Syria Today – Turkey Seeks Extension of Cross-Border Aid; Syrian Passport Ranks Lowest in the World

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

Turkey is pushing the United Nations and others for an extension of aid deliveries into rebel-held northwest Syria. At the same time, the Syrian passport has declined through the ranks to become the world’s least powerful. 

Turkey seeks extension of cross-border aid to northwest Syria -sources

Turkey is pushing the United Nations and others for an extension of aid deliveries into rebel-held northwest Syria as global interest and funding priorities shift towards suffering in other conflicts, two Turkish sources familiar with the negotiations told Reuters.

Turkey, which has backed rebels looking to oust President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s 12-year-old civil war and has no ties with Damascus diplomatically, has been a centre for aid delivery into northwest Syria since 2014, mainly through its Bab al-Hawa (Cilvegozu) crossing, with U.N. Security Council authorization.

That permission was extended unilaterally by the Assad government until Jan. 13 after the 15-member Security Council failed to reach an agreement last year.

After an earthquake killed more than 50,000 people in Turkey and Syria in February 2023, Syria granted another permission for aid deliveries from the Bab al-Salam and Al Ra’ee crossings, but that will also expire on Feb. 13.

The sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was crucial to extend the authorizations, namely for Bab al-Hawa, to allow planning for long-term humanitarian and development projects in the region. One source said that adding deadlines caused “constant pressure and unpredictability”.

UAE top, Syria bottom in world passport strength rankings

The United Arab Emirates has topped the Global Passport Power Rank, continuing its domination as the holder of the most powerful passport in the world New Arab reported

However, the Syrian passport has declined through the ranks to become the world’s least powerful. 

Syria’s passport, on the other hand, was similarly ranked by Henley’s as second least powerful passport in the world before Afghanistan. According to HPI, Syria has access to only 29 visa-free destinations while the UAE has access to 183.  

The Syria passport ranking is due to the degree of global entry it guarantees to Syrian passport holders, who may travel visa-free to 27 countries, but who otherwise need a visa to access 159 countries globally.  

The Syria passport was also named one of the world’s most expensive passports, following the Assad regime’s approval of a bill on amending the consular fees for issuing and renewing travel documents for Syrians residing abroad. 

While fees for a Syrian passport can only be paid in US dollars or Euros, the cost for Syrian expatriates to obtain one is 800 US dollars, according to the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates. 

2023 witnessed increase in exports, decline in imports

The Ministry of Economy and Foreign Trade in the Syrian regime’s government announced the import and export figures for the public and private sectors during the year 2023, according to Enab Baladi.

According to the ministry’s statement issued on the evening of Wednesday, January 10, 2024, the year 2023 ended with a 27% decrease in the value of imports for both the public and private sectors compared to 2022, with a total value exceeding 3.2 billion euros.

The ministry attributed the decrease in imports to the government’s focus on a “rationing policy” limited to the import of essentials to reduce the demand for foreign exchange.

At the same time, the percentage of exports increased during 2023 compared to the previous year by 60%, with a total value of exports for both the public and private sectors surpassing 900 million euros, according to the statement.

The ministry reported that the increase in exports resulted from the rise in exported quantities and the export value of materials such as phosphate, clothing, shoes, medicines, and aromatic products like cumin, as well as some agricultural products like almonds, despite a decrease in the quantities of certain types of exports compared to 2022, such as vegetable exports, anise, stones, sand, and gravel.

Shadi Jawhara, the Assistant Minister of Economy for Foreign Trade Affairs, stated Thursday that the Ministry of Economy’s policy regarding imports is to secure the necessities of industrial and agricultural production and to increase employment opportunities to reduce the trade balance deficit and the demand for foreign exchange.

US bases in Iraq, Syria come under fresh attacks

Iraqi Resistance groups have conducted new attacks on US military bases in that country as well as neighbouring Syria as anger boils in the region over the US-backed Israeli war on Gaza, Iranian Mehr News reported.

The Islamic Resistance announced on Wednesday night that it had hit a US base near Erbil’s airport in the northern Kurdistan Region.

There was no immediate report of possible casualties or damage.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Iraqi Islamic Resistance hit a US military base in the Koniko gas field in eastern Syria with missiles, leaving causalities among American forces.

Resistance groups based in Iraq have repeatedly hit US bases on Iraqi and Syrian territories with missiles and drones over the past weeks in retaliation for the Israeli regime’s crimes against Palestinians in Gaza.

The groups are also outraged at the US military presence in the region, which they see as a source of instability, as well as Washington’s support for the Israeli regime in its ongoing war on Gaza.

Israel shifted its strategy on Syria in the wake of Oct. 7 

Israel Hayom published a report which highlighted how in the wake of the Oct. 7 attack, Israel significantly altered its military strategy in Syria, escalating its air raids and targeting a broader range of objectives. This shift marks a departure from Israel’s previous approach, which was more restrained and focused on avoiding high casualties, especially among Hezbollah members.

The report says that post-Oct. 7, Israel intensified its air strikes in Syria. Unlike before, when Israel mainly targeted cargo trucks and infrastructure with warning shots, the current campaign directly hit these targets, leading to higher casualties.

Since the strategy shift, there has been a notable increase in Hezbollah fatalities in Syria. The last three months alone saw 19 Hezbollah members killed, a significant rise compared to earlier in the year.

Despite the increased Israeli aggression, the Syrian military has refrained from engaging in open confrontation with Israel, avoiding escalation into a full-blown war.

According to the report, Hezbollah’s leader acknowledged the loss of fighters in Israeli strikes and indicated a change in their response strategy, suggesting an escalation in the conflict.

A senior Israeli official described the escalated actions as retaliatory, in response to attacks initiated by Hezbollah.

The Israeli strikes, the report explains,  have also impacted Iranian forces in Syria, with several Iranian Revolutionary Guards killed in recent months. This suggests a broader target range, including high-ranking individuals involved in military coordination between Syria and Iran.

The strikes have caused significant damage to Syrian infrastructure, including key airports, affecting Iran’s arms transfer capabilities in the region.

Israel received indirect threats against supporting Hamas, influencing its actions in the region. Despite these escalations, Israel maintains it does not seek a second war front in Lebanon or Syria.

This strategy shift by Israel indicates a more aggressive stance in the region, targeting not just the transport of arms but also those involved in these operations, resulting in increased tensions and a more volatile situation in the region.

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