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Syria Today – French Arrest Warrants Against Four Syrian Officiers; US Base Targeted

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.

The French War Crimes Unit’s Investigative judges issued international arrest warrants for four senior Syrian officers. Simultaneously, a drone attack targeted an oil facility in eastern Syria, which housed American troops, along with a nearby US base.

Government sends military reinforcements to Homs following ISIS attack

North Press reports that military reinforcements for Syrian government forces arrived Thursday in the town of al-Sukhnah, east of the city of Homs, central Syria. This comes after cells of the Islamic State (ISIS) attacked government forces in the area.

On Wednesday night, ISIS launched a surprise attack on government forces in al-Sukhnah, in which they targeted military posts and managed to take control of some of them and seize weapons and vehicles.

A military source in the government forces told North Press that large military reinforcements of the government forces and the National Defense Forces (IDF), a pro-government militia, arrived at dawn in the town of al-Sukhnah after many posts were attacked by ISIS militants.

The source added that the government forces found the bodies of three soldiers after they managed to regain control of the posts.

As for the 15 soldiers abducted by ISIS members after the attack, the source said that their fate is still unknown.

The source said that clashes are still ongoing on the outskirts of al-Sukhnah, though at a lower intensity compared to Wednesday night.

Judges of the French War Crimes Unit Issue International Arrest Warrants Against Four High-Ranking Syrian Officers Charged with Complicity in War Crimes.

Paris – 19 October 2023 The Investigative judges of the French War Crimes Unit issued yesterday, 18 October, international arrest warrants against four high-ranking Syrian officers, including two former Defence ministers, Major General Ali Abdallah Ayoub and Major General Fahed Jassem al-Fraij, in addition to the commander of the Air Force, Brigadier General Ahmad Balloul, and the commander of the 64th helicopter brigade, Brigadier Ali Safetli, for complicity in war crimes (intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population and murder of a person protected by international humanitarian law).

These arrest warrants are the conclusion of a judicial investigation, which started in 2017, initiated by Mr. Omar Abou Nabout, after the killing of his father during a barrel bomb attack carried out by Syrian government’s forces in June 2017, in the framework of the military operation led by the Syrian army against the city of Daraa, with the active support of Russia. The Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) joined the proceedings as a civil party. 

Omar Abou Nabout, the victim’s son who now lives in Paris, says, “After six years of determination, I am proud of myself today because my call for accountability of war criminals and my father’s killers has become a reality. I remember well when I applied to the French public prosecutor to open an investigation into my father’s death. My goal is to prevent war criminals from impunity.”

This is the first case dealing with the crime of targeting civilians as a war crime, as well as the first dealing with the use of indiscriminate weapons such as barrel bombs. On 7 June 2017, a Syrian Air Force helicopter dropped a barrel bomb on a three-story building in the Al-Sadd Road area in the city of Daraa, home of the French-Syrian citizen, Salah Abou Nabout, which led to his death. The targeted building housed a school for children, Al Sadd (Ajyal), which was managed by a Jordanian-based NGO. Salah Abou Nabout had previously been arrested and incarcerated by the Syrian government forces between April 2013 and the summer of 2015, when he was released from Adraa prison. During his detention, his family fled to Jordan and then to France.

“Schools, hospitals, and medical personnel have been deliberately and systematically targeted by Syrian government forces for the past decade. This is the first time the judiciary has examined the role of the Syrian Air Force in targeting vital installations and using barrel bombs. These arrest warrants are a step towards accountability for these crimes and achieving justice for their victims” said Lawyer Mazen Darwish, founder and general director of SCM.

SCM actively contributed to the investigation by providing the investigative judges with names of witnesses,  a large collection of photos and videos, which documented the 7 June 2017 bombing in Daraa, as well as key information on the chain of command of the Syrian air force and military. SCM also provided the mechanism for issuing and executing combat orders within the Syrian air force. It submitted to the judiciary a special study that determined the type of plane that carried out the attack (a Russian-made ME helicopter) and the airport from which it took off. It also identified the type of weapons used during the attack (explosive barrels). SCM would like to extend its thanks to all the military forces and security services defectors who provided information, Zaman al-Wasl newspaper, and Jisr newspaper.

Al Ajyal School was not the only school that was targeted in Daraa, seven other schools were also bombed during that time. Pictures and videos show the killing of a number of children in schools in the Daraa area as a result of government forces attacks backed by the Russian military.

In this context, lawyer Tareq Hokan, director of the Strategic Litigation Project at SCM said:  “This is the first case that SCM is working on completely independently and without international partners. Our team prepared and built the entire case file and submitted it to the French court. It is another clear message that victims’ themselves and local organizations are the main guarantee for achieving justice and putting an end to impunity in order to build sustainable peace in Syria“.

In 2018, the French judiciary issued arrest warrants against three high-ranking Syrian security officials, Major General Ali Mamlouk, Head of the National Security Bureau, Major General Jamil Hassan, Director of the Air Force Intelligence Department, and Brigadier Abdel Salam Mahmoud, Head of the Investigation Branch of the Air Force Intelligence, for their involvement in committing crimes of torture, forced disappearance, and killing of Mazen and Patrick Dabbagh, amounting to crimes against humanity.

The Abou Nabout case comes as the first of its kind, focusing on murder and deliberate attacks against civilians, constitutive of war crimes, to be considered before the judiciary. The use of barrel bombs and deliberate attacks against civilian population have caused thousands of deaths in Syria since 2011, across the country. The widespread and ongoing nature of such crimes shows how accountability is essential to put an end to them. 

“This case perfectly illustrates the courage and determination of Syrian survivors and civil society. These international arrest warrants, the first ever issued against top officials of the Syrian regime for war crimes, show that, after the historical verdict issued in Koblenz, Germany, last year, and the order issued on 29 March 2023 by French judges to send Syrian officials to trial for complicity in crimes against humanity and war crimes, the fight for accountability continues” said Clémence Bectarte, lawyer of the civil parties. 

SCM welcomes the decision issued by the investigative judge of the French War Crimes Unit in the case of the murder of the Syrian citizen Salah Abou Nabout and commends the essential role of the victim’s son, as he represents a model of determination to seek justice for victims by all legal means available. Moving forward with this case, in addition to all previous litigations, represents a step forward in supporting the victims’ efforts to achieve justice, and comes within the context of working on available alternatives in order to preserve the rights of the Syrian people, and in preparation for a comprehensive national transitional justice process in the future.

Syria airport strikes said to stop Iranian missile shipment

The reported Israeli strikes on airports in Damascus and Aleppo on Oct. 12 prevented 10 tons of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles from reaching the country from Iran, according to Israeli media.

The airstrikes, not only forced Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian to land in Baghdad instead of Damascus but also stopped an Iranian shipment of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles from landing in the city, Israel Hayom reported on Tuesday. 

The report, which appears to be accurate, noted that a Mahan Air Airbus A340-313 took off from Tehran’s Mehrabad International Airport en route to Damascus on Tuesday carrying 10 tons of missiles and that the Damascus airport was hit 10 minutes before it was scheduled to land. 

The strike on the landing strip at the Aleppo airport was intended to prevent the flight from diverting there, according to the report. With both airports out of commission, the plane had no choice but to head back to Iran.

Iran-backed groups said to target US bases with drones in Syria

Syrian opposition activists say a drone attack has been conducted on an oil facility in eastern Syria housing American troops and a US base in a nearby area, AP reported.

There was no immediate word on casualties and the US military didn’t immediately respond to requests for confirmation.

Omar Abu Layla, a Europe-based activist who heads the Deir Ezzor 24 media outlet, says that three drones with explosives struck the Conoco gas field in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour that borders Iraq.

Rami Abdurrahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, confirms that five explosions were heard at the Conoco gas field.

The Observatory also reported that three drones attacked the US base of Tanf in eastern Syria near where the borders of Syria, Jordan and Iraq meet. It said two drones were shot down before reaching their targets while the third hit the base, causing some material damage.

The Observatory and Abu Layla say the attack appears to be the work of Iran-based fighters who are deployed in eastern Syria and western Iraq.

Drone strikes target US military bases in Syria, Iraq as regional tensions from Israel-Hamas War escalate

Drone expert Brett Velicovich joined ‘FOX & Friends First’ to discuss attacks against U.S. military bases in the Middle East as war rages between Israel and Hamas, FoxNews reported

A drone strike targeted a U.S. base in Syria on Wednesday, the same day as the attempted drone attacks in Iraq, Fox News has learned.

A U.S. defence official told Fox News that an undisclosed number of drones targeted the U.S. Al-Tanf base, located near Syria’s shared border with Iraq and Jordan. 

Lebanon’s Iran-aligned Al Mayadeen TV reported on Thursday that two U.S. military bases in Syria came under attack, Reuters reported. In addition to the drone attack on the Al-Tanf base, Al Mayadeen TV reported a missile targeted the Conoco base in the countryside of the northern Deir al-Zor region.

A drone at a US base in Iraq

In Iraq, the U.S. intercepted three one-way attack drones, targeting two different military bases, U.S. Central Command confirmed. (AYMAN HENNA/AFP via Getty Images)

As of Thursday morning, there was no official confirmation of either attack.

It is unclear what injuries or damage to the base, if any, was caused. It is also not immediately clear how many drones were used or who was responsible.

In Iraq, the U.S. intercepted three one-way attack drones, targeting two different military bases, two defense officials confirmed to Fox News. U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) later confirmed the attack.

Two drones targeted the Ain al-Asad air base in Western Iraq, where American troops are located. Minor injuries among the coalition forces were reported.

Another drone targeted a base in northern Iraq, according to USCENTCOM. No injuries were reported.

“In the last 24 hours, the U.S. military defended against three drones near U.S. and Coalition forces in Iraq. In western Iraq, U.S. forces engaged two drones, destroying one and damaging the second, resulting in minor injuries to Coalition forces. Separately in northern Iraq, U.S. forces engaged and destroyed a drone, resulting in no injuries or damage.  We are continuing to assess the impacts to operations,” USCENTCOM said.

It added, “In this moment of heightened alert, we are vigilantly monitoring the situation in Iraq and the region. We want to emphasize U.S. forces will defend U.S. and Coalition forces against any threat.”

The U.S. currently has about 900 U.S. forces in Syria and 2,500 troops in Iraq, U.S. officials confirmed to Fox News. The officials declined to say who was responsible for operating the drones. 

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