Regional leaders met in Jordan Monday to discuss Syria’s return to the Arab fold and a Jordanian proposal to reach a “political solution” to the Syrian conflict, AP reported.
The talks, attended by the top diplomats of Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Egypt, kicked off with a meeting between Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi and Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, followed by a meeting of all the ministers.
A Jordanian foreign ministry spokesman said the meeting came as a follow-up to talks with the Arab Gulf countries, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt that were held in Saudi Arabia last month. The spokesman added that those countries aimed to build on their contacts with the Syrian government and discuss a “Jordanian initiative to reach a political solution to the Syrian crisis.”
Syria was ostracized by Arab governments over President Bashar Assad’s brutal crackdown on protesters in a 2011 uprising that descended into civil war. However, in recent years, as Assad consolidated control over most of the country, Syria’s neighbours have begun to take steps toward rapprochement.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said on Monday that regional talks with Syria are a step in the right direction to end a decade of the war-torn country’s political isolation and bring Damascus back into the Arab fold.
His remarks came as Jordan hosted a meeting of envoys from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt and Syria. Before the meeting kicked off, Safadi met one-on-one with his Syrian counterpart, Faisal Mekdad.
The Jordanian Foreign Ministry said the meeting on Monday came as a follow-up to talks with Arab Gulf countries, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt held in Saudi Arabia last month and focused on a “Jordanian initiative to reach a political solution to the Syrian crisis.”
“There was clarity and honesty,” Safadi said of the talks in Amman. “This meeting is the beginning of an Arab-led political path to reach a solution to the crisis.”
The diplomats also discussed Syria’s humanitarian needs, especially in light of the devastating Feb. 6 earthquake that struck parts of Turkey and Syria, drug smuggling across Syria’s borders and the refugee crisis from the Syrian civil war.
“We agreed on mechanisms to start organizing their (the refugees’) safe and voluntary returns, in coordination with the United Nations,” he added.
Raisi in Damascus
SANA reported that Iranian President, Ebrahim Raisi, will pay a two-day official visit to Syria on Wednesday heading a high-ranking political and economic ministerial delegation.
During the visit, Raisi will hold talks with President Bashar al-Assad on bilateral relations and joint political and economic files in addition to the positive developments in the region.
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman said a planned visit by the Iranian president to Syria will take place according to the schedule.
Nasser Kanaani said in his weekly presser on Tuesday that Iran and Syria enjoy strategic cooperation, stressing that Iran will stand by Syrians in the reconstruction phase just as in the country’s fight against terror.
He said the visit will focus on issues of interest to both sides.
President Ebrahim Raisi is expected to head to Damascus on Wednesday for a two-day visit.
He is scheduled to hold bilateral talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, especially on economic cooperation.
Syria’s Kurdish administration says ready to accept Syrian refugees from Lebanon
The Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) said on Sunday it was ready to receive Syrian refugees from Lebanon amid increasing calls for their deportation, the New Arab reported.
AANES – which governs most of the territory east of the Euphrates River, also known as Rojava – demanded the opening of a humanitarian corridor between Lebanon and Syrian areas under its control to facilitate the arrival of refugees.
The deputy co-chair of AANES, Badran Jia Kurd, acknowledged in a statement published on the administration’s website that Lebanon in recent years has been suffering from internal crises.
“We in the Autonomous Administration are ready to receive our people from abroad. Our doors are open to all Syrians without discrimination as a humanitarian, moral and patriotic duty, and we want to fulfil this duty based on our keenness and insistence on providing better climates,” he said.
AANES called on the United Nations to provide aid and guarantees and to play its role in opening a humanitarian corridor between Lebanon and Rojava.
“We are ready to receive and provide services and aid within our capabilities, and we consider that this dilemma is a humanitarian issue, and we must cooperate to solve it. Keeping these refugees in Lebanon or forcing them to return to Syria is illegal,” said Kurd.
The Islamist Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) group on Friday made a similar proposal, expressing its “full readiness to receive more than two million Syrian refugees in Lebanon” within the areas it controls.
HTS is an offshoot of Al-Qaeda and incorporates a number of smaller Syrian rebel factions. It controls about half of the northern Idlib province and other surrounding areas alongside other Turkish-backed rebels.
Refugees deported from Lebanon face arrest
In this regard, Reuters reports that Syrian refugees detained by security forces in Lebanon and deported have been subject to arrest and forced conscription upon return to their war-ravaged homeland, their relatives and rights advocates have told Reuters.
Some said their loved ones were being held by the Syrian army’s Fourth Division, which is headed by President Bashar al-Assad’s brother and has been sanctioned for rights violations.
Amnesty International says the deportations are a “clear violation” by Lebanon of international law under the principle of “nonrefoulement,” which prohibits nations from forcibly returning anyone to a country where they risk persecution.
The Syrian government did not respond to a request for comment. The Lebanese army, which has been carrying out the deportations according to Amnesty International, aid workers and witnesses, declined to comment.
One refugee told Reuters he and his three brothers were detained in a raid on a camp in Lebanon in late April. Because his brothers did not have legal residency, they were deported.
“They managed to get in touch with me from inside Syria, saying they were being held by the Fourth Division. I still don’t know if they’re alright,” he said, asking to speak anonymously because of fear of reprisals.
Islamic State leader killed in Syria by Turkish intelligence services, Erdogan says
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that Turkish intelligence forces killed Islamic State leader Abu Hussein al-Qurashi in Syria.
“This individual was neutralized as part of an operation by the Turkish national intelligence organization in Syria yesterday,” Erdogan said in an interview with TRT Turk broadcaster.
Erdogan said the intelligence organization had pursued Qurashi for a long time.
Syrian local and security sources said the raid took place in the northern Syrian town of Jandaris, which is controlled by Turkey-backed rebel groups and was one of the worst affected in the Feb. 6th earthquake that hit both Turkey and Syria.
The Syrian National Army, an opposition faction with a security presence in the area, did not immediately issue any comment.
One resident said clashes started on the edge of Jandaris overnight from Saturday into Sunday, lasting for about an hour before residents heard a large explosion.
The area was later encircled by security forces to prevent anyone from approaching the area.
IS selected al-Qurashi as its leader in November 2022 after the previous IS leader was killed in an operation in southern Syria.
Islamic State took over vast swathes of Iraq and Syria in 2014, and its head at the time, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared an Islamic caliphate across territory that housed millions.
But IS lost its grip on the territory after campaigns by U.S.-backed forces in Syria and Iraq, as well as Syrian forces backed by Iran, Russia and various paramilitaries.
Its remaining thousands of militants have in recent years mostly hidden out in remote hinterlands of both countries, though they are still capable of carrying out major hit-and-run attacks.
The U.S.-led coalition alongside a Kurdish-led alliance known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is still carrying out raids against IS officials in Syria.
Israeli missiles hit Syria, three people wounded
Three people have been injured, with fires and explosions reported after an Israeli air attack on a site near the Syrian city of Homs, state media reported, with a monitoring group saying a munitions depot was hit.
Syria’s state news agency SANA, citing military officials, said three civilians were wounded in the attack in the early hours of Saturday and that a civilian fuel station caught fire. A number of fuel tankers and trucks were also burned.
“At around 00:50 [21:50 GMT]…the Israeli enemy carried out an air attack with a number of missiles, from the direction of north Lebanon, targeting several positions in the vicinity of the city of Homs,” SANA reported.
SANA said Syrian air defences shot down some of the Israeli missiles in the sky over Homs.
The pro-government Sham FM radio said fires broke out south of Homs city as a result of the strikes and “successive explosions” sounded from the area.
The United Kingdom-based opposition war monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Israeli missiles destroyed an ammunition depot belonging to the Lebanese group Hezbollah at a military airport in the Homs countryside.
The observatory said it was the second time Israel targeted the site in a month.
There was no immediate statement from Israeli authorities on the attack. During more than 10 years of civil war in Syria, Israel has launched hundreds of air strikes on Syrian territory but does not comment on such attacks.
Israel claims it is targeting enemy Iran-backed forces and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters inside Syrian territory.
Syria’s Arab League return still uncertain, even as Assad normalization continues
Saudi Arabia’s recent efforts to normalize relations with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have led to speculation about Syria’s return to the Arab League.
However, according to Al-Monitor, it is unclear if Assad will be invited to the upcoming summit in May or if the thaw will be confined to bilateral relations between Damascus and regional countries.
The thaw is part of Saudi Arabia’s new strategy to win the region over with economic largess, but at least five members of the Arab League are refusing to readmit Damascus, including Morocco, Kuwait, Egypt, Yemen, and Qatar.
Without a political solution to the Syrian crisis, sanctions on the regime are likely to remain and continue to obstruct Assad’s attempts to renew regional economic ties. Nevertheless, with the limits to engagement with Assad eroding, the region is reasserting its role as a player in the Syrian conflict on the basis of normalization.