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Syria Today – Fighting Continues in Deir-ez-Zor; Suweida Protesters Wreck Assad Statue

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria
Syria Today – Fighting Continues in Deir-ez-Zor; Suweida Protesters Wreck Assad Statue

Ongoing clashes in the Deir-ez-Zor governorate between Kurdish and Arab militias have resulted in approximately two dozen casualties. Observers note that these hostilities are perceived as advantageous to Iran, Turkey, and Russia. Simultaneously, protests in Suweida have persisted into Monday, showing no signs of subsiding. Reports indicate that enraged demonstrators in southern Syria vandalized a statue of late Syrian president Hafez el-Assad on Monday, commemorating the 2015 assassination of a prominent anti-government figure.

Fighting among US proxies in Syria presents opportunity to Washington’s rivals

American proxy militias in eastern Syria engaged in heavy clashes this week, potentially undermining the US presence in the country and adding another twist to the 12-year, multi-faction conflict, Abu Dhabi’s The National argues.

The fighting, mainly in Deir-ez-Zor governorate between Kurdish and Arab militias that left about two dozen people dead, plays to the advantage of Iran, Turkey and Russia, observers said.

The three powers have also carved out zones of influence in Syria and comprise the so-called Astana grouping.

They want to see the US exit Syria, leaving the scene solely to them.

“We are seeing the result of territorial competition between highly pragmatic militias over loot and resources,” a source in the US-supported, Kurdish controlled administration of eastern Syria told The National.

Since Syria was carved out of the remnants of the Ottoman Empire in the 1920s, the east has been a centre of land disputes between Arabs and Kurds, exacerbated by ethnic tensions.

In the 1980s, thousands of Kurds fled Turkey to Syria, to escape fighting between the authorities and Kurdish separatists. This raised Arab-Kurdish tensions in Syria.

The fighting this week pits the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) against the Sunni Arab Deir-ez-Zor Military Council.

The YPG dominates the Syrian Democratic Forces, a military grouping set up by the United States in 2014 to fight ISIS. With money and weapons, the grouping later attracted the Military Council to its side, as locals rallied against the ultra-violent ISIS occupation.

Clashes between US allies in east Syria kill 22, says war monitor

But YPG gunmen this week arrested Abu Khawla, the Military Council’s commander, intensifying fighting between the two groups, Arab and Kurdish sources say.

On Wednesday, YPG-led infantry columns moved against the Military Council’s stronghold in a group of villages and towns near a road running parallel to the Euphrates River.

US approval

The assault, which made some headway, would not have been possible without the go-ahead from the US military in the area, the Kurdish source says.

“Abu Khawla has been expanding his road blocks and opening channels with everyone: Iran, the [President Bashar Al Assad] regime, and maybe even ISIS,” the source said.

“He has been beating the YPG at its own game.”

Over the last decade, eastern Syria, the centre of the country’s oil production, was taken over by the YPG, and its predecessor, the Democratic Union Party (PYD).

The PYD is a branch of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a Marxist-Leninist Turkish group who for decades has fought Ankara.

US Officials Seek to De-escalate Tension in Eastern Syria

Meanwhile, the US Embassy in Syria said on Sunday that senior officials had met Syrian Democratic Forces and community leaders in eastern Syria, discussing the need for de-escalation after a week of violence, Asharq Al Awsat reported.

Fighting erupted in the Deir-ez-Zor province after the US-backed, Kurdish-dominated SDF detained the head of the local Deir-ez-Zor Military Council.

The violence has killed 49 fighters and eight civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Ethan Goldrich and Major General Joel Vowell, commander of the US-led coalition fighting the ISIS group in Syria and Iraq, met with the SDF, Kurdish authorities and tribal leaders from Deir-ez-Zor in northeast Syria, said the American embassy.

“They agreed on the importance of addressing the grievances” of Deir Ezzor residents, “the dangers of outsiders interfering” and “the need to avoid civilian deaths and casualties”, said an embassy statement on X, formerly Twitter.

The participants also agreed on “the need for de-escalation of violence as soon as possible.”

Goldrich and Vowell reiterated the importance of “the strong US partnership with the SDF in the D-ISIS effort.”

The largely Arab-majority Deir-ez-Zor province is controlled by the SDF to the east of the Euphrates, while forces loyal to the Damascus regime and Iran-affiliated fighters are stationed on the west bank.

The US-led coalition maintains bases there, as well as in Syria’s Al-Omar gas field.

The situation “is being handled with great sensitivity, but we hope the issues will be settled soon, whether militarily or in communication with the Arab tribes in the region,” SDF spokesman Farhad Shami said.

Protesters in Southern Syria Smash Statue as They Mark 2015 Assassination of Anti-govt Leader

Protests in Suweida continued on Monday without indications of fading away. 

Asharq Al-Awsat reports that hundreds of angry protesters in southern Syria smashed the statue of Syria’s late president on Monday as they marked the 2015 assassination of a prominent anti-government Druze leader.

The protests in the province of Suweida, where the Druze community represents the majority of the population, have entered their third week. The demonstrations were initially driven by surging inflation and the war-torn country’s spiraling economy but quickly shifted focus, with marchers calling for the fall of President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

Monday’s protest took place in the provincial capital, also called Suweida, where angry men and woman called for the downfall of Assad’s government. Some smashed the statue of Assad’s late father and predecessor, Hafez Assad.

Several demonstrators marched up to the building of the local branch of the social security and tore down a giant poster of Bashar Assad, according to videos circulated on social media and opposition activists.

Monday marked the eighth anniversary of the assassination of cleric Sheik Wahid Balous, a prominent critic of Assad. He had called on the youth in Suweida to refuse to serve in the military.

Balous, a strong supporter of the opposition trying to topple Assad, died in one of two bomb explosions on Sept. 4, 2015, that also killed 25 others. Some have blamed the government for the killing.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, said the protesters initially went into the Swedia municipality building and removed Hafez Assad’s statue from the yard, carried it to a nearby street and smashed it there.

Some demonstrators angrily kicked chunks of the statue as it lay on the ground.

UNESCO Director-General deplores killing of media worker Najm el-Din Faisal Haj Sinan in Syria

Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, has deplored the killing of Najm el-Din Faisal Haj Sinan in North-Eastern Syria on 23 August.

I deplore the killing of Najm el-Din Faisal Haj Sinan. I reiterate my call to the authorities to ensure the safety of journalists, media professionals and associated personnel in situations of armed conflict, in compliance with UNSC Resolution 2222. I urge them to investigate this attack and bring those responsible to justice.

Sinan was employed as a driver for the all-female broadcaster JIN TV. He was on assignment in north-eastern Syria when he was killed by a drone strike, which also injured a journalist.

UNESCO promotes the safety of journalists through global awareness-raising, capacity building and by coordinating the implementation of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.

Aleppo authorities must ensure that building safety measures do not result in forced evictions and homelessness

Amnesty International has expressed concerns about the safety and housing rights of residents affected by the earthquakes in Aleppo. The organization calls on Syrian authorities to prioritize the right to adequate housing for those impacted by the earthquakes and to prevent unlawful demolitions of buildings deemed unsafe. 

Amnesty International warns that improper implementation of building safety measures may exacerbate the challenges faced by earthquake survivors. The organization urges authorities to consult with residents, provide proper notice, financial compensation, or alternative housing before conducting demolitions. 

Furthermore, the report highlights bureaucratic obstacles hindering residents’ efforts to repair damaged homes. 

The organization emphasizes the need for proper technical and financial support without discrimination and the importance of adhering to international human rights standards.

The Made-in-Syria Drug That Has Arab World on Edge

The Washington Post has published a long analysis on the Captagon industry in Syria. Titled “The Made-in-Syria Drug That Has Arab World on Edge,” the article discusses the emergence and impact of a highly addictive stimulant known as captagon in the Arab world, particularly its association with Syria’s President Bashar Al Assad and its implications for regional politics. Here’s an analysis of the key points:

Captagon Overview:

Captagon is an amphetamine-type substance that is often referred to as the “poor man’s cocaine.” It shares similarities with other stimulants like speed and can induce heightened energy, alertness, euphoria, and a sense of invincibility. It has gained notoriety as the “jihadists’ drug” due to its use among Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria. The Gulf Arab states have been significant consumers of captagon over the past two decades, with its popularity ranging from teenagers studying for exams to construction workers.

Origins and Composition:

Originally developed in Germany in the 1960s as a pharmaceutical called Captagon, the drug contained fenethylline and was prescribed for various conditions. It was banned in many countries due to concerns about its addictive nature and side effects. Illicit production emerged in southern Europe and eventually shifted to Lebanon and Syria in the 2000s. Modern captagon tablets may contain a mix of substances including fenethylline, amphetamine, caffeine, and more.

Assad’s Involvement and Link to the Drug:

The article suggests that the Assad regime in Syria is involved in the production and trafficking of captagon, allegedly to generate funds and maintain loyalty. The UK Foreign Office claims that around 80% of the world’s captagon supply is produced in Syria, making it a significant financial resource for the regime. Allegedly, multibillion-dollar shipments leave Syrian strongholds, and Assad’s younger brother, Maher al-Assad, is said to oversee the drug’s distribution. However, Assad himself denies any involvement.

International Response and Diplomacy:

Different approaches are being taken by Western countries and Arab states in response to captagon. The US, UK, and EU have imposed new sanctions on individuals and entities associated with the Captagon trade in Syria and Lebanon. The US State Department’s strategy acknowledges the challenge of disrupting the trade due to limited impact. On the other hand, Arab states like Saudi Arabia are indicating a willingness to normalize relations with Assad, possibly to curb the drug’s spread. There have been attempts to engage Assad in regional summits and discussions.

Assad’s Perspective and Diplomatic Implications:

Assad places blame on Western and regional states for creating chaos in Syria, indirectly attributing the drug trade to their interventions. He implies that lifting sanctions and providing funds for economic reconstruction could be conditions for cooperation in addressing the captagon issue and facilitating the return of Syrian refugees. This perspective underscores the potential use of captagon as a “diplomatic tool.”

Overall, the article highlights how the Captagon issue has multifaceted implications, intertwining the drug trade, regional politics, international relations, and attempts to rehabilitate the image of the Assad regime in the Arab world. It reflects the complex interplay between the drug trade and political dynamics in the Middle East.

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