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Syria Today – EU Says No to Normalization; UN to Vote Inquiry on Missing Persons; Lebanon Intensifies Raids on Refugees

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – EU Says No to Normalization; UN to Vote Inquiry on Missing Persons; Lebanon Intensifies Raids on Refugees

According to a website affiliated with the European Union, Borrell was quoted as stating that the Syrian government, backed by its supporters, holds accountability for the conflict characterized by breaches of international law and mistreatment of human rights. The United Nations General Assembly is anticipated to hold a vote on a resolution urging the establishment of an independent organization dedicated to locating missing individuals in the Syrian Arab Republic in the coming weeks. Simultaneously, Lebanon has been escalating its efforts to conduct raids and expel Syrian refugees.

The conditions are not met to change the EU’s policy on Syria

The EU High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Josep Borrell, said that normalization with the Syrian regime is not feasible for the EU and its member states unless a comprehensive and credible political transition is underway.

An EU official website quoted Borrell as saying that the Syrian regime, with support from its allies, bears responsibility for the conflict, which is marked by violations of international law and human rights abuses. The regime controls about two-thirds of Syrian territory, hindering progress toward a political solution. Normalization of relations with the regime without meaningful progress is not an option for the EU. Efforts will be made to work with Arab and international partners to achieve common goals.

While normalization between Arab states and Syria has accelerated, there is skepticism regarding whether it will lead to a more accommodating Syrian regime. The EU shares the frustration of Arab partners with the lack of progress in the political process. The EU will work with the Amman Contact Group on Syria to combine pressure and persuasion to reach common objectives, Borrell added.

Normalization with the Syrian regime is not feasible for the EU and its member states unless a comprehensive and credible political transition is underway. Conditions for the repatriation of Syrian refugees, as defined by UNHCR, are not yet met. Forced returns will not be supported until credible guarantees and international monitoring are in place.

EU sanctions imposed since 2011 do not impede humanitarian aid. Most economic sectors, including food and medicine, are exempt from sanctions. The EU works with Turkey and other partners to ensure the delivery of humanitarian assistance into Syria.

Support for Syrian civil society and women’s participation is crucial. Efforts must be made to support Syrians who wish to rebuild their country democratically and peacefully. Host communities that have generously supported millions of Syrian refugees should also be aided, while tensions between refugees and host communities need to be defused, Borrell added.

Families of missing Syrians urge UN to create an institution for the ‘disappeared’

Three Syrians whose family members forcibly disappeared during the civil war were at the United Nations this week to lobby for the creation of an Independent Institution on Missing Persons in the Syrian Arab Republic, AFP reported

The UN General Assembly is expected to vote on a resolution calling for the creation of the institution later this month.

More than 100,000 Syrians are estimated to have gone missing during the war, which is now in its 13th year. Families from all parts of the Syrian Arab Republic are struggling to uncover the fates and whereabouts of their missing loved ones. Many of the missing were arbitrarily detained or “disappeared” by the government, others were kidnapped by the Islamic State (IS) group or other militants.

A military defector code-named “Caesar” 2013 smuggled thousands of photographs out of Syria – many of them showing the bodies of Syrian detainees who had died in government detention. 

Yasmen Almashan, a founding member of the Caesar Families Association, lost five brothers during the war – four were killed by the regime of Bashar al-Assad (two forcibly disappeared, one was identified from among Caesar’s photos) and one was kidnapped by the IS group.

Standing outside the UN secretariat building in New York on Tuesday, surrounded by photos of the disappeared, Almashan described the mental anguish of losing a loved one and not knowing what happened to them. 

“Time moves but you are still in the same place, without any action … you don’t know any information – you don’t know if he died or not, if he needs your help. It’s really very hard to explain if you never lost anyone.”

Khalil al-Haj Saleh, a translator and activist, held up a photo of his brother Firas, who was kidnapped by the IS group in July 2013, and a photo of his brother’s wife, who was abducted in Gouta by Jaysh al-Islam – an anti-regime Islamist militant coalition – that same year. In 2019, Khalil co-founded the Coalition of Families of Persons Kidnapped by ISIS-Daesh, using an Arabic term for the militant group.   

He explained how the creation of the institution could help the families of the disappeared.

“We need a team of scientists to help us find and identify the bodies – a forensics team.”

Economic diplomacy: Who wants to invest in Syria now?

Despite recent indications of potential international trade ties with Syria, including agreements with European countries and discussions with China, the likelihood of significant investment from China, the EU, and Gulf states remains uncertain due to ongoing international sanctions, the unattractive business environment in Syria, and the dominance of Russian and Iranian interests in key sectors.

DW has published a long report in which it discusses recent events that suggest a potential desire to reestablish business relations with Syria, despite accusations of war crimes committed by the Syrian government. There have been indications of increased trade and investment activities involving Syria, such as Syria’s readmission to the Arab League and agreements signed with international organizations. However, experts caution that the feasibility of these developments is uncertain.

Several factors make private investment into Syria unlikely, the report suggests. International sanctions on Syria apply to any third party dealing with the country, and new US legislation could further tighten sanctions. The business environment in Syria is also deemed unattractive due to instability and corruption. Quick-win investments in sectors like oil and gas have already been taken up by Russia and Iran, longtime supporters of the Assad government.

DW adds that political motivations, such as reducing Iranian influence and promoting stability, may prompt Gulf states to provide financial support through international humanitarian agencies. China is another potential investor, with discussions of projects in various sectors. However, actual investment from China has been minimal in other sanctioned countries like Iran.

While some European businesses may have rebuilt commercial relationships with Syria indirectly, the European Union maintains sanctions on the Assad regime. There may be a gradual change in attitude toward Syria in Europe, possibly influenced by Arab countries’ recognition of the need to deal with Assad for stabilization.

Overall, the report concludes that the likelihood of significant investment in Syria remains uncertain due to the challenges posed by sanctions, the business environment, and existing commitments by other countries.

Syria’s Daraa enters three days of mourning for victims of Pylos boat tragedy

Residents of Daraa in regime-controlled Syria began a mourning period for Syrians who lost their lives in the Pylos boat disaster that unfolded on Wednesday after a fishing vessel carrying 750 passengers capsized 50 miles off the Greek coast. 

Some 104 people were rescued while 79 people had been confirmed dead.

Hundreds more are still missing, including an estimated 100 children who may have been trapped in the boat’s hold. 

Migrants on the boat were from Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Libya and Pakistan – and at least 70 were from the southern Syrian province of Daraa, Nedal al-Amari, an activist from Daraa, told The New Arab. 

Activists in Daraa announced a three-day period of mourning and additional prayers for the dead on Saturday, via posts on social media. 

Streets and neighbourhoods across the city, including the al-Sabil and al-Sour neighbourhoods, are almost completely devoid of pedestrians, while shops have remained shut. 

A young Syrian named Oday, who had two brothers on board the ship, told his Facebook followers Greek authorities were only communicating with families when they find a body and had been refusing to answer queries from non-family members. 

One of Oday’s brothers has been rescued. The other remains missing. 

Pakistan arrests traffickers

Pakistan authorities have arrested 10 alleged human traffickers after it emerged that many of the dozens of migrants and refugees who drowned off the coast of Greece were from the South Asian nation currently in the midst of an unprecedented economic and political crisis, officials said on Sunday.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif also ordered an immediate crackdown on agents engaged in people smuggling, saying they would be “severely punished”.

The federal investigation agency arrested the suspected human traffickers from different parts of the Islamabad-controlled part of Kashmir – also known as Azad Jammu and Kashmir – and another from Karachi airport, who was trying to flee abroad, local TV Geo News reported.

Voiceless’, destitute: Lebanon’s Syrian refugees lose hope for return

AFP reports that Syrian refugees languishing in camps in eastern Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley for years say their hopes for the future are evaporating as their host country loses patience and international support dwindles.

Ibrahim al-Korbaw is only 48, but the hardships of war and poverty have aged the white-bearded man beyond his years.

In front of his tent in Saadnayel, he and his children are hard at work under the midday sun, separating and peeling fragrant cloves of garlic.

Korbaw fled Syria’s Raqa almost a decade ago after the Islamic State group took over, turning the city into its de facto Syria capital.

He and five of six children — all under 12 — now earn just around $20 a week between them peeling garlic, a meagre supplement to United Nations aid that he said barely covers the necessities.

Aid groups have warned that crucial support for Syrians at home and abroad has dwindled, as the international community meets in Brussels this week for a pledging conference.

One of the boys recently begged Korbaw to stop working because his hands were bruised, “but I told him ‘keep going… we must put bread on the table’”, Korbaw told AFP.

Lebanese authorities say the country hosts around two million Syrians, while more than 800,000 are registered with the UN — the highest number of refugees per capita in the world.

‘No home’ 

But amid a crushing economic crisis that has pushed most of Lebanon into poverty, anti-Syrian sentiment has soared, the government has called for refugees to leave and security forces have deported dozens to Syria this year alone.

Korbaw says he cannot go back to his destroyed house in Raqa, and that he fears arrest and deportation — especially after Lebanese authorities began a crackdown on Syrians in April.

“I would rather die in front of my children” in Lebanon, he said, crouched over the garlic, beads of sweat trickling down his face.

“At least they would know for sure that I’m dead,” he added, alluding to the tens of thousands whose fates are unknown in Syria.

Other refugees living in agricultural lands in eastern Lebanon told AFP that no matter how dire their situation, they could not return to Syria because their homes were gone, they feared forced conscription and regime reprisals, or had no means to support their families there.

Lebanon rounding up Syrian refugees for deportation regardless of legal status

Lebanon has been intensifying raids and deportations of Syrian refugees, regardless of their legal status, back to war-torn Syria. Anti-refugee sentiment in Lebanon has fueled these actions, with reports indicating that both registered and unregistered refugees are being deported, MEE reported

The UNHCR, which does not differentiate between registered and unregistered refugees when providing assistance, takes reports of deportations seriously and advocates for refugee protection and international law principles. 

However, documented evidence shows that the Lebanese armed forces are conducting these operations, while Lebanon’s General Security office should be responsible for them. Humanitarian workers and NGOs have raised concerns about the safety and legality of these deportations, as Syria is not considered a safe country for refugees to return to. 

There are fears that deportees may face torture, ill-treatment, or harm in Syria. The situation has created a climate of fear and uncertainty among Syrian refugees in Lebanon, who fear deportation and potential harm if forced to return to Syria.

The Iranian Regime’s Involvement in Syria’s Deir-ez-Zor

Iranian opposition website, Iran Focus, has reported that The Iranian regime has been implementing a strategy of soft power in Syria’s Deir-ez-Zor province to extend its influence beyond military involvement and support for the Assad regime. 

This strategy, according to the opposition website, involves the establishment of cultural centers that target the predominantly Sunni Muslim population. Critics argue that these cultural initiatives serve a hidden agenda of expanding the regime’s influence and solidifying Iran’s interests in post-war Syria. 

The centers offer various courses and programs, including after-school classes, English and computer courses, and nursing courses. Iranian regime-affiliated charities, such as the Jihad Construction Organization, are also involved in supporting these programs. Reports suggest that the regime aims to secretly train youths for jihad through these cultural centers and provide free education and monthly stipends to young individuals. 

The regime is also involved in the construction of religious centers, including a Shiite religious center and a shrine, further solidifying its presence and influence in the region. These soft power initiatives are seen as Iran’s gateway to Syria and a means to maintain a long-lasting presence even if a political solution to the civil war is reached.


This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.

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