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Syria Today – Public Sector Wages Doubled; Switzerland Issues International Warrant on Rifaat al-Assad

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – Public Sector Wages Doubled; Switzerland Issues International Warrant on Rifaat al-Assad

In the early hours of Wednesday, the President of Syria took the step of increasing public sector wages and pensions, aiming to provide some “relief” as the nation grapples with the aftermath of war. This move came as the country’s national currency continued its downward spiral, hitting a new low for the year. Simultaneously, an international arrest warrant was put forth for the uncle of Syria’s President, Bashar al-Assad. The warrant pertains to alleged war crimes committed during the 1980s, based on a Swiss court’s year-old ruling that was made public only on Wednesday. Running parallel to these developments, Jordan’s military announced that it had successfully intercepted a drone loaded with TNT explosives. The drone was attempting to breach Jordan’s airspace from Syria, underscoring a recurring issue of arms or drug trafficking in the region.

Syrian president doubles public sector wages as national currency spirals downwards

Syria’s president early Wednesday doubled public sector wages and pensions as the war-torn country’s national currency spiralled further downwards, reaching a new low for the year, AP reported.

President Bashar Assad issued the two decrees just before midnight Tuesday as the Syrian pound’s value against the U.S. dollar declined to a new all-time low, down from 7,000 at the beginning of 2023 to 15,000 pounds to the greenback. At the start of the conflict in 2011, the dollar was trading at 47 pounds.

For over a year, Damascus has been restructuring its program of subsidies for gasoline, diesel for heating, and bread. At the launch of the restructuring in February last year, Syrian Prime Minister Hussein Arnous said the move to scale back fuel subsidies would allow the program to target the poorest families more effectively as well as reducing the Syrian state’s deficit.

Though wheat and bread subsidies have not been affected, the move has sparked rare protests in the country, as families struggle to cope with skyrocketing inflation. Syria hiked fuel prices Wednesday, soon after Assad’s decree, further rolling back state subsidies.

“The national economy is in a clear state of instability, most notably rapid rise of the currency exchange rate,” Arnous told Syria’s parliament in a speech late last month, warning that financing government spending through debt and borrowing from the central bank is not sustainable.

Syria’s last wage hike was in December 2021, when Assad raised civil service salaries by 30%.

The increase in wages might be an immediate relief for Syrians, but would be temporary at best as its economic situation continues to worsen, Sam Heller, a fellow at New York-based think tank Century International, told The Associated Press.

“It seems likely to fuel inflation and thus worsen the continued depreciation of Syria’s currency,” he said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition-linked war monitoring group based in Britain, said that hours after the decree was issued, fuel and produce prices increased, as public discontent over the dire economic situation worsens.

Syria’s currency has been depreciating since 2019, further worsened by neighbouring Lebanon’s economic meltdown and Covid-19. However, the recent wage hike and a massive government payout to this summer’s wheat harvest have increased the amount of money circulating in the market.

Arab Liaison Committee meets in Egypt to discuss Syria

The Arab Liaison Committee on Syria met at the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Cairo yesterday and discussed “sustainable solutions to the Syrian crisis”, The Middle Eye reported.

Ambassador Ahmed Abu Zaid made the announcement in a post on X, previously known as Twitter.

The group “is striving to find effective and sustainable solutions to the Syrian crisis and to put an end to the Syrian people’s suffering,” he added.

Prior to the meeting, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry met with his Saudi counterpart, Faisal Bin Farhan, and “discussed ways to consolidate bilateral relations between the two brotherly countries, coordinate and exchange views regarding various issues and crises in the region,” according to Abu Zeid.

Shoukry also met with the Syrian Foreign Minister, Faisal Al-Miqdad.

Earlier, the Egyptian chief diplomat met with his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Safadi and his Iraqi counterpart Fouad Hussein, to discuss strengthening cooperation.

Formed in May, the liaison committee includes Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt and the Secretary-General of the Arab League with the aim of following up on the implementation of the Amman Declaration and continuing direct dialogue with the Syrian regime to reach a comprehensive solution to the Syrian crisis.

Switzerland issues international arrest warrant against Assad’s uncle

i24NEWS reported that an international arrest warrant was issued for the uncle of Syria President Bashar al-Assad for war crimes allegedly committed in the 1980s, according to a year-old Swiss court ruling only published Wednesday.

The office of the Swiss attorney general requested the ruling be kept secret due to a concern that Rifaat al-Assad would take measures to dodge the arrest, the Keystone-ATS news agency reported.

Switzerland’s Federal Criminal Court ordered the Federal Department of Justice and Police to issue the warrant, after a 2021 request by the attorney-general’s office to arrest the 85-year-old. The Swiss justice ministry had initially balked, saying the country did not have the jurisdiction.

The ministry initially pointed out he was neither a citizen of Switzerland, nor a resident, and that no Swiss citizens were victims in the war crime accusations stemming from a 1982 massacre in Syria. However, the court did not share that interpretation, highlighting that the high-profile suspect was staying at a Geneva hotel when the investigation launched in 2013.

The complaint was first filed by TRIAL International, a rights group that pushes Switzerland to prosecute alleged international criminals, with evidence of al-Assad’s role in suppressing the 1982 Hama rebellion, where thousands of people were estimated to have been killed. 

The younger brother of former Syrian president Hafez al-Assad was in command of the Syrian Defense Forces at the time. As such, TRIAL accused him of “executions, enforced disappearances, rape and torture on an unimaginable scale,” citing estimates that as many as 40,000 people were killed in the span of three weeks.

In the end, his presence in the country was enough to pursue him over alleged war crimes. However, the senior al-Assad has since returned to Syria, after 37 years in exile for attempting to overthrow his brother’s regime.

Jordan’s army downs drone loaded with explosives coming from Syria

Jordan’s army said it shot down a drone Wednesday loaded with TNT explosives trying to enter its airspace from Syria, in the latest incident of trafficking of arms or drugs.

“Border guards… detected a drone trying to cross the border illegally” from Syria, it said in a statement, quoted by Al-Araiya Net, adding that the aircraft was “shot down over Jordanian territory.”

The army said the drone was carrying “TNT-type explosive material.”

Jordan often announces operations targeting the smuggling of arms and drugs from Syria, especially Captagon.

It says smuggling has become “more organized,” and that armed groups are now using drones.

On Sunday, the army said it shot down a drone flying from Syria that was loaded with crystal meth, the second such case in less than three weeks.

Several other interceptions of drones carrying arms and drugs from Syria were reported in February and June.

The vast majority of the region’s captagon is produced in Syria and Lebanon.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at a meeting in Damascus last month held talks on cooperation against drug trafficking.

Regional engagement with Assad’s government has grown since its readmission to the Arab League in May, ending more than a decade of isolation after Syria’s civil war erupted in 2011.

US troop reinforcements sent to Syria 

The US has sent troop reinforcements in a convoy of nearly 50 vehicles to bases in eastern Syria’s Deir Ez-Zor province, which is controlled by the Kurdish YPG/PKK, Anadolu has reported

The convoy entered Al-Hasakah on Monday through the Al-Waleed border crossing between Iraq and Syria, local sources told the news agency. Bradley fighting vehicles and 4x4s escorted the convoy of armour, fuel tankers and ammunition-laden lorries.

US forces are based in the Koniko natural gas field and Al-Omer oil field inside the regions controlled by YPG/PKK militants around Deir Ez-Zor.

The US has trained thousands of YPG/PKK militants in their military bases in the region since 2015, under the pretext of combating terrorism. It has also provided YPG/PKK militants with huge amounts of weapons and combat equipment.

In October 2019, during Turkey’s cross-border anti-terrorist push Operation Peace Spring, the US troops withdrew from the area to reinforce their presence around oil wells in northeast Syria.

Syria to Libya, then Europe: How people smugglers operate

A report by Al-Jazeera discussed the perilous journey that desperate Syrians embark upon in their quest to reach Europe. Syrians fleeing the ongoing conflict, which has resulted in a massive loss of life and displacement, often resort to smugglers who operate a complex network that leads them through Libya, a notorious migration hub, and then across the treacherous Mediterranean Sea. 

According to the report, smugglers, who often communicate with refugees via messaging apps like WhatsApp, facilitate the process by arranging for payments, usually exceeding $6,000 per person, to be deposited with a third party. The smugglers coordinate with partners in Libya to organize the actual boat journey to Europe. In Libya, refugees often face squalid living conditions, violence, and extortion. Some refugees are even smuggled under the guise of being fighters affiliated with certain groups to ease their passage.

The conflict-ridden Libya is divided between a UN-recognized government and an opposing faction led by renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar. Refugees need security authorization to enter Libya, which can often be obtained through bribes. The refugees then wait for weeks or even months before embarking on the deadliest part of their journey: crossing the central Mediterranean towards Europe. This route has claimed the lives of over 1,800 refugees in the current year alone.

The article highlights the desperation and vulnerability of Syrian refugees who undertake this perilous journey in search of safety and a better future. It also sheds light on the intricate web of smugglers, corruption, and violence that characterizes this harrowing migration path.

Domicide: How the Syrian civil war destroyed the idea of home

The New Arab published a book review and analysis of Ammar Azzouz’s book titled “Domicide.” The book delves into the destruction of homes and the human costs of the ongoing Syrian civil war, with a specific focus on the city of Homs. The reviewer highlights the seriousness of the subject matter and the author’s personal connection to the city, where he lived for 23 years before fleeing to the United Kingdom due to the war.

The book is commended for its multidimensional approach, which combines architectural, historical, and personal perspectives. Azzouz’s background in architectural training and his experience as a war survivor gives him a unique lens to examine the destruction of Homs and its impact on its people.

The reviewer points out how Azzouz draws parallels between the destruction of physical structures and the loss of identity, highlighting the dissociation that accompanies the loss of home. The author’s emphasis on incorporating lived experiences into discussions of violent situations is praised for adding depth and authenticity to his analysis.

Azzouz’s examination of the rebuilding process is noted for its realistic and critical perspective. He warns that if reconstruction takes place, it is likely to prioritize elite interests and the conservation of cultural heritage sites, neglecting the needs of the majority.

The book is also recognized for its use of visual media, including photographs and Google Maps satellite images, to illustrate the destruction and artistic responses to the conflict. Azzouz’s work is considered a call to action, inspiring resilience and the will to rebuild better, while also criticizing scholars who might exploit suffering for career advancement without truly understanding the lived experience of those affected.

Overall, the book review underscores Azzouz’s unique and insightful approach to tackling the complex and deep human impact of the Syrian civil war on the concept of home and the city of Homs.

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