Syria Today – Syria’s Fall into Iran Debt Trap; Oldenburg and Raqqa Sign Agreement; Turkey Sends Reinforcements to Idleb

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

Recently leaked official Iranian documents, obtained from an Iranian opposition hacker group, have shed light on the relationship between the Syrian and Iranian governments, addressing issues such as Iranian debt recovery. Simultaneously, a city twinning project has been initiated between Oldenburg, Germany, and Raqqa, Syria, which gained fame for being liberated from the Islamic State (ISIS) by Kurdish-led forces in 2017. Additionally, the Turkish army has deployed new military reinforcements, including vehicles, tanks, and field artillery, to their positions in eastern Idleb, Syria.

Leaked documents shed light on Syria’s Inability to repay Iran’s debts

Recently leaked official Iranian documents, obtained from an Iranian opposition hacker group, have provided insight into the relationship between the Syrian and Iranian governments, including the issue of Iranian debt recovery, North Press reported.

The leaked documents revealed draft agreements between Damascus and Tehran, including a draft called “Memorandum of Understanding for Strategic Cooperation” signed by Presidents Ibrahim Raisi and Bashar al-Assad.

The documents highlighted that Syria has been mired in a significant crisis since early 2011, with no solution having been agreed upon to address it so far.

They stressed that the Syrian economy is facing numerous challenges, such as the devaluation of the Syrian pound against the dollar, largely due to the European and American sanctions, particularly the Caesar Act which which was enacted in 2019.

International estimates suggest that Syria requires approximately $500 billion for reconstruction and the rebuilding of its infrastructure.

The documents noted that the Syrian people are grappling with a fuel shortage and a wheat crisis, resulting in a severe shortage of bread, which has fueled public dissatisfaction. The difficult circumstances have made economic activity in Syria exceedingly challenging. ​

The leaked documents also revealed that Iran has provided Syria with multiple supply lines, including goods and oil, and is working on signing several agreements and deals with Syria as a cover for repaying part of the debts.

The documents mentioned that Iran rushed to help the Syrian government by sending two million barrels of oil monthly over the past 10 years, and this quantity increased to three million barrels monthly with the approval of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.

Regarding the issue of debt recovery, the leaked file outlined the necessity of requesting Syria to repay a portion of the Iranian debts. However, the documents acknowledged that recovering Iranian debts from Damascus is challenging due to the prevailing economic crisis in Syria and is currently deemed practically impossible

Germany’s Oldenburg initiates twinning partnership with Syria’s Kurdish-led Raqqa

A city twinning project has been launched between Oldenburg, Germany and Raqqa, Syria, famously liberated from the Islamic State (ISIS) by Kurdish-led forces in 2017. The Oldenburg-Raqqa Twinning Association, founded late last year, aims to build international solidarity and establish a culture of learning between the two cities.

Since the defeat of ISIS, Raqqa has been on a path of rebuilding and revitalization as part of the defacto autonomous northeastern Syrian region known as Rojava. The development of a democratic, egalitarian and multi-ethnic society, with an emphasis on women’s empowerment and ecological sustainability, is at the core of the self-governing Democratic Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (DAANES).

Oldenburg boasts a longstanding tradition of fostering international relationships, including various humanitarian projects, educational initiatives and material aid.

The twinning project with Raqqa promotes mutual understanding through cultural exchange, and collaboration between community groups, organisations and private individuals. A key objective is to establish an official partnership between the two cities, symbolizing a significant step in international cooperation.

The association is scheduled to hold a public showcase on 12 January 2024 at KinOLaden in Oldenburg to unveil its mission and objectives.

Turkey Brings in New Reinforcements to Syria’s Idlib

The Turkish army dispatched to their positions in Syria’s eastern Idlib new military reinforcements, including a number of vehicles, tanks and field artillery, Asharq al-Awsat reported.

The Turkish military convoy entered Syria via the Kafr Lossin border crossing in northern Idlib. It was later dispatched to Turkish observation posts in Sarmeen, Banash, Nayrab and Taftanaz east the governorate in northwestern Syria. The new reinforcement aims to boost Turkish presence amid the military escalation in the area.

In the past few days, Syrian regime forces and their backed militias stepped up their attacks on northwestern Syria. Forces stationed in the vicinity of Idlib targeted several neighbourhoods in the east of the city with rockets and artillery.

Turkish media outlets quoted civil defence sources as saying that five civilians were injured by Syrian regime forces and their backed Iranian militias who fired at the Saraqib area and the village of Sarmeen in eastern Idlib governorate.

On Sunday, the Turkish forces targeted positions of the government forces in the city of Saraqib in eastern Idlib with artillery, following a rocket strike carried out by the government forces on Idlib.

The injury of five civilians was confirmed by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which said that Syrian regime artillery forces had fired at Sarmeen city in eastern Idlib governorate. The shells struck the popular market in the city center near the Sarmeen High School for Girls and the ancient Grand ‘al-Kabir’ Mosque, it added.

The Observatory later mentioned that Turkish forces stationed in the “Putin-Erdogan” area fired missiles on regime positions in Saraqib and Khan Al-Sabl near the road between Damascus and Aleppo “M5.”

Meanwhile, regime forces fired highly explosive missiles on the frontlines of Al-Sirmaniya village in Hama countryside and Al-Sheikh Sandiyan village in Idlib countryside. However, no casualties were reported.

Syrian regime forces also bombed the villages of Sfuhn and Al-Baraa in Jabal al-Zawiya, south of Idlib, the villages of Kafar aama and Kafr Taal, west of Aleppo, and the Kabana area in Jabal al-Akrad, north of Latakia.

The regime forces then targeted Hayat Tahrir al-Sham positions in Jabal Al-Akrad.

For their part, Ansar al-Tawhid forces targeted the village of Al-Malaja in Jabal al-Zawiya, south of Idlib, with mortar shells, amid the hovering of intense Russian drones in Jabal al-Zawiya, Jabal Al-Akrad, and Al-Ghab plain in the Hama countryside.

In a separate development, the Turkish security forces “neutralized” five members of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the primary component of the Syrian Democratic Forces in northern Syria, the Turkish Defense Ministry said on Monday.

Cyprus Wants Part of Syria Deemed Safe Enough to Return Refugees

Cyprus said that some parts of war-torn Syria are safe enough for refugees seeking asylum on the island to be sent back, reiterating an idea it had pressed earlier to reduce their numbers.

“The time has come to collectively open the discussion for the revaluation of the state of affairs of Syria,” Constantinos Ioannou, Cyprus’ Interior Minister told reporters, said EUObserver.

Given how close the two countries are by sea he said that the Greek-Cypriot side that’s a member of the European Union has become a preferred destination for those wanting sanctuary in the bloc.

Nearly all seaborne arrivals in Cyprus last year came from Syria. Cyprus handled around 10,600 asylum applications last year, down from around 21,500 in 2022, the news agency said.

Cyprus also repatriated proportionally more than other EU state. Some 11,000 people were returned in 2023, more than double the number in 2022. Most were voluntary returns.

“The fact that during 2023, we had a 116 percent return arrival rate is remarkable, especially taking into consideration the situation in the rest of Europe,” said Ioannou, repeating an idea he made then.

The mall phenomenon does not provide “added value” to northern Syria’s economy

In a report by Enab Baladi, Razam al-Sawadi discusses the emergence of shopping malls in northwestern Syria, particularly in the cities under the control of the Syrian Salvation Government (SSG) and the Syrian Interim Government (SIG). 

Despite the presence of these malls, the region faces a dire economic situation with high unemployment, limited purchasing power, and widespread poverty. The malls, ranging from large multi-level complexes to smaller stores, provide various goods and services but are not seen as significantly contributing to the local economy. 

Opinions are mixed about their impact, with some viewing them as economic revivers, while others see them as expensive and not reflective of the region’s needs. The article also touches on the challenges faced by shop owners and mall workers in this difficult economic environment.

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