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Syria Today – New Israeli Strike on Damascus; Mekdad Meets UNRWA Delegation; Hunger Spreads

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – New Israeli Strike on Damascus; Mekdad Meets UNRWA Delegation; Hunger Spreads

Israel launched “a number of missiles” from the Golan Heights targeting the vicinity of Syria’s capital Damascus left two soldiers wounded and “some material damage,” Syrian state media reported early on Thursday, citing a military source.

Loud explosions were heard over the Syrian capital around 1.30 AM, and the SANA state news agency said Syrian air defences were “confronting hostile targets.” Syrian air defences confronted the missiles and “shot down some of them,” the source added.

Syria’s foreign ministry on Thursday condemned an overnight Israeli missile attack that hit near the capital Damascus, wounding two soldiers and causing material damage.

Syrian state television, citing a military source, reported that a number of missiles were launched from the Golan Heights and that Syrian air defences had shot down some of them.

The foreign ministry condemned the attack in a statement later on Thursday, saying it was Israel’s “attempt to escape internal fragmentation” in an apparent reference to recent protests that saw hundreds of thousands rally against a judicial overhaul that was ultimately delayed.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based war monitor, said it was the fifth Israeli strike on Syria this month. Israeli authorities declined to comment.

Syrian authorities did not specify what type of area had been hit. Israel has for several years been mounting attacks on what it has described as Iran-linked targets in Syria.

An opposition source with contacts on the ground said the strikes hit a car carrying pro-Iran personnel near a Syrian security building near Kafr Sousa.

On March 22, an Israeli strike near the northern Aleppo airport put it briefly out of service. Regional intelligence sources said the attack hit an Iranian arms depot.

Sources told Reuters that it hit an installation where Iranian officials were meeting to advance programmes to develop drone or missile capabilities of Tehran’s armed allies in Syria.

Residents of Damascus wrote on social media early on Thursday that a series of loud booms could be heard over some districts.

“I was going to die of fright,” said Lana, a Syrian woman who was spending the night with her infant son in a hospital in the Damascus district of Mazzeh.

“The sound made me feel like the whole hospital was going to collapse on us,” she told Reuters.

Top US general advocates targeting Iran’s IRGC Quds Force after Syria drone attack

The Pentagon’s top general publicly advocated a more forceful US response targeting the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps after a spate of attacks on US bases in Syria last week.

US Army Gen. Mark Milley told members of Congress on Tuesday that the US should target the Quds Force “harshly” to deter future rocket and drone attacks by Iran-backed militias on US troops in Syria and Iraq.

“Some of these groups are much more aggressive than others,” Milley told members of the Senate’s Armed Services committee during a hearing.

“The Iranian government is a complex, large organization, and the Supreme Leader [Ali Khamenei] may or may not be making every single decision,” the top general said.

“We do know that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard [Corps], and specifically their Quds Force — which is a designated terrorist organization — that group there is what we need to be targeting, and targeting them very harshly over time, and that’s exactly what we plan on doing.”

In Syria, people fear hunger more than bombs

“The number of people on the brink of food insecurity in Syria is growing the fastest.” This is how Benjamin Flórez, senior adviser in Damascus for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), explains the situation in Syria. According to the institution, more than 12 million Syrians suffer from food insecurity — more than half the population, although this figure could increase by another three million in 2023, especially after the impact of the February earthquakes that affected some of the most vulnerable populations in Syria as well as important agricultural areas.

The WFP offers aid to 50% of those more than 12 million people who suffer from hunger, but due to the lack of funding, it has had to reduce the size of the baskets of basic products that it distributes each month to 5.5 million Syrians. “We include lentils, which is a vegetable protein, but other proteins have to be bought” in the market, where prices have skyrocketed in the past three years. “A mother told me that she had not been able to buy meat for five years,” says the WFP adviser, noting that such high percentages of child and maternal malnutrition had never been recorded in Syria, reaching 25% in some areas of the country.

The situation is especially worrying in northwestern Syria, where 4.5 million people are concentrated — including almost three million internally displaced persons — as Daher Zidan, the executive director in Turkey of the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM), pointed out to this newspaper. Member NGOs operating in opposition-controlled areas have seen an increase in cases of malnutrition among children under five, as well as among pregnant and lactating mothers. “We are working to raise awareness among mothers about their nutrition and that of their children, in addition to offering food supplements, energy cookies and other types of treatments,” he explains.

Southern Syria: Sanctions Alone Cannot Eliminate Captagon Industry

Local leaders in southern Syria underestimated the impact of the sanctions imposed by the United States and Britain on Syrian figures involved in cooperating with the Syrian regime in the Captagon trade. They stressed that combating this phenomenon required a military force and the launching of development projects that would generate job opportunities for the residents.

In a statement on Tuesday, the US Treasury announced that it had imposed sanctions on six persons of Syrian and Lebanese nationalities and two companies tied with the Syrian regime and the Hezbollah militia. Among those is Imad Abu Zureik, a local leader in Daraa, who has played an important role in enabling drug production and smuggling in southern Syria, according to the US Treasury.

The statement noted that these figures were involved in the smuggling and manufacture of Captagon in southern Syria.

Commenting on the impact of the recent British and US announcements, a local leader told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The new sanctions, which targeted local personalities in southern Syria, do not seem to address the spread of drugs and the transformation of the south into a transit area for neighbouring countries, for a number of reasons.”

“The sanctions targeted marginal personalities in the south, who are nothing but tools in the hands of influential security bodies.”

Syria regime used minesweepers as ‘weapon of war’ in assaults on rebel towns

The Syrian regime has used a vehicle used to clear mines as an assault weapon violating international law, a new report from the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre has revealed.

The Syrian regime illegally used minesweepers to bombard opposition towns and kill civilians, a new report by the Syria Justice and Accountability Center (SJAC) has revealed.

The UR-77 and UR-83P mine clearance vehicles were frequently deployed during indiscriminate attacks on opposition-held towns in the Damascus region between 2014 and 2019, a tactic that is illegal under international law.

Designed for minefields, these vehicles fire a projectile fitted with high explosives into the area containing mines or IEDs, which is then detonated via a fuse attached to the vehicles from a safe distance. 

The Syrian regime instead used these as a weapon of war against opposition towns, the SJAC revealed, leaving whole families buried under the rubble of their homes with no chance of rescue.

The centre documented 30 cases of UR-77s and UR-83Ps being used across Syria between 2014 and 2019 via videos and images. However, it focused on four of 15 cases with the clearest visual evidence for the report.

This includes examples in the Al-Qaboun, Jobar, Harasta, and Al-Yarmouk Camp areas of Damascus, which were all subject to ferocious assaults by regime forces during their capture from opposition forces, which overall resulted in the deaths of thousands of civilians.

It is a tactic Moscow’s ally, the Assad regime, was only too happy to replicate in Syria, reducing whole streets to rubble with destruction so immense that four to five years later, families are still unable to return to their homes.

Mekdad, Lazzarini stress the important role of UNRWA in supporting needs of Palestinian refugees

Foreign and Expatriates Minister Dr. Faisal al-Mekdad, meeting on Thursday with Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Philippe Lazzarini, stressed the increasing importance of the Agency’s role in supporting the needs of Palestinian refugees, SANA reported.

Mekdad noted the importance of the continuous visits of UN officials to Syria to obtain a clearer view of the inhumane impact of unilateral economic sanctions on the Syrian people and Palestinian refugees, especially after the devastating earthquake that hit Syria.

Mekdad pointed out that the politicized dealings of some countries that claim to be concerned for the Syrian and Palestinian people show that they are the countries that stand in the face of resolving the Palestinian Cause and the return of Palestinian refugees to their homeland, warning that prolonging the crisis undermines the trust of peoples and countries in international organizations.

Lazzarini thanked the Syrian government for the great support it provides to UNRWA work in Syria, which recently resulted in the rehabilitation of the Yarmouk camp and the return of the locals and normal life to it, in addition to its continuous support to the Palestinian refugees in Syria.


Mekdad also discussed in a phone call with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Sudan, Ali al-Sadiq Ali, the bilateral relations between the two brotherly countries and the means to boost them.

Minister Mekdad stressed Syria’s aspiration to work closely with the brothers in Sudan to overcome all the challenges facing joint Arab action, highlighting Sudan’s important role in the Arab and African arenas.

He underlined Syria’s keenness to deepen its relations with brotherly Sudan in various fields.

In turn, the Sudanese minister affirmed that relations with Syria are good and deep-rooted.

He expressed his conviction that Syria would exercise its important role and position in a way that would benefit the Arab interest and serves security and stability in the region.

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