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Syria Today – Government Reshuffle; Deadly Figures After Earthquake; Guterres Urges for More Effort to Find Missing Syrians

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – Government Reshuffle; Deadly Figures After Earthquake; Guterres Urges for More Effort to Find Missing Syrians

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has renewed his call for member states to establish an independent international mechanism to find tens of thousands of Syrians missing after 12 years of conflict.

Guterres was quoted by The New Arab as urging governments across the world to act during his comments to the UN General Assembly in New York on Tuesday evening. 

“People in every part of the country and across all divides have loved ones who are missing, including family members who were forcibly disappeared, abducted, tortured and arbitrarily detained,” Guterres told the assembly. 

Current efforts to establish the fate and whereabouts of missing Syrians are split across international NGOs and local Syrian organizations. 

The new international mechanism would unite these efforts in a system “centred on victims and survivors”, according to Guterres. 

The UN chief echoed sustained calls from Syrian family groups for establishing an international body to look into the cases of the tens of thousands of people missing in Syria.

The Truth and Justice Charter Group published an open letter on Monday calling for creating a “victim-centred international body” to search for Syria’s forcibly disappeared, along with locating and identifying those who have died in detention. 

Syria’s president appoints new oil minister in reshuffle

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has appointed a new oil minister and changed four other ministers in a cabinet reshuffle, state media said on Wednesday.

State media reported that Syria’s Bashar Assad replaced several Cabinet ministers Wednesday amid a sharp price increase and worsening economic conditions during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

SANA reported Assad replaced the ministers of oil, internal trade, industry and social affairs, and labor.

The news agency did not give a reason for the government reshuffle. Still, it comes amid harsh public criticism over rising prices and food shortages during Ramadan, when observant Muslims abstain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk.

Syria’s economy hit its lowest point this year since the start of the conflict in 2011, with spiralling inflation, a currency plunge, and a sharp increase in food prices.

Hassan Kaddour, who was the general director of the Syrian Petroleum Company for the last two years, replaces Bassam Touma as oil minister, the report said.

Assad named Mohsen Abdelkarim Ali as the internal trade minister, Abdelqader Jokhdar as the industry minister, Louay al-Munajjed as the social affairs minister and Ahmed Bostachi as a state minister.

It was the biggest reshuffling of Assad’s cabinet since he was elected for another seven-year term in 2021 when he only changed a few posts in the government.

Assad switched out his defence minister in April 2022.

Danish government split over repatriation of women and children from Syria

The Moderate party, according to The Local, one of the junior parties in the coalition, wants Danish children to be repatriated from the al-Roj prison camp in northern Syria, even if it means their mothers are evacuated with them.

The other two parties, the Social Democrats and Liberals (Venstre), still oppose bringing these women back to Denmark.

The two latter parties have stated that they only want to evacuate the children and not the mothers, who are in the camps because they have been sympathizers of the Islamic State (ISIS) terror group or spouses of Isis militants.

As such, the government is split over the question of whether to retrieve the five children and three mothers from the camp, where they have now been marooned for several years.

Swedish woman gets three months in prison 

In Sweden, Gothenburg District Court on Wednesday sentenced a woman to three months in prison for a war crime in Raqqa in 2014, “among other things.”

The sentence is connected to Islamic State placing “mutilated bodies” at a roundabout in central Raqqa — a Syrian city that served as ISIS headquarters between 2014 and 2017. In a statement, the court said “the woman had twice published photographs” of heads impaled on a fence at the roundabout.

The 35-year-old denied any wrongdoing, saying that it was not her depicted in the photos she posted on social media.

The court said the described action was likely to “seriously violate the personal dignity of protected persons” under Swedish law. According to the court, the woman also expressed clear sympathy with the terror group’s acts.

Belgium to try refugee 

In Belgium, authorities have launched an investigation into how a Syrian national arrested last week on suspicion of being involved in war crimes for the so-called Islamic State (IS) group could be granted refugee status.

The 38-year-old Syrian had left Syria in 2015 but was not detained until last week over partaking the executions of civilians who refused to swear allegiance to the jihadist movement.

Belgian state prosecutors are yet to determine to what degree the man may have participated in the IS killings near the historic city of Palmyra in central Syria.

His exact role within the terrorist organization is also yet to be determined.

After Iran-Saudi deal, could China be the key to peace?

The Middle East Eye asked if China could broker peace in the ME region, 

China’s recent efforts to broker a deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran to restore diplomatic relations has led to the restoration of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Syria, further strengthening Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s diplomatic clout in the region. 

Saudi Arabia’s move to restore diplomatic ties with Syria signals potential warming in Saudi-Syrian relations, which could help stabilize Lebanon. China’s emergence as an important regional player offers an alternative to U.S. hegemony, and its economic diplomacy in Syria could work to Saudi Arabia’s advantage. With the U.S. having no coherent strategy in Syria, Saudi Arabia is welcoming Chinese efforts to help end the regional conflict.

SNHR: 10,024 Syrians Died in Feb. 6 Earthquake

The number of Syrians killed by the earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria on February 6 has now reached 10,024, including 4,191 in non-regime areas, and 394 in regime-held areas, the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) revealed in a report released Tuesday.

The report also said the death toll includes 5,439 Syrian refugees who died in Turkey.

“There was an imperative need to respond to the devastating earthquake and to document the massive number of Syrians who died due to the earthquake, and how the late arrival of humanitarian assistance may have led to the preventable deaths of more Syrians,” SNHR noted.

The group said it took the initiative to undertake this onerous task that posed additional challenges despite the team’s large experience and trusted contacts across Syria.

Hundreds of thousands lost their jobs in Turkey-Syria earthquake: ILO

Hundreds of thousands of workers in Turkey and Syria have lost their livelihoods due to the earthquake, the United Nations said Tuesday, as it called for urgent support to rebuild businesses, Agence France-Presse reported.

The earthquake has had a devastating impact on workers and enterprises, the UN’s labour agency said.

The International Labour Organization calculated that in the 11 affected provinces in Turkey, the hours of work lost were equivalent to the work done by around 657,000 workers.

In Syria, in the five affected governorates, it is estimated that around 170,000 workers have temporarily lost their jobs due to the destruction, the ILO said.

“People can only begin to rebuild their lives if they have rebuilt their livelihoods,” said ILO chief Gilbert Houngbo.

“We owe it to those who have lost so much in the earthquake to ensure that the principles of social justice and decent work are firmly embedded in the recovery and reconstruction process.”

The ILO calculated that the average affected worker in Turkey would lose around $230 a month “as long as the situation continues.”

Washington does not understand Turkey’s security concerns in Syria: Former U.S. envoy

Washington does not understand Turkey’s security concerns in northern Syria and tends to think of the situation as a “security problem” when it is a “political problem,” according to the last U.S. ambassador to serve in Syria.

“I think Washington in general, and also many analysts in Washington, do not understand how angry the American relationship with the YPG makes Turkey,” Robert Ford, who was the U.S. ambassador to Syria between 2011 and 2014, told Anadolu in a Zoom interview.

“They think it’s just a small thing, and it’s necessary because of ISIS, and the Turks should stop worrying about it. And it’s a kind of an American ignoring of a major Turkish concern,” he continued.

Asked about the U.S. strategy of defeating Daesh/ISIS in Syria, Ford, a veteran U.S. diplomat who is currently a fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, said: “I think the mission is impossible.”

“And the fact that they have been there four years after the capture of Baghuz and still there is an ISIS insurgency tells me the mission cannot be achieved,” he said.

“They can stay in eastern Syria, but they cannot completely eliminate ISIS. It’s just a reality,” he added.

According to Ford, the Sunni Arabs in Syria’s Hasakah and Deir-ez-Zor provinces could eliminate Daesh/ISIS but they do not have the “incentives” and “means” to do that.

When U.S. troops leave Syria, all hell will break loose – U.S. analyst

The U.S. involvement is “the glue holding together the only meaningful counter ISIS” mission. In northeast Syria, the roughly 900 U.S. troops are involved in aerial surveillance, coordinating the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), civilian aid provision, tribal engagement, as well as medical evacuations of SDF troops, a U.S. analyst said on Monday.

The mission has been met with some success, says Lister. At least three ISIS leaders have been killed by U.S. operations in Syria. “Dozens” of high – and mid – ranking ISIS commanders have been targeted. “In terms of counterterrorism, we are unquestionably degrading ISIS,” the piece concludes.

In a piece for Politico, a current affairs magazine, U.S. Syria analyst Charles Lister calls the current U.S. presence in Syria “vital and sustainable”. Lister visited northeast Syria in early March, together with a U.S. military delegation.

Yet at least 10,000 male ISIS fighters and over 50,000 women and children remain detained in northeast Syria in 26 prisons and two camps – or what Lister calls “13 Guantanamos,” referring to America’s illegal prison for terrorist suspects in Cuba. This is a dangerous situation, as the analyst highlights, as “prison breaks are part of ISIS’s DNA.”   

US forces on the ground told Lister that “we have to have a real sense of urgency to address this problem through repatriation, rehabilitation, and reintegration. This requires all arms of the U.S. government; it requires the international community.”

ISIS launched a major attack on the Guweiran prison in the city of Hassakeh in January 2022, which left nearly 500 people dead, including 261 SDF fighters. The administration of Hawl Camp, which holds around 52,500 ISIS-linked individuals, has repeatedly warned of an impending attack. According to the Politico piece, “multiple” major ISIS attacks against the camp have been foiled only in the last months.

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