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Syria Today – Returnee Refugees Face Conscription; Israeli Strike on Aleppo; Russian Jets Violate Status Quo

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – Returnee Refugees Face Conscription; Israeli Strike on Aleppo; Russian Jets Violate Status Quo

An exclusive source told North Press news agency that the Fourth Armored Division of Syrian government forces released dozens of old people who have been deported from Lebanon a few days ago, and referred young men to Conscription Department to perform compulsory service.

Lebanese authorities deported in the recent days hundreds of Syrian refugees to government-held areas, the Kurdish news agency said.

According to official estimates, the number of Syrian refugees residing in Lebanon is about 1.5 million, while the number registered with the UNHCR is approximately 880,000, and they go through severe and substandard conditions.

According to the agency’s source said that the Fourth Armored Division released (led by Maher al-Assad) about 50 people, most of them are elderly after they have been arrested upon their deportation by the Lebanese authorities.

The division handed over dozens of young men to the Conscription Department, while it is still detaining 250 others, including dozens wanted, amid fears for their lives, the source added.

Israeli air strikes kill one soldier, put Syria’s Aleppo airport out of service

Syria’s state news agency SANA, citing a military official, said two civilians and five other Syrian soldiers were wounded, and that Israel had launched airstrikes on other unnamed targets around Aleppo.

There was no immediate statement from Israeli authorities on the strikes.

According to Israeli media reports, the airport has been a key channel for the flow of aid into the country after the Feb. 6 earthquake hit Turkey and Syria, killing over 50,000 people, including more than 6,000 in Syria.

The Britain-based opposition war monitor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), said the strike targeted a munitions depot by the airport. It also reported Israeli strikes at a military airport in the Aleppo countryside, though Syrian state media did not report on the matter.

On Saturday, SANA reported that Israeli airstrikes over Homs wounded three civilians and that a civilian fuel station caught fire. SOHR said the missiles destroyed an ammunition depot belonging to the Iran-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah at a military airport in the countryside of Homs.

New Zealand contributes over €84,000 to OPCW missions in Syria

The Government of New Zealand has contributed more than €84,000 to the Trust Fund for Syria Missions of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

OPCW said in a media statement that, The contribution will be used towards the full elimination of the Syrian Chemical Weapons Programme and clarification of facts related to the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria, in accordance with the relevant decisions of the policy-making organs of the OPCW.

The voluntary contribution was formalized on May 1st 2023 in a signing ceremony held between the Ambassador, Permanent Representative of New Zealand to the OPCW, Ms Susannah Gordon, and the OPCW Director-General, Ambassador Fernando Arias, at the OPCW’s Headquarters in The Hague.

“New Zealand is pleased to announce a further voluntary contribution to the OPCW Trust Fund for Syria Missions. The continued support from New Zealand demonstrates our confidence in OPCW’s independent and impartial work,” Ambassador Gordon was quoted as saying.  

Is Biden’s Iran Policy Failing?

Syrian researcher Haid Haid published an op-ed in Asia Times, in which he argues that Iran-Backed militias step up attacks on U.S. troops in Syria, raising concerns about a new conflict. 

The recent increase in attacks against U.S. troops in Syria has raised concerns about the effectiveness of the Biden administration’s Iran policy, as well as fears of a new conflict in the region. 

The op-ed said that the tit-for-tat retaliations between U.S. forces and Iranian-backed militias were sparked by a March 23 drone attack on a U.S. military facility in Hassakeh, in northeastern Syria. Unlike previous incidents, the drone attack resulted in more casualties, indicating that Washington’s soft response to the militias is leading to further and more deadly aggression. 

The U.S. has around 900 soldiers deployed in Syria, mostly supporting the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in their fight against ISIS. 

However, Haid adds, the U.S. also has a significant military presence in al-Tanf, which is seen as part of the larger U.S. strategy to contain Iran’s military reach in the region. In the 27 months since President Biden took office, at least 84 attacks were reported on positions hosting U.S. troops or contractors in Iraq and Syria, with most of these attacks carried out against U.S. locations in northeastern Syria. 

The triggers for the assaults appear to vary, but the recent uptick in attacks may be due to the Biden administration’s foreign policy decisions, including withdrawing from Afghanistan and ending the U.S. combat mission in Iraq, which have emboldened Iranian-backed militias to test Washington’s boundaries.

U.S., Turkey cooperate on terrorism-related sanctions -Treasury

The United States worked together to impose terrorism-related sanctions on two individuals linked to funding two Syria-based groups already sanctioned by the United States and United Nations, the Treasury Department said on Tuesday.

The DoT’s statement said the actions target Omar Alsheak, a leader of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham group, and Kubilay Sari, who has received funds in Turkey from donors for Katibat al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, the department said in a statement.

“As terrorist groups continue to seek access to the international financial system, collaboration with our partners increases our ability to more effectively disrupt these facilitation networks,” Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson was quoted as saying by Reuters.

The new designations follow joint U.S.-Turkish actions on Jan. 5 that target a key financial network of Islamic State, Treasury said.

Jordan’s top diplomat sees hopeful signs in Syrian talks

Jordan’s top diplomat said Monday that regional talks with Syria are a step in the right direction to end a decade of the war-torn country’s political isolation and bring Damascus back into the Arab fold.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi’s remarks came as Jordan hosted a meeting of envoys from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt and Syria. Before the meeting kicked off, Safadi met one-on-one with his Syrian counterpart, Faisal Mekdad.

Damascus is slowly returning to the Arab fold after being ostracized over President Bashar Assad’s brutal crackdown on a 2011 uprising that descended into a yearslong civil war. However, as Assad consolidated control over most of the country in recent years, Syria’s neighbours have begun to take steps toward rapprochement.

The Jordanian Foreign Ministry said the meeting on Monday came as a follow-up to talks with Arab Gulf countries, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt held in Saudi Arabia last month and focused on a “Jordanian initiative to reach a political solution to the Syrian crisis.”

“There was clarity and honesty,” Safadi said of the talks in Amman. “This meeting is the beginning of an Arab-led political path to reach a solution to the crisis.”

The diplomats also discussed Syria’s humanitarian needs, especially in light of the devastating Feb. 6 earthquake that struck parts of Turkey and Syria, drug smuggling across Syria’s borders and the refugee crisis from the Syrian civil war.

“We agreed on mechanisms to start organizing their (the refugees’) safe and voluntary returns, in coordination with the United Nations,” he added.

The outreach to Damascus picked up pace after the February earthquake and the China-brokered reestablishment of ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which had backed opposing sides in Syria’s conflict.

Saudi Arabia, the regional heavyweight that once backed Syrian rebel groups, has been leading the rapprochement. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan visited Damascus last month for the first time since the kingdom cut ties with Syria more than a decade ago.

The kingdom will host a meeting of the Arab League this month, where many expect to see the start — if not full return — of Syria’s membership. Some resistance to that remains, mainly from Qatar. The Arab League is a regional organization of the Arab world, established to promote cooperation among its members.

Safadi declined to comment when asked about a precise date for Syria’s possible return to the league, saying it was up to the member states to make that decision.

Russian Airforce

Russian fighter jets have reportedly violated deconfliction protocols with Coalition forces nearly 100 times in the past two months, according to Air Force Lt Gen Alexus Grynkewich, head of AFCENT (Air Forces Central Command), an American website reported

The violations include armed overflights of ground forces in Syria, flying within 500 feet of U.S. aircraft, and jamming U.S. aircraft electromagnetic systems. Grynkewich noted that these actions increase the likelihood of miscalculation and interfere with AFCENT’s ability to execute operations safely and effectively, Task And Purpose Website quoted him as saying. 

He added that Russian pilots have become so aggressive towards U.S. aircraft that their behaviour is encroaching on open hostility. 

Grynkewich, according to the website, is most concerned about Russian aircraft that fly over U.S. military positions while armed with air-to-ground munitions, noting that U.S. military aircraft do not fly over Russian troops with such weapons. Russia is an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and its forces also operate in Syria.

Amman Meeting Discusses Return of Syrian Refugees from Neighboring 

On Monday, a consultative meeting on Syria was held in Amman, with the aim of discussing the return of Syrian refugees from neighbouring countries and ways for the Syrian state to extend its control over its territory. The meeting included foreign ministers from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria.

According to Asharq al-Awsat, the Jordanian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Ayman Safadi, confirmed that the meeting marks the beginning of a series of meetings to resolve the crisis in Syria in line with Security Council Resolution 2254, addressing all consequences of the humanitarian, political, and security situation. Safadi stressed that ending the crisis can only be achieved through a political solution that preserves Syria’s unity, cohesion, and sovereignty, meets the aspirations of its people, and promotes conditions for the safe return of refugees.

The foreign ministers expressed their appreciation for the positive engagement shown by the Syrian foreign minister in examining the initiatives and steps presented during the meeting. It was agreed to form two joint political-security working groups within a month between Syria, Jordan, and Iraq to identify the sources of drug production and smuggling in Syria and the entities that organize, manage, and carry out cross-border smuggling operations, the newspaper added.

The ministers agreed to form a technical team of experts to follow up on the meeting outcomes and identify the next steps of this targeted path to address the solution to the crisis in Syria and its repercussions. In the closing statement, the participants agreed to resume the constitutional commission’s work as soon as possible in the context of political steps to achieve comprehensive national reconciliation, the London-based daily explained.

The final statement emphasized that the voluntary and safe return of refugees to Syria is a top priority and that steps must be taken to begin its immediate implementation. They also agreed to intensify work with the international community and the UN to accelerate the implementation of early recovery projects, including in areas where refugees are expected to return.

The foreign ministers emphasized the importance of enhancing cooperation to advance efforts to search for missing persons with all parties and relevant international organizations, in coordination with the Syrian government. The ministers agreed that similar steps should be taken, as appropriate, to resolve the issue of internally displaced people, including the Rukban camp.

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