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Syria Today – Mekdad in Tehran, AANES-Turkey Clash; Fires Wreak Havoc

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – Mekdad in Tehran, AANES-Turkey Clash; Fires Wreak Havoc

Sunday, Faisal al-Mekdad, the Foreign and Expatriates Minister, undertook an unexpected diplomatic mission by arriving in Tehran, the capital city. Simultaneously, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) voiced criticism against the Global Coalition and the guarantor states of a ceasefire agreement for their failure to address Turkish attacks, intensifying tensions in the region. Additionally, Syria has been grappling with devastating wildfires this month, fueled by powerful winds and extreme temperatures.

Mekdad arrives in Tehran in unannounced visit

On July 30th, 2023, Faisal al-Mekdad, the Foreign and Expatriates Minister, arrived in the capital city of Tehran for an important diplomatic mission. He was accompanied by a delegation of officials. The purpose of his official visit was to engage in discussions with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian and other senior Iranian officials.

According to SANA, the visit was organized in response to an official invitation, signifying the mutual interest in enhancing bilateral ties between their respective countries. During the talks, the two delegations aimed to address the latest developments in the region and on the international stage, seeking avenues for cooperation and collaboration.

By engaging in these discussions, both parties sought to further strengthen the relations between their nations and foster a productive dialogue on issues of common interest. This visit reflected the commitment of both Iran and Syria to maintain communication and work toward regional stability and peace.

Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria Slams Global Coalition’s Silence Over Turkish Attacks

On July 30, 2023, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) expressed strong condemnation for the silence of the US-led Global Coalition to Defeat Islamic State (ISIS) and Russia, as the guarantor states, regarding the continuous Turkish attacks on areas controlled by AANES, North Press reported.

In a statement, the AANES criticized the Global Coalition and the guarantor states of the ceasefire agreement for failing to address the Turkish offensive, which has been escalating and causing significant harm to the region. The AANES held these parties responsible for the ongoing attacks carried out by Turkey.

Just one day before, on July 28, a Turkish drone struck a village in the countryside of Qamishli, resulting in the death of four Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters. The AANES asserted that such attacks have the potential to undermine joint efforts between the parties involved.

The AANES characterized the Turkish shelling as an expression of deep hatred that runs counter to all endeavours aimed at achieving stability and defeating terrorism, particularly ISIS.

Furthermore, the AANES accused Turkey of committing severe and systematic violations of human rights in Syria, demonstrating a disregard for its extraterritorial obligations. The Turkish actions have been deemed threats to the security and stability of northern Syria, with deadly operations causing loss of life and violating the rights of civilians. As a result, these actions are in violation of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, and the AANES called for thorough investigation and accountability.

The statement also revealed alarming statistics about the frequency and impact of Turkish drone strikes in north Syria during the first half of 2023. Turkey had conducted 34 drone strikes, resulting in 73 casualties, including 44 fatalities and 29 injuries. Shockingly, civilians accounted for 27 percent of the total number of victims.

The AANES’s strong condemnation of the ongoing Turkish attacks highlights the urgent need for international attention and action to address the situation and protect the civilians in the affected areas.

Russia Heightens Rhetoric Over U.S. Drones in Syria Amid Escalating Tensions

Russia has boosted its rhetoric about the US role in Syria, after a series of incidents in which Russian warplanes harassed and even damaged US drones, as reported by the Jerusalem Post.

In Syria, the US uses the Reaper drone and recently moved F-22 fighters to the Middle East to counter Russia’s threats. The Americans are in Syria to fight ISIS and back the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), but the Syrian landscape is complex and Russia plays an important role in backing the Syrian regime, while Turkey, another player, also occupies part of Syria.

According to Russian state media TASS, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that “Russia is ready for any scenario, but does not want a direct military clash with the US,” adding that “we are always ready for any scenario, but no one wants this. On an American initiative, we once created a special mechanism to prevent these conflicts; we have department heads that communicate directly with each other, and consult on any crisis situation. This shows that no one wants clashes.”

Russia has accused the US of “dangerous approaches” to Russian aircraft, essentially making the same accusation the US has made, upping the rhetoric and war of words. Russia hopes to balance the US claims, which are backed up by video footage from the drones.

While the US claims are backed up by evidence, there is none that shows U.S. drones approaching Russian aircraft. Reaper drones do not fly very fast, especially compared to Russian fighter jets (Russian SU-34 or Su-35 jets can fly four times as fast as the US Reaper). It is the equivalent of a modern jet fighter against a World War II-era propeller plane.

YPG Attack Kills 5 Syrian National Army Soldiers in Syria

An attack by the Syrian wing of the terrorist PKK group, the YPG, killed five members of the Syrian National Army (SNA) and injured another six in Syria’s northern Aleppo on Saturday, according to sources, Turkish The Daily Sabah reported.

The fatalities occurred when YPG terrorists attempted to infiltrate SNA positions in four regions in the northern countryside of Aleppo province; sources told Anadolu Agency (AA) on condition of anonymity.

The attempt was carried out simultaneously early in the morning from three different points, leading to armed confrontations between the SNA and the YPG.

Sources added that the casualties occurred in the towns of Kaljibrin and Marea.

The terrorists also suffered significant casualties while opposition forces continued to launch attacks on terror positions, the sources added.

The YPG terror group continues to target SNA forces and civilian settlements in Afrin and Azaz from positions in Tal Rifaat despite a Türkiye-Russia deal that calls for the group’s withdrawal from the area.

On Oct. 9, 2019, Türkiye – with help of opposition-based SNA – launched Operation Peace Spring to eliminate terrorists from northern Syria east of the Euphrates River to secure Türkiye’s borders, aid the safe return of Syrian refugees, and ensure Syria’s territorial integrity.

Pentagon files reveal flaws in U.S. claims about Syrian casualties in Baghdadi raid

An NPR investigation into Pentagon documents has raised questions about the accuracy of the U.S. military’s claim that no civilians were killed in the 2019 operation against the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in northwest Syria. The Pentagon’s report stated that the airstrikes were necessary as the targeted men were enemy combatants who showed hostile intent by not stopping their vehicle after warning shots were fired. However, NPR’s investigation found flaws in the Pentagon’s conclusions.

Barakat Ahmad Barakat, a survivor of the airstrikes, recounts the incident where he and his friends were in a van approaching the hideout of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi when they were hit by U.S. airstrikes. His two friends were killed, and his right hand was blown off in the attack. Barakat disputes the claim of warning shots and says they had little time to respond before the airstrike hit the van.

The Pentagon report suggests that there was no formal investigation into the incident because the allegations of civilian casualties were deemed not credible. However, experts, including Larry Lewis, who advises the military on reducing civilian casualties, believe that the military may have misidentified the men as enemy combatants. The report also mentions a top-secret document addressing the characterization of those killed and injured, but the Pentagon says there is no record of such a document.

Ryan Goodman, former Defense Department special counsel, raises concerns about the Pentagon’s analysis, which may conflate decision-making in the heat of the moment with post-strike analysis. U.S. Central Command spokesman Major John Moore stated that the Pentagon had no plans to reassess the allegations.

Barakat, who is now severely disabled, wants compensation for the incident. The Zomia Center, a U.S.-based nonprofit advocating for civilian victims of military strikes, has taken up his case and is requesting that the Defense Department reopen the investigation.

Since the reporting on the declassified documents, several members of Congress, including Congresswoman Sara Jacobs, have called for accountability and for the Pentagon to reopen the investigation if necessary. The U.S. narrative about civilian casualties in the raid against Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may be subject to further scrutiny.

After quake, Syria’s northern coast was ravaged by wildfires

At 72, Syrian farmer Izzadin Zuhaira survived war, displacement and a devastating earthquake in February. But the forest fires razing his home province of Lattakia this week, turning his beloved orchards to ash, were the worst he had seen.

“I’ve never seen any weather like this. The soil and the trees were so impacted by the heat that they lit up quickly,” Zuhaira told Reuters.

The retired civil servant had been living off the harvests of around 700 olive, pomegranate and walnut trees, but all of these were destroyed by the spreading fire.

His modest one-storey farmhouse, which had already been damaged by years of war, was further cracked by the February earthquake, which left more than 5,000 dead in Syria and hit Lattakia hard.

“After the quake, the fires came and finished it off. It left us with nothing,” Zuhaira told Reuters.

Like other countries around the Mediterranean, Syria has been hit hard by wildfires this month, supercharged by strong winds and searing temperatures.

Firefighters had struggled to put them out in Homs and Hama in mid-July, and the fires in Lattakia raged for five days before rescuers could control it, Syria’s agriculture minister Mohammad Hassaan Qatna said on Saturday.

“There were multiple places, far away. The speed of the wind was a factor in the excessive spread of the fires,” Qatna told Reuters during a tour of the area.

Other challenges for the firefighters included poor telecoms coverage in the north and the procurement of fireproof suits or spare parts for extinguishing equipment, he said.

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