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Syria Today – Russia Damages U.S. Drone; Representatives Push for End of Sanction Exemptions

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – Russia Damages U.S. Drone; Representatives Push for End of Sanction Exemptions

In a recent incident over Syria, a Russian fighter jet dangerously approached a U.S. drone, flying just a few meters away, and reportedly fired flares at the American aircraft, resulting in damage to the drone. The incident has raised tensions between the two nations in the region. Meanwhile, a group of United States representatives has written a letter expressing their “grave concern” to President Joe Biden regarding the potential extension of Syria General License 23. This license had previously eased sanctions on the Syrian government as a response to the earthquake that occurred on February 6th. The representatives are urging caution and consideration before making any decisions regarding the extension, given the sensitive situation in the region.

A Russian fighter jet fired flares at a U.S. drone over Syria and damaged it, the US military says

A Russian fighter jet flew within a few meters of a U.S. drone over Syria and fired flares at it, striking the American aircraft and damaging it, the U.S. military said Tuesday, the latest in a string of aggressive intercepts by Russia in the region.

A senior Air Force commander said the move on Sunday was an attempt by the Russians to knock the MQ-9 Reaper drone out of the sky and came just a week after a Russian fighter jet flew dangerously close to a U.S. surveillance aircraft carrying a crew in the region, jeopardizing the lives of the four Americans on board.

“One of the Russian flares struck the U.S. MQ-9, severely damaging its propeller,” Lt. Gen. Alex Grynkewich, the head of U.S. Air Forces Central, said in a statement describing the latest close call. “We call upon the Russian forces in Syria to put an immediate end to this reckless, unprovoked, and unprofessional behaviour.”

Syria still mired in division, top UN envoy tells Security Council

Months of “potentially significant diplomacy” to resolve the crisis in Syria have not yielded any outcomes or political momentum for the war-weary population, both within the country and those displaced outside, the UN Special Envoy for the country said on Monday. 

“I hope they will soon because if not, it will be another missed opportunity to help the Syrian conflict to come to a negotiated end, at a time when the impact of the crisis is deepening,” Geir Pedersen said, briefing the Security Council.

While there had been positive humanitarian gestures following the devastating earthquakes in February, it was disappointing that the UN cross-border relief operations which provoked a Russian veto and a failure to agree any resolution two weeks ago, could not be extended, he told ambassadors.

“How are the Syrians meant to believe that some broader progress is possible, and how are they meant to be encouraged to overcome their own deep differences, if consensus on humanitarian basics among international parties is elusive?”

Plea to work proactively

Mr. Pedersen called on the Syrian Government to work proactively with the UN on a political path out of the conflict, and also highlighted the need for “constructive and coordinated international diplomacy”.

“The more you can work together despite your differences, the more you can encourage and support the Syrians to do the same,” he urged the 15-member Council.

Conditions getting worse

Ramesh Rajasingham, Director of Coordination for the UN aid coordination wing OCHA, informed ambassadors of the letter his office had received from the Syrian Government granting the UN permission to use the Bab al-Hawa crossing to deliver assistance in the northwest.

He said humanitarians continue to engage with the Government on the terms outlined in the letter and the essential requirements OCHA has to keep operating, guided by the humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence.

Throughout Syria, he continued, conditions continue to deteriorate, with the price of essential food commodities surging by over 90 percent in 2023, putting basic food items and other essentials, out of the reach of millions of families.

Assistance to up to 40 percent of them, or 2.5 million people, has been discontinued this month due to funding shortfalls

U.S. and major donors demand independent UN aid operation in Syria’s rebel-held northwest

The United States said Monday it has joined major donors in demanding that the United Nations be able to deliver aid through a key crossing from Turkey to Syria’s rebel-held northwest independently and to everyone in need. That’s a rejection of conditions set by Syria and backed by its ally Russia that Damascus control all aid and banning U.N. communications with rebels in the region, the Associated Press reported.

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the U.N. Security Council that the Syrian government’s offer earlier this month to allow aid deliveries through the Bab al-Hawa crossing showed the need for cross-border assistance, but she said Syria’s restrictions were unacceptable and “would hinder relief and put humanitarians, including U.N. personnel, at risk.”

After the latest six-month mandate expired on July 10, Russia vetoed a nine-month extension and the council rejected a Russian resolution for a six-month extension.

U.S. representatives oppose renewing Syria sanctions exemption

Several United States representatives have sent a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden voicing their “grave concern” over the possibility of extending Syria General License 23, which has eased sanctions on the Syrian government in response to the February 6 earthquake, North Press reported.

These representatives include Michael McCaul, Joe Wilson, James R. Baird, French Hill, Brian Mast, Thomas H. Kean Jr, Cory Mills, Keith Self and Aumua Amata Coleman Raewagen.

The license, which authorized direct transactions with the Assad regime for earthquake relief efforts for 180 days, “undermines the efficacy of our sanctions and, by extension, the prospects for accountability for the Syrian people,” the members wrote.

There are already existing exemptions that “cover a range of humanitarian activities, and provide sufficient flexibility to navigate the complex operating environment in Syria,” the letter read.

The representatives strongly urged Biden to allow the license to “expire on August 8 as intended in order to preserve the integrity of our Syria sanctions,” the letter concluded.

Making Sense of Renewed Iraq-Syria Ties

Responsiblestatecraft.org published a long report in which it highlighted the pragmatic approach taken by Iraq in engaging with Syria, considering the numerous shared security, economic, and environmental challenges that bind the two Arab countries together. Despite historical complexities, Iraq sees it as necessary to address critical regional issues by re-establishing ties with Damascus.

The article emphasizes the changing regional dynamics that have led to Syria’s reintegration into the Arab fold. The return of high-ranking officials from various Arab states to Damascus signifies a new era of realism in the Middle East, where pragmatic concerns take precedence over past grievances with the Assad regime.

While acknowledging the brutality of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the article suggests that addressing serious regional issues requires involving him. The article argues that isolating Assad further worsens the crisis and emphasizes the lack of viable alternatives to engage with Syria effectively.

The article points out that while the US maintains a military presence in both Iraq and Syria, it is unlikely to prevent Iraq from reestablishing ties with Syria. However, the Caesar Act sanctions imposed on Syria pose a challenge for Iraq in developing economic ties with Damascus, potentially limiting bilateral trade and investment.

The article calls on the US to consider the wider regional implications of its sanctions on Syria, urging a reevaluation of the approach. It highlights that the sanctions harm not only ordinary Syrians but also their neighbours, and argues for a more nuanced approach in dealing with the Syrian regime. Several Arab states, including Iraq and the United Arab Emirates, have voiced opposition to the sanctions, but efforts to persuade the U.S. to lift them have been unsuccessful thus far.

The article conveys the importance of pragmatic engagement with Syria to address critical regional issues, despite the complexities and controversies surrounding the Assad regime. It also suggests the need for the US to reconsider its approach to Syrian sanctions to better address the broader implications on regional dynamics.

The Heavy Toll of Violence at the Syria-Turkey Border

The New Humanitarian published a detailed feature in which it sheds light on the violence perpetrated by Turkish border guards against Syrians attempting to cross into Turkey irregularly. Human rights groups have documented numerous cases of severe injuries and deaths caused by the actions of Turkish border guards over the years.

Victims’ families face significant challenges in seeking justice for the violence inflicted on their loved ones. The article highlights the lack of progress in the investigation into a recent incident where eight Syrians were apprehended, two killed, and six injured by Turkish guards. Families struggle emotionally and economically with little support.

The article emphasizes that the violence at the Syria-Turkey border has been an ongoing issue for more than a decade. Human rights groups have recorded numerous reports of attacks against people attempting to cross the border, with incidents involving thousands of individuals.

Syrians in rebel-held northwest Syria, including those in camps, are among the worst affected by the decade-long war, fuel shortages, and rising prices. Many are pushed into severe poverty, leading them to seek safety and economic opportunity across the Turkish border, where they face significant risks.

Due to the fortified border, many Syrians turn to smugglers to help them cross into Turkey. Reports suggest that smugglers may pay bribes to Turkish border guards to ensure safe passage, exacerbating the situation and leading to more dangers for those attempting the crossing.

Survivors and families of victims call for accountability and justice for the violence perpetrated by Turkish border guards. Human rights advocates stress the right to asylum and safe passage for Syrian refugees, highlighting the need for Turkey to open its borders and ensure the safety of those seeking refuge.

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