Syria Today – Turkey Strikes Kurdish Forces in Syria; Campaign Against Syrians in Egypt

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

On Saturday, the Turkish Defense Ministry announced that Turkey conducted airstrikes against Kurdish militants in Iraq and Syria. This action followed an attack on a Turkish military base in Iraq that resulted in the death of nine Turkish soldiers the previous day. In parallel, the emergence of a social media campaign advocating for the removal of Syrian residents in Egypt has sparked outrage and prompted inquiries into the underlying motives behind such an initiative.

Syria extends aid deliveries via Turkey for six months

The Syrian government has extended its approval for humanitarian aid to be delivered to rebel-held parts of the country’s northwest through a border crossing with Turkey for another six months, Reuters reported. 

The United Nations has been using the Bab al-Hawa crossing from Turkey to deliver aid to millions in northwest Syria since 2014 with authorization from the U.N. Security Council.

That expired in mid-2023 after the 15-member body failed to reach an agreement to extend it, and the Syrian government then said the U.N. could continue using the Bab al-Hawa crossing for another six months.

In a diplomatic note seen by Reuters and dated Thursday, Syria’s mission to the United Nations said Damascus would “extend its permission granted to the United Nations (UN) to use Bab al-Hawa crossing to deliver humanitarian assistance to the North-West of Syria for an additional period of six months until 13 July 2024”.

Damascus has also allowed the U.N. to send aid through two other Turkish crossings after an earthquake killed more than 50,000 people in Turkey and Syria last year.

That authorization is set to expire on Feb. 13th.

Turkey launches airstrikes against Kurdish militants in Iraq and Syria after 9 soldiers were killed

Turkey carried out airstrikes targeting Kurdish militants in neighbouring Iraq and Syria on Saturday, the Turkish Defense Ministry said, coming a day after an attack on a Turkish military base in Iraq killed nine Turkish soldiers.

According to AP, The defense ministry said that aircraft struck targets in Metina, Hakurk, Gara and Qandil in northern Iraq, but didn’t specify areas in Syria. It said fighter jets destroyed caves, bunkers, shelters and oil facilities “to eliminate terrorist attacks against our people and security forces … and to ensure our border security.” The statement added that “many” militants were “neutralized” in the strikes.

On Friday night, attackers attempted to infiltrate a military base in northern Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, killing five soldiers. Four others died later of critical injuries. The Turkish government said that 36 militants were killed in Iraq, and nine others in Syria, in the 24 hours following the attack.

There was no immediate comment from the PKK, the government in Baghdad or the Kurdish region’s administration.

Turkey launched Operation Claw-Lock in northern Iraq in April 2022, during which it established several bases in Duhok Governorate. Baghdad has repeatedly protested the presence of Turkish troops and called for their withdrawal.

Sweden to put former Syria general on trial over suspected war crimes

A former Syrian army general is set to appear before a Swedish court to face charges over his alleged role in war crimes committed 12 years ago, Middle east Monitor has reported.

According to an indictment seen by the AFP news agency this week, 65-year-old Mohammed Hamo – who lives in Sweden – has been accused of involvement in the indiscriminate strikes on and surrounding the Syrian cities of Hama and Homs between January 1 and July 20, 2012.

Those strikes during the early days of the ongoing Syrian civil war were reportedly conducted from air and land without distinction between civilian and military targets, blatantly defying international law. Hamo is accused of having particularly made decisions regarding the arming of operational units and the implementation of various military operations.

According to the case’s prosecutor Karolina Wieslander, Hamo and the activities he allegedly participated in failed to respect the principle of proportionality in war to achieve the stated military goal.

His upcoming appearance at the court in the Swedish capital, Stockholm, will reportedly include the testimonies of seven civil parties, many of whom are Syrians from the affected cities in question. It will be the latest legal challenge and potential prosecution against a former member of the Syrian regime’s military or security apparatus, others of whom have been put on trial throughout a number of European countries in recent years.

Social media hate campaign in Egypt calls for expulsion of Syrians

A social media campaign calling for the expulsion of Syrians living in Egypt has caused anger and raised questions about the motives behind it, according to The National.

Egypt says it is home to nine million guests, the term used by government officials when referring to migrants. Syrians, mostly families who fled civil war, are thought to account for 1.5 million of those, making up the second largest group after about five million Sudanese.

The government has publicly distanced itself from the social media campaign and sought to make clear that this was unrelated to a recent count of foreigners living in Egypt.

Unlike the Sudanese or the Iraqis, many Syrian migrants quickly established themselves in business after their arrival a little more than a decade ago.

They have opened thousands of stores and restaurants across the country that have become popular with Egyptians.

Their success was celebrated by Egyptians as an example of how hard work and entrepreneurship pay off.

In hundreds of social media posts in recent weeks, Egyptians have condemned Syrians as parasites, black marketeers, hoarders and a burden on a country sagging under the weight of its worst economic crisis in decades.

The posts blamed Syrians for steep rises in the cost of goods and housing, with some social media users declaring their intention to bar them from renting or buying flats in their buildings.

Syrian farmers abandon the land for steadier jobs

Arab News has published a report highlighting the situation of Syrian farmers in the Raqqa province who are increasingly abandoning their agricultural livelihoods, which were once the backbone of northeast Syria’s economy, in favour of more stable and less risky employment opportunities. 

This shift, driven by the need to ensure financial security and contend with challenges like drought, rising costs, and ongoing conflict, underscores a significant transformation in the region’s socio-economic landscape, with implications for its agricultural future and the lives of its rural communities.”

After years of war, drought and economic crisis, Omar Abdel-Fattah was forced to rent out his farmland in northeast Syria, preferring a more stable job to provide for his family.

“It breaks my heart to see someone else working my land,” said Abdel-Fattah, 50, who grew wheat, cotton and vegetables in Jaabar Al-Saghir, in Syria’s Raqqa province, for three decades.

He said he had to abandon agriculture to make ends meet and provide an education for his eight children because he can “no longer keep up with the costs of farming,” including irrigation.

Agriculture was once a pillar of northeast Syria’s economy.

The region was the country’s breadbasket before 2011, when the government repressed peaceful protests, triggering a conflict that has killed more than 500,000 people and displaced millions.

Now the effects of climate change — particularly rising temperatures and drought — along with spiralling costs are dealing a heavy blow to agricultural production and the families that depend on it to survive.

Abdel-Fattah found a job at a water pumping station run by the area’s semi-autonomous Kurdish administration.

It pays around $70 a month, so he also runs a small shop on the side selling hardware and other items to get by.

Some of his relatives have also rented out their land, while others have left Syria because of the dire financial situation there, Abdel-Fattah said.

He urged the Kurdish administration and international agricultural organizations to provide “support and loans” for farmers in the area.

“This is the only solution to save agriculture, help farmers and encourage them to return to their fields again,” he said.

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