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Syria Today – New UK Sanctions; Five Killed in E. Syria; HTS Campaign Against Foreign Fighters

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – New UK Sanctions; Five Killed in E. Syria; HTS Campaign Against Foreign Fighters

The UK government has implemented fresh sanctions against individuals allegedly involved in widespread sexual violence in Syria, which includes the minister of defense. Simultaneously, an apparent ISIS assault resulted in the deaths of five pro-regime fighters in Eastern Syria. In another development, HTS has issued eviction notices to 24 families of foreign militants residing in Idleb, primarily consisting of French and Belgian nationals.

UK imposes sanctions on Syrian official

The UK government has imposed new sanctions on officials accused of perpetrating widespread sexual violence in Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Financial Times reported

A series of asset freezes and travel bans were unveiled on Monday to mark an international day of action to stamp out sexual violence in conflict.

Abdel Karim Mahmoud Ibrahim, the Syrian army’s chief of staff, and Ali Mahmoud Abbas, the country’s minister of defence, were both sanctioned for what the UK alleges is the systematic use of sexual and gender-based violence against civilians. Both men were appointed in 2022 and had not been previously sanctioned.

Lord Tariq Ahmad, the UK prime minister’s special representative on preventing sexual violence in conflict, said the threat of rape as a weapon of war “must stop and survivors must be supported to come forward.”

The sanctions “send a clear signal to perpetrators that the UK will hold you accountable for your horrendous crimes”, he added

In the past year, Britain has sanctioned 15 individuals and entities who committed specific human rights violations against women and girls, including 13 responsible for sexual violence.

Roadside bomb kills 5 soldiers in E. Syria

Five soldiers were killed and seven others wounded on Monday when a roadside bomb ripped through their vehicle in the eastern Syrian province of Deir-ez-Zor, the pro-government Sham FM radio reported.

The bomb was planted on the side of a street in the western countryside of Deir-ez-Zor, said the report.

It’s still unclear who planted the bomb but it bore the hallmarks of ISIS militants who are active in that area.

On Sunday, three soldiers were killed and six others wounded by a roadside bomb in the desert area of the central province of Homs.

In a separate attack on Sunday, a Syrian lieutenant was wounded by armed men who were believed to be militants from the ISIS group.

Syrian Kurdish-led authorities release 33 accused ISIS collaborators after tribal mediation

Kurdish-led forces in northeast Syria on Sunday released 33 detainees suspected of collaborating with the Islamic State group after mediation efforts by prominent tribal leaders from the eastern Syrian province of Deir-ez-Zor, New Arab reported.

The detainees were released after it was announced that they “had no blood on their hands”, the Hawar News Agency, which is affiliated with the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration in Northern and Eastern Syria (AANES) reported.

The AANES’ military affiliate, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), handed over the released detainees to their families.

The release “is a normal matter, as new batches are released from time to time,” Dr Hussein Azzam, co-leader of diplomatic relations for the AANES-linked Syrian Democratic Council, told The New Arab’s sister site Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.

“The majority have served all or most of their sentences,” Azzam said.

Some 60 detainees were released by the SDF at the start of April from Deir-ez-Zor.

AANES said earlier this month it would begin trying thousands of suspected foreign IS fighters who have been in its custody for years following the international community’s lagging response to the situation.

Gender-Sensitive Transitional Justice is an Essential Requirement to Support the Transitional Path

Gender-sensitive transitional justice is a critical requirement for supporting Syria’s transitional path, and it is imperative for the new Syrian constitution to explicitly include provisions for gender equality, employ inclusive language, and address gender discrimination in order to promote sustainable peace, social justice, and the empowerment of women, a Syrian human rights group has reported.

Syrians for truth and Justice published a detailed report in which it maintained that gender-sensitive transitional justice is crucial for supporting the transitional path in Syria. The new Syrian constitution should explicitly include provisions for gender equality, using inclusive language that does not discriminate based on sex, social gender, or gender identity, and that avoids perpetuating gender stereotypes. Syrian women have faced obstacles in participating in public life due to patriarchal norms and structures, limiting their access to rights and resources. The Syrian State’s structure and successive constitutions marginalize various groups, including women, in public life. Gender-based violence, including political violence, sexual assault, and forced marriages, has increased during the armed conflict. Achieving equality and combating gender-based violence requires comprehensive legal and procedural changes. Transitional justice processes should prioritize women survivors, focus on accountability, truth, compensation, and ending impunity, and exclude sexual violence crimes from amnesty provisions. Gender-sensitive transitional justice is linked to social justice and gender justice, and it is essential for equal access to justice and resources. Women’s leadership and political participation have been limited in Syria, with women excluded from influential political positions.

The Syrian legislation does not explicitly affirm women’s rights in assuming public and political roles, and it contains discriminatory provisions, such as excluding women from becoming the President of the Republic. The Syrian constitution and laws need reform to ensure gender equality and protect women’s rights.

The group added that in northern and northeastern Syria, which experienced shifts in control between different forces, Kurdish women faced marginalization and restrictions on their rights. The Autonomous Administration of North and Northeast Syria (AANES) issued a constitution with provisions protecting women’s rights, but practical challenges and societal traditions still limit women’s empowerment and expose them to violence and exploitation. Women often face obstacles when seeking justice in areas where AANES and Syrian government authorities overlap. 

Based on discussions from the workshop, recommendations include the need for comprehensive legislation to combat violence against women, embodying gender equality in the constitution, revising discriminatory laws, using inclusive language, cancelling reservations on CEDAW, respecting international human rights agreements, establishing a dedicated entity for women’s empowerment, promoting gender equality in government and non-governmental institutions, and addressing educational and employment disparities. These measures aim to eliminate discrimination, empower women, and promote gender equality in Syria.

Palestinian group threatens Israel from Syria

A Palestinian “terror” group based in Syria with ties to Iran and Hezbollah is actively preparing for a new series of attacks inside Israel the Jewish News Syndicate reported.

Speaking from Syria, Fadi Malach, commander of the “Galilean Wolves,” told the Tazpit Press Service, “We are in the midst of preparations for a series of additional operations inside Israel, despite Israel’s warning to Hezbollah, who might go on another adventure.”

Malach also told TPS that his group was responsible for a roadside bombing at the Megiddo Junction in northern Israel on March 13 which injured an Israeli motorist. The man who planted the bomb was subsequently killed by Israeli soldiers while driving back toward the Lebanese border. Explosives and a weapon were found in the vehicle and the terrorist reportedly wore a suicide bomb belt.

“We are responsible for the Megiddo operation and have been active since 2004 in an effort to bring about the liberation of the Galilee, in the first stage,” said Malach.

The organization also took responsibility for the Megiddo operation on March 13, on Telegram channels in which texts and videos were combined under its name. Malach did not offer any new evidence to support his claim. Israel believes Hezbollah was responsible for the attack.

Malach claimed that unlike Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Galilean Wolves have not been co-opted by Iran.

“We are in contact with the Islamic Jihad and the ‘Popular Front’ in Syria, but we do not represent countries like Iran, but only the Palestinian interest,” he insisted. “The Palestinian Authority does not represent the Palestinian people, but only the groups that work against Israel.”

However, Arab reports indicate that the group is loyal to Syrian President Assad and has participated in numerous battles against Syrian rebels, and receives weapons and training from Iran and Hezbollah. Members of the Wolves are said to be Palestinians from refugee camps in Syria.

HTS evicts families of foreign militants from houses in Syria’s Idleb

North Press reported that Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS, formerly al-Nusra Front) has issued eviction notices to 24 families of foreign militants from the Firqat al-Ghuraba group, comprising French and Belgian nationals, residing in Idleb Governorate, northwest Syria. The HTS claims that these families are affiliated with their institutions and must vacate their homes.

Firqat al-Ghuraba is an active jihadist group associated with al-Qaeda, operating in opposition-held areas within Idleb Governorate. It predominantly consists of foreign militants from Europe, including its leader who hails from France or Belgium.

According to a security source from HTS in Harem, a town west of Idlib, the Shura Council, which leads the HTS, ordered the eviction of 24 French and Belgian families. The move is aimed at exerting control over Firqat al-Ghuraba militants and compelling them to operate under HTS authority.

The source further revealed that the foreign families have already started gathering their belongings and setting up tents on the outskirts of Harem to join other expelled foreign families who relocated there in early June.

The Development Office of HTS in Harem estimates that the towns of Harem and Salqin are home to approximately 125 families of foreign militants from the Firqat al-Ghuraba group.

On June 1st, the HTS transferred four foreign detainees, including a French national, from Prison 107 in Ideib city to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey in northern Idlib. This transfer was a prelude to handing them over to Turkish intelligence.

In recent times, the HTS has intensified its crackdown on foreign militants who are not aligned with their group. Numerous foreign militants, desired by Ankara, are held in HTS prisons, though the purpose behind their detention remains unknown.

Since its establishment in 2017, the HTS has maintained control over the city of Idlib and the western countryside of Aleppo, operating under the political and administrative umbrella of the Salvation Government.

How Israel lost the Syrian civil war

In a long-detailed article, the Jewish News Syndicate argued that the survival of the Assad regime in Syria has resulted in strategic failure for Israel, as it faces increased threats and challenges, including the growing influence of Iran, the establishment of supply routes for Hezbollah, and the encirclement of Israel with missiles, presenting a long-term risk to Israeli security.

The article, written by Ehud Yaari, discussed Israel’s perceived loss in the Syrian civil war. The article emphasizes the survival of the Assad regime in Syria as a strategic failure for Israel. It suggests that with Assad’s survival and his alliance with Iran, Israel now faces increased threats and challenges.

The article highlights the potential consequences of Assad’s survival, including Iran’s growing influence in Syria, the establishment of land and air corridors for supplying Hezbollah with precision-guided missiles, and the smuggling of weapons and drugs into Jordan and Palestinian territories. It also mentions Iran’s long-term plan to encircle Israel with an “iron ring” of missiles and the assistance provided to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in developing rockets.

The author mentions that Israel’s short-term tactical calculations, such as carrying out airstrikes against Iranian targets in Syria, have ignored the longer-term risks. Iran remains determined to deploy long- and medium-range missiles in Syria, supported by air defence systems. The article outlines Qassem Soleimani’s strategic plan to gradually strangle Israel by deploying irregular forces and strong militias with large quantities of rockets and missiles.

The article reflects on Israel’s initial response to the Syrian civil war, where it chose a policy of non-interference and refrained from supporting the rebels. Israel was concerned about the potential rise of jihadist militias and the chaos that could follow Assad’s downfall. The United States also aimed to prevent a clear-cut victory for Assad, which led to a policy of freezing the situation.

The article discusses missed opportunities for Israel to deal a significant blow to Assad, either through airstrikes or covert operations, before the Russian intervention in Syria. It also mentions discussions with the Druze and Kurdish minorities in Syria but concludes that these initiatives did not lead to significant outcomes.

The present situation is described, highlighting the control regained by Assad with the support of Russia, Iranian-sponsored militias, and local forces. While Israel has avoided targeting the Assad regime, it has continued to target Iranian facilities and convoys. Iran’s military presence in Syria has gradually expanded, and its efforts may accelerate if the United States reduces its military presence in the region.

In conclusion, the article suggests that Israel has no choice but to vigorously thwart Iran’s efforts to overpower it. It acknowledges the risks involved and highlights the need for Israel to counteract Qassem Soleimani’s strategic plan.

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