Syria Today – Riad Turk Passes; U.S. Charity Sanctioned Over Syria Exports; Israeli Strike

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

On Monday, Riad Turk, a Syrian dissident often likened to Nelson Mandela for his enduring opposition to the government, passed away in exile in France, as confirmed by his daughter. Simultaneously, in a separate development, the New Hampshire charity NuDay, also known as Day Syria, received a federal court sentencing for export offences, announced by U.S. Attorney Jane E. Young. Additionally, a Syrian military statement reported material damage caused by an Israeli air strike on the outskirts of Damascus early Tuesday, originating from the direction of the Golan Heights.

Riad Turk, The ‘Syrian Mandela’, Dead At 93 In France

Syrian dissident Riad Turk, who has been compared to Nelson Mandela for spending years in prison for his staunch opposition to the government, died Monday in exile in France, his daughter said.

“My father died peacefully and satisfied with what he has accomplished, surrounded by his two daughters and his grandchildren,” Khuzama Turk told AFP. He was 93.

France’s ambassador to Syria Brigitte Curmi wrote on X: “The Syrian Mandela Riad Turk just left us after a whole life of struggle for a free and democratic Syria.

“May his aspirations for a dignified life for Syrians continue to inspire our work.”

Turk fled to France in 2018 after being exfiltrated out of Syria by militants into neighbouring Turkey.

He had gone into hiding after being freed from his last spell in jail in 2002 for declaring “the dictator is dead”, following the death of former president Hafez al-Assad.

In total he had spent more than 22 years imprisoned, often without trial, on claims of various offences under Hafez al-Assad and later his son Bashar when he became Syria’s president.

Turk was the longtime leader of the dissident Syrian Communist Party – Political Bureau, which was outlawed by Bashar al-Assad and later renamed the Syrian Democratic People’s Party.

He supported peaceful anti-government protests which broke out in Syria in 2011 and backed the Syrian National Council which brought together opponents of Assad as the country’s civil war intensified.

“Our revolution is peaceful, popular and rejects sectarianism and the Syrian people are one,” Turk declared in October 2011.

“There will be no compromise nor negotiations about our goal of toppling this despotic regime.”

Syria says Israeli attack on Damascus outskirts caused material damage

A Syrian military statement said an Israeli air strike early on Tuesday that came from the direction of the Golan Heights targeting positions in the outskirts of Damascus caused some material damage, Syrian state news agency (SANA) reported.

The Israeli military said it carried out a strike against Syrian military targets overnight between Monday and Tuesday, hitting what it described as the “military infrastructure of the Syrian army,” in response to earlier rocket launches.

Late on Monday, it said five rockets were launched from Syrian territory. Warplanes also struck at Hezbollah targets in Lebanon, the military said.

Since the Oct. 7 attack by the Palestinian militant group Hamas on civilians and soldiers in Israel, Israel has escalated its strikes on Iranian-backed militia targets in Syria and has also struck Syrian army air defences and some Syrian forces.

NuDay Charity Sentenced for Illegal Exports to Syria

The New Hampshire charity NuDay, a.k.a. Day Syria, was sentenced today in federal court for export offences, U.S. Attorney Jane E. Young announces. 

NuDay was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Joseph N. Laplante to five years of probation, the maximum penalty for an organizational defendant.  NuDay was also ordered to pay a $25,000 fine.  On September 8, 2023, NuDay pleaded guilty to three counts of Failure to File Export Information, according to the US Department of Justice.

“This charity blatantly violated U.S. export control laws when it sent over 100 shipments of humanitarian goods to Syria, a country that is a designated state sponsor of terrorism, and in many instances, lied about where those shipments were going,” said Jodi Cohen, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Boston Division. “This case highlights the FBI’s ongoing commitment to working with our law enforcement partners to prevent the erosion of public trust in charitable organizations by ensuring that anyone who engages in criminal activity in order to evade our laws and regulations is held accountable.”

Between 2018 and 2021, NuDay made over 100 shipments to Syria, a country that was subject to sanctions and export restrictions.  NuDay claimed that these shipments were worth over $100 million.  NuDay had the items shipped to Mersin, Turkey, where another company would transship them into Syria.  U.S. Department of Commerce regulations require exporters, such as NuDay, to report true and accurate information about the items being exported, including the shipment’s description, end user, and monetary value.  However, NuDay falsely reported that the end destination of the shipments was Turkey and not Syria, and artificially deflated the value of the goods to be below the $2,500 reporting threshold.  Alawa’s Facebook messages indicated that she and NuDay were aware of export restrictions, including the need to obtain export licenses, but ignored them. 

Child among 8 killed in Syria clashes: monitor

Eight civilians, including a child, were killed Monday during exchanges of fire between the army and rebels in northwestern Syria, with 19 others wounded, a war monitor said

The fighting pitted the army of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an Islamist group led by Al-Qaeda’s former Syria branch. 

“An elderly man, a woman and her young daughter were killed and 10 other civilians were wounded in a bombardment by the HTS on the villages of Nubul and Zahraa, in a part of Aleppo province controlled by the Syrian regime,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. 

HTS and other groups control swathes of Idlib province and parts of neighbouring Aleppo, Hama and Latakia provinces.

The Syrian army retaliated by bombing residential areas of Darat Izza town in Aleppo, killing three civilians and wounding nine others, the Observatory said. 

The Britain-based war monitor, which has a network of sources inside Syria, said the bombardments struck a bakery, a mosque, a power plant and a popular market. 

Army artillery fire killed two other civilians in the Aleppo village of Burj Haidar, the Observatory said.  

Turkish intelligence eliminates PKK’s top drug smuggler in Iraq

An operation by the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) eliminated Abdulmutalip Doğruci, a member of the PKK terrorist group in Iraq, security sources said Tuesday.

Doğruci is the first high-profile name of the terrorist group to be eliminated by MIT in 2024. Also known under the code name “Cesur Vedat,” he was in charge of drug smuggling for the group. Drug trafficking is a major source of income for the PKK.

Security sources said Doğruci was eliminated in a rural area of Sulaymaniyah of northern Iraq, a hotbed of terrorists where several top names of PKK were eliminated in the past by MIT.

PKK’s senior cadres are hiding out in mountainous parts of Iraq and derive financial resources from drug smuggling through the Iranian border and the countryside of Sulaymaniyah. The PKK maintains a network of smugglers in the area.

Security sources say Doğruci was in charge of the PKK’s illicit drug trade in Türkiye in the past before Turkish intelligence found out that he relocated to Sulaymaniyah to run the trade there. He was involved in laundering money the PKK earned from this illicit trade and purchased equipment for the terrorist group, from computers and camera systems to satellite phones.

Doğruci was the subject of a drug-related investigation in Istanbul in the past and was involved in the youth wing of the PKK. In 2017, he fled to Iraq and joined the terrorist group, according to security sources.

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