The unprecedented visit of a top Egyptian diplomat to the Syrian capital Damascus last month, the first in over a decade, was seen as a new chapter in relations between Cairo and Damascus, the New Arab reported.
On February 27th, Egypt’s foreign minister Sameh Shoukry arrived in Damascus. He met his counterpart Faisal al-Mekdad and president Bashar al-Assad to show solidarity with the Syrian people after an earthquake hit the conflict-torn country three weeks earlier.
Dubbed by analysts as ‘earthquake diplomacy,’ the deadly natural disaster has allowed Assad political space to manoeuvre an end to his isolation in the Arab world.
“You can say that Sisi’s call to Assad followed by Shoukry’s visit to Damascus have officialized a previously undeclared return of relations.”
Both the Egyptian and Syrian regimes are believed to have been in contact on several levels after Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi took power in Egypt following a coup in 2013.
“Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi has been supporting the Assad regime in so many ways. And both share one thing: they are fellow dictators who have silenced opposition,” a prominent political analyst told The New Arab on condition of anonymity, fearing for his safety.
One day after the earthquake, Sisi called Assad to express Egypt’s support and pay his condolences, the first official exchange of communication between the two leaders.
“You can say that Sisi’s call to Assad followed by Shoukry’s visit to Damascus have officialized a previously undeclared return of relations,” the analyst argued.
For years, Egypt remained reluctant about officially declaring the partial return of ties with Syria due to the US stance towards the oppressive Assad regime, on one hand, and that of the Gulf countries, on the other.
But Assad’s historic visit to the UAE last year may have paved the way for such a rapprochement, even though it outraged the US administration of president Joe Biden.
“Sisi wouldn’t risk jeopardizing his relations with his wealthy [Gulf] sponsors unless
Floods destroy homes of quake survivors in northwestern Syria
Dozens of camps for displaced people in northwestern Syria have been damaged by flooding after a heavy storm hit the region late on Saturday.
Torrential rain overnight in the western countryside of Idlib province damaged hundreds of shelters, many of which were recently set up to house the survivors of two February 6 earthquakes. Roads were also impassable in some areas, according to the Syria Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets.
Several shelters were flooded in camps in Hafsarjah, and Bishmaroun towns and shops collapsed in Adwan village, an official at the Syria Civil Defense told Al Jazeera. Camps in the western and northeastern countryside of Aleppo were also damaged.
“The torrential torrents caused damage to more than 40 camps, which were set up for those affected by the earthquake, in which more than 700 tents were damaged, a child was slightly injured, and shops collapsed, in addition to blocking a number of roads in cities and towns,” Munir Al-Mustafa, deputy director of the Syria Civil Defence, told Al Jazeera.
Al-Mustafa told Al Jazeera that more than 300 tents for the earthquake survivors in 20 camps were damaged. He said most of them were rapidly established and lacked suitable protection from winter storms.
“The tragedy experienced by displaced people cannot be solved by providing temporary services to them in camps, because tragedies can be endless and deprive people of the right to live safely in their homes. Rather, the only solution is to provide safety for civilians to return to their homes, and that would also diminish the need for humanitarian and relief support,” al-Mustafa said.
“I can’t believe the calamities that befall us successively because today I lost everything inside my tent, and I do not know how I would be able to replace them. I am unable to perform any work duties because of my illness and my age.”
Slain Syrian opposition doctor found to be ISIS member held by SDF
In a bizarre turn of events, a German court has found that Dr. Ibrahim Nahel Othman, a famed physician working for the Syrian opposition who was reported killed in 2011, is alive and being held for his connections to ISIS in a prison in northeast Syria.
The fact, according to North Press, was exposed during the court case of Nadine K, a German woman who had travelled to Syria in order to join ISIS. She is being tried by a high court in Koblenz over her part in the kidnapping and rape of Yazidi women by her husband, Ibrahim O. The German state news agency SWR says that security and legal experts have confirmed that he is the ‘slain’ opposition doctor.
Dr. Ibrahim Nahel Othman, in his mid-twenties in 2011, gained recognition for his impassioned work as a physician for the Syrian opposition. He co-founded the Physicians Coordination Committee in Damascus, an opposition-linked body. He was informally known as the ‘Doctor of the Revolution.’
On Dec. 10, 2011, the Syrian Local Coordination Committees announced Othman had been killed by Syrian intelligence as he tried to escape to Turkey. A video reporting to show his body circulated on social media.
According to new information, Othman was not only alive but was living in Europe in the years following his ‘death’. He first arrived in France, then moved to the German state of North Rhein Westphalia. In July 2015, he informed the local administration that he would be moving to Sweden. In reality, Othman and Nadine K travelled to ISIS-held Mosul.
He was reportedly arrested in late March 2019 by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and was being held in a prison near Hasakah until recently.
At graveyard of unknown quake victims, Syrians seek news of the missing
The simple gravestone of a girl killed in last month’s earthquake in Syria bears no name but notes she was wearing a green sweater at the time of her burial, a description left in the hope it may help someone identify her, Reuters reports.
The bodies of up to 70 unidentified people have been buried in the cemetery in the northern Syrian town of Jandaris since the devastating Feb. 6th earthquake.
The cemetery’s caretaker Maysara al-Hussein said people burying unknown victims would sometimes take pictures of their faces.
“Other times – for this child, for example – they couldn’t take a picture. Why? Because of disfigurement or because there’s no one who can identify her,” he added.
“So we wrote down that she was wearing a green sweater, things like that.”
Local authorities have no figures for the number of people still missing since the earthquake, which killed thousands of people in Syria and tens of thousands in Turkey.