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Syria Today – Germany Arrests Suspected War Criminal; ISIS Steps Up Attacks

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
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Syria Today – Germany Arrests Suspected War Criminal; ISIS Steps Up Attacks

A suspected ISIS attack on Wednesday resulted in the death of one member of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the southern countryside of Al-Hassakeh. At the same time, the German police arrested a Syrian national for crimes against humanity and war crimes including enslavement.

Syria’s Assad is using aid access to hasten normalization

The United States and its partners are closely watching negotiations between United Nations aid chief Martin Griffiths and the Syrian government over continued aid access, weeks after Russia blocked the renewal of a near-decade-long humanitarian operation in northwest Syria. 

“We are prepared to return to the [Security] Council if the UN cannot work out some operation that makes sense to continue this life-saving aid,” a senior administration official told Al-Monitor. 

As first reported by Al-Monitor, the Syrian government told UN Security Council members in mid-July that it would grant the UN “permission” to use a border crossing with Turkey to deliver humanitarian assistance for the next six months. It stipulated the aid must be delivered “in full cooperation and coordination” with the Syrian government.

Experts quickly warned that the Syrian government, given its track record, could divert or steal aid destined for rebel areas in northwest Syria. 

“You cannot allow the fox to be responsible for the hens,” said Zaher Sahloul, president and co-founder of MedGlobal, an organization that delivers aid to conflict zones. “The people in this area do not trust their lives to a regime that has been bombing them.”

The debate over aid access comes as the heavily sanctioned Syrian government is desperate to chip away at its international isolation. The Arab League voted to readmit Syria this May, in what was seen as the culmination of regional efforts to end Assad’s pariah status by some key US partners, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. 

The Biden administration says it doesn’t support Arab states’ re-engagement with Assad but shares the same goals, including expanding humanitarian access into Syria. 

For years, American and European officials have quietly explored alternatives to the UN’s humanitarian response in Syria but have been reluctant to discuss those efforts publicly, fearing that doing so would send a message to Assad’s ally Russia that cross-border assistance is no longer needed. 

Speaking to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, a Western diplomat with knowledge of the discussions said there is “prudent humanitarian contingency planning,” including through an existing British-led pooled fund, but Council members are waiting for the outcome of talks in New York. 

“What we want is to focus on getting unfettered, UN cross-border aid,” the diplomat added. 

ISIS steps up attacks in northeast Syria

A suspected ISIS attack on Wednesday resulted in the death of one member of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the southern countryside of Al-Hassakeh, Syria, as reported by the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

According to the SOHR report, “an SDF member was killed, and four others were injured after their car was attacked by ISIS gunmen on motorbikes in the Al-Sa’ada area, south of Al-Hasakah.”

The war monitor stated that this incident occurred amidst a significant escalation of activity by ISIS cells.

In the past 24 hours leading to the report, three operations were carried out by the group in Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor, both located within SDF areas, resulting in several casualties.

Moreover, in a separate attack, four SDF members were injured by ISIS while they were distributing bread from a military vehicle on the road between Markada and Al-Sawr Towns in northern Deir ez-Zor countryside.

These attacks underscore the persistent threat of ISIS in northeast Syria, despite the continuous efforts made by the SDF and other US-led coalition to maintain stability in the region.

Since the beginning of 2023, SOHR has documented 102 operations carried out by ISIS in areas under the control of the Autonomous Administration, resulting in 66 deaths.

Germany arrests Syrian on war crimes charges

Arab News reported that German police had arrested a Syrian national on crimes against humanity and war crimes including enslavement for allegedly taking part in a brutal crackdown on government opponents, prosecutors said Thursday.

The federal prosecutor’s office said in a statement that the suspect, identified only as Ahmad H. in line with German legal practice, had been detained on July 26 in the northern city of Bremen. He was remanded in custody on Thursday.

He is accused of acting between 2012 and 2015 during Syria’s civil war as a local leader of pro-government “shabiha” militiamen in Damascus tasked with helping to crush dissent.

The militia operated checkpoints where “people were arrested arbitrarily so that they or their family members could be extorted for money, committed to forced labor or tortured,” prosecutors said.

The fighters also plundered the homes of regime opponents, sold the spoils and kept the profits, they added.

Ahmad H., who security sources said is 46, is accused of taking part “personally in the abuse of civilians.” They say that in one incident in 2013, ordering militiamen to “brutally torment a detained man for hours using plastic pipes.”

In autumn 2014, Ahmad H. and other militiamen and members of the military secret service allegedly attacked a civilian at a checkpoint, grabbing him by the hair and beating his head on the pavement.

Between December 2012 and early 2015, he is accused of twice arresting groups of 25 to 30 people and forcing them to carry sandbags to the nearby front, where they faced crossfire and were deprived of food and water while being beaten.

It was unclear when Ahmad H. came to Germany or what witnesses might have reported him to authorities and given evidence against him. A spokesman for the federal prosecutor’s office declined to provide further details.

Germany let in hundreds of thousands of Syrians during the 2015-16 refugee influx.

NGOs warned at the time of the danger that “shabiha” militiamen accused of committing some of the most barbaric atrocities against civilians for President Bashar Assad’s regime were arriving incognito in Europe and getting asylum.

Germany has previously used the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows the prosecution of certain grave crimes regardless of where they took place, to try Syrians over atrocities committed during the country’s civil war.

Syrians’ Deportation from Turkey: Murky Process of Disastrous Consequences

Fayez Sara, a Syrian writer and opposition figure wrote an op-ed for Asharq al-Awsat, in which he discusses the issue of Syrians’ deportation from Turkey to Turkish-controlled regions in Northwestern Syria. Sara points out that tens of thousands of Syrians have been deported over the past three months, mainly young people who were arrested by police patrols for alleged violations of residency regulations. He argues that deporting Syrians to Northwestern Syria is problematic as it is far from safe, being controlled by groups like Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, affiliated with Al-Qaeda. Such actions violate international law, which prohibits repatriation to unsafe locations.

Regarding ignoring the Legal Procedures, the op-ed criticizes the deportation process for disregarding legal procedures, suggesting that it should be subject to judicial examination to ensure adherence to the rule of law and assess the appropriateness of the destination. The deportations have created fear among the Syrian community in Turkey and jeopardized the stability and security they had built over the years. This has also fueled negative attitudes and racism against Syrians and Arabs among some Turks.

Sara, who had lived in Turkey for years after the Syrian uprising, raises concerns about Turkey’s image and adherence to international law, as the deportations expose its violation of refugee rights and its status as a country of laws.

Hecalls for a broader framework to address the issue, considering neighborly relations and opportunities for cooperation between Turkey and Syria in the future.

Sara, who was a leading member of the Syrian Opposition Coalition,  strongly criticizes the deportation of Syrians from Turkey to Northwestern Syria, citing violations of international law, disregard for legal procedures, and the negative impact on both Syrians and Turks. The author emphasizes the importance of addressing the issue in a way that preserves fraternal ties and fosters cooperation between the two nations.

Biden needs to recognize reality in Syria

Columnist Aidan Springs wrote an op-ed in the conservative outlet, The Washington Examiner, where he provides a perspective on the current situation in Syria and advocates for the United States to reconsider its approach toward the Assad regime.

The op-ed’s main argument is centered on reevaluating U.S. policy toward Syria and pragmatically accepting the current situation rather than continuing to oppose Assad now that he seems to have solidified his hold on power.

Springs points out that Syria was readmitted to the Arab League after a 12-year suspension. This reflects a change in the stance of Gulf Arab states that once supported a rebellion against Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The article then goes on to describe Assad as an “ophthalmologist-turned-war criminal” who now holds undisputed control over 70% of Syrian territory, with the rest divided between various factions.

He criticizes Assad’s rule, citing a long list of human rights abuses and war crimes committed under his leadership. It highlights his favoritism towards fellow Alawites for top government appointments and his suppression of anti-establishment elements.

The author points out that the U.S. has made rebuilding Syria difficult for the Assad regime through the Caesar Act, which effectively bans support for the regime from any international power or force. The devastating earthquake in northern Syria and Turkey further compounded the challenges faced by the country due to the ban on supplies.

The op-ed then argues that the U.S. should recognize the reality on the ground, acknowledging that Assad has effectively won the civil war. It suggests that the U.S. should shift its approach from opposing Assad to attempting to influence him instead, as it would be better for the U.S. to have some degree of influence over Assad rather than seeing him remain under the influence of Russia and Iran.

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