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Syria Today – Sanctions Hinder Lebanon Gas Deal, Bus Attack in Damascus, Kurds Fear Invasion

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Syria Today – Sanctions Hinder Lebanon Gas Deal, Bus Attack in Damascus, Kurds Fear Invasion

While sanctions continue to hinder the implementation of the gas deal involving Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan, a bus bombing in Damascus wounded 15 police officers. Kurds in Syria also fear a military invasion of the country’s Northeast by Turkey in march.

Regional power plan for Lebanon held up over Syria sanctions

Egypt is still seeking assurances that U.S. sanctions will be waived in order to start exporting gas to Lebanon through Syria under a plan first announced in 2021 to help ease Lebanon’s power crisis, a senior French official was quoted by Reuters on Tuesday.

The plan also has yet to go to the World Bank board, which will assess reforms of Lebanon’s electricity sector that are preconditions for it to release a $300 million loan to finance the gas exports over 18 months, said Pierre Duquesne, France’s envoy on international support to Lebanon.

Duquesne was visiting Cairo before travelling to Jordan and Lebanon this week and to the United States later in February “to try to help as much as we can to go beyond the various statements of principle”, he told reporters in Cairo.

Alongside Egyptian gas for power generation, the plan includes the export of electricity from Jordan to Lebanon via Syria, which could add up to 700 megawatts to Lebanon’s grid.

Bomb Hits Bus Transporting Police in South Syria, Wounding 15

Asharq Al-Awsat

A roadside bomb targeting a bus transporting Syrian police in the country’s south Monday wounded 15 of the officers, the Interior Ministry said.

The ministry said in a terse statement that the officers were returning to the capital Damascus from the southern province of Daraa. The bomb exploded on the north-south highway near the town of Khirbet Ghazaleh.

It said seven officers were seriously wounded.

In October, a bus bombing killed 18 Syrian soldiers in a Damascus suburb and wounded at least 27 others.

Kurdish forces launch arrest campaign in Raqqa

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) launched an arrest campaign in the northeastern province of Raqqa, claiming the capture of 8 Islamic State militants, the media office has said.

Under the name of “revenge for the martyrs of Raqqa”, which was launched by the SDF a few days ago in the region, the media office of the Kurdish-led group said.

A joint force from the SDF and Asayish managed to arrest 8 members of the “Islamic State” cells, including two Sharia jurists, during the operation in Raqqa and Tabqa cities.

Last Wednesday, the SDF launched a security campaign against the ISIS cells in Raqqa city and its countryside, which led to the arrest of more than 200 people, including women and the elderly, and three civilians were wounded by “SDF” bullets during raids in the southern countryside of Raqqa.

Kurds warn Erdogan may Invade NE Syria in March 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of using the war against Syria’s Kurds as a distraction during May’s general and presidential elections, Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in Turkey has said.

At a speech on Tuesday, Pervin Buldan, the co-chair of the pro-Kurds Party warned that Erdogan might launch another invasion of northeast Syria in March. “They want to cover up the hunger and poverty they have caused to society with the politics of war,” she declared.

She accused the ruling Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) of basing their alliance on the twin pillars of “political conspiracies and a policy of war.” The Kurdish politician said that the way to frustrate their alliance is to form an “anti-war coalition”.

Watchdog Documents Torture In Prisons Of Turkey’s SNA In Syria’s Afrin

Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ) and Human Rights in Afrin – Syria, two local human rights monitors, documented the testimonies of some 40 detainees tortured in the prisons of the Turkish-backed armed opposition factions, also known as the Syrian National Army (SNA) in Afrin, northwest Syria.

According to North Press, the report is based on testimonies obtained between 2021-2022 from victims who talked about the conditions of their arrests and the detention centers they were held at. They describe  “arbitrary arrests, cruel torture, and acts of sexual violence”.

The report mentioned that most of the victims fled Afrin after their release to IDP camps and other areas of Aleppo.

Men, as well as women, children and the elderly were arrested. The report documented the arrest of 25 young men, 15 young women, including a baby girl, as well as elderly men and women.

Victims included Arabs, Kurds, and Yazidis, the report added.

Erdoğan’s Rapprochement with Assad Spells Trouble for Syrian Refugees

Lebanese American scholar Nabeel A. Khoury published a lengthy article in the Arab Center in D.C. Website, criticizing the possible Turkish-Syrian rapprochement. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s interest in a rapprochement with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Khoury wrote, is the latest chapter in his delicate domestic and regional balancing act, and it has his friends and enemies alike scrambling to brace themselves for how this development might impact them. 

The rapprochement, if it succeeds, would further complicate the domestic and regional dynamics in northern Syria without securing any clear advantage for Erdoğan beyond, perhaps, in the upcoming Turkish elections. It is also doubtful that the Assad regime’s mid-to long-term interests align with Turkey’s, and therefore any thaw in relations is bound to be limited in scope and perhaps short-lived. 

In the meantime, Syrian refugees in Turkey are concerned about forced repatriation, which may result from an agreement between Erdoğan and Assad. And the Kurds of northern Syria might be even more directly affected, losing their autonomy and their hopes for permanent secession.

Refugees at Risk

MedGlobal, an NGO that brings medical equipment and staff to hospitals and refugees on the Syrian side of the border, reports that the mood among Syrian refugees in Turkey is quite negative regarding the prospect of voluntary return—even with economic incentives—and is very dark regarding the possibility of forced repatriation, which might result from an agreement between Ankara and Damascus. A MedGlobal source has said that trauma and mental illness affect many refugees due to their experiences of repression and multiple forced displacements and that these challenges are all the more acute among children, a fact that makes refugees’ fear of forced repatriation entirely understandable.

Syrian Kurds in Jeopardy

The Kurds of the northern provinces of Syria are likewise naturally alarmed at the prospect of an agreement between Ankara and Damascus, which may result in Assad approving a Turkish military operation against them. 

Having had a long-term “live and let live” arrangement with Damascus, the People’s Protection Units (PYG) and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are eager that this arrangement not be disrupted by a Turkish-Syrian rapprochement. Perhaps less dangerous but still stressful for the Kurds would be the prospect of being pushed into an agreement with Damascus wherein Turkey compromises with Assad, allowing him to regain control of northern Syria (and therefore of the Kurds), rather than achieving Erdoğan’s long-desired option of a Turkish invasion. Syrian Kurds may eventually give up on their hopes of secession. However, the prospect of their agreeing to return to direct rule by Damascus (still Assad’s long-term goal) remains, for the time being, unappealing, to say the least. 

The Kurds may be caught between a rock and a hard place, but given doubts about US guarantees, they may have to choose between their best-negotiated agreements with either Damascus or Ankara or perhaps with both.

Opposition Woes

Syrian opponents of the Assad regime—the secular opposition led by the Istanbul-based Syrian National Council (SNC), Islamist armed organization Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), and other armed allied factions operating out of Idlib—are all troubled by the possibility of any new agreement between Erdoğan and Assad. After all, in the immediate wake of the Syrian uprising of 2011, Erdoğan came out as publicly opposed to the Assad regime and intent on helping to bring about its demise. In the years since, Syria’s secular opposition has depended on logistical and financial support coming directly from Turkey, or from Gulf states via Turkey. Any reconciliation between Turkey and the Assad regime would leave the opposition in the lurch, unless they were somehow brought into the negotiations and ended up being part of a broader deal.

Any reconciliation between Turkey and the Assad regime would leave the opposition in the lurch, unless they were somehow brought into the negotiations and ended up being part of a broader deal.

Meanwhile, Syria’s armed Islamist factions, worried about losing covert Turkish military support, are struggling to extend their control over territory in northern Syria. HTS leader Abu Muhammad al-Joulani has condemned any reconciliation and is expected to keep fighting the Assad regime regardless of the outcome of the rapprochement. Neither the secular nor the Islamist opposition is in a position to pressure Turkey into changing its mind. 

What Is in It for Syria?

The two benefits the Assad regime would most want to draw from a rapprochement with Turkey would be a Turkish pullout from northern Syria to allow Syrian government forces to move back into the region and a withdrawal from around Idlib to allow Russian and Syrian government forces to launch a significant attack against the Islamist opposition that is holed up in the area. Assad has clarified that improved relations with Turkey must be based on an end to the Turkish military presence inside Syria and the cessation of Turkish support for the Syrian opposition—which the Assad regime labels “terrorists.”

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