While the 12th anniversary of the Syrian revolution is passing by without much media attention, President Bashar al-Assad is paying his first official visit to his ally Vladimir Putin in over a decade.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to host Assad for talks in the Kremlin on Wednesday that are expected to focus on rebuilding Syria after a devastating civil war and mending the country’s ties with Turkey, AP reported.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the two leaders would discuss “postwar reconstruction and the continuation of the peace process in all aspects with an emphasis on the absolute priority of Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Wednesday’s meeting comes on the anniversary of Syria’s 12-year uprising-turned-civil war that has killed nearly 500,000 people and displaced half of the country’s prewar population.
Russia has waged a military campaign in Syria since September 2015, teaming up with Iran to allow Assad’s government to fight back armed opposition groups and to reclaim control over most of the country. While Russia has concentrated its military resources in Ukraine, Moscow has maintained its military foothold in Syria and kept its warplanes and troops there.
The Russian capital, on the same day, will also host four-way talks involving Turkey, Syria and Iran, according to Blumberg.
The diplomatic activity comes days after top U.S. military officials visited American troops and their Kurdish allies in northeastern Syria, where Washington has kept a presence for almost eight years.
The diplomatic push, opposed by the U.S., is part of a broader effort by Moscow and Beijing to challenge Washington in the Middle East. It comes after China brokered a diplomatic detente between Iran and U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, demonstrating its new-found weight in the region. The U.S. has about 900 troops in Syria, a presence that Moscow and Damascus have long sought to end.
Iran’s top national security adviser, Ali Shamkhani, will visit the United Arab Emirates on Thursday, a week after the China-mediated deal with Saudi Arabia to restore ties.
“The U.S. reputation in the region would be undermined even more if the Americans try to impede regional efforts to stabilize Syria and push the Kurdish agenda,” said Nikolay Surkov, a Middle East analyst at the Moscow-based Institute of World Economy and International Relations. “Other regional states are likely to follow the example of Turkey.”
The inclusion of Iran in the talks at the deputy foreign minister level came after Turkey indicated it didn’t oppose Tehran’s participation. The two-day meeting Wednesday and Thursday is intended to prepare the ground for consultations between the four countries’ top diplomats, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who faces a reelection battle in the May elections, has said he’s willing to sit down with Assad to promote peace in the region.
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, Dr. Faisal al-Mekdad, discussed with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, the foundations of bilateral cooperation and a number of issues of common concern, SANA reported.
“Lavrov and Mekdad discussed during their meeting a number of regional and international issues that received special attention from both sides, the most important of which are the changes taking place in the Middle East along with Syria’s restoration of its rights in the League of Arab States and other topics,” RIA Novosti quoted the Russian Foreign Ministry as saying in a statement Wednesday.
According to the statement, Lavrov affirmed his country’s support for the positive changes taking place in the Arab world.
“We will continue to support this positive trend and positive feelings in the Arab world during the next ministerial meeting between the League of Arab States and Russia, which we plan to organize in the coming months,” Lavrov said.
He added that Russia, with the support of Syria and other Arab countries, has been working for many years to strengthen the concept of collective security in the Gulf region and adjacent areas, pointing out that there are many conflicts in the region, which have extended to a number of countries in the Middle East and Africa.
On the Twelfth Anniversary
Twelve years ago, protesters dared to take to the streets of Syria to protest against the country’s government and its president, Bashar al-Assad. The protests quickly took on a revolutionary nature, demanding the “fall of the regime”, but, after a violent response from the government, the uprising transformed into a war, dragging in several outside powers, displacing millions and killing hundreds of thousands.
Syria’s economy has deteriorated, with 90 percent of the population now living below the poverty line, according to the World Food Programme.
The United Nations estimated last year that more than 306,000 civilians had been killed – about 1.5 percent of the population – since March 2011 in the country.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a United Kingdom-based war monitor, estimates the total death toll to be about 610,000.
Even before the earthquakes that devastated northwestern Syria in February, the UN had said that 14.6 million Syrians were in need of humanitarian assistance, with 6.9 million people internally displaced and more than 5.4 million Syrian refugees living in neighbouring countries. Hundreds of thousands also sought asylum in Germany and other parts of the European Union, as well as further afield.
The conflict in the country has largely frozen, although fighting continues intermittently, particularly in the northwest.
No solutions looming for Syria’s 12-year-old conflict – SDC
As the Syrian conflict enters its 13th year, no solutions are looming for the ongoing war, an official of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) said on Wednesday.
Remarks of Janda Muhammad, a member of the SDC executive body, came on the sideline of a press conference by the SDC held in the city of Qamishli, northeast Syria, on the 12th anniversary of the Syrian conflict.
Muhammad attributed the reasons for the prolonged Syrian conflict to the nature of the Syrian “authoritarian regime” and the inability of the Syrian opposition to engage in talks for being linked with external parties.
She added that the SDC is always open to the intra-Syrian talks as a gate to the solution; however, rounds of talks with the Syrian government have not yielded due to the latter’s “obstinacy.” The Turkish-backed Syrian opposition also refuses any talks.
The Syrian conflict, since its first spark in Daraa 12 years ago, has claimed the lives of 350.000 civilians, according to a recent statistic by the UN Human Rights Office.
The SDC, in its statement, stressed the need for the international community to stand by the side of the Syrian people for their rightful demands of a democratic change towards a new future vision are met.
The SDC official said that the solution for the conflict cannot be reached through the “military solution” but through “political and peaceful solutions, as well as the intra-Syrian talk.”
The SDC is the political wing of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES). It was founded in 2015 and includes all the communities of north and east Syria.
Rights of women and girls hang in the balance as conflict passes 12-year mark and earthquakes deepen suffering
“For most people in Syria, life today carries very few prospects for a better future,” Rima, a young woman from Aleppo, told UNFPA. “People are giving up.”
She is one of the 7.7 million women and girls in Syria in need of humanitarian assistance, having lived through 12 years of unrelenting violence, displacement, economic fiascos, epidemics including Cholera, and repeated assaults on their human rights.
The shattering earthquakes that struck last month, mere weeks before this bleak anniversary, were yet another deadly emergency to add to one of the world’s most complex humanitarian and protection crises.
Even before the earthquakes, more than 15 million people needed urgent assistance in Syria, and 90 percent of the population lived in poverty – the highest number since the crisis began in 2011. Syria also has the largest number of internally displaced people in the world at 6.8 million, with the same number having fled for neighbouring countries. Almost half of them are women and girls, grappling with the rippling consequences of homelessness, discrimination, financial destitution and escalating risks of exploitation and abuse.
“The situation for Syrians throughout the region is worse than it has been in years,” explained UNFPA Arab States Regional Director Laila Baker. “Ongoing and new hostilities and rampant violations of human rights have converged to put lives at risk. As in all humanitarian crises, women and girls are the worst off.”
Health and protection services buckling under the strain
The earthquakes only exacerbated an intractable situation, with the lives and survival of almost 9 million people thrown into even greater turmoil.
Baby Nour was born in traumatic circumstances. Her mother, Reham, and her relatives fled their home and took shelter alongside dozens of other families in a mosque in Aleppo when the earthquakes struck.
Although she received postnatal care from a UNFPA-supported mobile team that visits the shelter regularly, Reham said, “The living conditions are not healthy for my baby or me. The temperature is so low at night, and the air is not clean because of overcrowding. There isn’t enough food either.”
Over a decade of bombardments, scarce funding, and pervasive insecurity have brought the country’s health system to its knees: Over half of the facilities have closed or are only partially functioning, and health workers have left in droves. “There are stock-outs of medications for treating very basic things like the flu, much less something as complicated as having a Caesarean section,” Ms. Baker added.
Since the earthquakes, an estimated 133,000 pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, and menstruating girls have been struggled to access essential care, support and supplies. Of the 40,000 women due to deliver over the next three months, some 6,600 will have a pregnancy and childbirth-related complications and need emergency, potentially life-saving health care that is now in dangerously short supply.
Analysis: Syria rebuilding hopes dim as war enters year 13
The recent deadly earthquake in Turkey and Syria, which caused billions of dollars in damage, has boosted the prospects of Syria’s once widely shunned president returning to the Arab fold but appears unlikely to jump-start large-scale reconstruction in the war-ravaged country.
ABC News reported that as Syria’s conflict enters its 13th year Wednesday, President Bashar Assad’s government still refuses to make concessions to his domestic opponents, rejecting long-standing demands by the United States and its allies as a political solution remains elusive.
Oil-rich Gulf Arab countries have been stepping up efforts to normalize ties with the Assad government, but analysts say the ongoing political paralysis is likely holding them back from pumping billions of dollars for reconstruction into Syria.
The Feb. 6th, earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria, killing more than 50,000 people, including about 6,000 in Syria, exacerbated the destruction caused by Syria’s 12-year conflict, which has killed nearly half a million people.
The World Bank estimated in an initial post-earthquake assessment that the disaster had caused $5.1 billion worth of physical damage across both government- and rebel-held Syria. It estimated some $226 billion in losses — including economic and physical damage — during the first four years of the war in 2016, about four times Syria’s 2010 gross domestic product.
Since the balance of power shifted in Assad’s favour over the past few years, the government has rebuilt small parts of the country with the help of its allies. These include a section of the centuries-old market in the northern city of Aleppo and some historical mosques in Aleppo and the central city of Homs. However, entire cities, towns and villages remain in ruins, while the conflict has caused lasting damage to the country’s electric, transportation and health systems.
The quake worsened the situation.
International medical and humanitarian agencies fear dangerous outbreaks of diseases because the country’s battered water and sanitation systems were further damaged by the quake. The Red Cross’ global chief recently said that rebuilding infrastructure ought to be a priority.
Still, the quake and recent rapprochement between regional powerhouses Iran and Saudi Arabia, who since 2011 have supported rival groups in Syria’s conflict, maybe a turning point in Damascus’ political fortunes.
Assad appears poised to make a political comeback in the Arab world, more than a decade after the 22-member Arab League suspended Syria’s membership over his brutal crackdown on protesters and, later on civilians during the war.
International sympathy following the quake appears to have sped up the regional rapprochement that had been brewing for years. Before the tragedy, the United Arab Emirates had already reestablished ties with Damascus, while Syria had been increasing its contacts with Turkey, a main backer of the opposition.
After the disaster, formerly hostile Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia delivered aid to government-held Syria, along with Assad’s traditional backers Russia and Iran. Washington’s key allies began restoring or bolstering diplomatic ties with the Syrian government.
Syria: The unbearable cost of normalization
Held hostage to the Russian veto, the UN has gradually abandoned the Syrian population. Russia’s war in Ukraine worsens the situation still, but also contains a hope for democratic forces in Syria that their tormentors will one day be brought to justice.
Eurozine Website published an analysis of the high cost of normalizing with the Assad regime.
The earthquakes of 6 and 7 February 2023 have piled further misery on a Syrian population that was already on its knees, largely made up of refugees from the war living in Turkey or displaced in northwest Syria. On the Syrian side of the border, particularly in the governorate of Idlib, it has been impossible to deliver the required emergency aid, whether supplied by the international community or the government itself. Isolated and abandoned, Syrians have had to rely on their own resources and organizations (such as the civilian White Helmets, originally set up to rescue the victims of bombings).
The international response has been able to reach the Turkish side to some extent, but it has been blocked from entering Syria by the extortion tactics of the regime, which is demanding total control over the distribution of humanitarian aid, including supplies allocated to the rebel-held areas that still lie outside its control. Under the guise of coordinating humanitarian aid, Bashar al-Assad is thus attempting to get his hands on a vital lifeline that he will hand out according to his own desires and interests, diverting a substantial part of it in the process and turning it into an instrument for lifting sanctions and re-establishing his regional and international legitimacy.
This humanitarian trap seems to be working. The United Nations and the international community have been backed into a corner, gradually abandoning these regions and the displaced persons of Syria in the face of a cynical strategy of obstruction and instrumentalization of aid that the regime has been pursuing for years and which it had, with Russian support, notched up again early this year.
On 10 January 2023, a month before the disaster, United Nations Security Council resolution 2642 was set to expire. This resolution, passed in July 2022, authorized the last remaining delivery point for humanitarian aid to 4 million people in north-west Syria, almost half of whom live in refugee camps and are dependent on aid for more or less everything – water, food, heating and medical care.
WFP: More Than Half of All Syrians Going Hungry
An average monthly wage in Syria currently covers about a quarter of a family’s food needs, the UN World Food Program said in a statement on Tuesday, highlighting an urgent need for increased humanitarian assistance as the country grapples with the devastating impact of recent earthquakes and a 12-year-long conflict, Asharq Al-Awsat reported.
Some 12.1 million people, more than 50 percent of the population, are currently food insecure, and a further 2.9 million are at risk of sliding into hunger.
Meanwhile, recent data show that malnutrition is on the rise, with stunting and maternal malnutrition rates reaching levels never seen before.
“Bombardment, displacement, isolation, drought, economic meltdown, and now earthquakes of staggering proportions. Syrians are remarkably resilient, but there’s only so much that people can take,” said Kenn Crossley, WFP Country Director in Syria. “At what point does the world say enough?”
The ”February 6” earthquakes came as food prices in Syria were already soaring. The selection of standard food items that WFP uses to track food inflation has almost doubled in price in 12 months and is 13 times more expensive than three years ago. The upwards trajectory is expected to continue.
The recent earthquakes have highlighted the urgent need for increased humanitarian assistance in Syria, not only for people hit by the earthquakes but also for those who were already grappling with sky-rocketing food prices, a fuel crisis, and consecutive climate shocks.
Stunting rates among children have reached 28 percent in some parts of the country, and maternal malnutrition prevalence is 25 percent in north-east Syria.
A country that used to be self-sufficient in food production now ranks among the six countries with the highest food insecurity in the world, with heavy dependency on food imports. Damaged infrastructure, high cost of fuel, and drought-like conditions have slashed Syria’s wheat production by 75 percent.
WFP provides food assistance for 5.5 million people across the country.
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.