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Syria Today – Syria Announced Increase in Wheat Production; SNHR Underlines Violations; Attack on Regime Forces in Daraa

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – Syria Announced Increase in Wheat Production; SNHR Underlines Violations; Attack on Regime Forces in Daraa

Syria has recently declared a reduction of 50% in its wheat imports for 2023, attributing this decision to an anticipated increase in the domestic harvest. Meanwhile, a recently published report by the SNHR highlights the ongoing violations taking place in Syria and emphasizes the crucial need for accountability. The report draws attention to the concerning trend of Arab countries normalizing relations with the Syrian regime, which further underscores the urgency for addressing these violations and ensuring that responsible parties are held accountable. In a separate incident, on Monday, a military vehicle carrying Syrian regime forces was targeted by an explosive device in the countryside of Daraa, resulting in the deaths of three soldiers, while one soldier sustained injuries.

Syria expects to halve wheat imports after ‘very good’ harvest, minister says

Syrian will import half as much wheat in 2023 as the previous year due to an expected boost in the domestic harvest, Minister of Agriculture Mohammad Hassaan Qatna said on Monday.

Before war erupted in 2011, Syria produced around 4 million tonnes of wheat yearly, enough to feed itself and export to neighbouring countries. 

“This year, the rainfall at the beginning of the season was a bit delayed, but all the planned areas were cultivated and the rainfall distribution was good,” Qatna told Reuters in an interview in Beirut.

As a result, Qatna said, winter wheat production was “very good” and anticipated imports will be about “50% of what Syria used to import in past years”, describing it as “a good achievement”.

Last year, Syria imported around 1.5 million tonnes of wheat, with Russia providing all but a fraction of them, according to Refinitiv data.

Qatna said areas in the north – where Turkey-backed rebels as well as U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters each control swathes of separate territory – had not been cultivated by the central Syrian authorities.

He declined to provide Reuters with specific figures on production and import.

Qatna said Syria mainly imports wheat from Russia, which has backed the Syrian government militarily and financially.

Gravest Human Rights Violations in Syria in May 2023

The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) has published a report summarizing the human rights situation in Syria during May 2023. The report highlights the grave violations committed by various parties involved in the conflict and the dominant forces in the country. It strongly emphasizes that restoring relations with the Syrian regime would be an insult to the rights of the regime’s victims. The report provides a detailed account of human rights abuses, including killings, torture, arbitrary arrests, attacks on civilian centers, and artillery strikes by regime forces in northwestern Syria. It also documents civilian deaths caused by landmines and assassinations by unidentified gunmen in different governorates. The report underscores the ongoing violations and the urgent need for accountability.

The economic, living, services, and security conditions in areas under the Syrian regime’s control are reported to have further deteriorated in May 2023. The services sector, in particular, experienced a severe decline, with power rationing exacerbating the suffering of residents. In northwestern Syria, economic and living conditions worsened, leading to rising food prices, unemployment, poverty, and a decline in purchasing power. The report also sheds light on dire living and security situations in northeastern Syria.

The report expresses serious concerns about the restoration of relations with the Syrian regime, as it could lead to the forced return of Syrian refugees. It notes the refoulment of Syrian refugees from Lebanon and holds governments responsible for any violations perpetrated by the Syrian regime against forcibly returned refugees. The report provides evidence of deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, implicating the Syrian-Russian alliance forces in crimes such as extrajudicial killings, arrests, torture, enforced disappearances, and indiscriminate bombardment causing widespread destruction.

It urges the application of the responsibility to protect principle, highlighting the exhaustion of political steps and the necessity to resort to Chapter VII and the principle approved by the UN General Assembly. The report also calls on the UN Special Envoy to Syria to condemn perpetrators of crimes and denounce those responsible for violating agreements to reduce violence and restore the peace process.

Syrian Refugees Fear Pressures to Return Home as Assad’s Isolation Ends

Raja Abdulrahim and Hwaida Saad co-authored a long report for the New York Times, in which they discussed how the re-establishment of diplomatic ties between Arab countries and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has led to concerns among Syrian refugees across the Middle East, who fear being forced to return to Syria despite the risks they face. Despite the rhetoric of safe and voluntary returns, human rights organizations have warned of the dangers involved, including arbitrary detention, disappearance, torture, and extrajudicial executions. The increasing deportation raids in Lebanon and the potential shift in Turkey’s policy indicate a growing trend of pressuring refugees to return, jeopardizing their safety and the lives they have built-in host countries.

The report argues that the lifting of isolation for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has raised concerns among Syrian refugees across the Middle East as Arab countries restore diplomatic ties with Syria and prioritize the repatriation of refugees. Many refugees fear being forced to return to Syria, even in the face of adversity.

Recently, the report says, in the early hours of the morning, Lebanese soldiers conducted a sweep in Beirut’s Bourj Hammoud neighbourhood, evicting Syrian refugees from two buildings. The refugees were coerced onto trucks and transported to a no-man’s land between the Lebanese and Syrian borders. After days stranded along the border, Syrian forces repatriated hundreds of refugees back to Syria. Among them was Rasha, a 34-year-old mother of three who had fled the country in 2011. The family spent their first night back in Syria sleeping on the streets of the capital, Damascus. The following day, Rasha paid a smuggler to help them cross back into Lebanon. Vowing never to return to Syria, Rasha and her family now live in constant fear of the soldiers’ potential return.

However, human rights organizations have warned that it is not safe for refugees to return, citing the risks of arbitrary detention, disappearance, torture, and extrajudicial executions. During the 12-year conflict, more than six million Syrians fled their homeland, seeking refuge in neighbouring countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. The restoration of diplomatic ties raises concerns among refugees about losing their safe havens and being compelled to abandon the lives they have painstakingly rebuilt.

Lebanon, which has sheltered approximately 1.5 million Syrian refugees, has been conducting deportation raids for several months, resulting in over 1,700 Syrians being sent back to a country still engulfed in war and under repressive government control. Similarly, Turkey has also deported Syrians in the past, but there is an increasing trend of larger-scale and more systematic deportations from Lebanon.

Lebanon, with a population of approximately four million before the Syrian war, faced significant challenges in accommodating the influx of Syrian refugees. Unlike Turkey and Jordan, Lebanon did not establish formal refugee camps and implemented restrictive labour laws that limited Syrians’ employment opportunities.

The situation is no different in Jordan, which hosts over 650,000 registered Syrian refugees. Jordan has been advocating for a plan to repatriate refugees, and discussions have already taken place with Arab foreign ministers, including those from Saudi Arabia and Egypt. A pilot program to send back 1,000 Syrians was proposed, testing the feasibility of larger-scale returns.

The war for eastern Syria is just getting started

Columnist Baria Alamuddin wrote an op-ed for Arab News, in which she discusses the escalating conflict in eastern Syria and the various actors involved in the region. The author highlights the recent publication of leaked US intelligence documents that expose Iran’s preparation of militants in Syria to launch attacks against US troops, with the assistance of Russia. The goal of this collaboration is to drive American forces out of the region entirely.

The op-ed argues that Iran has been working on establishing grassroots support in eastern Syria through recruitment, financial incentives, and ideological influence. These efforts are aimed at mobilizing local proxies to act as an active insurgency against the US presence. The author also mentions that nearly 1,000 US forces have been retained in eastern Syria to combat not only Daesh (ISIS) but also to counter the ambitions of Iran-backed militants.

The op-ed highlights the strategic importance of the region, particularly the major US-controlled base at Al-Tanf, in obstructing the aspirations of Damascus, Moscow, and Tehran to assert control in eastern Syria. It is mentioned that there are accusations of the US stealing Syrian oil, although the revenues from these oil fields largely go toward funding US-backed Kurdish forces.

The op-ed notes a new phase in the Syrian conflict, with the Assad regime and its allies seeking to reassert themselves in the west while wrong-footing the Americans in the East. The leaked documents also reveal that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force is training paramilitaries to use more powerful armour-piercing roadside bombs, specifically targeting US military vehicles.

The op-ed further discusses the ongoing clashes and attacks in eastern Syria, including drone strikes, rocket attacks, and clashes between different factions vying for control. It mentions the role of Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi militants in Iraq, who have consolidated control over the Syria-Iraq border region and aspire to control the transit of munitions, drugs, and contraband through Syria to the Mediterranean.

The author concludes by stating that all the parties involved in Syria, including Iran, the US, Russia, Daesh, Israel, and Turkey, have their own foreign agendas and lack a genuine commitment to bringing peace and stability to the country. The op-ed emphasizes the need for Syrians to govern themselves under a leadership that respects their rights, freedoms, and sovereignty.

3 soldiers killed, officer wounded in northern Daraa

North Press reported that three soldiers of the Syrian government forces were killed and one was injured on Monday as a military vehicle after their military vehicle was targeted by an explosive device in the countryside of Daraa, south Syria.

A local source told North Press, “Three soldiers were killed and an officer, holding the rank of lieutenant, was injured as a military vehicle, tasked with distributing food to checkpoints, was targeted in the northern countryside of Daraa.”

The source added that the vehicle was targeted by an explosive device planted by unidentified assailants on the road connecting the towns of al-Mal and Kafr Nasij in northern Daraa.

The source said that one of the nearby military units at the site of the attack dispatched around 20 soldiers in vehicles carrying anti-aircraft machine guns. They spread out in the area to search for the perpetrators.

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