On June 7th, 2023, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken joined the Foreign Ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states and GCC Secretary General Jasem Albudaiwi in Riyadh. Their meeting aimed to commemorate the historical ties between their nations and acknowledge their strategic significance, as stated in a joint statement. Concurrently, on Thursday, Secretary Blinken announced that the United States intended to offer approximately $150 million in aid to support the recently liberated areas in Syria and Iraq, which were previously under the control of the Islamic State extremist group. Additionally, reports indicated that U.S. troops conducted a total of 38 missions targeting ISIS in Iraq and Syria during the month of May.
Joint Statement Following the Ministerial Meeting of the United States and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Foreign Ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council member states, and the GCC Secretary General Jasem Albudaiwi met in Riyadh on June 7th, 2023, to celebrate the strategic importance of the historic ties among their countries, a joint statement has said.
The Ministers underscored their shared commitment to build upon the achievements of previous ministerial meetings and the Jeddah Summit on July 16th, 2022, to strengthen consultation, coordination, and cooperation in all fields.
The Ministers highlighted the strategic, ambitious, and growing partnerships between the United States and the GCC and its member states to promote peace, security, stability, integration, and economic prosperity in the Middle East. The Ministers affirmed the importance of common efforts to advance de-escalation and underlined their joint commitment to support diplomacy to achieve these efforts. They underscored the importance and promise of infrastructure projects to promote regional integration and interconnectivity, contributing to regional stability and prosperity. The Ministers also underscored the importance of upholding navigational rights and freedoms and of collective efforts to address threats to the security of vessels travelling through the region’s waterways.
The Ministers underscored the importance of confronting terrorism and violent extremism worldwide and welcomed the next Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS ministerial meeting, to be held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on June 8, 2023. Secretary Blinken reaffirmed the United States’ enduring commitment to the security of the region, recognizing the region’s vital role in the global economy and international trade.
On Syria, the Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to reaching a political solution to the Syrian crisis in a manner that preserves Syria’s unity and sovereignty, meets the aspirations of its people, is consistent with international humanitarian law, and is in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 (2015). In that regard, the Ministers welcomed Arab efforts to resolve the crisis in a step-for-step manner, consistent with UNSCR 2254, as agreed during the Amman consultative meeting of the Arab Ministerial Contact Group on Syria on May 1, 2023. The Ministers reaffirmed support for U.S. and Coalition forces, who are working to achieve the enduring defeat of ISIS in Syria.
Ministers further condemned all actions that threaten the safety and security of these forces. They stressed the need to create secure conditions for the safe, dignified, and voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced persons consistent with UNHCR standards, and the importance of providing the necessary support to Syrian refugees and to the countries hosting them.
The Ministers reiterated their call for a nationwide ceasefire. They welcomed the UN Secretary General’s call for a 12-month renewal of the Security Council authorization to operate the cross-border mechanism and expressed support for including all currently open border crossing points (Bab al-Hawa, Bab al-Salaam, and al-Rai) in a Security Council resolution to be passed this July. Furthermore, they discussed enhancing cooperation to address the issue of arbitrarily detained and missing persons – as outlined in the Amman Communique and UNSCR 2254 – in coordination with all concerned parties.
Blinken announces $150M in Aid
In a relevant story, Blinken said Thursday that the U.S. would provide nearly $150 million in aid for areas in Syria and Iraq that were liberated from the Islamic State extremist group.
He spoke at a ministerial conference hosted by Saudi Arabia on combatting the group, which no longer controls any territory — but whose affiliates still carry out attacks across Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
The Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS includes more than 80 countries and continues to coordinate action against the extremist group, which at its height controlled large parts of Syria and Iraq. Blinken said the U.S. pledge is part of new funding amounting to more than $600 million.
“Poor security and humanitarian conditions. Lack of economic opportunity. These are the fuel for the kind of desperation on which ISIS feeds and recruits,” he said in brief remarks at the opening of the conference, using a common acronym for the extremist group. “So we have to stay committed to our stabilization goals.”
Blinken did not specify, but U.S. aid to Syria is expected to flow through Kurdish allies, the U.N. or international aid groups, as the U.S. and other Western countries, maintain sanctions on President Bashar Assad’s government.
Can the US disrupt Syria’s lucrative Captagon drug empire?
The Biden administration is preparing to present a new interagency strategy to Congress aimed at combating Syria’s illegal Captagon drug trade, Saudi New Arab reported.
This move comes in the wake of the recent diplomatic reconciliation between Syria and Arab states. Arab countries have expressed their concerns about the Captagon trade, which has affected their nations, and are urging Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to curb it. The illicit Captagon trade has become Syria’s largest source of revenue, making the war-torn country a narco-state.
Syria is responsible for approximately 80% of the global supply of Captagon, a stimulant pill known as the “poor man’s cocaine.” Estimates suggest that the trade has a market value of billions of dollars, surpassing the country’s legal exports by four times. The US House Foreign Affairs Committee previously proposed the Captagon Act, which calls for a strategy to disrupt and dismantle Assad’s Captagon trade networks. President Biden signed this proposal into law in December.
While the US will continue imposing sanctions on individuals involved in Captagon manufacturing and smuggling, the effectiveness of these measures depends on enforcement efforts in regional countries like Saudi Arabia. The US intends to focus on combating the Captagon trade rather than overtly targeting the Syrian government itself. Jordan has conducted airstrikes against drug dealers in southern Syria, and the US may support similar actions as part of a broader regional effort to combat the trade forcefully.
The US is gradually developing an interagency strategy aligned with the Captagon Act to target key figures and networks involved in the large-scale production and trafficking of Captagon. The strategy aims to impose sanctions on regime-affiliated actors and monitor their participation in the trade. However, it remains uncertain whether the strategy will effectively reduce the volume of Captagon pills in the region, as there are no indications that production has significantly decreased. With Syria normalizing relations with the region, the regime may continue its involvement in the trade without facing regional accountability and enforcement.
Dozens of new-born babies abandoned this year
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported that the number of newborn babies abandoned in Syria this year has already reached 33. Many reasons are suggested for this, including illicit relationships and the deterioration of living conditions in the country.
The organization said that 14 babies were abandoned in areas controlled by the Assad regime and 16 were abandoned in the areas controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces in the north and east of the country. Three cases were documented in the areas controlled by the Syrian opposition in northwest Syria.
According to Syrians for Truth and Justice, more than 100 newborn babies were found in 2021 and 2022 in different regions across Syria. It is likely that the number was much greater and that this figure does not reflect the magnitude of the crisis. Prior to the war breaking out in 2011, very few babies were abandoned in the country.
The regime’s Interior Ministry in Damascus has published details of babies being found in a garden in Aleppo, for example. Another was found thrown in a wheat field in Hama, and yet another was found abandoned in a well in Homs. It is a heartbreaking scenario.
Poverty is regarded as the main reason for abandoning newborn babies in Syria. The UN estimates that more than 90 percent of the Syrian people live under the extreme poverty line, and face incredibly high prices and deteriorating public services.
The Syrian pound continues to collapse against the US dollar. According to today’s exchange rate, there are 9,000 Syrian pounds to the dollar. The average monthly wage is around 125,000 Syrian pounds, equivalent to $14.
France arrests ‘Syrian asylum seeker’ in Annecy stabbing attack
At least two adults and four young children were injured Thursday morning in the southeastern French town of Annecy, when a Syrian asylum seeker stabbed them, for yet unknown reasons, Al-Monitor has reported.
At least two of the four children, all under three years old, are in critical condition, the French authorities said.
French BFM TV station cited an unnamed police source saying that the alleged attacker is a 32-year-old man, of Syrian nationality, and identified him as Abdalmasih H. The source also said that the suspect, apprehended by the police, has received refugee status from Sweden. According to the report, he had asked French authorities for refugee status but received approval from Sweden first.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin confirmed that the attacker had been arrested.
“Several people including children were injured by an individual armed with a knife in a square in Annecy. The individual has been arrested thanks to the very rapid intervention of the police,” Darmanin tweeted.
The incident occurred at 9:45 a.m. local time at a park near a lake on the city’s outskirts, with many families present, BFM TV reported. The assailant first attacked the young children and one of the adults, and then attacked another person. Witnesses told the channel that the attacker did not say anything while stabbing his victims. He was wearing a type of bandana on his head.
The judicial police of Annecy are in charge of the investigation at this stage. The French national anti-terrorist judicial authorities are assessing the situation, to see if the attack should be classified as a terror act.
French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and Darmanin arrived at the site shortly after the incident. French President Emmanuel Macron condemned the attack. “An absolute cowardly attack took place this morning at a park in Annecy. Children and an adult are fighting for their lives. The nation is in shock. Our thoughts are with them, their families and the emergency services,” tweeted Macron. It was only after the tweet that the press published that two adults, not one, were injured.
US troops launched 38 missions against ISIS in Iraq, Syria in May
US troops conducted a total of 38 missions against ISIS in Iraq and Syria during May, according to US Central Command. 21 of those missions took place in Iraq, and 17 were conducted in Syria, all with partner forces, Task & Purpose reported.
31 suspected ISIS operatives were detained, and another eight were killed, according to a news release issued by the US Central Command.
20 suspected ISIS operatives were detained and two were killed as a result of operations in Syria and 11 operatives were detained and six were killed in Iraq, Task & Purpose mentioned.
The commander of the Combined Joint Task Force, Army Major General Matthew McFarlane, explained that the coalition continues to advise, assist, and enable partners to keep pressure on ISIS and prevent them from re-establishing any type of network or effective military effort, the American publication illustrated.
Iraq announced in late 2017 the liberation of all its territories from the grip of ISIS, but the authorities are constantly launching security operations to pursue remnants of the terrorist group that carry out attacks from time to time in the country.
The Global Coalition against Daesh (ISIS) reported last April a decline in attacks in Iraq and Syria during the first quarter of 2023, when terrorists were still active despite their defeat.
McFarlane said last April that ISIS attacks in Iraq declined by 68 percent from the beginning of 2023 until the first week of April compared to the same period last year, i24 News reported.
In a report issued in February, the United Nations estimated that ISIS still has ‘5,000 to 7,000 members and supporters’ across Iraq and neighbouring Syria, ‘roughly half of whom are fighters,’ i24 News added.