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Syria Today – Jordan Downs Drone from Syria, Turkey Calls Withdrawal “Unimaginable”, Lira Continues Fall

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – Jordan Downs Drone from Syria, Turkey Calls Withdrawal “Unimaginable”, Lira Continues Fall

On Sunday, the Jordanian military successfully intercepted a drone attempting to transport crystal meth as it entered the kingdom’s airspace from Syria. Meanwhile, Turkey’s Defense Minister, Yasar Guler, rejected the demands of Syria’s President, Bashar al-Assad, who requested Turkish withdrawal from the northern region of Syria. Guler emphasized that such a move would require Turkey to take responsibility for border security in that area. Additionally, the Syrian pound (SYP) is experiencing a significant and concerning depreciation against the US dollar (USD). As of Monday, the exchange rate in most Syrian regions has reached an alarming 13,900 SYP to 1 USD.

Jordanian army downs drone from Syria carrying meth – state news agency

Reuters reported that the Jordanian military on Sunday downed a drone carrying crystal meth that was flying into Jordanian territory from neighbouring Syria, the state news agency Petra reported.

War-torn Syria has become a hub for a multi-billion-dollar drugs trade, with Jordan a main transit route to the oil-rich Gulf states for a Syrian-made amphetamine known as captagon, Western anti-narcotics officials and Washington say.

Citing a source within the Jordanian armed forces, the state agency said in a statement the drone was “taken control of and downed”.

The Jordanian military has previously downed drones from Syria carrying narcotics or weapons but has rarely identified seized drugs as crystal meth.

Military and security officials from Jordan and Syria have met to discuss ways to curb the growing smuggling problem. Despite pledges by Damascus, Jordan says it has not seen any real attempt to clamp down on the illicit trade.

There was no immediate comment from Syrian authorities. In an interview last week, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad denied Syria’s role in the drug trade, saying that ending narcotics smuggling was a common interest that Syria shares with Arab countries.

Turkey dismisses Assad’s tirade, says withdrawal from Syria ‘unimaginable’ now

Turkey’s Defense Minister Yasar Guler dismissed Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad’s demand of a Turkish withdrawal from the northern part of the war-torn country, saying such an outcome is not possible without Ankara “ensuring” border security, Al-Monitor reported.

In response to a question over Assad’s comments setting the Turkish troops’ withdrawal as a precondition to meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week, Guler said such a move would be unimaginable before securing Turkey’s national security.

“Turkey sincerely wants peace but we also do have sensitivities. It is unthinkable for us to withdraw without ensuring the security of our borders and our people,” Guler told Turkey’s pro-government A Haber TV over the weekend. 

In comments to Sky News Arabia last week, Assad brushed aside a potential meeting with Erdogan. “Erdogan’s objective in meeting me is to legitimize the Turkish occupation in Syria. … Why should I and Erdogan meet? To have soft drinks?” he was quoted as saying.

In response to those comments, Guler also voiced hope that the Syrian leader would use common sense over the issue. 

“I believe that the Syrian president will act more sensibly on this issue. The most important stage to achieve peace in Syria is drafting a new constitution and its acceptance by the [Syrian] people,” Guler continued.

Ankara maintains that a withdrawal of Turkish troops from Syria can only be possible after establishment of a 30-kilometer deep buffer zone emptied out of any Syrian Kurdish groups. 

Türkiye eyes new model for safe return of Syrians

Türkiye is gearing up to launch a comprehensive plan dubbed the “Aleppo model” to repatriate Syrian refugees to their homeland and return illegal migrants, according to the Turkish newspaper The Daily Sabah.

As part of a scheme to eliminate any problems regarding the refugee population, as well as irregular migration, in the country, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), its governing committee and the Interior Ministry have formed a trilateral mechanism to take swift action and legal steps, a report in Sabah said.

Türkiye has been home to some 3.7 million Syrians who fled persecution and brutality in their country when the civil war broke out in 2011 after the Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity. A decade of fighting has left at least half a million Syrians dead and more than 14 million in need of humanitarian aid.

In the country’s north, Ankara helped Assad’s opposition sustain moderate ground against regime forces while starting in 2016, Turkish counterterrorism operations Euphrates Shield, Olive Branch and Spring Shield liberated swathes of territory from terrorist groups like the PKK and its U.S.-backed Syrian branch, the YPG, and enabled the safe resettlement of civilians.

Some 554,000 Syrians have so far returned from Türkiye to the region now improved with new schools, hospitals, organized industrial sites and better infrastructure. Returns have also increased following the twin earthquakes that left over 56,000 dead combined in southern Türkiye and northern Syria.

More than 6 million Syrians now live in nearly 107,000 briquette homes erected in Afrin.

Priorities under the Aleppo model include solving housing and unemployment in the war-torn country.

Upcoming talks with Damascus and Moscow will focus on reviving social and economic life by centering Aleppo, whose rejuvenation could ensure the return of hundreds of Syrians.

Additionally, Türkiye is also a vocal backer of the U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a political solution to the Syrian crisis.

Assad’s insistence on ignoring the political method, however, still poses a major problem for the return of his citizens.

Exchange rate of 1 USD reaches about 14,000 SYP in Syria

The Syrian pound (SYP) continues its rapid decline against the US dollar (USD), as the exchange rate of one USD reached on Monday 13,900 SYP in most Syrian regions, according to North Press.

The exchange rate of one SYP against the USD in the city of Qamishli, northeast Syria, was 13,900 SYP for sale and 13,750 SYP for purchase, moneychangers told North Press.

In Damascus, the exchange rate reached 13,450 SYP for purchase and 13,650 SYP for sale. In Hasakah, it reached 13,870 SYP for sale and 13,820 for purchase.

In Aleppo, the exchange rate of the USD was 13,800 SYP for sale and 13,600 SYP for purchase, while the exchange rate in Idlib was 13,900 SYP for sale and 13,850 SYP for purchase.

The Central Bank of Syria maintained the exchange rate of the USD against the SYP at 10,100 SYP per dollar, according to the bulletin issued this morning.

Syria becoming a key battleground in US-Russia rivalry

Columnist Maria Maalouf sheds light on the escalating tensions between the United States and Russia within the Syrian context. 

The piece, published by Arab News, highlights the strategic implications of the rivalry, underscores the increased Russian pressure on the US in Syria, and discusses the Biden administration’s response to this challenge. The op-ed analyzes the dynamics between the two countries in Syria, their military deployments, and the potential consequences of their actions.

Maalouf argues that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts in Syria are aimed at coercing American troops out of the country, thus prompting the US to re-evaluate its strategic goals in the region. The Biden administration is encouraged to articulate its objectives in Syria clearly and to communicate its concerns about Russian threats to American lives in the region. The European Union is suggested as a potential mediator to mitigate the combined efforts of Russia, Iran, and Syria to expel US forces.

She also acknowledges the limited cooperation and coordination between the US and Russia in combatting terrorism in Syria. It criticizes the Biden administration for not addressing Russia’s provocative actions against American military personnel more assertively.

The analysis highlights the underlying motivations behind Russia’s intensified approach, tying it to Putin’s frustrations over Ukraine. It is suggested that Russia seeks to provoke the US through actions in Syria as a means of retaliation for developments related to Ukraine. The author cites the opinion of experts, indicating that the conflict in Ukraine has influenced Russia’s behavior in Syria.

Moreover, the op-ed delves into six strategic issues that President Biden must grapple with concerning the Russian-Iranian aggression against American troops in Syria. These include Turkish involvement, the role of Kurdish militias, the effect on anti-ISIS efforts, potential direct military clashes between Iran and the US, economic assistance to the Assad regime, and the impact on Lebanon’s stability.

Maalouf acknowledges the existing power imbalance between the U.S. and Russia in Syria, with Russia having a more significant military presence. The op-ed concludes by asserting that the situation in Syria remains fluid and complex. The actions of both the US and Russia will determine the level of influence, competence, and leadership exhibited by President Biden and President Putin.

Overall, the op-ed provides an insightful analysis of the evolving US-Russia rivalry in Syria, exploring both strategic and tactical aspects of this multifaceted situation. It offers a balanced perspective on the dynamics between the two nations and the potential implications for regional and global politics.

The Upsides of Syrian Normalization: Assad Is Heinous, but Arab Isolation of Him Did More Harm Than Good

Sam Heller wrote a long analysis in Foreign Policy, exploring the controversial topic of Arab countries’ normalization of relations with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The author argues that while Assad’s actions have been heinous, the Arab world’s decision to restore ties with Damascus is a pragmatic move that can yield positive outcomes for both Syria’s population and regional stability. 

The piece starts by highlighting the Arab League’s decision to suspend Syria’s membership in 2011 due to Assad’s brutal crackdown on protests during the Arab Spring. It then traces the dramatic shift in Arab countries’ approach towards Syria, especially from 2018 onwards. Saudi Arabia played a pivotal role in reintegrating Syria into the Arab community in 2023.

Heller acknowledges that Arab normalization with Syria has generated criticism, especially from the West, due to the atrocities committed by Assad’s regime. Critics argue that normalization rewards a brutal regime and may exacerbate human rights abuses.

The analysis argues that Arab normalization is a pragmatic response, given Assad’s continued rule in Syria. The region’s isolation of Syria failed to stop Assad’s regime and did not lead to improved conditions for the Syrian population. By restoring ties, Arab states can engage Damascus on issues such as curbing drug trafficking, mitigating Iranian influence, and improving the humanitarian situation.

The author suggests that Arab normalization could dilute Iranian influence in Syria. It is noted that some coordination has already taken place to combat drug trafficking, indicating a level of Syrian cooperation.

Arab normalization is argued to have the potential to benefit ordinary Syrians. The author cites joint humanitarian measures outlined in a communiqué signed by Arab states and Syria. These measures include clarifying amnesty for refugees, releasing detainees, and focusing on rebuilding infrastructure and essential services.

The analysis points out that while normalization may seem distasteful, it acknowledges the realities on the ground. The author argues that continued isolation was not achieving accountability for Assad’s atrocities but was instead harming the Syrian people.

Heller acknowledges that the United States and its Western allies are unlikely to endorse normalization with Syria. However, it suggests that the U.S. should not obstruct Arab partners’ efforts to engage with Assad. Instead, the US should encourage Arab states to prioritize the well-being of Syrians through meaningful actions.

He proposes that the United States should support its Arab allies in their engagement with Syria by encouraging efforts that benefit Syrians, such as aid access, detainee releases, and coordination with UN initiatives.

In summary, the analysis presents a nuanced perspective on the Arab normalization of relations with Syria, focusing on the pragmatic considerations and potential positive outcomes for Syrians and regional stability. It acknowledges the complexities of the situation while suggesting ways the international community, particularly the US and its Western allies, can contribute to improving conditions for Syrians within the new regional context.

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