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Syria Today – One Year of (Failed) Arab Engagement

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – One Year of (Failed) Arab Engagement

The article “A Year of Arab Engagement with Assad Has Failed” by Syria specialist Andrew J. Tabler discusses, in The Washington Institute, the consequences and developments following Syria’s readmission to the Arab League and the broader Arab engagement with the Assad regime. 

His article notes that nearly a year after Syria was readmitted to the Arab League, Arab engagement with the Assad regime, particularly through the Arab League’s Arab Ministerial Liaison Committee on Syria, has not achieved its goals. The committee’s efforts were aimed at tackling issues like Captagon production and smuggling, refugee returns, advancing the Syrian political process, and regional security coordination.

The article notes that Jordan and Egypt initially sought rapprochement with Damascus to address practical issues like border opening and trade. The U.S. supported these efforts under specific conditions but was cautious due to the ongoing sanctions under the Caesar Act, which limits U.S. investment in Syria until certain political and accountability measures are met.

A significant part of the discussion focuses on the increase in Captagon production and smuggling by the Assad regime, with the drug being a major source of revenue for the regime. Despite attempts to curb this issue, Jordan has had to increase military strikes against smuggling operations due to the ineffectiveness of diplomatic efforts.

The smuggling of weapons is also highlighted as a major concern, with implications for regional security, particularly in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The involvement of Iran-backed militias in these operations poses an additional complication.

Tabler underscores the failure of various diplomatic meetings intended to address these issues, with Syria often not providing satisfactory responses or engaging effectively. This has led to frustration among Arab nations, particularly Jordan, which has faced direct security threats from these activities.

The U.S. has responded by considering the extension of Caesar sanctions and discussing new legislation aimed at countering normalization with the Assad regime without adequate reforms. The Assad Regime Anti-Normalization Act is particularly mentioned as a legislative effort to maintain pressure on the regime.

Tabler suggests that the U.S. and its Arab partners should rethink their strategy towards Syria, emphasizing more robust measures against drug and weapons smuggling and not relying on positive incentives alone, which have so far failed to alter Assad’s behaviour. He advocates for extending the Caesar Act sanctions and developing comprehensive strategies to address these ongoing issues.

Overall, the article paints a grim picture of the results of Arab engagement with the Assad regime, pointing out the complex interplay of regional politics, U.S. policy, and the persistent challenges posed by illicit activities sponsored by the regime.

Erdogan holds emergency Turkish meeting over Syria’s Idlib: sources

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan chaired an emergency security meeting late on Thursday to evaluate the latest developments in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, two Turkish security sources told Reuters.

Turkey backs rebels in Idlib and its military has helped resist an advance by Russian-backed Syrian government forces in recent weeks. The Turkish military death toll in the region rose earlier on Thursday to 21 so far this month.

U.S. court finds Syria liable for journalist Colvin’s killing

 A U.S. judge has ruled that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government is liable for at least $302.5 million in damages for its role in the 2012 death of renowned American journalist Marie Colvin while covering the Syrian civil war for Britain’s Sunday Times.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said in a ruling made public on Wednesday that the Syrian government “engaged in an act of extrajudicial killing of a United States national.”

Colvin, a 56-year-old war correspondent, and French photographer Remi Ochlik were killed in the besieged Syrian city of Homs while reporting on the Syrian conflict.

The civil lawsuit filed in U.S. federal court by Colvin’s family in 2016 accused officials in Assad’s government of deliberately targeting rockets against a makeshift broadcast studio where Colvin and other reporters were living and working.

The Syrian government was not involved in defending the lawsuit. As in other cases in which foreign governments are sued in U.S. courts, Colvin’s family is likely to face an uphill battle in recovering any of the damages.

Colvin’s family was represented by the San Francisco-based Center for Justice and Accountability, which focuses on human rights litigation. The group’s executive director, Dixon Osburn, said the lawsuit was the first seeking to hold the Assad government liable for war crimes. Since it was filed, there has been some similar legal action in Europe, including Germany.

Syrian refugee goes on hunger strike to protest deportation from Jordan

Atia Mohamad Abu Salem, a 24-year-old Syrian refugee and university student, began a hunger strike on Tuesday to protest his impending deportation from Jordan back to Syria after he was arrested on 9 April while on his way to film a pro-Palestine protest, The New Arab reported.

Jordanian authorities arrested Abu Salem and a Jordanian friend on 9 April and have held him in detention ever since, issuing him a deportation order without charging him with a crime.

Abu Salem is a registered refugee with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and has lived half his life in Jordan.

Human rights activists have called on the Jordanian government to halt the deportation order, warning that Abu Salem would likely be in danger from the Syrian regime due to his family’s opposition activities.

“We are facing a real threat to his safety, and we call on all concerned parties to retract the deportation decision and to intervene him to his family and his mother, who is suffering from cancer,” Ahmed Sawai, Abu Salem’s lawyer, said.

The family fled to Jordan in 2013 after Syrian regime forces killed Abu Salem’s father.

Forced return of refugees to Syria, where they face credible dangers, breaches Jordan’s international obligations and would constitute refoulment – illegal under international law.

“Jordan’s rush to unlawfully deport a Syrian media student for simply seeking to document a peaceful pro-Palestine protest is incredibly alarming and tramples upon the right to free expression and the principle of nonrefoulment,” Adam Coogle, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said.

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