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Syria Today – Lavrentiev Meets Assad; Torture Still the Norm in Syria

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – Lavrentiev Meets Assad; Torture Still the Norm in Syria

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad discussed on Tuesday with Russia’s Presidential Envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentiev and an accompanying delegation file of the return of Syrian refugees, North Press reported.

The two sides discussed Turkey’s refusal to withdraw from Syria, and the cross-border humanitarian aid for northwest Syria, in line with the international humanitarian law and rules of sovereignty, the state-run SANA news agency reported.

The authorization of a mechanism of aid delivery to opposition-held areas in the northwest of the country expired on July 10, following the last reauthorization for six months on January 10. The following day, Russia vetoed the UN Security Council (UNSC) compromise resolution that would have extended aid deliveries through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, which connects Turkey and opposition-held northwest Syria, for nine months.

Lavrentiev stressed that his country continues supporting Syria to enhance security and stability in the region, as well as it maintaining cooperation between the two countries to secure a decent return of Syrian refugees.

Russia and Syria committed to the humanitarian dimension of the Syrian refugees’ file and they categorically reject all attempts to politicize this file, according to the Russian diplomat.

Cancer patients head for Turkey after border closure protests in NW Syria

Cancer patients are once again being allowed to cross the border from northwest Syria to Turkey to access essential medical care after a vital crossing reopened, Al-Jazeera reported.

The United Nations had said that the cross-border referral of cancer patients from the opposition-controlled area of Syria to Turkey would resume through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing on Wednesday.

The referral system had stopped after the devastating earthquakes that hit Turkey and Syria in February but resumed again on June 5.

However, after the UN Security Council failed to agree on an extension to the authorization necessary for Bab al-Hawa to be used for UN aid operations, the authorization expired on July 10, and the crossing was closed.

The Syrian government – whose attacks on the opposition-held northwest have made it necessary for aid to be routed away from areas under government control – eventually gave permission for Bab al-Hawa to be used for aid delivery on July 13, and following several protests by activists and humanitarian workers in recent days, Turkey has now allowed those being referred for cancer treatment to cross the border again.

The protests reflected the desperation of cancer patients and their families in northwest Syria, which, having been torn apart by war for more than a decade, does not have facilities capable of fully treating patients, with a shortage of supplies, medication and medical staff.

Al Jazeera’s Nour Qormosh, reporting from the Turkey-Syria border, said that Turkey’s decision to open its borders, allowing the “most vulnerable” to seek medical aid, was “a glimpse of hope” for the patients.

Um Ahmed, the mother of a toddler with cancer waiting to be transported to Turkey, told Al Jazeera that her family had exhausted all their options to provide proper care for her son at the hospitals in Idlib, “but it was not enough”.

“He was very close to dying and I hope that the treatment in the Turkish hospitals will help him get better in the long run,” she said.

The COI Report Confirms that Torture is still Being Practiced in Syria in a Systematic and Widespread Manner Against Both Residents and Returnees

The news and press release from the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) highlights the release of a report by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (COI) titled ‘No End in Sight.’ The report focuses on the issue of torture and ill-treatment in Syria and covers the period between January 1, 2020, and April 30, 2023.

Key points from the report are as follows:

  1. Continuation of Torture: The report confirms that torture and cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment are still being practiced in Syria. The abuses occur in a systematic and widespread manner against both residents and individuals returning to the country.
  2. Various Perpetrators: The report documents torture practices in detention centers operated by different parties, including the Syrian regime’s agencies (Air Force Intelligence, Military Intelligence, Political Security, and General Intelligence Directorates), as well as non-state parties such as Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the Syrian National Army (SNA), and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
  3. Detention Conditions: Detainees are held for prolonged periods without contact with their families, friends, or lawyers. They are subjected to various forms of torture and ill-treatment, aimed at forcing confessions or as a form of punishment. The methods of torture include suspension by limbs, severe beatings, electric shocks, burning of body parts, sexual violence, and more. Detainees are also held in overcrowded cells with severe shortages of food, water, and inadequate healthcare.
  4. Crimes Against Humanity: The report concludes that the Syrian regime’s government has committed acts of torture, cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, rape, sexual violence, and enforced disappearances, which amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes.
  5. Lack of Accountability: The report highlights the failure of institutions affiliated with the Syrian regime’s government to prevent torture practices or investigate reports of torture, custodial deaths, or enforced disappearances. The lack of death notifications indicates an attempt to cover up deaths in custody.
  6. Calls for Action: The report calls on the Syrian regime and all parties to immediately cease all detention practices, enforced disappearances, and torture. It emphasizes the importance of accountability and fair trials for perpetrators.
  7. Support and Appreciation: The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) welcomes the findings and recommendations of the COI report. SNHR has worked with the COI since its inception, providing evidence and interviews to support its investigations.

Overall, the report reveals the ongoing and systematic nature of torture and ill-treatment in Syria, raising serious concerns about human rights violations in the country. It underscores the need for accountability and action from both the Syrian regime and other involved parties to stop these abuses and ensure justice for the victims.

Examining a masterpiece by a prominent writer

“No One Prayed Over Their Graves” by Khaled Khalifa is an epic novel set in the backdrop of modern Syria’s tumultuous birth. The story follows the lifelong friendship of Hanna, a Christian boy who seeks refuge in Aleppo with a wealthy Muslim family, and Zakariya, the son of his protectors. Over 70 years, their friendship is tested by war, floods, ethnic conflict, religious tensions, and personal tragedies.

The Guardian in a long piece on the novel says that narrative explores their youth of pleasure-seeking, adventures, and indulgence, which changes drastically after a cataclysmic flood claims the lives of loved ones. This tragedy leads them to a path of grief, religious awakening, and a deeper understanding of the world.

The book portrays Aleppo’s beauty, chaos, cosmopolitanism, and licentiousness, and it acts as an act of remembrance for the city’s lost past. The novel’s humanist theme emphasizes the importance of living one’s life on one’s own terms and defying societal norms.

However, the complexity of the book’s form and narrative voice may be challenging for some readers, as it shifts between different periods and characters’ points of view. Nevertheless, the novel offers moving revelations and explores the price of choices made. It seeks to grant all its characters a final prayer and commemorates Aleppo’s history and resilience amidst more recent calamities.

“No One Prayed Over Their Graves” is a powerful tribute to Aleppo’s past and the enduring strength of the Syrian people.

Wagner spat with Russian army began in Syria years before attempted coup: Experts

A report published by Al-Arabiya highlighted the conflict between PMC Wagner and the Russian government, which recently culminated in an armed rebellion by the private military group against the Russian military.

According to the report, the rift began in 2017 in Syria. Wagner forces had been present in Syria since 2015, fighting alongside forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad’s regime. However, the group suffered heavy losses due to reported lack of support from the Russian army, leading to tensions and disputes.

The conflict initially arose in Palmyra in 2016 and 2017 when Wagner forces fought alongside the Syrian army against ISIS but faced a shortage of ammunition from the Russian military, resulting in significant casualties. Another significant source of conflict occurred in February 2018 when Wagner fighters launched an attack against Kurdish forces backed by the United States in the Khasham area of Deir-ez-Zor. The Russian military had promised comprehensive air protection, but it was not provided, leading to around 200 Wagner fighters being killed in the attack. The Russian government denied its presence in the area, leaving the Wagner forces feeling betrayed.

Subsequent disputes between Wagner and the Russian army involved Russian military intervention in Syria, Chechen forces’ involvement, and the issue of enlisting Syrians into Wagner’s ranks. Following Prigozhin’s attempted coup, senior officers were sent to Syria to contain Wagner troops and prevent a broader mutiny against the Russian government. Wagner fighters present in Syria were surrounded and some were arrested, while others were transferred to Russian forces or Belarus. The areas controlled by Wagner forces in Syria were handed over to Iranian militias.

Despite the efforts to control the situation, some experts believe that Wagner forces may still be present in Syria, and there is a possibility of further armed rebellion in the country. The Syrian regime’s vulnerable position due to economic conditions and dependence on various militias creates tension in the region. Wagner, known for safeguarding Russian interests, remains a significant factor in Syria’s complex landscape.

Europe’s wait-and-see policy on Syria will not work

Columnist Dania Koleilat Khatib, argues in an op-ed in Arab News that Europe’s wait-and-see policy on Syria is not effective and unsustainable. The current status quo in Syria shows the country divided into three areas, with different forces and influences in each region. The conflict has been further complicated by the Ukraine war, which has led Western leaders to avoid engaging in conversations with Russia, even regarding Syria.

Regarding Bashar Assad, there is a lack of political or military capital to enforce UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which calls for a political transition in Syria. Europe faces a dilemma as it realizes removing Assad would be difficult, yet stability in Syria is not possible while he remains in power. However, the EU believes maintaining the status quo is the best option, hoping that the situation will change over time.

The author argues that this approach is wishful thinking and not realistic. The refugee situation in neighbouring countries like Lebanon and Turkey is becoming increasingly unsustainable. Turkey has already started sending refugees back to Syria, and the aversion towards refugees in Lebanon is growing, potentially leading to clashes and more refugees reaching Europe.

The author suggests that Europe needs to engage with its allies and push for a Saudi-Iran rapprochement to reach an operational agreement on Syria that allows for the safe and dignified return of refugees. Additionally, engaging with Turkey to incentivize normalizing relations with the northeast of Syria could be a starting point for a practical policy. The main point is that the current refugee situation cannot be ignored, and Europe needs to take action to address the issue in Syria.

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