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Syria Today – Israeli Strike on Damascus; Aid Groups Participate in Brussels Conference; Turkish Operation Against Syrian Kurds

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – Israeli Strike on Damascus; Aid Groups Participate in Brussels Conference; Turkish Operation Against Syrian Kurds

In the early hours of Wednesday, Israel conducted airstrikes near Damascus, resulting in the injury of a Syrian soldier. Simultaneously, humanitarian organizations are facing difficulties in highlighting the deteriorating conditions experienced by Syrians during a two-day donor conference held in Brussels by the European Union. In another development, Turkey’s military responded to an attack on a police post on the Turkish side of the border over the weekend. Employing ground artillery and drones, they “neutralized” 53 Kurdish militants in northern Syria, as announced by the defence ministry on Wednesday.

Syria says soldier ‘severely wounded’ in Israeli airstrikes near Damascus

Israel carried out airstrikes near Damascus early Wednesday, wounding a Syrian soldier, state news agency SANA said.

“At around 1:05 am, the Israeli enemy carried out an aerial aggression from the direction of the occupied Golan Heights targeting several positions southwest of Damascus,” SANA cited a military source as saying.

The source did not provide details on the targets and said the strikes “severely wounded” a soldier and caused material damage.

Syria’s air defence intercepted some of the Israeli missiles, the source added. Syria regularly claims to intercept Israeli missiles, though military analysts doubt such assertions.

Explosions were heard in the Syrian capital early Wednesday, an AFP correspondent reported.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the targets were military warehouses belonging to Iranian militias near the Damascus airport and an area southwest of the capital.

The Observatory reported that “violent explosions” were heard in Damascus after midnight on Wednesday.

Footage and photos circulating on social media said to be from the airstrikes, showed fire breaking out at one of the targeted sites.

As conditions for Syrians worsen, aid organizations struggle to catch the world’s attention again

Aid organizations are struggling to draw attention to the worsening conditions faced by Syrians as they participate in a two-day donor conference hosted by the European Union in Brussels. 

The conference, AP reported, aims to raise $11.2 billion for humanitarian aid to respond to the Syrian crisis and support the 5.7 million Syrian refugees living in neighbouring countries like Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. 

However, pledges are expected to fall short. The World Food Program recently announced cuts to food assistance for 2.5 million people in Syria due to an “unprecedented funding crisis.” 

The conference takes place as Syria’s 13-year-long conflict continues, and the country grapples with the aftermath of a devastating earthquake that caused significant damage to infrastructure. 

Meanwhile, refugees in neighbouring countries face a politically precarious situation, with calls for repatriation and rising anti-refugee rhetoric in Lebanon and Turkey. Despite the deteriorating situation in Syria, aid has dwindled in recent years as donor focus shifted to other crises. 

The lack of funding poses significant challenges and increases the suffering of vulnerable Syrians.

Deputy foreign ministers of Russia, Syria, Iran, Turkey to hold summit

The deputy foreign ministers of Russia, Syria, Iran and Turkey will hold a summit in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, later this month, AP reported.

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov announced that the meeting will be held on June 21, the RIA news agency reported Wednesday.

Foreign ministers from those four countries gathered in May for talks in Moscow in what was the highest-level contact between Ankara and Damascus since the start of the Syrian civil war over a decade ago.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at the time he hoped the meeting would pave the way to drafting a road map for normalizing Turkish-Syrian relations. Lavrov said he sees Moscow’s task as “not only in consolidating politically the progress that has been made, but also in determining general guidelines for further movement.”

Russia has spent years trying to help Syrian President Bashar Assad rebuild ties with Turkey and other countries that were fractured in the war, which killed nearly 500,000 people and displaced half of Syria’s prewar population of 23 million.

Russia intervened militarily in Syria starting in September 2015, teaming up with Iran to help Assad’s government to reclaim most of the country. Moscow has maintained a military presence in the Mideast country even as the bulk of its forces are busy fighting in Ukraine.

Why Arab Countries Are Welcoming Back Assad

Foreign Policy has published a lengthy report on why Arab leaders have accepted to readmit and embrace Syria’s dictator into the Arab fold. 

The recent reintegration of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his country into the politics and economics of the Middle East is not solely due to a decline in U.S. influence or the influence of China and Russia. It reflects a shift in priorities among regional actors. While some countries in the region, like Qatar, oppose normalizing ties with the Assad regime, others, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), are moving toward pragmatism after years of funding anti-Assad militias.

The report says the UAE initiated the campaign for normalization in 2018 by reopening its embassy in Damascus, and Jordan has also made efforts to work with Syria on border security. However, the wealth and regional power of Saudi Arabia and the UAE hold significant influence over regional dynamics. These countries are seeking to assert their autonomy from Washington and diversify their partnerships on the international stage. Normalizing relations with Syria brings them closer to Russia, which is important to their leadership.

According to the report, the Syrian regime is not just a proxy battleground in the geopolitical rivalry between the United States and Russia and China. It plays a central role in regional stability and security, including issues such as the drug trade and relations with Iran. Syria’s economic distress, isolation, and reliance on Iran and Russia have led to the flourishing of illicit activities like the captagon trade, which provides significant income for the regime. Countries in the region hope to control this trade through negotiations and investment in Syria’s economy, but the Assad regime may not be willing to give up this lucrative business.

The desire to counter Iran’s influence also motivates Gulf nations to mend ties with Damascus. However, the report adds, previous attempts to sway Syria away from Iran have been unsuccessful. Syria and Iran have shared similar ideologies regarding Israel and the United States for decades, and their relationship has only strengthened during the Syrian civil war. Iran has provided military assistance to Syria, and Syria serves as a crucial transport route for weapons and supplies to Hezbollah, an Iran-supported Shia militia in Lebanon.

Countries like Qatar and Egypt have their own specific reasons for ambivalence toward Syria. Qatar supported anti-Assad forces during the civil war and is cautious about preserving its relationship with the West. Egypt, on the other hand, seeks to maintain a balancing act with all key regional and international actors and is uncomfortable with a regional regime being ostracized for authoritarian rule. While some countries in the region are moving toward normalizing ties with Syria, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union have made it clear that they are not interested in a relationship with Damascus and will not remove sanctions.

Turkey says military ‘neutralized’ 53 Kurdish militants in northern Syria

Turkey’s military “neutralized” 53 Kurdish militants in northern Syria, using ground artillery and drones in retaliatory strikes following an attack on a police post on the Turkish side of the border at the weekend, the defence ministry said on Wednesday.

The ministry typically uses the term “neutralized” to describe killed and wounded. The latest strikes targeted the militants’ hideouts in the Manbij and Tal Rifaat regions.

Turkey has previously launched military incursions in Syria against the Kurdish YPG militia, regarding it as a wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which Turkey, the United States and the European Union designate as a terrorist group.

Egyptian Foreign Minister, UN Envoy for Syria discuss means of solving Crisis in Syria

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen engaged in a phone conversation to explore potential solutions for the ongoing crisis in Syria. 

The discussion, according to a report by SANA, encompassed a comprehensive review of previous dialogues and communications conducted by various parties and methods, with the objective of bridging divergent positions and gradually converging towards a collective approach to address the Syrian crisis and alleviating the suffering of its people.

During the conversation, the officials also emphasized the importance of collaboration and coordination between the Arab Ministerial Committee on Syria and the United Nations. 

This joint effort aims to harmonize their respective initiatives and bolster endeavours toward resolving the crisis in Syria, SANA added.

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