Syria Today – Assad Abolishes Military Field Courts, Deir-ez-Zor Clashes Intensify

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

On Sunday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad declared the abolition of military field courts, which have reportedly handed down numerous death sentences without proper legal procedures. However, activists approached this announcement cautiously, uncertain about its actual implications. Simultaneously, the Syrian Democratic Forces deployed additional troops to Deir-ez-Zor and continued their offensive against local Arab tribes on Saturday. They claimed that hundreds of pro-government fighters had joined in, making it one of the most intense battles the region has witnessed in years.

Syria’s Assad Scraps Notorious Military Field Courts

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad announced Sunday the scrapping of military field courts where thousands are thought to have been sentenced to death without due process, but activists remained cautious about the move’s impact.

Assad issued a legislative decree “ending the work” of the original 1968 proclamation that created the courts, the presidency said in a statement.

“All cases referred to the military field courts are to be referred… to the military judiciary,” said the statement posted on SANA, adding that the move went into effect immediately.

According to a 2017 report from the rights group Amnesty International, the military field court’s rules and proceedings “are so summary and arbitrary that they cannot be considered to constitute an actual judicial process”.

It said military field court trials take just a few minutes.

It added that thousands of people detained at the notorious Sednaya prison had been killed in mass hangings after “trials” at such a court.

Syrian lawyer Ghazwan Kronfol told AFP the courts’ jurisdiction was expanded to civilians in response to unrest in the 1980s.

The courts are not required to follow due process, there is “no role for the lawyer” in the proceedings, and sentences cannot be appealed, he added.

“During the years of the revolution and armed conflict, a lot of detainees have been sentenced to death in these courts” and their executions carried out as soon as the sentences were approved, he added.

Syria’s civil war broke out in 2011 with the government’s repression of peaceful protests.

“Thousands may have been executed according to rulings from those courts,” Kronfol added.

An activist who declined to be identified due to security concerns also estimated that thousands or “maybe even tens of thousands” had died due to the military field courts.

Sunday’s decision was “long overdue” but “should be treated with caution… particularly because the regime has never acknowledged that these courts violate detainees’ human rights” and can still detain people without trial, the activist added.

Diab Serriya, from the Association of Detainees and the Missing in Sednaya Prison, said that “if detainees are referred to military courts” instead of military field courts, “they will at least be allowed a lawyer”.

“Around 70 percent” of detainees at the Sednaya facility after 2011 “went before the military field court, which handed most of them death sentences”, he said.

He expressed hope that if the military field courts are closed and their archives can be accessed, families will be able to know “the fate of their loved ones who have been missing and forcibly disappeared for years”.

US-backed fighters push ahead in their offensive in east Syria against tribespeople

U.S.-backed fighters brought in reinforcements into eastern Syria and pushed ahead in their offensive Saturday against local tribespeople, saying that hundreds of pro-government gunmen have joined the worst battles in the region in years, AP reported.

The clashes that broke out Monday after the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces detained a former ally who headed an Arab-led faction in the region have left more than 50 people dead and dozens wounded.

The clashes are the most intense in areas where hundreds of U.S. troops have been deployed since 2015 to help in the fight against the Islamic State group. The extremists once controlled large parts of Syria and Iraq until their defeat in March 2019.

The U.S. military on Thursday called for an end to days of fighting warning it may help the resurgence of the Islamic State group.

On Saturday, the SDF and local tribesman clashed in an area between the village of Dhiban and the al-Omar oil field, Syria’s largest oil facility and home to one of the largest U.S. bases in the war-torn country, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human rights, an opposition war monitor.

Khaled Zeino, an SDF commander, told The Associated Press that his forces were moving ahead to reach the villages of Shheil and Baseera to cut the flow of supplies from the west bank of the Euphrates River, where government forces and Iran-backed militias are based.

Zeino added that some 400 fully equipped fighters had crossed from the government side. He said small boats were being used to take wounded gunmen for treatment on the west bank, where government troops are deployed.

US, Coalition officials meet with SDF, tribal leaders to calm Deir-ez-Zor tensions

Officials from the US and the US-led coalition met with representatives from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Arab tribal leaders from Deir-ez-Zor province in an effort to restore calm to the province after a week of clashes between Kurdish forces and pro-regime militias, the US embassy in Syria said on Sunday, quoted by Kurdish Website Rudaw

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Ethan Goldrich and Major General Joel B. Vowell, commander of the US-led coalition, met with the SDF and tribal leaders from Deir-ez-Zor where they “agreed on the importance of addressing the grievances of residents” and “the dangers of outsiders interfering” in the province, the US Embassy in Syria said on X, formerly known as Twitter 

They also stressed “the need to avoid civilian deaths and casualties, and the need for de-escalation of violence as soon as possible,” the statement added. 

Clashes have been taking place for a week in Syria’s eastern Deir-ez-Zor province between Kurdish forces and pro-regime militias after a curfew was imposed in the province with fighting having left at least 50 dead. 

Tensions escalated last week after the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) arrested Ahmed Khbeil, better known as Abu Khawla, commander of the SDF-linked Deir-ez-Zor Military Council, and four of his colleagues on a list of charges including drug trafficking and coordinating with “external entities.” Both sides have suffered casualties over the week. 

The US-led coalition on Saturday urged an end to the violence, saying that destabilization of the region will only bring violence while reiterating its commitment to the SDF. 

“It is imperative that all local leaders resist the influence of malign actors who promise many rewards but will deliver only suffering to the peoples of the area,” the Coalition said in a statement. 

“This poses dire consequences and only allows for a situation that nobody welcomes – the resurgence of our common enemy – Daesh,” it added, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS. 

On Friday, the SDF announced a 48-hour curfew in parts of the province under its control, accusing pro-Damascus fighters of trying to “cause strife in the region and attempting to lure civilians into their dirty plans.”

Arab backlash expands against Kurdish militias in eastern Syria

A Kurdish militia supported by the US has made territorial gains against Arab mutineers in eastern Syria, but a militarised Arab tribal backlash is growing in the area, sources on both sides have said.

According to The National, the ethnic fighting is undermining a US-supervised order in the east, the centre of Syria’s oil output and its main wheat farming region.

More than 120 people have been reported killed in fighting in the past two weeks after members of the Kurdish Protection Units militia, known as the YPG, arrested an Arab warlord who goes by the name Abu Khawla.

A source in the Kurdish-controlled administration in eastern Syria said YPG infantry units have in the past two days regained that area of Buseira, the home region of Abu Khalwa, in the Deir-ez-Zor governorate.

“The tribes withdrew because they lacked the heavy weapons for fixed warfare. But the YPG has left itself open to guerrilla attacks,” the source said.

“The Kurds have no organic base in Deir-ez-Zor. It will be up to the Americans to renegotiate an accommodation,” the source says, referring to the overwhelmingly Arab governorate.

Arab tribes had surrounded a YPG outpost in Buseira, which is situated between the Euphrates River and Al Khabour, a largely dry tributary. Arab auxiliaries have also launched attacks on YPG forces in the governorate of Aleppo, the easternmost frontier of the YPG zone in Syria.

Although Abu Khawla worked with the YPG in a US-supervised coalition against ISIS, he has lately been contesting YPG control of the war economy in the east.

His loyalists have erected their own roadblocks to collect taxes and moved to remove YPG-installed tribal leaders.

The US embassy in Syria, which has no physical presence in the country, said US officials had met Kurdish commanders and “community leaders” to discuss de-escalation in the east.

Although Abu Khawla was not seen as a popular commander, his arrest has been regarded as an affront to Arabs who resent the US-supported Kurdish expansion.

Alliances between the YPG and Arab tribes, which Washington has been trying to solidly for years, mainly through the lure of money have started to unravel.

Over the past few weeks, tribal leaders have issued calls to unite to expel the YPG from Deir-ez-Zoe, the weakest link in the wide strip of territory it controls, because of the lack of indigenous Kurds in the areas.

 

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