting took place on the sideline of the UN General Assembly where the Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sameh Shoukry, met with the Iraqi FM, Fuad Hussein, and his Jordanian counterpart, Ayman Safadi.

According to the joint statement, the officials discussed ways to activate cooperation between the three countries in several economic and political fields.

They tackled many issues in the region and stressed the need to achieve stability and security. They also discussed the efforts to solve the Syrian crisis, particularly the efforts of the Arab Contact Group to achieve the interests of the Syrian people and alleviate their suffering.

The ministers also discussed the tripartite cooperation mechanism between Iraq, Jordan and Egypt and followed up on the outcomes of the latest meeting held between them in Baghdad in June 2021.

The Foreign Ministers agreed to continue their coordination in preparation for the next tripartite summit, scheduled to be held in Cairo. 

Another attack against SDF in Syria’s Deir Az-Zour province

An attack was launched on Friday night against a position belonging to US-backed, Kurdish-led forces in eastern Syria’s Deir-ez-Zor province, The New Arab reported.

The attack against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) was believed to have been carried out by gunmen affiliated with Arab tribes.

Activist Wissam Al-Akidi told The New Arab’s Arabic sister service Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that there was an attack on an SDF military checkpoint on the outskirts of the town of Al-Tayyana. The extent of the losses was not clear.

A group of young people belonging to Arab tribes have been carrying out surprise attacks against the SDF for around 10 days following the Kurdish-led organization’s recapture of territory in Deir Az-Zour province.

There had been fierce clashes between the group and Arab fighters, including from the formerly SDF-affiliated Deir Az-Zour Military Council militia.

Meanwhile, the SDF arrested eight people, including civilians, during a raid-and-arrest campaign in the town of As-Susa in the province.

One of the group’s reconnaissance aircraft also flew through the area.

Cyprus asks EU to re-evaluate Syrian ‘safe zones’

Cyprus has formally called on the European Union to re-evaluate which areas of Syria can be declared safe and free from armed conflict so that Syrian migrants can eventually be repatriated there, Cypriot authorities said Friday.

Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou was the sole official to raise the issue during July’s informal gathering of his EU counterparts in Spain. No other EU nation has taken a formal position on safe zone re-evaluation, the Interior Ministry told The Associated Press.

Cyprus is fronting the re-evaluation bid because it says its proximity to the region has now made it a prime destination for Syrian migrants.

Ethnically divided Cyprus, with a population of nearly a million in the southern, internationally recognized part where migrants seek asylum, says migrants now comprise 6% of its population – much higher than the average in other EU member countries.

War-torn Syria has for the past 12 years has been designated as an unsafe country where indiscriminate violence poses a real risk to the safety of its citizens. The threat makes them eligible for international protection status which enables them to live and work in third countries.

Syrian migrants in Cyprus

Syrian migrants are seen near Nicosia, Cyprus, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias, File)

The government of Cyprus is proposing that the EU re-examine whether conditions on the ground in Syria – or parts of the country – have changed enough for Syrians to be safely repatriated.

The practicalities of how such repatriations would take place could be decided later. One possibility would be to start repatriations of Syrians who hail from the declared safe zones, according to the Cypriot ministry.

SDF’s Abdi says Iran, the Syrian government coordinate against AANES

Commander in chief of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) Mazloum Abdi has said that there is coordination between Iran and the Syrian government against the Autonomous  Administration of North and East Syria (AANES). That was revealed in the latest events and tensions witnessed in Deir–Zor Governorate, eastern Syria.

Abdi said in an interview with Al-Majalla magazine that Turkey has also entered this line and has started supporting its affiliated armed opposition factions, aka Syrian National Army (SNA), “in the name of tribes.” Areas outside Deir ez-Zor, such as Manbij, Tal Tamr, and Ain Issa, have witnessed serious attempts to launch parallel attacks on the AANES-held areas, according to Abdi.

On Aug. 30, the SDF announced the dismissal of the commander of Deir-ez-Zor Military Council, Ahmad al-Khabil, known as Abu Khawla, from duty, for his involvement “in multiple crimes and violations, including communication and coordination with external entities hostile to the revolution, committing criminal offences and engaging in drug trafficking, mismanaging of the security situation, his negative role in increasing the activities of ISIS cells,” according to the SDF.

The operation led to the eruption of clashes between the SDF and gunmen affiliated with the dismissed leader and with al-Bashir whose groups are active in the western bank of the Euphrates which is under the control of the Syrian government forces and Iranian-backed militias.

The SDF commander added, “We can talk about the desire of the three parties to exploit the members of some tribes to implement their agendas. Although these agendas differ, their clear goal is to strike our forces and undermine the agreed-upon formula by the components of the region, which is represented in the AANES. They wanted to sabotage our good relations with tribes and the local community by using sectarian language, but they did not succeed.”

Abdi said that Damascus sought to spread chaos through continuous media incitement and attempted to involve armed groups with tribal affiliations in a battle against the SDF, and he mentioned that there has been no contact between the two parties since the tensions in Deir-ez-Zor.

Regarding the Russian shelling that targeted the SNA in the countryside of Manbij, Abdi said that Moscow does not agree to any change in its areas of influence west of the Euphrates.

Abdi attributed the decrease in Turkish threats to areas in northern Syria to the difficulty of obtaining American or Russian approval, expressing their readiness for any dialogue that serves the stability of the region and finds a solution to the Syrian crisis, “especially the areas occupied by Turkey and ensuring the return of their original inhabitants.”

He also indicated that the US-Russian tension in northern Syria is “controlled,” stating, “We seek not to make our areas a field for international and regional competition. Our relations with the two powers are shaped by the interests of the people of our areas and the interest of the Syrian people.”

Finally, Abdi addressed what he described as “impossible” conditions set by the government regarding areas in northern Syria, saying that their forces are a professional and national force, and they demand that it become part of the Syrian defence system and that its role and work be regulated by a special law that takes into account the great sacrifices made by their forces in protecting Syrians from terrorism and their ability to protect their areas efficiently.

He added that the future of the AANES is linked to its ability to maintain its experience, develop it, and correct its flaws and that it is the right of the residents to shape their local policies and elect their representatives “away from guardianship, marginalization, and exclusion.”

Abdi pointed out that the Syrian government talks about recycling the current local administration law and amending it in a way that serves the central authority, meaning that it does not talk about any form of decentralized governance, neither in the near nor the distant future.

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