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Syria Today – Israeli Strike on Damascus; Refugees Catch Breath as Erdogan Reelected; Repatriation from al-Hol Continue

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – Israeli Strike on Damascus; Refugees Catch Breath as Erdogan Reelected; Repatriation from al-Hol Continue

Syrian army air defences on Sunday confronted an Israeli missile strike on the outskirts of the Syrian capital Damascus, and there were no casualties, state media said.

Citing a Syrian military source, state media said missile strikes coming from the direction of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights had targeted several sites it did not identify.

“Our air defences confronted the aggressors’ missiles and downed some of them with only material losses,” the Syrian military source said.

Israel has for years carried out attacks on what it has described as Iran-linked targets in Syria, where Tehran’s influence has grown since it began supporting President Bashar al-Assad in a civil war that started in 2011.

“There is a clear policy of preventing Iran from entrenching in Syria, from building an infrastructure that threatens Israel, a terrorist infrastructure that seeks to turn the quiet Golan Heights border into a war-fighting border,” Israeli security cabinet minister Israel Katz told the country’s Army Radio, as quoted by Reuters.

Fighters allied to Iran, including from Lebanon’s Hezbollah, now hold sway in vast areas in eastern, southern, and northwestern Syria and in several suburbs around the capital.

Turkey condemns Syria’s shooting at Turkish fishing boat

Turkey condemned on Monday Syria’s shooting at a Turkish fishing boat in international waters, which slightly injured two Turkish fishermen.

“We condemn the shooting on Sunday at the Turkish fishing boat ‘Mahmutcan-1’ … by two vessels of the Syrian security forces in international waters,” Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Tanju Bilgic said in a statement.

Ankara will be “closely following this deplorable incident,” Bilgic added.

Turkey has backed the rebels fighting with the troops of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011. The two countries cut their diplomatic ties in 2012.

Turkey and Syria stepped up talks for the normalization of ties last year with the meditation of Russia. 

Syrians rejoice as Recep Tayyip Erdogan wins presidential run-off

Syrians in Turkey have welcomed the re-election of Recep Tayyip Erdogan as Turkey’s president for another five years, after he won a run-off election over a rival who threatened to send refugees back to their country, Abu Dhabi’s The National reported.

Opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who was seeking to end Mr Erdogan’s two decades as Turkey’s leader, had made returning the nearly four million people who fled Syria’s civil war a key part of his campaign.

In contrast, Erdogan, who supported opposition groups in the early years of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, projected himself as a protector of refugees.

Reacting run-off election victory on Sunday, Salem Al Meslet, head of the National Coalition of the Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, offered his “sincerest congratulations” and hoped the Turkish president would continue to “support the Syrian people’s aspirations for freedom”.

“Erdogan is certainly eyeing a deal for returning some of the refugees … but he does not have an anti-immigration policy,” Serhat Suha Cubukcuoglu, senior researcher at the TRENDS Research and Advisory think tank in Abu Dhabi, told The National.

“Some of the Syrians who have remained in Turkey and not moved on to Europe or elsewhere, are working in lower paid, unsecured jobs or ones that Turks would do for a higher salary.

“So companies and manufacturers may favour Syrians because they provide a cheap labour force.

“Erdogan doesn’t want to disturb that dynamic because his voter base relies on affluent people in Anatolia who own businesses and don’t want to let people go.”

In rebel-held north-west Syria, which remains out of Assad government control, Syria Civil Defence group member Ahmad Alyousef tweeted a photo of Erdogan supporters and a message of “heartfelt congratulations to the success of the people’s will”.

“As Syrians, we look forward to the day that this true electoral experience will take place in Syria after it is free from oppression by Al Assad’s gang,” he wrote.

Syria, the rehabilitation of Assad is complete but without guarantees of rights

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has achieved diplomatic success by being readmitted to the Arab League, from which the country was expelled in 2011. Additionally, Syria has received an invitation to participate in the upcoming Cop-28 event in the UAE. However, according to Breakinglatest.com, these achievements are overshadowed by serious concerns about human rights violations and the treatment of refugees in Syria.

The Arab League has requested a guarantee from President Assad that there will be no retaliation against returning refugees. Unfortunately, retaliation against refugees has been occurring, as some states that initially welcomed persecuted Syrian politicians are now attempting to rid themselves of them. This disregard for the safety of refugees, including the intention of some European states to return them to Syria despite the risk of imprisonment and torture, is deeply troubling.

Amnesty International’s 2022-2023 report highlights numerous human rights issues in Syria. The conflict is ongoing, with the Syrian government, supported by the Russian military, launching indiscriminate and deliberate attacks on water infrastructure, IDP camps, poultry farms, and residential areas in the northwest of the country.

Impunity for human rights violations remains a major concern. Tens of thousands of people, including journalists, human rights defenders, lawyers, and political activists, have been subjected to enforced disappearance by the Syrian government. While the authorities have provided limited information on the fate of disappeared individuals, the circumstances of their deaths have not been disclosed, and their bodies have not been returned to their families.

President Assad issued a general amnesty for “terrorism” crimes, excluding those involving deaths. The number of prisoners benefiting from this amnesty has not been specified, but at least 150 releases have been reported by local organizations. However, there is still impunity for military and security officials involved in torture, and no compensation is provided for torture victims or their families.

The Syrian government has also enacted legislation on computer crimes, imposing harsh sentences and fines for criticizing the authorities or the constitution online. These laws criminalize “electronic slander” and online content that aims to change the constitution, damage the state’s prestige, or weaken its financial position, with prison sentences ranging from three to 15 years.

Overall, while Syria’s readmission to the Arab League and its diplomatic achievements may seem positive, the ongoing human rights violations, treatment of refugees, and lack of accountability for atrocities committed during the conflict are deeply concerning. It is crucial to address these issues to ensure a just and sustainable future for Syria.

The devastating domino effect of Turkey’s currency crisis on northwest Syria

The adoption of the Turkish lira (TRY) as an alternative to the Syrian pound (SYP) in northwest Syria has backfired, as the TRY itself is now continuously deteriorating against the US dollar, The New Arab reported. 

The decision to switch currencies was made hastily, without considering the potential impact or introducing mechanisms to facilitate imports and exports. Additionally, there was no authority managing monetary policy during the transition.

As a result, workers’ wages were not adjusted to align with the new currency, leading to low incomes amidst rising prices. The collapse of the TRY has caused price chaos in northwest Syria, affecting the prices of both local and imported goods. Food stores have been particularly affected, with prices varying widely between shops. Some sellers have priced their stock in TRY, adjusting it whenever the currency value fluctuates, while others price in dollars.

The Website added that the depreciation of the TRY has had severe economic ramifications for the region, exacerbating existing issues such as low incomes, inflation, unemployment, and limited access to basic necessities. Many people in northwest Syria rely on the TRY, and the currency fluctuations impact them directly.

The situation has forced individuals like Salma Hajj Musa, a teacher, to seek additional employment to support her family. Her teaching salary is no longer sufficient due to the currency devaluation. She highlights that unscrupulous merchants manipulate prices to exploit the situation, taking advantage of the lack of supervision and awareness around exchange rates.

Overall, according to the report, economic challenges, including the currency crisis, drought, water management policies, food insecurity, and reduced humanitarian assistance, have pushed over 90 percent of Syrians below the poverty line. Experts warn that the country is at risk of famine. In non-regime-held regions of northern Syria, where an estimated 6.7 million people reside, including in IDP camps, the economic hardships are particularly acute.

Calls have been made for the de facto authorities to establish a minimum wage, control prices, create job opportunities, and provide loans for emerging projects. The situation in northwest Syria highlights the urgent need for economic stability and support to alleviate the suffering of the population.

First batch of the year leaves al-Hol for Syria’s Manbij

On Monday, the administration of the al-Hol camp, east of Hassakeh, northeast Syria, prepared to release a new batch of Syrian IDPs to their native Manbij region, North Press reported.

This batch is the first to leave the camp since early this year and the 32nd to leave since such returns began.

The Executive Council of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), through the mediation of tribal leaders, issued a decision in October 2020 stipulating the evacuation of all displaced Syrians who wished to leave the camp and return to their areas.

However, all operations to return al-Hol’s Syrians were halted after an attack on al-Sinaa in the city of Hassakeh, northeast Syria, in January 2022 by operatives of the Islamic State (ISIS).

The prison break sparked a ten-day battle between the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), backed by the US-led Coalition, and ISIS militants, and ended when the SDF regained control over the prison.

Kim Amin, an official at al-Hol’s camp, told North Press that this is the first batch to leave the camp since the beginning of 2023.

The batch includes 61 families, numbering 225 individuals, according to Amin.

He added that the families will leave the camp today, May 29th, for Manbij and its countryside after finishing the process of verifying their identities.

Al-Hol Camp, 45 km east of the city of Hassakeh, houses 55,829 individuals, including 28,725 Iraqis, 18,850 Syrians and 8,254 foreign nationalities, according to the latest statistics obtained by North Press.

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