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Syria Today – Israel Threatens Pro-Iran Groups; Protests Gain Steam; Clashes in Hassakeh

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – Israel Threatens Pro-Iran Groups; Protests Gain Steam; Clashes in Hassakeh

The military intelligence division of the Israeli army has issued warnings to the pro-Iranian Imam Hussein Brigade, a group composed of various sub-units operating in Syria. These warnings accuse the militias of actively recruiting thousands of soldiers with the intent to launch attacks against Israel. Concurrently, Syria has been witnessing a surge in anti-government protests, which have been ongoing for over a month. These protests bear similarities to the demonstrations in 2011, when President Bashar Assad deployed his security forces to suppress them, ultimately triggering a devastating civil war in the country. In a parallel development, North Press has reported that a total of seven individuals, including a woman and two children, sustained injuries in clashes between Syrian government forces and the affiliated National Defense Forces (NDF) militia. These clashes occurred within government-controlled neighbourhoods in the northeastern Syrian city of Hassakah.

Syria’s Assad will visit China as Beijing boosts its reach in the Middle East

Syria’s President Bashar Assad will head to China later this week in his first visit to Beijing since the start of his country’s 12-year conflict during which China has been one of his main backers, his office said Tuesday.

According to AP, China has been expanding its reach in the Middle East after mediating a deal in March between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and it continues to support Assad in the Syrian conflict, which has killed half a million people and left large parts of the nation in ruins.

China could play a major role in the future in Syria’s reconstruction, which is expected to cost tens of billions of dollars. Syria last year joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative in which Beijing expands its influence in developing regions through infrastructure projects.

Assad’s office said the Syrian leader was invited by Chinese President Xi Jinping for a summit and will head Thursday to Beijing along with a high-ranking Syrian delegation.

Syria’s worsening economic crisis has led to protests in government-held parts of the country, mainly in the southern province of Sweida. Syria blames the crisis on Western sanctions and U.S.-backed Kurdish-led fighters who control the country’s largest oil fields in the east near the border with Iraq.

Diplomatic contacts between Syria and other Arab countries have intensified following the Feb. 6, earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria killing more than 50,000 people, including over 6,000 in Syria. Assad flew to Saudi Arabia in May where he attended the Arab League summit days after Syria’s membership was reinstated in the 22-member league.

Since Syria’s conflict began in March 2011 with pro-democracy protests and later turned into a civil war, Iran and Russia have helped Assad regain control of much of the country.

China has used its veto power at the U.N. eight times to stop resolutions against Assad’s government, the latest in July 2020. Chinese authorities also closely coordinate with Syrian security services on the presence of thousands of Chinese fighters who are based in Syria mostly in the last rebel stronghold in the northwestern province of Idlib.

Israeli Intelligence Threatens Commander of Imam Hussein Brigade in Syria

The Israeli army’s military intelligence sent warnings to the pro-Iran Imam Hussein Brigade – which is made up of sub-units operating in Syria – and accused the militias of recruiting thousands of soldiers to conduct strikes against Israel, Asharq Al Awsat reported.

Israeli intelligence officers said that a unit comprising one thousand members was currently a source of concern for AMAN (the Military Intelligence Division of the Israeli Army), and was practically considered a branch of the Lebanese Hezbollah.

According to the officers, the unit owns Iranian-made drones and surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles, while its soldiers are well trained, have military patrols and fortified positions, and act like a small army.

The Israeli foreign intelligence service (Mossad) has begun investigating weapons smuggling operations through Syria and the Jordanian border to Palestinian armed organizations in the West Bank.

The Israeli Army Radio, Galei Tsahal, reported on Tuesday a significant increase in smuggling operations, in terms of quantity and types of weapons. The channel quoted a senior official in the Israeli security services as saying that the last few weeks witnessed the thwarting of two attempts to smuggle weapons across the Jordanian-Israeli border in the Jordan Valley region.

One of these operations was described as “large and exceptional,” and included powerful and sophisticated explosive devices. Israel is investigating the possibility of Iran’s involvement.

In earlier statements, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said that Israel “is aware of the increasing involvement of Iran and terrorist organizations in attempts to transfer weapons and knowledge (i.e. expertise related to weapons manufacturing) to the West Bank.”

Syria protests gain steam, challenging Bashar Assad as he tries to put the civil war behind him

Anti-government protests have been gaining steam in Syria for more than a month, echoing the demonstrations that President Bashar Assad sent his security forces to crack down on in 2011, sending the country into a downward spiral that morphed into a full-scale civil war.

The demonstrations, focused predominantly in the southern city of Suwayda, were initially driven by a deepening cost of living crisis — Syria’s economy has been crippled by years of war and is straining under the weight of myriad international sanctions. But anger over the crumbling economy has evolved quickly into demands for the downfall of the Assad government.

What’s behind the latest protests?

The demonstrations in Suwayda and nearby Deraa — where the 2011 uprising began — started after Assad’s government reduced fuel subsidies and raised gasoline prices by nearly 250% in August.

Assad doubled already-meager public sector wages and pensions, but the efforts to mitigate public anger did little to cushion the economic blow. Instead, the move accelerated inflation and further weakened the Syrian pound. Millions of Syrians who were already living in poverty after more than a decade of war found themselves even worse off.

The government insists the country’s economic trouble is the result of the sanctions imposed by the U.S. and its European allies since the war broke out.

The Druze, and the Assad government’s response

Three protesters were wounded in Suwayda on Sept. 13, when armed individuals opened fire as the demonstrators attempted to shut down a branch of the ruling Baath party. The shooters went unidentified, but reports said they were plain-clothes security forces. It was the first time that shots were fired at protesters during the recent demonstrations.

Overall, however, the government’s response to the loud but non-violent demonstrations in Suwayda has been restrained.

The city is the heartland of the Druze religious minority in southwest Syria, and Assad has appeared reluctant to wield overwhelming force against the group. During the civil war, the government has presented itself as a defender of religious minorities against “Islamist extremism.”

U.S. Rep. French Hill, a Republican from Arkansas, paid a brief visit to a rebel-held part of northwest Syria last month. Hill joined two other U.S. lawmakers for the trip, which was the first known visit to the war-torn country by American politicians in six years.

After his visit, Hill held a video call with Sheikh Hijiri, “to learn first-hand about the experiences of the Syrians living in Suwayda.”

UN Chief Welcomes Resumption of Aid Delivery Into Syria

On Tuesday, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed resumption of humanitarian aid deliveries from Türkiye into northwest Syria through the Bab al-Hawa crossing.

“Though our humanitarian operations have continued to assist millions of people in need in northwest Syria, the Bab al-Hawa crossing has long been central to the UN’s efforts to deliver aid in the northwest,” said Stephane Dujarric, chief spokesman for Guterres.

“With more people than ever requiring humanitarian aid in Syria, the secretary-general underscores the need for ever greater efforts to be made to ensure we reach all those who need it,” he added.

A 17-truck convoy carrying 50 tons of assistance from the UN Children’s Fund, the International Organization for Migration, the World Health Organization and the World Food Programme was the first to traverse the Bab Al-Hawa crossing since it was closed in early July, Dujarric said.

He said the cargo arriving in Idlib on Tuesday included hygiene kits and educational items for 46,000 people, nutrition support for 10,000 babies, tents and non-food items for 5,000 people and enough supplies for 260,000 medical procedures.

On Monday, UN staff carried out three preliminary cross-border missions to northwest Syria, including two to Idlib via Bab al-Hawa, but without relief supplies. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said it made a routine monitoring visit to hospitals supported by the Syria Cross-border Humanitarian Fund.

“Additional truck movements and missions by UN personnel are planned in the coming days, as we work with our partners to provide life-saving assistance in line with core humanitarian principles,” Dujarric said. “Each month, the UN and our partners reach an average of 2.6 million people with critical assistance and protection services.”

Bab al-Hawa was closed to aid convoys after the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) failed to reach an accord on a resolution in July to re-authorize the Sy

Clashes between government forces, NDF wound 7 in Syria’s Hassakeh

North Press reported that seven individuals, including a woman and two children, were wounded on Wednesday as a result of clashes between the Syrian government forces and their affiliated National Defense Forces (NDF) militia inside the government-held neighborhoods in the city of Hasakah, northeastern Syria.

A source in the Hikma Hospital in Hasakah, who preferred to stay anonymous, told North Press they “had received three wounded in the emergency section since Wednesday morning.”

According to the source, a nurse from the same hospital was shot by a stray bullet coming from the government-held neighborhoods in Hasakah. A seven-year-old boy was shot in his thigh and a man in his head, who is currently in the intensive care unit.

Heavy clashes erupted on Wednesday at dawn between the Syrian government forces and their affiliated NDF militia inside the government-held neighborhoods in Hasakah.

In mid-August, Hasakah Governorate witnessed security tension after Hamo physically assaulted Sheikh Abdul Aziz Muhammad al-Meslet, a leader in the Jubur tribe, and his nephew, enraging the tribe’s members who later took to the streets in Hasakah demanding the government hand over Hamo.

A doctor in the emergency section in al-Rajaa Hospital in Hasakah told North Press they received four people shot by stray bullets.

The doctor revealed the names of the wounded who received shrapnel of stray bullets, Nour Younes, 25; her daughter Hanin Younes, 5, was injured in the thigh; Othman Oda, 50, was injured in the shoulder and currently in the ICU; and Abdullah al-Mandil, 31, was injured in the leg and currently he is undergoing a surgery.

A local source said the government forces are deploying their forces in the government-held neighborhoods, which portends a military escalation and expansion of clashes between the two parties.

Why I Treat the Wounded Far From Home

In the op-ed titled “I’m an American Doctor. Here’s Why I Treat the Wounded Far From Home,” Dr. Samer Attar shares his experiences as a volunteer physician in war-torn regions such as Syria and Ukraine. He reflects on his motivations, the challenges he has faced, and the profound impact of his work. 

Dr. Attar’s article underscores his deep humanitarian commitment. He discusses his willingness to travel to conflict zones and provide medical care to individuals who have been injured by war-related incidents, despite the inherent dangers and challenges involved.

The author emphasizes the importance of bearing witness to the atrocities of war. He believes that being physically present in these conflict zones allows him to connect with local doctors and patients, raising awareness about the suffering and struggles faced by these individuals. He sees his work as a way of giving a voice to the voiceless.

Dr. Attar highlights the valuable lessons he has learned from working in resource-constrained and hostile environments. He emphasizes the need for doctors to adapt and make the most of limited resources. His experiences have taught him resilience, both in terms of medical procedures and emotional fortitude.

The op-ed pays tribute to the courage, leadership, sacrifice, and service demonstrated by individuals in the war zones. Dr. Attar draws parallels between the bravery of those he meets in conflict areas and the patients he treats in his home city of Chicago, underlining the universal nature of courage.

Dr. Attar stresses that doctors are not heroes or saviors but are there to serve. He highlights the importance of listening, especially in situations where the physician may not have all the answers or resources needed to save lives. His experiences have made him a better doctor, teaching him valuable skills and perspectives.

The author concludes by emphasizing the interconnectedness of humanity through suffering. He suggests that the experience of witnessing the worst of the world’s suffering can lead to a deeper understanding of the global community and the capacity for individuals to help others through sacrifice.

In summary, Dr. Samer Attar’s op-ed sheds light on the motivations, challenges, and rewards of being a volunteer doctor in conflict zones. His experiences demonstrate the transformative power of medical service in challenging environments and the importance of bearing witness to the suffering of others, regardless of geographical boundaries.

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