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Syria Today – Kazakhstan Stops Hosting Syria Talks, Turkey Deports Refugees; Protests Continue in Golan

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – Kazakhstan Stops Hosting Syria Talks, Turkey Deports Refugees; Protests Continue in Golan

On Wednesday, Kazakhstan unexpectedly announced its decision to discontinue hosting talks intended to resolve the Syrian conflict, which surprised Russia. Simultaneously, Turkish authorities deported seven Syrian refugees, including a minor girl, back to Syria via the Tel Abyad crossing in the northern Raqqa Governorate. In another event, clashes between Syrians and the Israeli police in the occupied Golan Heights persisted for a second day on Wednesday, resulting in numerous protesters allegedly sustaining injuries from rubber bullets and tear gas inhalation.

Kazakhstan abruptly announces it will no longer host Syria talks, amid Russian surprise

Kazakhstan abruptly said on Wednesday it will stop hosting talks aimed at resolving the Syrian conflict that erupted 12 years ago, The Associated Press reported.

The decision was a surprise to Russia and other participants at the wrapping up of the 20th round of talks held in the capital, Astana

Since 2017, the former Soviet nation has provided a venue for talks to representatives of Russia, Turkey, Syria and Iran on ways to resolve the Syrian conflict.

Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry said that the talks have fulfilled their mission and “the initial goals, including the creation of de-escalation zones, ending the bloodshed and reducing the number of casualties have been fully implemented.”

The foreign ministry spokesman, Aibek Smadiyarov, cited Syria’s recent return to the Arab League and the efforts to restore ties with Turkey as proof that the Astana talks have achieved their purpose.

Complete surprise

But Alexander Lavrentyev, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s envoy to Syria, who led Moscow’s delegation at the talks, said that Kazakhstan’s decision came as a complete surprise.

“The Kazakh foreign ministry’s move was unexpected,” he told reporters after the talks wrapped up.

Lavrentyev said that no decision has been made regarding the venue for future talks, but added that they could be held in Moscow, Ankara, Tehran, or even Damascus in the second half of the year.

This week’s round of talks followed an ongoing improvement in ties between Syria and some Arab countries that once backed opposition groups fighting inside the country and called for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Lavrentyev hailed Syria’s reinstatement to the Arab League in May during its summit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, as an “important step” towards ending the conflict.

Representatives from the UN and Syria’s neighbouring countries Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq attended the Astana talks as observers. They expressed hope to see a swift end to the conflict and the return of millions of refugees living in their countries.

A statement by Turkey, Russia, and Iran noted that the latest round of talks in Astana was “constructive” and discussed “progress in preparing the roadmap for the restoration of relations between Turkey and Syria.”

Moscow has waged a military campaign in Syria since September 2015, teaming up with Iran to help Assad’s government reclaim control over most of the country.

While the bulk of Russia’s armed forces has been busy fighting in Ukraine, Moscow has maintained its military foothold in Syria and has also made persistent efforts to help Assad rebuild fractured ties with Turkey and other countries in the region.

Turkey has had troops in northwestern Syria backing opposition fighters in an opposition-held enclave there.

Turkey should withdraw: Syria

Syrian Assistant Foreign Minister Ayman Sousan said on Tuesday that Turkey should produce a “clear timeline” for the withdrawal of its forces from Syria.

In May, Turkey and Syria’s foreign ministers agreed to set up a “roadmap” to improve strained ties following talks in Moscow, days after the war-torn country was readmitted to the Arab League. It marked the highest-level contact between the two countries since the start of the uprising turned-civil war over a decade ago.

The Syrian conflict killed nearly 500,000 people and displaced half of the country’s prewar population of 23 million.

Turkish authorities forcibly deport 7 Syrian refugees

Turkish authorities deported on Wednesday seven Syrian refugees, including a minor girl, back to Syria through the Tel Abyad crossing in northern Raqqa Governorate, northern Syria, North Press reportedv.

The deported refugees were handed to the Military Police affiliated with Turkish-backed armed opposition factions, aka Syrian National Army (SNA), that arrested them under the pretext of investigation.

A military source in Tel Abyad said that the deportees included three young men from Raqqa, two from Deir-ez-Zor Governorate, eastern Syria, and a young couple from Hasakah Governorate, northeast of the country.

The Military Police of the SNA transported them to an investigation center to extort their families for money.

Civil Police of the SNA is in charge of such kind of arrests, but the Military Police repeatedly exploits such incidents for financial gain, as it does with arbitrary detention of refugees seeking asylum in Turkey, the source added.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on May 23 that Turkey will deport one million Syrian refugees to northern Syria.

Turkey carries out periodic deportations against Syrians under the pretext of committing violations and lacking documentation.

Protests continue in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights for the second day

Clashes between Syrians and the Israeli police in the occupied Golan Heights continued for a second day on Wednesday. Tens of protesters were reportedly injured by rubber bullets and tear gas inhalation, as reported by The New Arab. 

In one instance, angry protesters threw firebombs at an Israeli police vehicle, dispelling skunk water. 

One video showed a young man with a face injury, apparently hit in the eye by a rubber bullet. 

Another video showed several protesters blocking a road in Mas’ada, one of three towns where demonstrations are concentrated. Israel has pushed hundreds of its forces to suppress the dissent. 

Druze Syrians who oppose works to plant wind turbines on their land say the project harms agriculture, a key source of income for some 20,000 Syrians in the area living under Israeli occupation since 1967. 

“The project targets the people’s presence in the Golan and their income”, Majid Qadamani, a Syrian community activist, told The New Arab.   

The Syrian Golan Heights are about 1,000 sq kilometres in size.  Some 20,000 Israeli settlers live in 30 illegal settlements in the Golan. 

Only one percent of the land remains in the hands of the original inhabitants, the Druze Syrians, according to Majid Qadamani. The residents argue that Israel can quickly shift the location of the turbines away from their farms and homes. 

“The community firmly rejects the turbines. We believe the authorities are deliberately seeking to carry on with the project to harm agricultural land and encircle the Golan Syrians because they’ve rejected the occupation”, he added. 

On Wednesday, Israeli settlers rampaged through the occupied West Bank town of Turmus Aya, torching several properties belonging to Palestinians. 

According to Palestinian sources, at least 177 Palestinians, including 30 children, have been killed since the start of the year. 

Interview: Syria could have a better wheat harvest without obstruction from the U.S., and its allies, says official

Syria’s annual wheat yield this year seems promising but could have been much better if the U.S. forces and their allied militias weren’t present in agriculture-rich areas in northeastern Syria, an official told Xinhua in an interview.

Abdul Latif al-Amin, director general of the Syrian Grain Foundation, said that the preliminary data have suggested the wheat output this year could be better than last year.

Amin expressed optimism that Syrian wheat production has started to recover, noting that the agriculture ministry is working to utilize desert lands to plant wheat.

The official attributed the estimated promising wheat harvest to the government’s support for farmers and producers by securing all production requirements for guaranteeing a high wheat yield to meet domestic needs.

However, Amin mentioned that the crops could be much better if the northeastern province of al-Hassakeh, a pivotal breadbasket of Syria, were well under the control of the government.

He said the presence of the U.S. forces and its allied Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in al-Hassakeh is impeding the flow of the province’s gain to the government.

Amin said although the government has established three centers in government-controlled parts of al-Hasakah to buy the harvest from the farmers, “the so-called SDF is preventing the farmers from selling their crops to the state-run centers.”

The official condemned the U.S. forces and the SDF for imposing tough conditions on farmers who want to sell their harvest to the government.

“Syria is an integrated agricultural country and the conducts of the U.S. and the SDF created a crack in the integration or self-sufficiency of agricultural production in Syria,” he said.

In addition to the presence of ground forces in resource-rich areas in Syria, al-Amin also spoke of the negative impact of the economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. on Syria.

He said the sanctions are affecting the production requirements and the imports of spare parts necessary to keep agricultural machinery running.

Calling the sanctions, known as the Caesar Act, “unfair,” al-Amin said the act has deprived Syria of “reaching many of the production requirements and accessing the spare parts for industrial establishments and consequently has damaged Syria’s overall economy.”

Victory in Syria is possible without resorting to force

In an opinion piece in The Jerusalem Post, columnist Hadeel Oueis highlights the alignment between the US and its Arab allies regarding the US mission in Syria, serving as a reminder to President Assad of the consequences of the chaos he created. 

The presence of U.S. troops in northeast Syria, along with Turkey’s presence in northwest Syria, prevents Assad from returning to the pre-2011 status quo. 

The writer argues that while the U.S. mission in Syria should continue for now to defeat ISIS and prevent Assad and Russia from declaring complete victory, diplomatic efforts should be intensified to ensure long-term US interests are not compromised. 

The writer suggests shifting from a strategy of punitive isolation to step-by-step diplomacy with Damascus, utilizing pressure tools such as sanctions and the U.S. presence to drive political changes and facilitate the safe return of refugees. Additionally, the writer emphasizes the importance of economic stability in northeast Syria to exert pressure on Assad and encourage political compromises that could lead to a decentralized Syrian political system. 

The goal is to advance U.S. interests and create a stable and safe Syria where refugees can return. The writer also calls for diplomatic efforts with Turkey to safeguard northeast Syria and negotiate a reasonable arrangement with the Kurds. Ultimately, the writer believes that achieving these goals would be a historic diplomatic victory for the U.S. in the Middle East without the need for military intervention or regime change.

How the Caesar Act Restricts Normalisation with Syria

US Syria experts Andrew J. Tabler, and Matthew Zweig published a joint report in Al-Majalla, a London-based review. 

The article argues that the Caesar Act has significantly restricted the normalization of economic relations with Syria by imposing extensive secondary sanctions and creating deterrents for entities involved in Syrian reconstruction under the Assad regime, thereby hindering efforts to bring about a political settlement to the war.

The authors discussed the impact of the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019, also known as the Caesar Act, on the normalization of economic relations with Syria. 

They explain that the Caesar Act, which contains extensive secondary or derivative sanctions on entities facilitating transactions related to Syria’s reconstruction without a political settlement, has significantly restricted efforts to bring the Assad regime back into the economic fold.

The article provides a historical overview of US sanctions against Syria, starting from its designation as a state sponsor of terrorism in 1979. It highlights the evolution of sanctions, including the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act (SALSRA) in 2003, which imposed additional sanctions on Syria. The authors note that the Obama administration further expanded and transformed the Syrian sanctions regime in response to the Syrian uprising and war.

The Caesar Act represents a significant change in the strategic calculus of sanctions against Syria. It mandates secondary sanctions not only for US entities but also for non-US entities involved in Syrian reconstruction under the Assad regime. The authors emphasize the potency of the Caesar Act by citing the Trump administration’s sanctions on regime facilitators and the potential for future administrations to reinvigorate enforcement.

However, the authors also highlight concerns regarding the Biden administration’s approach to the Caesar Act. They mention the slow pace of sanctions designations and potential unintended consequences, such as financial institutions cutting ties with humanitarian actors due to “de-risking” measures. The authors discuss the Anti-Assad Normalization Act, which aims to extend and strengthen the Caesar Act, targeting those involved in property seizures and preventing the regime from profiting from the reconstruction.

The article concludes by stating that unless there is progress on a political settlement, Arab countries and companies risk being sanctioned until the Caesar Act “sunsets” at the end of 2024. The potential passage of the Anti-Normalization Bill would further extend and strengthen the sanctions, closing the door to economic normalization and making it difficult to entice Assad toward a political settlement.


This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.

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