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Syria Today – Raisi in Damascus; U.S. Targets Senior al-Qaeda Leader; Opposition Read to Welcome Refugees

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – Raisi in Damascus; U.S. Targets Senior al-Qaeda Leader; Opposition Read to Welcome Refugees

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi arrived in Syria for a two days visit, the first such visit by an Iranian head of state since 2010. He signed with the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad several cooperation agreements. At the same time, the U.S. said it targeted a senior al-Qaeda leader near the town of Harem. Meanwhile, the suffering of Syrian refugees around the world continues. The Syrian opposition in the northwest of the country has announced its readiness to receive Syrian refugees from Lebanon, where a staunch anti-refugees campaign is ongoing. In Turkey, 722 refugees were also expelled to Syria. 

Raisi visits Syria for the first visit for Iranian president to Syria since Ahmadinejad’s

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi has visited Syria for a two-day visit, the first visit by an Iranian president to Damascus since 2010. The two countries have signed agreements and memorandums of understanding related to several sectors, including oil, agriculture, railways, and free trade zones. Iran has been a main backer of Syria’s government since the 2011 civil war and has played an instrumental role in turning the tide of the conflict in President Bashar Assad’s favour. The deal is important for Syria, whose economy has hit an all-time low over the past decade, with spiralling inflation, a currency plunge, and rampant power cuts. The visit comes as some Arab countries, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have been opening up to Assad. 

U.S. military says it targeted senior al-Qaida leader in Syria

The U.S.-led coalition carried out a drone strike Wednesday in northwestern Syria targeting a senior al-Qaida leader, the U.S. military said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, said the strike hit a chicken farm near the town of Harem, killing one person. It said the dead man has not been identified yet.

The strike was the latest of a series of similar attacks over the past years that have killed senior members of the Islamic State group or al-Qaida.

The U.S. Central Command said that shortly before noon, U.S. forces conducted “a unilateral strike” in northwestern Syria, targeting a senior al-Qaida leader. It added that more information would be provided “as operational details become available.”

U.S. Army Gen. Erik Kurilla, the top U.S. commander for the Middle East said the strike on Wednesday “reaffirms CENTCOM’s steadfast commitment to the region and the enduring defeat” of IS and al-Qaida.

Most of those targeted over the past years had been members of Horas al-Din, which is Arabic for “Guardians of Religion.” The group includes hardcore al-Qaida members who broke away from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the strongest al-Qaida-linked militant group in Idlib province.

Arab world weighs price for Assad’s rehabilitation

A flurry of visits from Arab dignitaries suggests that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regional isolation could be drawing to an end. 

The Financial Times published an extensive report in which it said that normalization with Assad looks increasingly inevitable, leading the charge are the UAE and Saudi Arabia, whose foreign minister met Assad in Damascus in April, the first public visit by a Saudi official since 2011. Arab states might have some differences, but these have been diminishing significantly, while their common interest to consolidate a form of regional authoritarian stability has grown, says Joseph Daher, a Syria expert at the European University Institute in Italy. 

Attitudes towards Tehran have shifted, FT detailed. The shift was driven partially by what regional officials say is a lack of clear direction from the US and a desire by the UAE and Saudi Arabia to de-escalate tensions with Iran and its proxies. This paved the way for last month’s China-brokered detente between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Even Turkey, a critical backer of the anti-Assad rebels, has shown tentative signs it could shift its position.

Following the massive February earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria, the US temporarily eased sanctions restrictions to facilitate aid flows into Syria, creating a moment for Arab leaders to seize on, to the surprise of US officials, said Andrew Tabler, an ex-U.S. official and senior fellow on Arab policy at the Washington Institute think-tank, the report added.

Arab countries will expect Assad to make concessions to enable his return to the Arab League. But some Arab countries remain hesitant, with Qatar and Kuwait among those that balked at Saudi-led plans to invite Assad to the Arab League summit this month. Most Arab countries cut ties with Assad in 2011 when he began bombing, torturing and gassing Syrians as part of efforts to defeat the nascent rebellion. More than 14mn people have been displaced internally or sought refuge abroad, FT explained. 

The focus has turned to Captagon, a highly addictive amphetamine whose trade has become an economic lifeline for Damascus. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan have been heavily affected by the trafficking of the drug across their borders. “Captagon has now ascended to the top of the agenda in normalization discussions,” said Caroline Rose, director at the Newlines Institute think-tank, who researches the trade. “The regime has used the Captagon trade as leverage,” Rose said, adding: “But it’s a fool’s errand to think they will stop it.”

Syrian Opposition Proposes Transfer of Refugees in Lebanon to ‘Liberated Regions

Opposition civilian and political groups in Syria’s northwest announced their complete readiness to receive Syrian refugees from Lebanon in liberated Syrian regions in the wake of the violations and forced deportation they are facing in the neighbouring country.

According to Asharq al-Awsat, the “Political Affairs Administration” in the opposition-held Idlib region and the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham group said on Friday that they were prepared to welcome over two million refugees in Lebanon who are threatened with forced deportation to regime-held regions where their lives could be at risk.

In a statement, they urged Lebanese authorities to return to reason and their humanitarian and moral duties towards civilian refugees in line with international laws and norms that ensure their protection.

They added that the Syrians were initially forced to leave their country given the violence of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime against them. Nearly two million Syrians have sought refuge in Lebanon to escape imprisonment or death.

The groups said they are “fully prepared” to receive the refugees in liberated Syrian regions in the north.

Earlier the AANES had made a similar proposal.

Three Syrian regime soldiers killed as HTS arrests White Helmets Chief

A rebel group said it had killed three Syrian regime soldiers in Deir az-Zour province in eastern Syria on Tuesday amid reports that the hardline Islamist group Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) had detained the head of an office of the Syria Civil Defence, otherwise known as the White Helmets, Al-Araby al-Jadeed reported.

“The Brigade of Revolutionaries in the Lands of Deir az-Zour”, targeted a regime position in the Albukamal area in the southeast of Deir ez-Zour province.

It said it had killed three members of the 17th Brigade of the regime’s army and injured others.

Local sources told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that the attack happened around dawn on Tuesday and targeted a vehicle belonging to the 17th Brigade.

Several other attacks on Syrian regime forces and their allies took place in Deir ez-Zour province last month. The area has a heavy presence of militias sponsored by Iran, one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s main backers.

722 Syrians deported from Turkey in April

The number of Syrian refugees deported by Turkish authorities to Syria in April has reached 722, the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey north of Idlib, northwest Syria, revealed.

North Press quoted the border crossing administration as saying in a statement that the number of Syrians, who arrived in northwest Syria from the quake-stricken Turkish provinces, has reached approximately 2,637 in April, bringing the total number to 22,543.

The administration added that in April no patient has been granted an entry permit to Turkey for treatment in its hospitals.

The total number of those coming from and travelling to Turkey through the border crossing has come up to 9,335, including 1,936 women and 7,399 men, North Press added.

According to the border crossing administration, 2,983 people of the aforementioned total number travelled to Turkey and 6,352 entered Syria through the crossing coming from Turkey.

Assad, Putin, and others were not invited to King Charles III’s coronation

The leaders of Russia, Iran and Syria are reportedly on a short list of countries whose rulers were not invited to Saturday’s coronation ceremony for Britain’s King Charles III, the Times of Israel reported.

The rulers of Belarus, Myanmar, Afghanistan and Venezuela were also not invited, while invitations for North Korea and Nicaragua were conveyed to senior diplomats from those countries rather than the heads of state themselves, in a more minor snub, according to a Tuesday Reuters report.

A hundred heads of state are expected to attend, along with royalty ranging from Japan’s Crown Prince Akishino and his wife, Kiko, to Spain’s King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia.

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