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Syria Today – Protests Enter Fourth Week; Pedersen in Syria

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – Protests Enter Fourth Week; Pedersen in Syria

Protests in Suweida, a city in southern Syria, against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime have persisted for four weeks, with activists pledging to sustain their efforts until a political transition occurs. Concurrently, on Sunday in Damascus, the UN special envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, held discussions with Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, Syrian government representative Ahmad Kuzbari, Special Representative of the Russian President for the Development of Relations with the Syrian Arab Republic Alexander Efimov, and Iranian Ambassador to Syria Hossein Akbari.

Suweida: Protests enter fourth week amid calls for political transition in Syria

Protests in the southern Syrian city of Suweida against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad have entered their fourth week, with activists vowing to continue the action until a political transition happens in Syria, The New Arab reported.

On Monday, the local news network Suwayda 24 tweeted videos of dozens of protesters gathered at the Al-Sayr Square in the center of Suweida city, which has been renamed the Al-Karama (“Dignity”) square.

Besides Suweida city itself, protests have taken place in several towns and cities in the Druze-majority province.

The protesters have raised banners stressing the unity of Syria, in reply to claims by the Assad regime that they were “separatists”.

In the city of Salkhad, southern Suweida province, protesters continued morning gatherings, calling for peaceful political change based on UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which contains a roadmap for political transition in Syria which the regime has refused to accept.

Protests also took place in several villages in Suweida province on Sunday evening, including Al-Sura Al-Saghira, Al-Qarayyah, and Al-Mazraa.

The protests began last month as living standards continued to deteriorate across Syria. They have brought back memories of the peaceful anti-regime protests which happened in 2011 across Syria.

Those protests were brutally suppressed by the Assad regime and the country descended into an armed conflict as a result.

How Israel and the Revolutionary Guards engage in a battle of minds on Syrian soil

A report by Israel Hayom describes the ongoing covert conflict between Israel and Iran over the transfer of weapons from Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon. The report focuses on the role of the Israeli Air Force in disrupting these arms shipments, and it provides details of some of the airstrikes that have been carried out.

The report begins by noting that the Syrian civil war has created a “failed state” environment in which Iran has been able to operate with impunity. Iran has used this opportunity to establish militias in Syria that are loyal to it, and it has also used Syria as a transit point for weapons shipments to Hezbollah.

The report then goes on to describe the Israeli response to these Iranian activities. The Israeli Air Force has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria, targeting weapons shipments, Iranian bases, and Hezbollah facilities. The report notes that the Israeli airstrikes have been effective in disrupting the flow of weapons to Hezbollah, but they have also led to civilian casualties.

The report concludes by noting that the Israeli-Iranian conflict in Syria is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Both sides are determined to achieve their goals, and neither side is willing to back down.

According to the report, Iran has been using Syria as a transit point for weapons shipments to Hezbollah.

The Israeli Air Force has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria, targeting weapons shipments, Iranian bases, and Hezbollah facilities.

The Israeli airstrikes have been effective in disrupting the flow of weapons to Hezbollah, but they have also led to civilian casualties.

The Israeli-Iranian conflict in Syria is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

The report provides a valuable overview of the Israeli-Iranian conflict in Syria. It is well-written and informative, and it provides a good balance of analysis and evidence. The report is also timely, as it comes at a time when the conflict is escalating.

The report highlights the importance of intelligence in this conflict. The Israeli Air Force has been able to be so effective in disrupting the flow of weapons to Hezbollah because it has had good intelligence about Iranian activities. This intelligence has allowed the Israeli Air Force to target the right targets at the right time.

The report also highlights the human cost of this conflict. The Israeli airstrikes have led to civilian casualties, and this is something that should not be forgotten. However, the report also makes it clear that the Israeli airstrikes are necessary to prevent Hezbollah from getting the weapons it needs to attack Israel.

The Israeli-Iranian conflict in Syria is a complex and difficult conflict. There is no easy solution, and both sides are likely to continue to suffer casualties. However, the report provides a valuable overview of this conflict and it helps to explain why it is so difficult to resolve.

US’ Kurd policy full of contradictions

The US policy in both Syria and Iraq is bound to fail, as the US’ sanctions have failed to topple the Syrian government and it has also failed to secure control of Iraq after the 2003 war, wrote Michael Jansen, observer of Middle East affairs, on Monday.

In an opinion article published on Gulf Today, Jansen criticized the contradiction included in the Policy adopted by the US regarding the situation in Syria and Iraq, especially the Kurds.

“Washington’s Kurd policy suffers from internal contradictions,” Jansen said. “Having favoured the Iraqi and Syrian secessionist Kurds, the US has stuck by ally Ankara by branding as a ‘terrorist organisation’ the insurgent Turkish Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), which has battled the Turkish military for nearly 40 years.” Jansen described the abovementioned position of the US as “a paradoxical policy” because, he added, “the PKK is the font of Kurdish separatism and its Turkish imprisoned leader Abdullah Ocalan is seen as the leader of this struggle.”  

The writer pointed out that the US is backing the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) “to divide and undermine the Syrian state.” It also supported the Iraqi Kurdish uprising – led by Mustafa Barzani – to divide and weaken Iraq under Saddam Hussein. However, on the opposite, it designates the PKK that is active on the Turkish territory as a terrorist group for struggling against Turkey – its NATO ally.

“While Washington is willing and ready to undermine and divide Arab countries by supporting separatism, the US is firmly behind NATO ally Turkey in its ruthless suppression of its Kurds, who constitute the largest Kurdish community in the region,” Jansen noted.  

He indicated that the US was wrong-footed when the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) went too far by voting for full independence on Sept. 25, 2017. “The vote precipitated fighting with the Iraqi armed forces which resulted in the Kurds’ loss of Kirkuk and its oil fields.”  

“Conceived US projects in this region are bound to fail. The US failed to secure control of Iraq after the 2003 war. Instead, Washington handed over Iraq to Iran’s Shia acolytes. Rebels, jihadis and US-sanctions have also failed to topple the Syrian government which has been backed by Iran and Russia. While pursuing its projects the US has damaged Iraq, Syria, and the Kurds and killed and maimed hundreds of thousands of innocents,” Michael Jansen concluded.

Pedersen in Syria to Give Momentum to Stalled Political Process

The UN special envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen met in Damascus on Sunday with Syrian FM Faisal Mekdad, Syrian government representative Ahmad Kuzbari, Special Representative of the Russian President for the Development of Relations with the Syrian Arab Republic Alexander Efimov, and Iranian Ambassador to Syria Hossein Akbari, Asharq Al Awsat reported.

Mekdad discussed with Pedersen and the accompanying delegation the latest developments pertaining to his mission in Syria, an official Syrian statement said.

Mekdad highlighted the major challenges facing Syria, and the catastrophic impact that terrorism has left on the country. He also highlighted the “illegal” presence of US and Turkish forces on Syrian territory, according to the statement.

Unnamed sources in Damascus told Asharq Al-Awsat that Pedersen seeks to set a new date for the stalled talks to reach a political settlement in Syria — including Syrian government representatives rewriting a constitution with a delegation representing opposition groups and civil society activists.

Days before his visit to Damascus, Pedersen discussed the Syrian matter via a video call with Ali Asghar Khaji, the Iranian foreign minister’s senior advisor for special political affairs.

The two sides stressed the need to find a solution for the crisis in Syria through political dialogue, and the need to solve humanitarian matters and to return the displaced Syrians back to their homeland.

The Iranian minister said that economic sanctions on Syria must be lifted as soon as possible, and international assistance must be provided to the war-torn country and to the Syrian refugees through humanitarian aid.

In August, Pedersen, at the Security Council meeting, expressed concern about the economic situation in Syria.

“The tragic reality is that, for as long as violent conflict continues, and the political process is blocked, the suffering of the Syrian people will simply get worse. Syria cannot fix its economy while it is in a state of conflict. And this applies to the many other crises that ravage Syria,” he had said.

He stressed that moving towards implementing Security Council resolution 2254 is the only way to begin addressing the many crises afflicting Syria.

Syrian President Bashar Assad’s decision last month to double public sector wages and pensions further skyrocketed inflation and fueled ongoing protests that shook the southern Druze-majority province of Sweida and nearby Daraa.

Initially sparked by deepening economic misery, angry residents in greater numbers began to call for the fall of Assad, similar to that of the country’s 2011 uprising that turned into an all-out civil war.

The UN estimates that 90% of Syrians in government-held areas live in poverty and that over half the country’s population struggles to put food on the table.

U.S. should replicate the Iraqi awakening in northeast Syria

In an op-ed in Arab News, Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib discusses the situation in northeast Syria, particularly the rising discontent among Arab tribes towards the dominant Kurdish forces, which she attributes to American policies that favored the Kurds over Arabs in the region. She draws parallels between this situation and the post-2003 invasion of Iraq, highlighting the need for a more balanced approach.

The author argues that the U.S. initially supported the Kurds as a quick fix to combat the rise of Daesh (ISIS) in Syria, just as they supported the Shiite majority in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. However, she contends that these one-sided approaches led to grievances among the disfavored groups, which ultimately fueled violence and extremism.

Dr. Khatib calls for the U.S. to adopt a more balanced policy in northeast Syria, engaging with the Arab tribes in a manner similar to the “awakening” strategy used in Iraq. She emphasizes that addressing the grievances of the local population is crucial in countering terrorism effectively. Additionally, she suggests that soft diplomacy should replace attempts to suppress Arab tribes and calls for the establishment of more representative governance structures in the region.

The author concludes by asserting that the U.S. has a unique opportunity to win over Arab tribes and eradicate terrorism sustainably, while still maintaining a relationship with the Kurds. She urges the U.S. to revisit the lessons learned from the Iraqi awakening and apply them in northeast Syria.

Overall, Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib’s op-ed advocates for a more balanced and inclusive approach to address the complex dynamics in northeast Syria, emphasizing that such an approach is key to achieving stability and countering extremism in the region.

With Straws, Gourds and Tea in Tow, Syrians Spread Their Love of Mate

The New York Times published a long report on mate, grassy South American tea that was popular in Syria even before the war began there 12 years ago. As millions of people were internally displaced, they shared it around the country.

According to the report, Syrians have been embracing the South American tea known as mate, with its social and communal rituals, as they cope with the country’s ongoing conflict. Displaced Syrians like Walaa Ali have introduced Mate to new communities whenever they moved, making it an integral part of social gatherings. Despite the conflict, Syria has become the third-largest importer of mate globally. Local companies now import and market yerba mate, and it has become deeply ingrained in Syrian identity. Syrians continue to enjoy Mate in various settings, including work, government offices, and even the army.

The spread of mate in Syria can be traced back to factors like empire, migration, military conscription, and war, which have led to its widespread adoption. About half of northwestern Syria’s population consists of people who have been internally displaced, and many of them have been introduced to mate by fellow displaced Syrians.

Syrians were first exposed to mate when they immigrated to South America, seeking economic opportunities, and found themselves drawn to the social aspect of the communal tea-drinking tradition. After World War I, some of these immigrants brought mate back to Syria, further popularizing it.

Despite the conflict, mate continues to hold a special place in Syrian culture, being enjoyed at work, in government offices, and even in the army. Local companies in Syria now import and market yerba mate, contributing to its widespread consumption and making it a part of the Syrian identity.

Mate has become an integral part of Syrian culture, even in the midst of conflict. Many Syrians have embraced this South American tea, and its popularity has continued to grow.

Walaa Ali, who fled her central Syrian home nearly a decade ago, introduced mate to various communities each time she relocated.

Syrians enjoy mate, pronounced, in a manner similar to communal hookah sessions, sipping the strong, grassy tea from small glass cups.

Despite the war and displacement of millions, mate remains a popular choice, particularly during traditional Syrian sahra gatherings that extend late into the night.

Syria’s mate tradition has a century-old history, influenced by factors like migration, military conscription, and war.

Ms. Ali and her husband, like many others in northwestern Syria, have introduced mate to numerous people, contributing to its popularity.

Syrians were first exposed to mate when they immigrated to South America, attracted by economic opportunities, and embracing its social aspects.

By introducing Mate to Syrians, returning émigrés helped spread the tea tradition.

Syria has become the world’s third-largest importer of mate, despite economic challenges.

Mate is enjoyed at workplaces, government offices, and even in the army, with its presence even appearing in Syrian soap operas.

Several Syrian companies now import and market yerba mate with their packaging.

In Idlib, a cafe began selling Mate three years ago in response to displaced Syrians’ demand.

Syrians have embraced mate’s rituals, ensuring proper preparation, including the use of hot but not boiling water and refilling with hot water until the mate leaves to settle.

Mate has become a widespread part of Syrian identity, transcending its South American origins.

Despite the ongoing conflict, Syrians continue to enjoy mate, introducing it to friends and colleagues.

In summary, mate has become a cherished tradition and a symbol of resilience in Syria, enjoyed by many even amidst challenging circumstances.


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