On Monday, Syria granted an extension for the United Nations to deliver aid to opposition-held areas in the northwest through two Turkish border crossings, valid for another three months. Meanwhile, security tensions arose in the al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria’s Hassakeh Governorate on Tuesday, triggered by a protest from families of Islamic State (ISIS) militants.
Syria allows UN to keep delivering aid from Turkey
Syria has extended permission for the United Nations to deliver aid to opposition-held areas in the northwest of the country via two Turkish border crossings for another three months, the United Nations said on Monday.
According to Reuters, after an earthquake killed more than 50,000 people in Turkey and Syria in February, Damascus initially allowed the U.N. to dispatch aid through the Turkish crossings for three months. That has now been extended for a third time until Feb. 13.
“The U.N. cross-border operation remains a lifeline to people in north-west Syria. Each month, the U.N. and partners reach an average of 2.5 million people with critical assistance and protection services,” the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a statement.
Syria’s mission to the United Nations in New York confirmed the extension of the U.N. use of the Bab al-Salam and Al Ra’ee crossings.
US and Iran-backed groups trade fire in Syria. Will it get worse?
The United States and Iran-backed armed groups in the Middle East are increasingly trading fire in Syria since Israel launched its brutal military assault on the Gaza Strip on October 7, according to Al-Jazeera.
US bases in Syria and neighbouring Iraq have been attacked multiple times, raising fears of regional escalation as Iran has warned against the mounting death toll in Gaza. More than 11,000 Palestinians have been killed in nearly 40 days of non-stop Israeli bombing.
So, what’s the latest with the attacks, how closely tied are they to what’s happening in Gaza, and how could this escalate?
How big are the strikes?
Iran-backed groups have attacked US forces in Syria and Iraq more than 50 times since the start of the Gaza war, with several attacks coming this week, according to US military officials.
The attacks, involving rockets, missiles and drones, have inflicted minor damage and have not killed any US soldiers.
Washington has warned that the attacks must stop. It has also launched retaliatory strikes, the latest of which came late on Sunday against two purportedly Iran-linked sites in Syria. One hit a training facility near Abu Kamal, with another targeting a safe house near Mayadin, both located in eastern Syria.
The Pentagon did not provide any details on the damage caused by the strikes, but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a London-based monitoring group, said eight members of Iran-backed militias were killed in the attacks. Al Jazeera however could not independently verify the figure.
US officials said last week at least 56 US personnel have been injured in attacks in Syria and Iraq that started on October 17. Injuries ranged from minor wounds to traumatic brain injuries, but the Pentagon said all had been treated and they returned to work.
US diplomat slams Turkey for flying drones near US bases in NE Syria
James Jeffrey, former US Representative for Syria, criticized Turkey for flying drones in close proximity to US bases in northeast Syria at this ultra-sensitive time when the whole Middle East is a “powder keg”.
In an interview with Washington Online on North Press, Jeffrey said that flying Turkish drones near the US bases in northeast Syria is “the stupidest action by Turkish authorities in years.”
Jeffrey emphasized that the US forces in Syria and Iraq have been under attack by Iranian and Iranian-backed militias for weeks. Given this volatile situation, he questioned why Turkish drones were flying near American troops at such a sensitive time.
“Why was this drone flying in close proximity to American troops at this very very sensitive time?” He wandered.
He stressed that performing this action, amidst heightened tensions in the Middle East, has raised concerns and highlighted the need for Turkish political oversight.
“This is brain dead. This is really bad. It means that somebody in Ankara is not carrying out political oversight over these things,” Jeffrey strongly criticized.
Jeffrey noted that President Biden had made it clear that any escalation would be met with a strong response. He cited a recent incident where an American destroyer successfully intercepted missiles and drones fired by Iranian-backed Houthis towards Israel.
Maintaining strong relations between Turkey and the US was emphasized by Jeffrey as he stressed the importance of good relations.
Additionally, he highlighted Turkey’s potential role in mediating Israel-Hamas conflict. “Turkey can play a mediating role. It is very important that Turkey keeps lines open to everyone,” Jeffery said.
Regarding the Turkey-Israel relationship, he confirmed the importance of trade, tourism, and intelligence cooperation between the two countries in countering the shared threat posed by Iran in the region.
“Israel is not a threat to Turkey, Turkey is not a threat to Israel, but Iran is a threat to both,” the American diplomat concluded.
Wives of ISIS militants protest in al-Hol camp in NE Syria
The al-Hol camp in the Hassakeh Governorate, northeastern Syria, witnessed early on Tuesday security tension following a protest by the families of the Islamic State (ISIS) militants.
Al-Hol Camp, located in the southeast of the city of Hassakeh, houses 55,000 individuals, including 8,803 of foreign nationalities, according to the latest statistics obtained by North Press.
A source from the Hawl camp told North Press that a protest was organized by the wives of ISIS militants where they demanded the release of their husbands who are detained in prisons in areas held by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES).
The Hawl camp includes the “al-Muhajirat” section designated for foreign women who came to Syria to join the group.
On multiple occasions, the AANES called on foreign countries to repatriate their nationals from the camp.
The source added that the security forces ended the protest and have been conducting several patrols to monitor suspicious movements in the camp.