Syria Today – Bin Zayed Invites Assad to COP28; Pedersen Resumes Efforts; Syria Arrests Drug Smugglers

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.

The President of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, invited Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to attend the 28th Conference on the Parties on Climate Change, in line with the Arab trend towards normalization with Syria. In the meantime, UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen has been holding intensive discussions over developments in the Syrian issue with a number of influential actors, including Iran, Russia, Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. At the same time, local forces connected to the military security apparatus in Syria’s southern Daraa Governorate raided early on Sunday the village of Khirbet al-Shaham, arresting two individuals suspected of engaging in drug trafficking and smuggling.

Bin Zayed invites Assad to attend COP28

President Bashar al-Assad has received an official invitation from His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the President of the United Arab Emirates, to attend the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) on Climate Change, SANA reported

Yesterday, President al-Assad met with AbdulHakeem Ebraheem Al-Nuaimi, Chargé d’Affaires of the United Arab Emirates Embassy in Damascus, who personally delivered the invitation. 

COP28 is scheduled to be held in Dubai from November 30 to December 12.

Thousands of world leaders, diplomats and dignitaries are expected to attend the COP28 climate summit in Dubai in December.

Arrests Made over Drug Smuggling Near Syrian-Jordanian Border

Local forces connected to the military security apparatus in Syria’s southern Daraa Governorate raided early on Sunday the village of Khirbet al-Shaham, Asharq al-Awsat reported.

Authorities successfully apprehended two individuals suspected of engaging in drug trafficking and smuggling.

According to local sources in the western Daraa countryside, a military convoy comprising several armored vehicles and armed personnel carried out the raid on Al-Salam Compound in the village.

Abdullah al-Khaldi, the brother of local factional group leader Ahmed Al-Khaldi, who was previously detained, was apprehended. Abdullah is accused of drug smuggling and collaborating with Hezbollah.

In addition, forces carried out raids on houses near the water desalination plant and arrested a suspect named Fawaz Al-Khaldi, who is accused of drug trafficking and smuggling in the area. The plant was the recent target of an attack.

Multiple reports have indicated the presence of a drug production facility operated by a local faction led by Ahmed Al-Khaldi in Khirbet al-Shaham, which lies near the Jordanian-Syrian border.

This faction was formed after the 2018 reconciliation agreement and is affiliated with the Security Office of the Fourth Division, which sought to attract and recruit various former opposition factions in the western region of Daraa when settlements were being struck.

Over time, this faction has become involved in the illicit trade and smuggling of drugs.

Syrian civil society places blame on Biden admin for Assad’s normalization

Members of Syrian civil society have said they are “horrified” with the Biden administration’s Syria policy, accusing it of not taking strong enough measures to block the normalization of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

“Sadly now, Assad is getting red-carpet welcomes and 21-gun salutes all across the region, to almost crickets from the [Biden] administration,” Mohammed Alaa Ghanem, the head of policy at the Syrian American Council (SAC), told The New Arab.

The Syrian regime, once a global pariah for its bloody crackdown on protesters during the Syrian uprising, has been welcomed back into the Arab diplomatic fold in recent months.

On May 7th, Syria was readmitted to the Arab League, a symbol of its increasing acceptance in the region 12 years after it was kicked from the pan-Arab body.

While the Biden administration has consistently made public statements against the normalization of the Assad regime, advocates have said that its policy has not backed up its rhetoric, The New Arab added.

“The U.S. does not support normalization with the Syrian regime, nor do we support other countries, including our partners and allies, partaking in normalization either,” US Deputy State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel said on 4 May.

According to Ghanem, the Biden administration “de-prioritized” Syria on the foreign policy agenda by not appointing a Syria envoy and not enforcing sanctions against countries which normalized.

The Caesar Act, a package of Syria sanctions passed by the U.S. Congress in 2019, allows for sanctions to be imposed against individuals of any nationality who support or do business with the Assad regime.

Sanctions under the Caesar Act are imposed at the discretion of the executive branch.

Analysts have said that the Biden administration has been reluctant to impose sanctions, in contrast to the previous administration.

Other views

By contrast, several Syrian civil society members do not see the recent diplomatic contact with the regime as a sign that normalization is imminent, nor that the US has abandoned the Syrian opposition.

“The [White House] is saying that they agree with the Arab initiative in its final outcome, which is UNSC 2254, so they do not want to clash with the steps towards that final objective,” Ayman Abdel Nour, the head of the Syrian Christian’s Initiative for Peace, told TNA.

Abdel Nour explained that he views the step-by-step plan advocated for in Amman as a route toward UN Security Council resolution 2254, which calls for a political solution to the Syrian civil war.

The proposed reforms in the Amman communique focused on ensuring an end to cross-border drug smuggling and creating conditions for the safe return of refugees to Syria.

These do not include some of the human-rights-centric reforms called for by the UN and the US, including releasing the estimated 136,000 detainees in regime prisons and fair elections in Syria.

UN’s Geir Pedersen holds intensive talks on Syria

North Press reported that the UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen has been recently holding intensive discussions over developments in the Syrian issue with a number of influential actors, including Iran, Russia, Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, seeking to hold similar talks with Turkish officials.

Pedersen said in a series of tweets that he “concluded comprehensive discussions” on Syria with the Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and Senior Assistant to the Iranian Foreign Minister for Special Political Affairs, Ali Asghar Khaji.

According to the news website, Pedersen expressed appreciation for Iran’s “assessment of recent diplomatic developments on Syria & region, & support for renewing UN-facilitated Constitutional Committee.”

On Sunday, Pederson visited the Iranian capital, Tehran, to discuss Syria.

During the talks, Pedersen and Khaji reviewed the latest developments in the Syrian arena, especially the recent quartet meeting in Moscow, which brought together the foreign ministers of Syria, Iran, Russia and Turkey.

He noted that he discussed the Syrian issue in “recent contacts” with senior Russian officials following other phone calls with “Saudi FM Faisal bin Farhan & Egyptian FM Shoukry, & earlier call w/ Jordanian FM Safadi.”

He stressed that he would continue “discussing these issues w/ senior Turkish officials,” according to the tweet.

He said, “UN/Astana players’ coordination important to see Constitutional Committee resume & the political process move forward.”

He confirmed that the “UN will continue to work with all partners – the Syrian parties, the Arab players, the Astana players, & the Western players – to seek to unblock genuine CBMs & a renewed political process in line w/SCR 2254.”


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