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Syria Today – Saudi Arabia to Reopen Embassy in Damascus; Russian Jets Fly Over U.S. Base

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – Saudi Arabia to Reopen Embassy in Damascus; Russian Jets Fly Over U.S. Base

Reuters broke the news Thursday that Syria and Saudi Arabia have agreed to reopen their embassies after cutting diplomatic ties more than a decade ago, three sources with knowledge of the matter said, a step that would mark a leap forward in Damascus’s return to the Arab fold.

The re-establishment of ties between Riyadh and Damascus would mark the most significant development yet in moves by Arab states to normalize ties with Assad, who was shunned by many Western and Arab states after Syria’s civil war began in 2011.

The two governments were “preparing to reopen embassies after Eid al-Fitr”, a Muslim holiday in the second half of April, a second regional source aligned with Damascus told Reuters.

The decision resulted from talks in Saudi Arabia with a senior Syrian intelligence official, according to one of the regional sources and a diplomat in the Gulf.

The United States and several regional allies, including Sunni-led Saudi Arabia and Qatar, had backed some Syrian rebels. Assad defeated the insurgency across most of Syria thanks largely to Shi’ite Iran and Russia.

The United States, an ally of Saudi Arabia, has opposed moves by regional countries to normalize ties with Assad, citing his government’s brutality during the conflict and the need to see progress toward a political solution.

Armed Russian jets have flown over a U.S. base in Syria nearly every day in March

Armed Russian jets have flown over a U.S. military garrison in Syria nearly every day in March, violating a 4-year-old agreement between the U.S. and Russia and risking escalation, according to the U.S. general in charge of air operations in the region.

Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, combined forces air component commander for U.S. Central Command, told NBC News on Wednesday that the most recent Russian overflight of At Tanf Garrison (ATG) happened just a few hours earlier and that Russian jets violated the airspace roughly 25 times so far this month, compared to zero times in February and 14 in January.

“It is a substantial increase,” he said, explaining that at this rate, they are “on track to be double what it has been in the past.” 

“They’re regularly flying directly overhead of our units, and I’ve defined directly overhead as within about a mile, no more than a mile offset one side or the other, while we’ve got forces right there on the ground at ATG,” said Grynkewich. “So it’s an uncomfortable situation.”

Arab States and Russia Want to Rehabilitate Syria, Despite Bloody War: Israeli website

An editorial in Algemeiner.com criticized some Arab allies of the United States for bringing Syria in from the cold and highlights the limits of a Chinese-mediated rapprochement between the Middle East’s archrivals, Saudi Arabia and Iran. 

The op-ed by Dr. James M. Dorsey said that these countries are offering a carrot to President Bashar al-Assad. The carrot is tens of billions of dollars needed to rebuild his war-ravaged country and alleviate the humanitarian fallout of last month’s devastating earthquakes in northern Syria. Hampered by sanctions, Al-Assad’s Russian and Iranian backers don’t have the economic or political wherewithal to foot the bill. Nevertheless, potential Gulf investment is likely to encounter obstacles. The US sanctions that hamper Russia and Iran also erect barriers for Saudi Arabia and the UAE that will limit the degree to which they want to be seen as sanctions busters.

In other words, the editorial goes on, rather than rejecting any solution that does not involve Al-Assad’s removal from power, the United States and Europe could lift sanctions contingent on agreement and implementation of reforms. Similarly, the US and Europe could make sanctions relief contingent on a safe, uninhibited, and orderly return of refugees. However, there would be questions about the ability and willingness of Arab forces loyal to autocratic regimes to safeguard that process impartially.

Much of the Arab proposition is about enticing the United States and Europe to be more accommodating and more inclined to a conditioned lifting of sanctions. The problem is that Al-Assad is likely to call the Arab states’ bluff in the knowledge that Iran is his trump card. A speedy in principle US and European embrace of the Arab proposition would hold Emirati and Saudi feet to the fire and put Al-Assad on the back foot, the writer concluded.

Turkey ‘reviewing options’ for Syria withdrawal: Report

Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar released a report on 23 March claiming that Turkey is willing to make concessions regarding the fate of its military presence in Syria and is reviewing options to set a timeframe for the withdrawal of its troops from the country.

This comes in light of Damascus’ repeated insistence that the continuation of normalization efforts between the two countries depends on this condition.

“Turkish officials are studying, at the present time, several options regarding the fate of the Turkish military presence in Syria and the possibility of setting a schedule to end it in connection with the field, humanitarian and political developments,” Syrian opposition sources told Al-Akhbar.

According to these sources, Turkey will present proposals on this matter to Russian and Iranian mediators and is hoping that Tehran and Moscow will be able to act as “guarantors” to convince Syria that Ankara will properly implement any agreement that is reached, “whatever the results of the Turkish presidential elections.”

Syrian militants suspected of killing Kurdish civilians celebrating Nowruz arrested 

On Tuesday, fighters from the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) arrested three militants suspected of firing on Kurds celebrating the Nowruz holiday in the town of Jenderes on Monday, killing five people.

Military sources told The New Arab’s sister site Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that fighters from the Front for Liberation and Construction, a sub-group of the Syrian National Army, stormed a house in Jenderes and detained two people believed to have fired on the Nowruz celebration. Another person had been arrested earlier.

Four Kurdish civilians, all from the same family, were killed by fighters believed to be from the Sharqiya faction of the SNA following an argument. A fifth civilian died of his wounds after being shot.

Jenderes is part of the Afrin pocket, a Kurdish-majority area of northwestern Syria that was formerly controlled by Syrian Kurdish militias but was taken by Turkey and its allied Syrian fighters following a 2018 military operation.

Turkey should investigate the killing of four Kurds in the Jindiris district of Afrin, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday.

Three members of an armed faction group from the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) opened fire on a Kurdish family in the northern Syrian town of Jinderis on March 20, 2023, as they celebrated Newroz, the Kurdish New Year.

Three brothers and one son were shot dead, one relative was seriously injured, and two others were lightly injured.

“These killings follow over five years of unaddressed human rights abuses at the hands of Turkish forces and the local Syrian factions they empower,” said Adam Coogle, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, in a press release.

“Turkey has allowed these fighters to abuse people living in the areas under their control with impunity, complicating the violations.”

HRW said that Turkey must investigate these killings and ensure those responsible are held accountable. “Turkey should also sever all support to SNA factions implicated in recurrent or systemic human rights abuses and international humanitarian law violations.”

Dismantling the Most Dangerous Camp in the World Needs Years

Al-Hol Camp has witnessed hundreds of slayings and has become notorious for high levels of violence and the spread of extremism among its residents.

“Taking the camp apart needs years,” Jinan Hanan, Co-Chair of Al-Hol’s administration, told Asharq Al-Awsat.

According to Hanan, around 51,500 residents are currently living at al-Hol. They include approximately 26,000 Iraqi refugees and 18,000 displaced Syrians.

Hanan also revealed that over 7,700 residents currently occupy the section for foreign females at Al-Hol.

Confirming that Al-Hol has become the “most dangerous camp in the world,” Hanan said that over 150 killings had occurred there over four years.

“Last year alone, 36 murders occurred, apart from torture, assault, escape, and constant threats.”

Hanan added that maintaining security at Al-Hol is a thorny and complex issue due to the camp’s extensive size spanning over three square kilometres.

“The role of security forces is limited to protecting and monitoring the entrances and exits of the camp and its main gates,” said Hanan, adding that they also “conduct mobile patrols inside Al-Hol.”

The administrator, however, noted that the camp does not have fixed security centers.

Syria-China discuss boosting bilateral relations

Prime Minister, Eng. Hussein Arnous discussed with the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China in Damascus, Shi Hongwei, the means of strengthening bilateral relations in different fields and mechanisms of upgrading the level of economic, political and strategic relations that bind Syria and China, SANA reported.

Both sides discussed Thursday the importance of Syria’s participation in the “Belt and Road Initiative,” as well as increasing trade exchange and activating cooperation between the business sectors in the two countries to establish joint investment projects.

Arnous stressed the importance of opening broader prospects for bilateral cooperation in all fields to serve the interests of the two friendly countries and peoples.

Arnous expressed appreciation and thanks for the role played by China through humanitarian, relief and medical aid provided to the earthquake-affected people.

Arnous noted the importance of strengthening the participation of Chinese companies in the rebuilding process in Syria.

In turn, the Chinese ambassador said that his country is following up on the latest development in Syria, especially after the devastating earthquake, adding that it will continue to assist those affected, as well as secure many housing units and contribute to the rehabilitation of infrastructure in the affected areas.

China will continue to extend support to Syria in the internal transport sector by providing more buses to it, Shi Hongwei added.

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