Syria Today – U.S. Forces Hit; Syrians Push for Chemical Weapons Tribunal

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

Syrians are taking the lead in an effort to create a worldwide tribunal dedicated to prosecuting chemical weapons attacks. Meanwhile, on Wednesday, a US official reported that a single rocket targeted U.S. and coalition forces at Mission Support Site Euphrates in Syria.

U.S. forces in Syria targeted in first attack since Thanksgiving

U.S. and coalition forces at Mission Support Site Euphrates in Syria were targeted by a single rocket attack on Wednesday, a US official said, according to CNN.

The rocket did not hit the base, the official said. There were no injuries or infrastructure damage reported.

Wednesday’s attack is the first since November 23. It marks at least 74 attacks on U.S. and coalition forces since October 17, when the first occurred in the wake of Hamas’ attack on Israel.

Fighting in Gaza has been paused for six days, with negotiators continuing to work toward another potential extension of the truce between Israel and Hamas.

The U.S. has responded over the last month with airstrikes against targets linked to Iranian-backed militias in Syria and Iraq. The Pentagon has maintained that the US has been successful in deterring any escalatory actions that would expand the conflict outside of Israel and Gaza despite the continued attacks on U.S. forces.

Syrians lead the push to create a global chemical weapons tribunal

Reuters exclusively reports that Syrians are spearheading an initiative to establish a global tribunal for prosecuting chemical weapons attacks. This effort, launched in The Hague, aims to address the gap in international law for punishing the use of banned toxic agents. The proposal, driven by Syrian rights groups and international legal experts, seeks to create a treaty-based court with global jurisdiction.

During Syria’s civil war, thousands were killed or injured in chemical attacks, many of them children. However, more than a decade later, there have been no prosecutions for these atrocities. The tribunal, seen as a beacon of hope by Syrians like Safaa Kamel, a teacher affected by the 2013 sarin gas attack in Ghouta, aims to change this.

Diplomatic meetings involving at least 44 countries have discussed the feasibility of this tribunal. While the initiative is led by Syrians, it is intended to have a global reach. The next step involves states agreeing on the treaty’s wording.

Currently, there is no global legal body to prosecute individual suspects of chemical weapons use. International courts have addressed war crimes, but none specifically focus on chemical weapons. The International Criminal Court lacks jurisdiction in Syria, and while the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) can investigate and identify perpetrators, it lacks prosecutorial powers.

The need for such a tribunal is underscored by the lack of justice for chemical weapon attacks in Syria, with only a fraction of war crime investigations relating to chemical attacks. The proposed tribunal is envisioned to work closely with agencies like the UN’s International, Impartial, and Independent Mechanism (IIIM) in building cases around chemical weapons incidents.

British war monitor challenges UK refusal to provide details of civilian death in Syria

The UK is one of the “most transparent coalition members” in the details it provides about air strikes it has conducted in Syria and Iraq against the Islamic State (IS) militant group.

But it is “among the worst” in terms of publicly disclosing the consequences of those strikes, particularly whether civilians were harmed, the UK-based watchdog Airwars told a tribunal.

The tribunal, which opened on Wednesday in London, is focused on the one civilian that the UK government has officially admitted to harming during its eight-year campaign against IS.

In May 2018, the minister of defence told parliament about an incident which he said had happened two months earlier in eastern Syria.

During a UK air strike targeting three IS militants, a civilian on a motorbike “crossed into the strike area at the last moment” and was unintentionally killed, the minister said.

There were limits, he said, to what could be provided “given ongoing operations and consequent national security issues”.

But using a Freedom of Information request, the civilian harm watchdog Airwars sought further information from the Ministry of Defence about the strike.

The ministry rejected the request, arguing that releasing the information could, among other impacts, threaten national security and harm international relations. The Information Commissioner’s Office upheld the decision.

Airwars is now appealing, arguing that the UK will remain “far behind its allies” without greater transparency about how the government assesses civilian harm.

“In the US, we have a clear understanding of how that process goes,” Joe Dyke, Airwar’s head of investigations, told the tribunal. 

“In the UK, we still have no understanding of what that looks like. That is why we are here in this particular case. It is one case and it is a snapshot, but we are using that one case to understand that civilian harm process.”

Germany arrests French woman who allegedly committed war crimes after joining IS in Syria

The Associated Press reported that German authorities said Thursday they had arrested a French woman who allegedly committed war crimes in Syria after joining the Islamic State extremist group.

Germany’s federal prosecutor said the woman, who was only identified as Samra N. in line with German privacy rules, was arrested Tuesday in the western city of Trier.

The woman is suspected of having participated as a member of two foreign terrorist organizations as a teenager, the prosecutor’s statement said.

She allegedly travelled to Syria in September 2013, where she first joined Jabhat al-Nusra, Syria’s al-Qaida affiliate at the time, and married one of the group’s fighters according to Islamic rites. In November 2013, the couple joined the Islamic State extremist group.

Syria was in the throes of a civil war that broke out following a brutal government crackdown on pro-democracy mass protests in 2011. Protesters took up arms and the unrest eventually devolved into a civil war that drew in Islamic extremists and fighters from around the world.

While in Syria, N. allegedly tried to persuade people living in Germany to also go to Syria to become a member of Jabhat al-Nusra. She also temporarily took in a woman who had been persuaded to leave the country in this way.

The suspect ran the household for her husband and helped him procure military equipment for IS, according to the charges.

On two occasions, when her husband was away on combat missions, she stayed in women’s houses that IS had occupied after driving out the original residents, which Germany considers a “war crime against property.”

Rand Paul to force vote on Syria troop withdrawal

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul’s office says he will force a vote in the coming weeks on a bill he introduced this month that could remove all U.S. troops – approximately 900 – from Syria. Sources say a vote could come as early as next week.

The American people have had enough of endless wars in the Middle East. Yet, 900 U.S. troops remain in Syria with no vital U.S. interest at stake, no definition of victory, no exit strategy, and no congressional authorization to be there,” Paul said in a statement provided to RS.

“If we are going to deploy our young men and women in uniform to Syria to fight and potentially give their life for some supposed cause, shouldn’t we as their elected representatives at least debate the merits of sending them there? Shouldn’t we do our constitutional duty and debate if the mission we are sending them on is achievable?”

Paul’s resolution, introduced on Nov. 15, invokes the War Powers Resolution which says the Biden administration is required to remove the U.S. military from hostilities without a declaration of war from Congress. This resolution would remove the troops within 30 days of passage unless the president asks for and receives authorization for war from Congress.

Critics like Paul say the Syria operation is not covered by the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for the Use of Military Force (AUMFs). Nevertheless, the U.S. military has been engaged in kinetic warfare with several state and non-state actors there since Obama deployed troops during the Syrian civil war in 2015. Now, the forces remain in harm’s way without a clear mission and a war not far from the border in Gaza. From my colleague Adam Weinstein:

As COP28 looks at the conflict-climate overlap, northwest Syria should be exhibited A 

The United Nations’ annual climate change conference, COP28, is addressing the intersection of conflict and climate crisis, focusing on the humanitarian impact in conflict zones like northwest Syria, The New Humanitarian said in a report

This region is facing compounded challenges due to a prolonged drought since 2021, intensified by the effects of recent earthquakes and over a decade of civil war. Residents, NGOs, and academics have reported severe water shortages affecting agriculture, sanitation, and drinking water, exacerbated by displacement, poverty, and post-earthquake conditions.

The situation in northwest Syria, where about 4.5 million people live, is worsened by the most intense military escalation in three years, with over 70 fatalities and 120,000 displacements. The international community’s aid has been insufficient, and the political landscape complicates aid delivery. UN Security Council resolutions allowing aid entry from Türkiye face political hurdles, and the region’s control by various groups, including some designated as terrorist organizations by the UN, presents additional challenges for humanitarian work.

The region’s water crisis is further aggravated by regional politics and attacks on water infrastructure. For example, Türkiye’s actions with the Maydanki Dam have affected water levels in the Afrin River. Human Rights Watch reports that Türkiye has also disrupted water and electricity supplies in northeast Syria.

Efforts to improve water availability, such as those around the Qastoun reservoir, have been made, but challenges remain significant. Local farmers are adapting as best they can, but the loss of water has led to substantial agricultural losses. The COP28 conference’s focus on these issues highlights the urgent need for effective climate financing and support in conflict-affected areas like northwest Syria.

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