Syria Today – Bomb Blast in Damascus; UK Aids Refugees in Jordan; Assad Eases Reserve Services

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

On Thursday, a devastating bomb detonated in a taxi outside the Sayeda Zeinab shrine, located south of the Syrian capital Damascus, resulting in injuries to an unspecified number of people. At the same time, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly also made an announcement that day, pledging a generous $38 million grant to assist Jordan in handling the influx of Syrian refugees within its borders. Simultaneously, responding to the evolving situation, Bashar al-Assad took measures to discontinue the retention of individuals in the reserve service and halted the call-up for military service for specific categories.

People wounded in bomb blast at shrine near Syrian capital – state media

A bomb planted in a taxi exploded outside the Sayeda Zeinab shrine city south of the Syrian capital Damascus on Thursday, wounding an unspecified number of people, Syrian state media reported.

Earlier this week, two people were wounded in a separate blast outside the shrine, where pilgrims have been flocking to mark a mourning period for Shi’ite Muslims.

Britain donates £30 million to help Syrian refugees in Jordan

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly on Thursday announced a £30 million ($38 million) grant to help Jordan cope with the number of Syrian refugees in the country, The National reported.

The UN food agency this month said it would reduce cash aid for 120,000 Syrian refugees living in the Zaatari and Azraq camps in Jordan, due to funding shortages.


After meeting Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Al Safadi in Amman as his Middle East tour drew to a close, Mr Cleverly said the situation posed challenges to “Jordan’s political and social infrastructure”.

“We want to make sure that the pressure Jordan is facing for its generous hosting of refugees is recognised,” Mr Cleverley said. “The UK has long been a long-term supporter.

“That support continues. I am announcing £30 million in new funding.”

He said the money would primarily go towards cash handouts to the refugees.

Jordan is home to 670,000 registered Syrian refugees and Britain, along with Germany and France, contributes significantly to help with funding, as well as paying for projects that benefit the Jordanian areas that host them.

The refugees fled their homes during a crackdown on the 2011 revolt against President Bashar Al Assad’s 22-year rule, and in the ensuing Syrian civil war.

Ending reserve service in regime forces; Move to reduce financial, political pressure

A news article published by Enab Baladi discussed the recent decision of the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, to end retention for those in the reserve service and to end the call-up for military service for specific categories. The decision, which will come into force on September 1, applies to officers and reserve personnel whose actual reserve service has reached six and a half years or more until July 31st.

The article highlights several factors that may have influenced this decision:

  1. Improving Field Conditions: The director of the Human Resources Department at the regime government linked the move to improving field conditions, an increase in enrollments, and higher completion rates, aiming to ensure the combat readiness of the armed forces.
  2. Arab Rapprochement with Damascus: The decision comes amid influential political changes, particularly the Arab rapprochement with Damascus, which followed the devastating earthquake on February 6. This rapprochement has resulted in visits, political meetings, and the regime’s return to the Arab League, indicating an attempt to reduce political pressure.
  3. Relieving Societal Carriers: The decision is seen as an attempt to relieve pressure on the population in regime-held areas who have been burdened by the long years of service without specified time for demobilization.
  4. Economic Difficulties: The Syrian regime is facing economic difficulties that weaken its ability to pay the salaries of reserve recruits during the reserve service, making it economically burdensome for the regime.
  5. Sending Messages of Security and Strength: The decision could be used to raise the morale of citizens in regime-controlled areas by indicating that security has returned and that the regime’s army is strong enough to control the ground.

The article also mentions that similar moves to reduce armed manifestations in civilian and populated areas under regime control have been observed in the past.

The decision to end reserve service seems to be influenced by a combination of military and political considerations, with the goal of reducing financial and political pressures on the Syrian regime.

Russian fighter jet strikes another American drone over Syria in the sixth incident this month

AP reported that a Russian fighter jet fired flares and struck another U.S. drone over Syrian airspace on Wednesday, the White House said, in a continued string of harassing maneuvers that have ratcheted up tensions between the global powers.

It’s the sixth reported incident this month, and the second in the past 24 hours, in which the United States has said Russian warplanes have flown dangerously close to American manned and unmanned aircraft, putting crews and the planes at risk and raising questions as to what the U.S. may need to do in response.

Two U.S. officials confirmed that the strike damaged the MQ-9 Reaper drone. The officials were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity.

“We’ve seen the reports, the early reports, of a second Russian fighter aircraft this week flying dangerously close to our drone” on a mission to counter Islamic State militants in Syria, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. She did not provide other details, but said Russia’s “close approach to and deployment of flares over U.S. drones during a routine mission” violates international norms.

In the incidents over the past two days, Russian warplanes have fired flares that struck U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drones. On Tuesday, the flares damaged a drone’s propeller; on Wednesday, Russian-dropped flares hit a drone. In previous incidents, Russian jets have intercepted the U.S. planes at dangerously close distances, including one instance with a manned aircraft that the U.S. said put the lives of the four American crewmembers at risk.

A senior Russian military leader blamed the U.S. for the latest incident, and charged that aircraft from the U.S.-led coalition in Syria violated deconfliction protocols with Russia 10 times in the past 24 hours.

Rear Adm. Oleg Gurinov, the head of the Russian military’s Reconciliation Center in Syria, said that the U.S. drone flew dangerously close to a pair of Russian warplanes in the skies over Syria early Wednesday. Gurinov said that onboard systems of the Russian Su-34 and Su-35 aircraft spotted the aircraft being targeted and triggered the automatic release of flares.

“The United States are continuing to disinform the public about unlawful flights of its drones in the Syrian air space that have failed to undergo deconflicting procedure while accusing the Russian side of dangerous maneuvering,” Gurinov said in a statement carried by the Interfax news agency.

Syrian Refugees Are Being Deported Back, Despite Paying Hefty Smuggling Fees

Haaretz published a long article discusses the plight of Syrian refugees trying to seek refuge in European countries. It highlights the harsh conditions they face while attempting to make the journey, with many entrusting their life savings to rogue smugglers who leave them stranded in makeshift detention camps with little access to food, water, or proper facilities. Reports of arbitrary arrests and detention in Turkey, as well as warnings in Lebanon against leaving their homes for fear of deportation, add to the challenges faced by the refugees.

The cost of smuggling services is estimated to range from $3,000 to $5,000 per person, making it a costly and risky endeavor for those seeking safety. Meanwhile, European countries are making deals with North African nations to block more refugees from reaching their shores, providing financial aid to prevent crossings.

Turkey and Lebanon have already started deporting refugees back to Syria, which has become a major political issue in these countries. Turkish President Erdogan, who once welcomed refugees, has pledged to repatriate one million out of the four million refugees in Turkey.

However, returning to Syria is a dangerous prospect for the refugees, as they may face arrest, conscription, or even disappearance upon their return. The situation has become a humanitarian and political crisis, with little regard for the well-being and safety of the affected refugees.

After being vilified in elections, Syrian refugees are being deported en masse

MEO reports on the increasing deportation of Syrian refugees from Turkey, with at least 950 Syrians, including women and children, being forcibly deported since the beginning of July. The crackdown on refugees intensified after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s victory in the May presidential elections, during which both candidates promised mass deportations of Syrian refugees.

The situation has worsened due to Turkey’s economic crisis, where refugees have become scapegoats for issues such as inflation and a declining economy. They have been labeled a drain on resources and blamed for various problems, leading to a rise in xenophobia and discrimination against them.

The recent deportations have raised concerns about the breach of the UN’s 1951 Refugee Convention, as the situation in Syria is still unstable and not deemed safe for refugees to return. Turkey hosts around four million refugees, and the recent deportations have been marked by abuses and heavy-handed measures, with refugees being taken through border crossings controlled by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

Erdogan’s government claims that the construction of briquette houses in northern Syria is ongoing and that the return of Syrian refugees is progressing. However, many refugees fear for their safety and the separation from their families and livelihoods in Turkey. The situation has become a humanitarian and political crisis, with political parties using the plight of Syrian refugees for their own interests.

Syria fishermen despair at water loss, river pollution

The ongoing civil war and the impacts of climate change have taken a toll on Syria’s biggest freshwater dam reservoir, Lake Assad, and its surrounding waterways, according to Al-Monitor

Fishermen in the area report a sharp decline in fish stocks due to various environmental pressures. Ismail Hilal, a 50-year-old retired fisherman with 37 years of experience, laments the decline in fish stocks, dropping water levels, and worsening pollution in the Euphrates and the dam reservoir.

Syria has been facing prolonged drought and the flow of the Euphrates has been further affected by upstream dams in Turkey. The combination of low water levels, lack of rainfall, pollution, and overfishing has resulted in fishermen barely catching 5% of their previous catch. Lake Assad’s water level has dropped significantly, impacting biodiversity and leading to the formation of algae that suffocates aquatic life.

The situation has also affected the wider local economy, with fishmongers experiencing a shortage of fish to sell. The crisis has worsened the already challenging economic conditions for fishermen and their families. 

With the lack of water and pollution driving biodiversity loss in Syria’s north and east, the situation for both fishermen and the environment remains grim.

The opportunities and obstacles of revived Iraq-Syria relations

The Iraqi Prime Minister’s recent visit to Syria aimed to strengthen joint security and energy relations with its neighbor and boost economic ties, according to a report published by The New Arab. Iraq and Syria, both having close ties to Iran, maintained relations during Syria’s civil war when other Arab states withdrew their ambassadors from Damascus. The visit also highlighted Iraq’s refusal to impose economic sanctions on Syria, indicating its support for Syria’s economic recovery.

One of the key topics discussed during the visit was combating the drug trade, particularly the Captagon drug, which has affected both countries. The Syrian regime denies involvement in the drug trade, but top Syrian officials have been subjected to sanctions over their alleged connections to it. Iraq is working towards rebuilding the Kirkuk-Baniyas oil pipeline with Syria, which could serve as an alternative export route if Turkey continues to halt Kurdish oil exports.

While there are potential political gains from the visit, it may pose economic challenges for Iraq. Cooperation with Syria could place an increased burden on Iraq’s fragile economy. The presence of Iraqi refugees in Syrian camps and the smuggling of Captagon have already impacted Iraq’s economy, leading to sanctions on Iraqi banks and a sharp drop in the Iraqi dinar’s value.

Moreover, Iraq’s efforts to resume oil exports through Syria might lead to tensions with Turkey, which has not resumed handling Kurdish oil exports through its ports. This could further strain Iraq’s economy and put it in a delicate position with regional players. Overall, while Iraq’s engagement with Syria may have political benefits, it also poses significant economic risks.


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