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Syria Today – U.S. Kills ISIS Leader; Damascus Isolates Wagner; New Settlements in Afrin

Your daily-brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – U.S. Kills ISIS Leader; Damascus Isolates Wagner; New Settlements in Afrin

On Sunday, the US Central Command revealed that an ISIS leader had been eliminated by the US military in an eastern Syrian drone strike conducted on Friday. Meanwhile, there were reports suggesting that Syrian authorities responded promptly to contain and isolate Wagner operatives following the mercenary group’s rebellion against the Kremlin. Simultaneously, with the coordination of Turkey and financial support from Qatar, local organizations successfully finished constructing three new settlements in the Afrin region of northwest Syria.

U.S. kills ISIS leader in Syria with drones that had been harassed by Russia

The U.S. military killed an ISIS leader on Friday in a drone strike in eastern Syria, the US Central Command announced Sunday.

The strike, carried out by the same MQ-9 Reaper drones that were harassed by Russian aircraft earlier that day, killed Usama al-Muhajir, according to a press release.

“We have made it clear that we remain committed to the defeat of ISIS throughout the region,” Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, commander of CENTCOM, said in the release. “ISIS remains a threat, not only to the region but well beyond.”

CENTCOM said no civilians were killed in the strike but it is assessing reports of civilian injury.

US drones participating in the anti-ISIS mission in Syria were harassed three times in as many days last week by Russian aircraft that are in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad.

The incident Friday between the Russian fighter jets and the US drones lasted for nearly two hours, a US Air Forces Central release said. Lt. Gen. Alex Grynkewich, commander of US Air Forces Central, said in the release that Russian aircraft “flew 18 unprofessional close passes that caused the MQ-9s to react to avoid unsafe situations.”

Usamah al-Muhajir, a leader of the Islamic State terror group in eastern Syria, was killed Friday in a drone strike conducted by the same U.S. aircraft that had been harassed by Russian forces hours earlier, UPI reported.

“We have made it clear that we remain committed to the defeat of ISIS throughout the region,” said Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla, commander of U.S. Central Command, said in a statement. “ISIS remains a threat, not only to the region but well beyond.”

Syria brought Wagner fighters to heel as mutiny unfolded in Russia

According to a Reuters report, Syrian authorities swiftly took action to control and isolate Wagner operatives after the mercenary group rebelled against the Kremlin. The crackdown involved ordering the mercenaries to sign new contracts with the Russian defence ministry or leave Syria. Syrian military and intelligence officials were concerned that the mutiny could disrupt the Russian military presence that they had relied on for support. 

Russian military officers were dispatched to Syria to take charge of the Wagner forces there. Syrian military intelligence cut communication links of the Wagner forces deployed in Syria, preventing them from communicating with each other and with Wagner in Russia. Wagner fighters in Syria were asked to sign new contracts and their pay was reduced. Those who refused were flown out of Syria on Russian Ilyushin planes. The fate of Wagner’s assets in Syria, including Syrian oilfields, remains uncertain. 

The presence of Wagner in Syria is relatively small, comprising around 250 to 450 personnel. The Syrian government emphasized the importance of its military alliance with Russia in the wake of the Wagner uprising. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s son, Hafez, graduated from Moscow State University shortly after the mutiny, and Syrian first lady Asmaa al-Assad expressed support for Russia.

World Court to hear Syria torture claims on July 19 and 20

The World Court on July 19th and 20th will hear a request by the Netherlands and Canada that it order Syria to cease all acts of torture and arbitrary detention, as part of a case alleging the country has breached a U.N. anti-torture treaty, according to Reuters.

The hearing at the Peace Palace, the court’s seat in the Hague, will mark the first time an international court has looked at alleged abuses committed in Syria during 12 years of conflict.

The International Court of Justice, also known as the World Court, announced last month that the Netherlands and Canada had filed a case against Damascus for breaching the U.N. convention against torture since 2011.

Syria’s government and President Bashar al-Assad have rejected accusations of torture and extrajudicial killings in a war that the United Nations has said claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

In their application for emergency measures, Canada and the Netherlands asked the court to order Syria to stop all acts of torture and cruel treatment and end arbitrary detentions, among other things.

The ICJ can issue such orders in an effort to ensure a situation does not deteriorate in the several years it generally takes the court to rule on the main claim.

However, it has no power to enforce its rulings.

Syria cancels accreditation of two BBC journalists

Syria’s information ministry said on Saturday it had cancelled the accreditation of two local journalists working for Britain’s BBC over what it said was “false” and “politicized” coverage, according to an Arab News report.

The accreditations of an unidentified correspondent and camera operator have been revoked following “subjective and false information and reports” on Syria, the ministry said on its website. It described other BBC reports as “politicized.”

Contacted by Reuters, the BBC said its Arabic news service provided impartial and independent reporting by speaking to people across the political spectrum.

“We will continue to provide impartial news and information to our audiences across the Arabic-speaking world,” it said.

Syria’s information ministry did not respond to a Reuters request for additional information on Saturday, which is not a working day in the country.

Syria, ravaged by conflict since 2011, ranks 175 out of 180 on a press freedom index compiled by Reporters Without Borders. The government and other authorities impose strict limits on media coverage and require accreditations and permissions to report.

The BBC published a report last month on what it said were “direct links” between the trade of an amphetamine known as captagon and the family of President Bashar Assad, as well as the Syrian military.

Syria has denied playing a role in the captagon trade.

The United States, Britain and European Union have blamed Syria’s government for the production and export of the drug, naming Maher Assad — the head of the army’s Fourth Division and the president’s brother — as a key figure.

Turkey-related NGOs construct 3 new settlements in Syria’s Afrin

Coordinated with Turkey and funded by Qatar, local organizations completed on Sunday the construction of three new settlements in the Afrin region in northwest Syria.

An exclusive source told North Press that the Turkish Beyaz Eller (White Hands) Association have recently completed the construction of three new settlements near the village of Sheikh al-Deir (Shadereh), about 18 km in the south of Afrin city.

The source said that each settlement includes 300 apartments. They are prefabricated rooms built for the settlers who came to Afrin from other Syrian areas, mostly the families of the members of armed factions, after the city was occupied by Turkey.

The Kurdish-majority region of Afrin has been under Turkish occupation since 2018 following a military operation dubbed “Olive Branch” to push away the Kurdish People’s/Women’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ) under the pretext of protecting Turkish national security.

The invasion displaced around 300,000 indigenous Kurds. Turkey and its affiliated opposition factions of the Syrian National Army (SNA), replaced the population with Arabs fleeing other parts of Syria. Kurds in Afrin are subject to systemic discrimination and violence. In 2022 alone, 633 people, mostly Kurds, were arbitrarily arrested by SNA factions and Turkey.  

Pan-Arab Games: Russian athletes ‘competing for Syria to avoid sanctions’

Russian athletes are evading sanctions by competing for Syria at the Pan Arab Games in Algeria, a top Ukrainian official has said.

The games kicked off on Wednesday in the Algerian capital of Algiers, involving 3,800 athletes playing in 22 sports.

“Russian athletes are trying to circumvent sanctions by using third countries to participate in international competitions,” Andriy Yermak, the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, wrote on Thursday, according to The New Voice of Ukraine.

“For example, at the Pan Arab Games in Algeria, Russian athletes were declared to be Syrians. Russian javelin thrower Karina Poludkina allegedly became a Syrian citizen and changed her name to Karina Polud.

“Swimmer Anastasia Sorokina also became Enas Sorkine, a Syrian, and cyclist Daria Malkova became Darie Malko, and at the same time she became a year younger – instead of her year of birth in 2000, her date of birth on the Pan Arab Games website is 2001.”

Yermak’s remarks echoed claims made in a report by the Russian opposition news outlet The Insider.

The head of the Syrian Sports Federation and the Syrian Olympic Committee, Firas Mualla, has denied the claims, saying there are no Russians competing for Syria in Algeria, according to Zaman Al-Wasl.

Mualla told Russia’s RIA Novosti agency, that three Russian athletes had applied to international sports bodies to obtain compete for Syria but were refused.

The Russian Athletics Federation is reportedly investigating the matter.

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