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Syria Today – Israel Downs Air Piece From Syria; News Step in Ankara-Damascus Normalization

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – Israel Downs Air Piece From Syria; News Step in Ankara-Damascus Normalization

Tehran has promised to retaliate against Israel but is focused in the meantime on diplomatic wins in the region, which might be a game changer.

Israel has ramped up its military strikes in Syria, but Iran may bide its time in responding and opt for a more calculated strategy that fits into its larger regional goals, analysts told Al-Jazeera

Israel downs flying object from Syria as Iran vows revenge

Israel downed an unidentified flying object from Syria on Sunday, after firing missiles at Syrian and Iran-backed military targets earlier in the day. Tensions are high after several suspected Israeli attacks on Syria in recent days. 

Israel Defense Forces spokesman Avichay Adraee said on Twitter at 3:04 p.m. ET that an “unknown air piece” entered Israeli airspace from Syria. The object was downed and “did not pose any danger at any point,” according to him. 

The incident followed a suspected Israeli missile attack on Syria early Sunday morning. Syria’s official news outlet SANA reported that Israel fired missiles at targets in the central city of Homs and surrounding areas, injuring five Syrian army personnel. Syrian air defenses shot down some of the missiles, according to SANA. 

Syria has denied that Tehran, which militarily backs President Bashar al-Assad, has an extensive military presence in the country.

The Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Tehran reserves the right for a response at a time and place of its choosing while the government spokesman, Ali Bahadori Jahromi, tweeted that “terrorist actions will not go unanswered”.

At the same time, however, both Iran and Syria are taking steps to improve relations with their Arab neighbours, and because Iran has signalled it is still interested in talks with the West, its response to Israel might materialise over time, experts said.

Iran was behind drone incursion from Syria

According to the Israeli military, Israeli media, Iran appears to have been behind the launch of a drone that was shot down over Israeli airspace this week.

The army announced its conclusions on Monday, a day after air force helicopters and fighter jets were scrambled to intercept the drone when it entered Israeli territory from Syria. There were no casualties in the incident, but it added to the already heightened tensions between the two arch-enemies.

The interception happened shortly after Iranian state media reported that an Iranian adviser who was wounded in an Israeli airstrike in Syria over the weekend had died of his wounds. That made him the second Iranian adviser allegedly killed by Israel in recent days.

Last week, Greece announced the arrest of two Pakistani operatives it said were planning an attack on a Jewish center in Athens. Israel has said Iran was behind the plot.

The Israeli military said Monday an initial inquiry determined the intercepted drone was Iranian. It said debris was still being collected and analyzed.

Syria ‘seized business elite’s assets’ in Sheraton hotel shakedown

The Syrian government summoned members of the country’s business elites to Damascus’ Sheraton hotel and threatened them with arrest if they failed to pay into state coffers, in a move akin to the Saudi purge at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh, the Financial Times reported on Sunday. 

The shakedown started in September 2019, when dozens of Syrian businessmen were reportedly taken to the Sheraton.

There they were told to deposit US dollars into the central bank in order to help stabilise the Syrian lira, or they would not be released.

The method echoes a similar move by Saudi Arabia’s government, which in November 2017 targeted 300 princes, public figures and businessmen by holding them incommunicado at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh for weeks. Some detainees were tortured in the luxury hotel, and Saudi authorities later said around $100bn was handed over.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman justified his purge as an “anti-corruption” move to rid the kingdom of endemic graft. 

Syria and Turkey begin talks toward restoring ties

Talks to restore ties between Turkey and Syria began on Monday in Russia, with the presence of Iranian officials, in a bid to push forward with reconciliation efforts, but experts predict this is merely the start of a lengthy process, UAE The National reported.

“The process of engagement with Syria has started under the hosting and facilitation of Russia, later Iran joined the process … a quadripartite meeting on the level of deputy foreign ministers will be held on April 3-4 in Moscow,” Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters at the Turkevi Centre in New York.

The deputy foreign ministers’ meeting is the prelude to planned talks between the foreign ministers of Turkey, Syria, Iran and Russia.

Russia, which along with Iran has supported Syria’s President Bashar Al Assad in the civil war that started in 2011, has been pushing for reconciliation between Damascus and Ankara for months.

Assad willing to meet Erdogan on condition Turkey withdraws from Syria

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is expected to visit Turkey on Thursday for talks on Syria, Libya and other regional issues, Mr. Cavusoglu said.

The Turkish Foreign Minister said his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian had requested to join the talks between Turkey, Syria and Russia, and Ankara agreed.

“Astana is the only surviving format [to address] Syria anyway,” Mr Cavusoglu told a joint news conference with Mr Amirabdollahian last month, referring to peace talks in Kazakhstan’s capital.

“Now we are planning a meeting between the four foreign ministers.”

Moscow has been pushing for meetings between Syria and Turkey’s foreign ministers and eventually their presidents.

Syria consults with Russia, Iran prior to the meeting

Assistant Foreign and Expatriates Minister in Moscow, Dr. Ayman Sousan met with Russian Special Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, at the headquarters of the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow.

According to SANA, consultations and coordination took place between the two sides regarding the quartet meeting of the assistant foreign ministers of Syria, Russia, Iran and Turkey, to be held on Tuesday.

Dr. Sousan stressed the need to end the illegal Turkish presence on Syrian territory, not to interfere in Syrian internal affairs, and to counter-terrorism in all its forms.

In turn, Bogdanov reiterated his country’s stance to continue working to ensure respect for Syria’s sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity.

In the meanwhile, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Ayman Sosan met the Iranian Foreign Minister’s Senior Advisor for Special Political Affairs Ali Asghar Khaji.

Talks were held to maintain close coordination about quadripartite meetings between Russia, Syria, Iran, and Turkey.

The two sides agreed on emphasizing respect for Syria’s sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity, and ending the illegitimate Turkish presence on Syrian territory.

Sousan also met in Moscow on Monday morning with Ali Asghar Khaji, Senior Assistant to the Iranian Foreign Minister for Special Political Affairs.

Talks during the meeting dealt with aspects related to the quadripartite meeting of the assistant foreign ministers of Syria, Russia, Iran and Turkey, in light of the joint coordination between the two sides.

Viewpoints converged on emphasizing respect for Syria’s sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity, and ending the illegal Turkish presence on Syrian territory.

The meeting was attended by members of the Syrian and Iranian delegations.

HTS prepares camp to recruit minors in Syria’s Idleb

North Press reported that  Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS, formerly al-Nusra Front) has begun preparing a training camp for minors under the age of 18, to prepare “Cubs of the Caliphate”.

A military source affiliated with the HTS told North Press that the camp is located near the village of al-Qaysiyeh, southwest of Idleb.

The work will be completed before the end of April, with a capacity to initially receive 200 minors, with a training staff, the source added.

The source indicated that the focus will be on Sharia courses for a period of two months and one month for training on weapons.

The HTS, founded in 2017, controls the city of Idleb using its Salvation Government as a political and administrative umbrella since

20,000 Syrians return from quake-affected Turkey

Meanwhile, the number of Syrians returning to Syria through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing in northern Idleb from quake-affected areas in Turkey has reached 20,000 until Sunday night after the issuance of exemptions that was announced in mid-February.

The administration of Bab al-Hawa border crossing between Syria and Turkey announced 29 Syrians entered on the 47 day after Turkish authorities allowed Syrians with temporary protection cards in the quake-stricken Turkish states to return, bringing the total number of arrivals to 20,000.

At dawn on Feb. 6, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit Syria and Turkey, killing nearly 50,000 individuals and injuring much more. The earthquake also caused immense destruction of buildings, trapping thousands under the rubble.

Over 57,000 people arrived in northwest Syria through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing in Idleb countryside, the Jarablus and Bab al-Salameh border crossing in the northern countryside of Aleppo, the Tel Abyad border crossing in northern Raqqa,  according to daily statistics published by the administration of the border crossings.

Only Syrians who live in the quake-hit provinces of Gaziantep, Kilis, Kahramanmaraş, Hatay, Osmaniye, Adıyaman, Şanlıurfa, Diyarbakır, Malatya, Adana, Elazığ and hold the Kimlik are allowed to enter Syria.

The permit lasts at least three months and a maximum of six months. Syrian activists have expressed concern that Turkey will not allow their return.

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