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Syria Today – Raisi Continues Tour; Blinken Points at Cooperation with Syria; SDF Turns to Abu Dhabi

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – Raisi Continues Tour; Blinken Points at Cooperation with Syria; SDF Turns to Abu Dhabi

In Syria, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has completed the second day of his visit. He has signed new agreements with his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad and toured Palestinian factions. Meanwhile, the U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has hinted at cooperation with Syria regarding American hostage and detained journalist Austin Tice.  In addition, pan-Arab media has reported that SDF Chief Mazloum Abdi recently travelled to the United Arab Emirates in an attempt to broker a deal with Damascus.

Iran and Syria call for end of Western economic domination

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi met in Damascus and signed a long-term comprehensive strategic cooperation agreement, with a focus on greater regional stability. They stressed the need for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from the region and their mutual cooperation in the economic field as a strategic move to counter the impact of illegal unilateral sanctions imposed by the US and some of its allies.

The agreement, according to The People’s Star media outlet,  includes long-term cooperation agreements in various economic areas such as agriculture, oil, transport, and others. Raisi is the first Iranian president to visit Syria in the last 13 years and was accompanied by his foreign, economic, and transport ministers and the chief of Iran’s central bank.

Assad claimed that the various economic projects agreed upon between Iran and Syria would help “mitigate the impacts of sanctions” and aid in liberating “international economics from Western hegemony.” He also emphasized that both countries agreed that it has been an old colonial tactic to “undermine the stability of countries and divide them.”

According to the website, the recent rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran after years of tension and hostility was referred to by Assad, and he thanked Raisi for playing a significant role in the ongoing quadripartite meeting in Moscow. The representatives of Russia, Iran, Syria and Turkey participated in the last meeting held on April 25, primarily discussing ways to normalize relations between Syria and Turkey.

Raisi praised the people of Syria for their steadfastness and for withstanding terrorism and international attempts to divide and destroy the country for over a decade. He said, “We [Iran] are in the process of developing our relations with countries of the region and we will seek to expand them without the presence of foreigners.”

Raisi noted that the presence of foreigners in the region brings conflicts and instability and asked the US forces to leave the region immediately. He emphasized that Syrian sovereignty over all its territory must be respected. More about this here.

Raisi meets Palestinian leaders 

Iran’s president met senior Palestinian officials in Damascus and expressed his country’s support to them Thursday as Tehran and Syria signed a series of agreements, AP reported.

Damascus-based Palestinian official Khaled Abdul-Majid told The Associated Press that the delegation briefed Iran’s Ebrahim Raisi on the situation in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza Strip.

Iran has been a main backer of some Palestinian factions supplying them with weapons and money.

“The Palestinian leaders thanked Iran for its support to the resistance and the Palestinian cause,” Abdul-Majid, who attended the talks, said after the meeting. He added that Raisi confirmed to the Palestinian officials, including top leaders from the militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, that Iran will continue supporting the Palestinians.

Blinken says U.S. is ‘engaged with Syria’ in efforts to free missing journalist Austin Tice

CNN reported that U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has stated that the U.S. is “engaged with Syria, engaged with third countries” to try and bring detained journalist Austin Tice home. Tice was taken hostage in Syria in 2012, and while President Joe Biden has declared that the U.S. government knows “with certainty that he has been held by the Syrian regime,” the government of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad has not publicly acknowledged that they are detaining Tice. The U.S, does not have diplomatic relations with the Syrian regime and has voiced opposition to rapprochement with Assad. While Blinken did not provide details about the engagements to bring Tice home, there are reports that US officials have held talks with Syrian officials in Oman.

“We are extensively engaged with regard to Austin, engaged with Syria, engaged with third countries, seeking to find a way to get him home. And we’re not going to relent until we do,” Blinken said in remarks at a Washington Post event on World Press Freedom Day.

According to CNN, Blinken did not provide details about the engagements to bring Tice home. White House and State Department officials would not confirm a report from the Wall Street Journal that US officials had held talks with Syrian officials in Oman.

“We cannot confirm any specific meetings past or present. As you know in general meetings and negotiations to secure the release of wrongfully detained Americans, that is incredibly sensitive,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a White House briefing. “We want to be really, really careful and mindful and don’t want to confirm any specific conversation from the past or in the present.”

SDF’s Abdi seeks UAE help to broker deal with Damascus 

Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) Commander in Chief Mazloum Abdi recently traveled to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), four well-informed sources and officials in the region told al-Monitor, under the condition of anonymity, on Wednesday.

Al-Monitor reported that the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) is seeking the UAE’s help to broker a deal with the Syrian government amid fading confidence in the United States and Arab outreach to Damascus.

Abdi met with UAE officials, two of the sources said, in order to seek Abu Dhabi’s help to press the Syrian Kurds’ case with the Syrian government.

One of the regional sources said that Abdi met with Tahnoun bin Zayed al Nahyan, the UAE’s National Security Adviser and Deputy Ruler of Abu Dhabi.

However, the UAE denied that any such meeting had occurred, while the officials insisted that Abdi had indeed gone to the UAE between late March and early April.

Al-Monitor said, citing two of the officials, that Bafel Talabani, Head of Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), had traveled with him.

Italian Conductor Muti to Visit Syrian Refugee Camp in Jordan

Asharq Al-Awsat reports that Italian conductor Riccardo Muti plans to visit Syrian musicians living in the vast Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan on the sidelines of his annual Roads of Friendship concert series that aims to use music to build bridges and help those affected by war. 

Muti will conduct Italian and Jordanian musicians in concerts set in ancient Roman amphitheatres in Jerash, Jordan, on July 9 and the Pompeii archaeological site on July 11, for the 27th Roads of Friendship concert series, The Associated Press reported. 

The concerts will pay homage to the “generosity of the Jordanian people” for taking in millions of Syrian refugees fleeing civil war in the neighbouring country, the Ravenna festival announced Thursday.

While in Jordan, Muti plans to visit the Zaatari camp, a symbol of the long-running Syrian refugee situation and home to about 80,000 refugees nearly 11 years after it was set up near the Syrian border.

Efforts resuming to repatriate five missing Canadians from Syria, lawyer says

A lawyer working to repatriate Canadians from detention in Syria says there is fresh word about two women and three children who had originally been slated to return to Canada last month, Canadian The Star reported.

Lawyer Lawrence Greenspon says Global Affairs Canada has confirmed that the department has recently been in contact with Kurdish authorities in northeastern Syria about the five Canadians.

He says the department has obtained assurances the authorities will help Canada facilitate the repatriation of the five — as it did for 14 other Canadians in April — after they did not turn up for a flight to Canada.

Greenspon says although no time frame has been specified, it gives the families of the two women and three children hope for the return of their loved ones.

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