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Syria Today – Fire in al-Hol; U.S. Vows to Hold Regime Accountable on Chemical Weapons

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – Fire in al-Hol; U.S. Vows to Hold Regime Accountable on Chemical Weapons

On Wednesday, a fire erupted in al-Hol, a camp located in the northeastern region of Syria. This camp shelters a large population primarily composed of women and children associated with the Islamic State group. Although the fire resulted in material losses, the camp’s director confirmed that no fatalities occurred. Simultaneously, on Tuesday, the United States and its partnered nations made a commitment to consistently highlight the Syrian regime’s lack of transparency regarding its chemical weapons program during monthly sessions at the UN Security Council. This decision stands despite objections from Russia and China.

Fire breaks out at north Syria camp housing families linked to Islamic State group fighters

AP reported that a fire broke out Wednesday in a sprawling camp in northeast Syria housing tens of thousands of mostly women and children linked to the Islamic State group causing material damage but no casualties, the camp’s director said.

The Al-Hol Camp holds about 51,000 people, the vast majority of them women and children, including the wives, widows and other family members of IS militants. Most are Syrians and Iraqis. But there are also around 8,000 women and children from 60 other nationalities who live in a part of the camp known as the Annex. They are generally considered the most die-hard IS supporters among the camp residents.

The camp’s director, Jihan Hanan, told The Associated Press that the fire broke out in the annex torching 10 tents and reaching a center for an organization that takes care of children. She added that a container used by the center was burnt as well.

Hanan said the cause of the fire that broke out in the early afternoon Wednesday was still unknown. She added that the local Kurdish police force known as Asayesh brought tanker trucks from outside the camp to extinguish the fire.

Efforts to organize consultations with Syria not succeed – UN

The Technical Secretariat of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has faced continued difficulties in its attempts to arrange the next round of consultations with Syria, according to a senior official from the UN for Disarmament Affairs who addressed the UN Security Council on Tuesday, according to a North Press report.

Adedeji Ebo, Deputy to the High Representative of the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, emphasized in a press release that Damascus’s full cooperation is imperative to resolve its chemical weapons dossier.

These discussions occurred during a UNSC meeting dedicated to the issue of chemical weapons.

The official noted that due to incomplete submissions from the Syrian National Authorities, the Technical Secretariat dispatched a reduced team from the Declaration Assessment Team to Syria to conduct limited on-site activities.

Ebo stated that the declaration submitted by Syria still cannot be considered as accurate and comprehensive.

Mohamad Katoub, Project Manager at IMPACT — Civil Society Research and Development, cautioned against the prevailing situation where the same regime that previously employed chemical weapons without accountability remains in power, backed by the same Russian Federation allies.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the United States representative, remarked, “The Assad regime is betting this Council will simply move on.”

It has become increasingly evident that the al-Assad regime never had the intention to fully cooperate with these efforts. The US representative highlighted that the regime has consistently deceived the international community and investigators, repeatedly obstructing the OPCW’s work.

A day before the UN Security Council meeting, the Opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC) urged the Global Coalition to take decisive measures against the “Syrian regime” for its use of chemical weapons on its own citizens.

US vows to keep Syria regime’s chemical weapons programme in UN spotlight over Russian, Chinese opposition

The United States and its allies vowed on Tuesday to keep the Syrian regime’s failure to account for its chemical weapons programme in the spotlight at the UN Security Council every month despite opposition from Russia and China, New Arab reported.

US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the council Syrian regime President Bashar Assad’s government “has repeatedly lied to the international community” and to investigators from the international chemical weapons watchdog, which has confirmed that it used these banned weapons on at least nine occasions.

She said the Biden administration will continue to demand a full accounting from Syria as it pledged after joining the Chemical Weapons Convention in September 2013, when it was pressed by its close ally Russia following a deadly chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, which the West blamed on Damascus.

For the first time, Russia and China refused to speak at the monthly meeting on the Syria chemical weapons issue, saying they are repetitive and should be cut back.

The Syria regime’s minister counsellor Alhakan Dandy did speak, saying his country was surprised at this month’s meeting “given that there have been no developments that would require it”, other than what he called continuous attempts by the United States “to exploit the chemical weapons file to serve their agenda of hostility against Syria”.

He repeated the Syrian regime’s condemnation of the use of chemical weapons and called claims it used such weapons in Ghouta, where more than 1,400 people were killed, “lies”. He also insisted the regime’s military doesn’t possess any chemical weapons.

Dandy said Syria has cooperated with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which monitors the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

But he also accused its investigators of being politicized and “using unprofessional working methods and double standards”.

UN deputy disarmament chief Adedeji Ebo told the council, however, that Syria has failed again to provide the OPCW with a full accounting of its program, citing “gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies” in its declaration.

The IRC responds to the recent UN cross-border assistance agreement

In a development that has stirred concerns among humanitarian organizations, the United Nations’ confirmation of the continuation of cross-border assistance through the Bab al Hawa crossing, has raised questions about the future of aid delivery in Syria’s northwest. The agreement, brokered between the Government of Syria and the UN, has left experts and aid workers worried about the potential impact on effective operations on the ground.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC), a prominent humanitarian organization, has expressed its apprehensions regarding the removal of the certainty and security previously provided by Security Council authorization. This shift in approach is predicted to have significant ramifications on the ability of humanitarian organizations, especially those within Syria, to function efficiently.

With the current agreement set to expire in January 2024, precisely during the harsh winter season, concerns have escalated regarding the ability to upscale humanitarian efforts to meet the escalating needs of the crisis-stricken region. The unpredictability associated with the six-month agreement duration has raised critical challenges related to personnel recruitment and retention, procurement of essential supplies, and the execution of services that demand a much longer time frame for effective implementation.

The extension of the agreement to include two additional crossings, which were initially opened to aid earthquake response for a mere three months, has failed to provide a sense of security to stakeholders. The IRC has highlighted the inadequacy of this extension in offering substantial reassurance.

The IRC has called upon the United Nations to play a proactive role in engaging with all relevant parties on the ground. The objective is to ensure an independent, impartial, and neutral humanitarian response that accurately reflects and addresses the pressing needs in Syria’s northwest. This appeal is made even more urgent considering that humanitarian assistance has frequently been manipulated as a political tool throughout the Syrian conflict.

The security and protection provided by the Security Council resolution have been a vital safeguard, enabling communities in the northwest to access life-saving assistance under the aegis of the international community. With the current humanitarian needs in Syria reaching an all-time high, unobstructed access to communities in need has taken center stage in the global response strategy.

In light of this, the IRC has consistently advocated for a more comprehensive solution – a 12-month authorization of cross-border assistance by the UN Security Council. This extended timeframe is deemed essential to ensure a predictable and scaled response, facilitating the inflow of resources and support into Syria’s northwest.

Taiwan won’t take part in Olympic qualifiers in Syria over security fears

Taiwan’s basketball association said on Wednesday it would not take part in qualifying matches for the Olympics to be held in Syria due to security concerns, Reuters reported.

In a statement, the association said it was “impossible to overcome” security concerns about the host city Damascus, especially as the team would have to get there via land from neighbouring countries.

“Based on the priority given to the safety of the team members, it is determined not to participate in this competition,” it said.

Taiwan, which competes at the Olympics as “Chinese Taipei” to avoid political problems with China which views the island as its own territory, has never won any Olympic medals for basketball.

The qualifying basketball competition is being held in Syria from Aug. 12-20.

A violent crackdown by President Bashar al-Assad on peaceful pro-democracy protesters in 2011 led to a civil war, with Moscow backing Assad and Washington supporting the opposition.

Millions of people fled Syria with millions more internally displaced. Fighting has since abated with Assad back in control of most of Syria.

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