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Syria Today – U.S. Sanctions on Assad Cousins; Moscow Meeting in April; U.S. Holds Off Airstrikes

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – U.S. Sanctions on Assad Cousins; Moscow Meeting in April; U.S. Holds Off Airstrikes

The United States on Tuesday imposed new sanctions against six people, including two cousins of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, for their role in the production or export of Captagon, a dangerous amphetamine, a Treasury Department statement said. 

Quoted by Asharq Al-Awsat, the statement said the trade in Captagon was estimated to be a billion-dollar enterprise, and the sanctions highlight the role of Lebanese drug traffickers and the Assad family’s dominance of Captagon trafficking, which helped fund the Syrian government.

“Syria has become a global leader in the production of highly addictive Captagon, much of which is trafficked through Lebanon,” said Andrea M. Gacki, director of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

“With our allies, we will hold accountable those who support Bashar al-Assad’s regime with illicit drug revenue and other financial means that enable the regime’s continued repression of the Syrian people,” she said.

Moscow to host Syria, Turkey, Iran, Russia meeting – official sources

The deputy foreign ministers of Syria, Turkey, Iran and Russia will meet in April in Moscow, Turkish and Iranian officials said on Tuesday, building on contacts between Ankara and Damascus after years of hostilities during the Syrian war, Reuters reported.

This month, Assad ruled out any meeting with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan until Turkey is ready to withdraw its military from northern Syria, deemed occupying forces by the Syrian president.

A senior Turkish official said the situation on the ground in Syria would be discussed on April 3rd-4th in Moscow.

“This meeting is expected to be a continuation of the ministerial-level meetings that began during the normalization process,” the official said.

“However, since there will be no ministerial-level participation and the meeting will be at a technical level, significant decisions are not expected.”

Officials at the Turkish foreign ministry were not immediately available for comment.

Amnesty: West’s ‘double standards’ fuel Mideast repression

Leading international rights group on Tuesday decried what it said were double standards by Western countries that have rallied behind a “robust response” to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but remain “lukewarm” on issues of human rights violations in the Middle East.

According to Amnesty International, such double standards only fuel further repression for millions in the region.

The sharp rebuke came as the London-based watchdog launched its annual report at a news conference at its office in Beirut, Lebanon’s capital. Every year, the report documents and analyzes patterns of human rights violations and abuses worldwide.

In the report, Amnesty urged the international community to hold perpetrators of human rights abuses in the Middle East and North Africa to account and to address the issue of migration without discrimination.

“They immediately opened their borders to receive refugees from Ukraine,” Aya Majzoub, Amnesty’s deputy chief for Mideast and North Africa, said of Western nations. She said that’s in stark contrast to how the same countries generally treat refugees and migrants trying to flee war-torn Syria, the chaos in Libya or Lebanon’s economic meltdown.

Biden Officials Hold Off on More Airstrikes in Syria, for Now

A few days after an American civilian contractor in Iraq died in a rocket attack by Iran-backed militias in December 2019, President Donald J. Trump retaliated by ordering a drone strike that killed a top Iranian general.

After a U.S. civilian contractor was killed and six other Americans were injured on Thursday in northeast Syria by a drone that U.S. officials said was of “Iranian origin,” President Biden’s response has so far been more restrained, The New York Times reported.

Biden administration officials said the military stood ready to respond to any new threats to U.S. personnel.

But they also seemed eager to move on, avoid escalating the back-and-forth strikes into a wider war with Iran and its proxies, and remain focused on the broader mission of helping root out the pockets of Islamic State fighters still carrying out guerrilla attacks in the region.

“We’re going to do what we need to do swiftly and boldly to protect our people and our facilities in Syria,” John F. Kirby, a National Security Council spokesman, told reporters on Monday. “We’re not going to be deterred from continuing to go after this network in Syria.”

Asma al-Assad, and Dashti discuss Syria’s vision for small and micro-projects

First lady, Mrs. Asma al-Assad received on Monday the Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), Rola Dashti, SANA reported.

Dashti heads a delegation of experts on an official visit to Syria to discuss tracks of cooperation between the Syrian institutions and ESCWA in the field of developing environments of small, medium and micro projects, in addition to the challenges facing this sector.

Mrs. Asma talked about Syria’s vision on the small projects as they are one of the social and economic development raisers and an active choice to face the repercussions of the war and earthquake that hit Syria on February 6th.

“That vision has been reflected through a strategic decision by the State to re-set those projects and make them a basic and central part of the national economic policy in more than one sector to stir this form of the economy by guaranteeing a suitable environment for its work, particularly as those projects would be affected by many factors like climate changes, aridity and the underground water disorder in light of the earthquake, ” Mrs. Asma said.

Dashti, for her part, briefed Mrs. Asma on the work of ESCWA in boosting development, stirring economic activity and enhancing cooperation among member states that include 20 Arab countries.

She expressed the international organization’s interest in upgrading cooperation with Syria, official institutions and the NGO organizations concerned.

60,000 Syrians return home in the aftermath of February earthquakes

Some 60,000 Syrian refugees have returned home in the aftermath of massive earthquakes in southeastern Turkey, according to Turkish Minister of Defense Hulusi Akar.

Speaking during a press briefing on Tuesday, Akar claimed the returns were voluntary. “Syrians who lost their homes in the earthquakes have voluntarily returned to their country,” he said. Akar also refuted claims that illegal migrants had crossed the Turkish border after the earthquake’s ensuing chaos. “All our borders are protected at all times, and we are taking the necessary precautions to prevent illegal migration,” he said.

Although the Turkish government said these returns were voluntary, migration experts have cast doubt, saying most Syrians did not want to go back.

Saudi Arabia to host next Arab League: Will Syria be invited?

On Sunday, the Arab League announced that its next summit would take place in Saudi Arabia on 19 May, prompting questions on whether or not Riyadh will invite Syria to the meeting after the recent regional rapprochement, The New Arab reported.

Several countries, including Saudi Arabia, have made unprecedented diplomatic contact with the Syrian regime after the devastating 6 February earthquake.

Saudi state TV reported last week that Saudi Arabia and Syria are in talks to resume consular activities between the two countries.

“Normalisation can mean many things, and there are a lot of steps to take. Even if there’s progress in reviving the relationship now, the process can still bog down on the next step. The Syrians are famously intransigent,” Aron Lund, a fellow with Century International, told The New Arab.

Algeria expressed interest in restoring Syria’s membership at last year’s Arab League summit but was blocked by countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

“If the Saudis want to lead on this issue, they may want the Riyadh summit to be the occasion for Syria’s return. Inviting Assad seems like it would be a big step, so maybe it’d be a lower-level delegation,” Lund said.

While countries such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan are pushing toward regional reintegration of the Assad regime, the US and the EU have held firm in rejecting the normalization trend.

Syrian opposition demands Assad held accountable

Turkish-backed opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC) called on Monday to hold the “al-Assad regime” accountable in tandem with the rapidly evolving developments in the Arab normalization and openness to Syria.

The SNC said in a statement that “al-Assad’s criminal regime has committed all kinds of crimes against the Syria people, such as slaughter, shootings, bombardment by artillery, explosive barrels, planes, and chemical weapons.”  

All this “calls for a rapid opening of an international accountability file and a fair trial for criminals to be a victory for justice and to put an end to the tragedy of Syrians,” the statement read.

The SNC’s call comes in tandem with the rapprochement process between Syria and Turkey as Russia seeks to hold a meeting in the near future for foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey, Iran, and Syria.

The demands of the SNC came in tandem with an unprecedented  Arab openness to Syria as prompted by the foreign ministers of Jordan, Ayman Safadi, and Algeria, Ahmed Attaf, on Monday to seek “efforts to regain Syria’s status” on the regional and international levels.

Recently news circulated over Saudi-Syrian efforts to reopen the embassies of both countries after years of cutting ties.

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