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Syria Today – Israel Strikes Hezbollah; Lira Continues Fall; Aid Slash to Refugees in Jordan

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – Israel Strikes Hezbollah; Lira Continues Fall; Aid Slash to Refugees in Jordan

Israel carried out airstrikes near Damascus, targeting warehouses utilized by Hezbollah, a group backed by Iran. In the midst of these tensions, Syria’s currency has experienced a sharp decline, reaching its lowest level on the parallel market, with exchange rates exceeding 11,000 to the USD. Economic turmoil also struck Syrian refugees residing in Jordan, as the World Food Program announced its decision to reduce monthly cash aid for 120,000 of them.

Israel Hits Hezbollah Again in Syria

At least three fighters loyal to the Bashar Assad regime were killed and four others were wounded in Israeli airstrikes near Syria’s capital Damascus on Wednesday, according to The Daily Sabah.

Syrian state news agency SANA earlier reported two soldiers had been wounded in the overnight strikes. It quoted a military source as saying the bombing targeted “certain positions in the vicinity of Damascus.”

“At about 12:25 a.m. the Israeli enemy launched an aerial aggression with bursts of missiles from the direction of the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, targeting some points in the vicinity of Damascus,” the source said.

The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the targets included warehouses used by Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah.

The non-government monitoring group, which has a vast network of sources in the war-torn country, said the strikes also targeted positions of the Syrian army’s elite Fourth Division near the airport in the town of Dimas.

One Syrian pro-regime fighter and two foreign, Iran-affiliated combatants were killed in the strikes, the Observatory said.

SANA earlier said most of the missiles had been intercepted by Syrian air defence systems, while the Observatory reported the raid had caused fires.

During more than a decade of war in Syria, Israel has launched hundreds of airstrikes on its territory, primarily targeting Iran-backed forces and Hezbollah fighters, as well as Syrian army positions.

While Israel rarely comments on the strikes it carries out on Syria, it has repeatedly said it will not allow its archfoe Iran to expand its footprint there.

UN General Assembly must back cross-border humanitarian aid mechanism into north-west 

Amnesty International called on the UNGA to support a cross-border humanitarian aid mechanism in northwest Syria, condemn Russia’s veto, and emphasize the importance of maintaining impartiality and independence in aid delivery to address the dire humanitarian situation in the region.

In a statement, Amnesty said that the passage highlights the urgent need for the UN General Assembly to support a cross-border humanitarian aid mechanism in north-west Syria. Amnesty International is calling on UN member states to condemn Russia’s abuse of its veto power, which resulted in the failure to renew the UN cross-border aid mechanism for the region. The mechanism is crucial for the survival of four million people who rely on UN aid in northwest Syria.

It added Russia has consistently narrowed down the scope of the cross-border mechanism through its veto power, limiting it to just one border crossing and now none at all. This veto has effectively halted the delivery of aid and essential services to millions of people in the region. Amnesty International urges UN member states to publicly denounce Russia’s actions and emphasize the dire humanitarian consequences.

The Syrian conflict has led to restrictions on aid in areas outside of the Syrian government’s control. In 2014, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2165, allowing cross-border aid delivery without the Syrian government’s authorization. Since then, the UN cross-border aid mechanism has been the primary means of delivering aid to northwest Syria. Amnesty International stresses that there is currently no viable alternative to replace the scale and scope of this mechanism.

Amnesty noted that humanitarian workers and displaced people in northwest Syria express skepticism about relying solely on the Syrian government or affiliated organizations for aid delivery. There is a perception that the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), which is associated with the government, lacks impartiality and neutrality. Amnesty International warns that shifting the authorization of the cross-border mechanism to the Syrian government risks impeding access to aid and undermines the impartiality of aid delivery.

How to get aid to millions in Syria now

The United Nations mandate allowing humanitarian agencies to send aid through a single border crossing in northern Syria has expired, raising concerns about the future of aid deliveries to the region. The mandate was crucial for delivering aid to opposition-held areas in Idlib, where millions of Syrians depend on humanitarian assistance. The Syrian government, led by Bashar Assad, has demanded control over aid deliveries in these areas, which has raised concerns among aid workers and organizations. They argue that politicizing aid delivery and allowing the Syrian regime to supervise it is unacceptable, given the government’s history of targeting humanitarian workers and its lack of credibility in delivering impartial aid.

In a long report, DW argues that while the Syrian government may claim control over the border on paper, experts argue that it does not have actual control, as the Turkish government manages its side, and opposition groups govern the Syrian side. The question now arises as to what will happen next for the millions of Syrians who depend on aid. It is unlikely that the UN Security Council mandate will be revived, and legal experts suggest that the UN should consider alternative approaches to deliver aid without waiting for the Syrian government’s permission.

Negotiating access with uncooperative governments is a common challenge for humanitarian actors, and finding a new approach in the current situation depends on the skillful navigation and negotiation abilities of these organizations. However, there is a need to ensure that the consent given by the Syrian government is not manipulated or withdrawn over time, as it could lead to further challenges and restrictions. The UN, with its physical presence in Syria, should assert itself within the bounds of the law and push for robust action in accordance with humanitarian principles and international humanitarian law.

The report highlights calls for a comprehensive review of the existing system, including international law, policies, manuals, and handbooks guiding humanitarian operations, to adapt to changing circumstances and ensure more effective and timely aid delivery. The recent earthquake in the region highlighted the limitations of the current approach and the need for a reevaluation of humanitarian operations.

Why Russia wants Syria’s Bab Al-Hawa crossing closed

In an article in The New Arab, Kerry Boyd Anderson, a political risk consultant, discusses Russia’s opposition to keeping the Bab Al-Hawa border crossing open for aid deliveries into northwest Syria. The UN Security Council failed to reach an agreement to extend the authorization for the crossing, leading to dire humanitarian consequences and geopolitical implications.

Anderson says Russia has a long-standing objection to the Bab Al-Hawa crossing and has gradually closed other cross-border routes for aid into Syria. The opposition-held northwest region heavily relies on aid, with more than 4 million people dependent on it, including women and children. The crossing played a crucial role in providing aid and coordinating deliveries with other aid groups.

Russia’s decision to end the UN authorization for the crossing aligns with its strategy to cut off aid to opposition areas and its geopolitical position. Moscow has supported the Assad regime in restoring control over Syria and insists that the UN recognize the regime as the sovereign government of Syria. By channelling aid through the Syrian government, Russia limits the regime’s ability to effectively use siege-and-starve tactics against opposition-held areas.

According to the article, the recent war in Ukraine and the Wagner Group mutiny have also reshaped Russia’s global position, potentially reducing the international community’s leverage over the country. Relations between Russia and Turkey have been affected, with Turkey appearing to tilt toward the West in recent weeks. Russia’s move to close the Bab Al-Hawa crossing might be seen as retaliation for Turkey’s actions.

The humanitarian consequences of closing the crossing will be severe, once again impacting Syrian civilians who bear the brunt of geopolitical maneuvering.

Syrian pound sinks to historic low on the parallel market

Syria’s currency has hit its lowest level on the parallel market, according to online applications used to track its value, Al-Jazeera reported.

On Tuesday, the Syrian pound was trading at more than 11,000 to the United States dollar on the parallel, or black, market.

On Tuesday, the Central Bank of Syria devalued the official rate at which foreign currency money transfers could be withdrawn to 9,900 Syrian pounds to the dollar.

It marks a significant collapse since the beginning of the year, when the parallel market rate hovered around 6,500 and the transfer rate was 4,522.

The pound had traded at 47 to the dollar before protests against President Bashar al-Assad erupted in March 2011.

Since then, a bloody conflict, now its 12th year, has killed nearly half a million people and displaced half of the country’s prewar population of 23 million. This, combined with Western sanctions, a currency squeeze linked to neighbouring Lebanon’s economic free fall, and the government’s loss of its northeastern oil-producing territories, has triggered a financial meltdown.

The World Bank had projected a 3.2 percent contraction in Syria’s 2023 economic output, due to continuing conflict, high grain and energy prices and shortages, and water scarcity that is limiting crop output.

And in February, parts of Syria and Turkey were hit hard by devastating earthquakes, further stressing Syria’s population, millions of whom were already displaced and battling hunger.

In the wake of the earthquakes, the World Bank in February revised its prediction down by another 2.3 percentage points to 5.5 percent for the year.

WFP slashes cash aid to Syrian refugees in Jordan

In response to an unprecedented funding crisis, the World Food Program (WFP) announced on Tuesday that it will reduce monthly cash aid for 120,000 Syrian refugees residing in Jordan. According to The Washington Post, starting in August, the monthly cash allowance for these refugees will be decreased from $32 to $21, North Press reported.

Jordan, a nation with a population of 11 million, currently hosts approximately 1.3 million Syrian refugees. While most refugees live in towns and cities throughout the country, tens of thousands reside in the Zaatari and Azraq camps.

Jordanian officials have expressed concerns that the country cannot bridge the funding gap left by international donors. Alberto Correia Mendes, the WFP representative for Jordan, lamented the limited options they face as funding diminishes, stating, “As funding dries up, our hands are tied.”

Dominik Bartsch, the WFP representative to Jordan, warned of the imminent risk of the situation sliding back into a humanitarian crisis with severe repercussions for both refugees and host communities.

On July 13th, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi urged the WFP and other donors not to cut support for Syrian refugees, emphasizing the potential consequences that such actions could have.

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