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Syria Today – Iran Eyes Chemical Weapons Industry in Syria; At Least 197 Arbitrary Arrests in July

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – Iran Eyes Chemical Weapons Industry in Syria; At Least 197 Arbitrary Arrests in July

Recent reports from Israel have suggested that Iran may be attempting to gain control over Syria’s chemical weapons industry. At the same time, the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) has documented concerning incidents of arbitrary arrest and detention in Syria. According to their report, there have been at least 197 cases of such arrests, involving 11 children and three women. The situation remains a matter of serious concern for regional stability and human rights.

Iran is working to take over Syria’s chemical weapons industry 

Iran is seeking to take over key parts of the Syrian defence industry, a new report by the Alma Research and Education Center, said on Wednesday, according to a report by JPost.com.

Alma is focused on security threats to northern Israel and regularly reports on Iran, Hezbollah, and other threats in Syria and Lebanon.

“Syria is still producing and storing chemical substances at CERS with the feasibility of future military use, breaching International agreements,” the report said. CERS is also known as the Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC).

How is Iran trying to take over parts of the Syrian defence sector?

The investment in chemical weapons by Syria has been a serious threat for decades. Syria was supposed to dismantle its chemical weapons during the Syrian Civil War. However, the SSRC has continued work on various projects. Iran also plays a role in these sites. Alma raises concerns that in any next confrontation with Israel “would this type of weapon be used against IDF and Israeli civilians?”

The research also notes that any work with chemicals can lead to disasters like the explosion at the Beirut port caused by ammonium nitrate.  

“Iran’s major focus is to develop and manufacture precision missiles and rockets, cruise missiles, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) on Syrian soil, using the CERS Center’s institutes in general,” the Alma report says. 

By working in Syria, Iran is able to shortcut the logistics needed to move weapons to Syria and Lebanon via a long distance, such as through Iraq to Albukamal on the Iraq-Syria border. The US has sanctioned hundreds of people linked to CERS. In 2018, US airstrikes targeted CERS and the US said that the strikes had set back the Syrian chemical weapons program for many years. Five years later it appears Iran’s tentacles are growing back and so are these dangerous sites. 

The Alma report says that CERS centers have been targeted over the years but that “the attacks disrupted but did not entirely halt work at the CERS site[s].”

Several projects were halted but work continues. “The Iranians cling to their goals, even if it means cutting corners or sacrificing production quality.” The report also says that Hezbollah resorting to chemical weapons “in the next confrontation with Israel cannot be ruled out. It is conceivable that missiles/rockets armed with chemical weapons (such as Sarin nerve gas) are being stockpiled for use by Hezbollah in one of the CERS center’s sites in the Masyaf area and will be transferred to Lebanon if so directed. We estimate with a high probability that in a situation of war, the chemical weapons stockpiles will be attacked wherever they are, in Syria and/or Lebanon.” 

The Alma report provides a key insight into the individuals behind the CERS sites in Syria. It also sheds light on the sites themselves and the threat that Iran poses by infiltrating these sites and working with Hezbollah.  

More than 200 families to leave Syria’s Al-Hol camp next week: activist

More than 200 families are preparing to leave Syria’s infamous Al-Hol camp in the coming days after receiving bail, a Syrian activist has said, according to New Arab.

Osama Abu Uday from Raqqa province told The New Arab’s Arabic-language sister site that a list of 215 families has been prepared for their departure from the camp next week. They include 600 women and children and will head to the city of Raqqa and its countryside.

Tribal leaders from the province had handed a list of the names of these families to the camp’s Kurdish administration back in March, the website reported.

At least 800 families – with an approximate total of 3,200 children and women from Raqqa – have left Al-Hol camp in four batches between 2018 and 2021, under the sponsorship of tribal sheikhs in the region, Abu Uday told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.

The Kurdish-run Al-Hol camp holds around 55,000 people including 31,000 children, many of them suspected relatives of the Islamic State group which controlled Raqqa and large swathes of Syria under its self-proclaimed caliphate before being defeated in 2019.

The camp also contains third-party nationals from Western countries despite UN pressure to take them back.

The return of family members of the fighters who were captured or killed has been a thorny issue for European countries, particularly in France.

Brutal heatwave compounds suffering six months after devastating earthquakes

This Sunday, August 6, marks six months since a series of earthquakes struck vast swathes of southern Türkiye and northwest Syria. Families in the affected areas are struggling to rebuild their lives while having to cope with record-high temperatures that are further stretching limited water resources. 

According to CareInternational.com, the earthquakes added a crisis on top of existing crises for millions in northwest. More than 4,500 people died and 10,400 were injured. There was widespread damage to buildings, including schools, clinics and protection spaces for women and girls. An estimated one million children continue to be out of school.  

“Whether in northwest Syria or in southern Türkiye, humanitarian needs are immense and will continue being so for years,”

“This is a triple scourge for the people of northwest Syria,” said Ms Ibrahim, Director of CARE Türkiye. “Humanitarian needs were already at a record high when the earthquakes struck. 

Additional concerns include hunger—with over 3 million people estimated to be food insecure—and the lack of clean water. There are over 100,000 suspected cholera cases since the beginning of the outbreak in the region and dehydration is another serious risk, particularly for malnourished women and children. Water shortages are also a concern in the earthquake-affected areas of Türkiye, where the lack of adequate toilet and shower facilities in the newly established camp sites poses significant risks, especially for women. 

Shiite commemorate Ashura in Damascus’ Sayyida Zeinab shrine

Last Saturday, thousands of Shiite mourners gathered at the shrine of Sayyida Zeinab, south of Damascus city, to commemorate the day of Ashura and the death of al-Hussein bin Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, North Press reported.

Solemn rituals were performed by Shiite mourners, who wore black clothes symbolizing mourning, and engaged in self-flagellation.

Ashura is observed on the 10th day of Muharram in the Islamic calendar and is known to Muslims as the Day of Ashura. Muslims believe that it is the day on which Allah saved the Prophet Musa from Pharaoh and also marks the day on which al-Hussein bin Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, was killed in the Battle of Karbala. As such, Shiites consider it a day of mourning and sadness.

“We observe Ashura celebrations, and we will celebrate Ashura ceremonies at all times, and there is no danger, no terrorism, and no words from here or there will stop us. al-Hussein came to enlighten our hearts, just as his grandfather, the Messenger of Allah, came,” says Abbas Jaafar, a Shiite religious leader.

From the shrine, Mortada Yassin, another Shiite cleric, offered his condolences to the Islamic nation and “the master of the age and time, our Maulana Sayyid Ali Khamenei, Sayyid Ali al-Sistani, and all Islamic peoples for this tragedy, the tragedy of Abi Abdullah al-Hussein on the tenth day of Muharram.”

Some of the participants re-enacted the historical battle and the burning of Imam Hussein’s tents, as a symbol of the tragedy that occurred in Ashura.

At Least 197 Arbitrary Arrests/Detentions Documented in July 2023, Including 11 Children and Three Women

Analysis of a report by the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) reveals alarming trends in the Syrian conflict concerning arbitrary arrests and detentions in July 2023. The report highlights that at least 197 cases of arbitrary arrest and detention were documented during this period, which included 11 children and three women.

The Syrian regime forces were responsible for a significant number of these arrests, with 94 cases documented, including two children and three women. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) detained 54 individuals, including nine children. Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) arrested 28 individuals, while all armed opposition factions/Syrian National Army detained 21 individuals.

The report sheds light on the conditions of detention in Syria, where most arrests take place without judicial warrants, often at checkpoints or during raids. The victims are subject to torture from the moment of arrest and denied access to their families or legal representation. The authorities deny carrying out arbitrary arrests, leading to many detainees being categorized as forcibly disappeared.

The report also addresses the issue of detainees and forcibly disappeared persons, emphasizing that it remains one of the most critical human rights issues in Syria. Despite being included in several UN Security Council resolutions and other international instruments, there has been little progress in resolving this crisis.

The report raises concerns about the implementation of the Syrian regime’s legislation criminalizing torture, as well as its failure to fulfill obligations under international treaties and conventions it has ratified. Non-regime parties, including SDF, HTS, and armed opposition factions, are also implicated in widespread violations through arrests and enforced disappearances.

The report calls on the UN Security Council and guarantor parties at Astana to establish an impartial special committee to monitor arbitrary arrests and reveal the fate of the missing persons in Syria. It urges pressure on all parties to disclose detention records and allow humanitarian organizations and the International Committee of the Red Cross to access detainees directly.

The alarming increase in arbitrary arrests, the use of torture, and enforced disappearances documented in this report raises serious human rights concerns in Syria. It highlights the urgent need for international attention and action to address the ongoing violations and ensure accountability for the perpetrators.

Australian teen reported alive, 18 months after being assumed dead in Syria

The family of an Australian teenager thought to have been killed in a Daesh attack 18 months ago in Syria was on Wednesday celebrating news reports that he was alive, Arab News reported.

According to the Guardian, relatives of Yousef Zahab were “overwhelmed with joy” after viewing a video appearing to show him looking physically fit and speaking to camera.

Zahab was taken to Syria more than 10 years ago by his older brothers, who were Daesh militants and recruiters.

In January last year, he was presumed to have died during an airstrike by Daesh on Al-Sina’a prison where it was believed he had been held without charge since he was 14. The terror group had attacked the jail in a bid to break out detained militants.

However, a male of around 19 years old, and identified as Zahab, has now been seen talking to camera in a video clip reportedly shot inside the prison in Syria’s northeastern city of Al-Hasakah.

In the recording, the youth claimed the date was Sept. 15, 2022, and named himself and his parents. The footage shows him wearing a jersey and looking fit and well.

Zahab’s family watched the video after it was sent to authorities in Australia.

Several international charity groups are seeking to confirm the teen’s identity although the Syrian Democratic Forces have identified him as Zahab.

His family members were reported as saying they had received information from several sources that, “our beloved Yousef is indeed alive. We are simply overwhelmed with joy by this news and are so thankful to now have hope again that we will soon be reunited with him.

“Unfortunately, this news follows 12 excruciating months in which numerous sources had indicated that Yousef had died.”

However, relatives continue to fear for his safety. “Yousef was just a young boy when he was taken to Syria. We can only begin to imagine the horrors that he has suffered through since then.”

Media reports said his mother and sister, and his sister’s young children, remain held in a detention camp in northeast Syria, while his brothers were killed in airstrikes.

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