Syria Today – 6 Kurdish Fighters Killed in Drone Attack

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

A drone strike targeted a military base in eastern Syria housing U.S. troops, resulting in the deaths of six Kurdish fighters allied with the U.S. late on Sunday. This marks the first notable attack in Syria or Iraq since the United States conducted retaliatory strikes over the weekend against militias backed by Iran that had been attacking U.S. forces in the region. Concurrently, one year after Syria experienced a devastating earthquake, orphaned children are gradually adapting to the profound loss they endured.

At least 6 Kurdish fighters are killed in a drone attack on a Syrian base housing US troops

A drone attack on a base housing U.S. troops in eastern Syria killed six allied Kurdish fighters late Sunday, in the first significant attack in Syria or Iraq since the U.S. launched retaliatory strikes over the weekend against Iran-backed militias that have been targeting its forces in the region, AP reported.

The U.S.-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said Monday the attack hit a training ground at al-Omar base in Syria’s eastern province of Deir el-Zour, where the forces’ commando units are trained. No casualties were reported among U.S. troops.

An umbrella group of Iran-backed Iraqi militias, dubbed the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, released a video claiming responsibility for the attack and showing them launching a drone from an unspecified location.

In late January, a drone attack by the same group killed three U.S. troops and wounded dozens more at a desert base in Jordan. The U.S. military launched dozens of retaliatory strikes targeting Iran-backed militant groups in western Iraq and eastern Syria and also struck the Houthis in Yemen. Far-right Israel minister suggests that Trump would give more US support to the offensive in Gaza

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, left, Belgium’s Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib, center, and Croatia’s Foreign Minister Gordan Grlic Radman, gesture, in front of a cake to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first informal meeting of the Council during a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the Egmont Palace in Brussels, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024. (AP Photo/Omar Havana)

The EU is worried that Israel might extend the war in Gaza to a ‘pressure cooker’ town near Egypt

The SDF initially accused “Syrian regime-backed mercenaries” of carrying out Sunday’s attack but in a second statement blamed “Iran-backed militias” after investigating the attack.

The umbrella group has launched dozens of drone attacks on U.S. military bases and troops in Iraq and Syria, and has called for the withdrawal of American soldiers from both countries.

The attack comes as tensions flare across the Middle East amid the Israel-Hamas war, which was sparked by Hamas’ rampage in southern Israel on Oct. 7.

A year after Syria’s deadly earthquake, orphaned children adjust to the loss bit by bit

Aya al-Sudani, a bubbly toddler with a toothy smile, will mark her first birthday on Tuesday, but there will be no celebration with cake and presents. The day also marks a dark memory, according to a report by AP.

On Feb. 6, 2023, a massive earthquake hit Syria and Turkey and the baby girl was pulled alive from the rubble of her family’s house in the town of Jinderis in northern Syria. An umbilical cord still attached her to her dead mother.

Khalil Al-Sawadi holds a one-year-old Afraa al-Sudani at his home in Jinderis, Syria, Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Ghaith Alsayed)

Khalil Al-Sawadi holds a one-year-old Afraa al-Sudani at his home in Jinderis, Syria, Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Ghaith Alsayed)

The girl was named “Baby Aya” — Aya is Arabic for “a sign from God” — by hospital workers but nicknamed Afraa in memory of her mother by the relatives who are now her guardians. The newborn was the only surviving member of her immediate family after the devastating quake that killed more than 59,000 people.

She was one of hundreds of children orphaned or separated from their families by the disaster, on top of many more who have lost their parents in the country’s nearly 13-year civil war.

Some 542 children were found “unaccompanied and separated” after the earthquake throughout Syria, said Eva Hinds, a spokesperson for the United Nations children’s agency or UNICEF. Some were eventually reunited with their parents, others placed with “close relatives or extended family, and some have been supported with alternative care,” she said.

Local authorities in northwest Syria say at least 537 children lost a parent to the quake, although of those only 61 were recorded as having lost both their mother and father. The real number is likely higher.

A year later, those children have begun to adjust to their new reality, most of them living now with extended family while smaller numbers have ended up in foster homes or orphanages.

For many of them, losing their parents in the earthquake was only the latest in a string of tragedies.

“Almost everyone in Syria at this point has a personal connection to loss because of the conflict,” said Kathryn Achilles, a spokesperson for Save the Children ’s Syria response office. “It’s not something that children should have to learn to live with … having to deal with loss and deal with displacement and deal with losing family and community.”

Yasmine Shahoud was 11 when the earthquake struck. Her family had been displaced from their hometown of Maarat al-Numan to the town of Armanaz in northwest Syria, about 70 kilometres (45 miles) away. Despite the war, she remembers many carefree hours playing and laughing with her siblings after school.

UN Security Council To Meet On US Strikes In Iraq And Syria

AFP reported that the UN Security Council was to convene Monday at Russia’s demand to discuss US air strikes on Iran-backed groups in Iraq and Syria in retaliation for a deadly drone attack on American soldiers.

The meeting scheduled for 4:00 pm (2100 GMT) was requested urgently by Moscow, which labelled the US strikes acts of aggression against sovereign states and said they were raising tensions in the Middle East as the Israel-Hamas war rages.

The US military struck targets in Syria and Iraq overnight on Friday to Saturday, in retaliation for a January 28 drone attack on a base in Jordan that killed three US soldiers.

The White House said Sunday it plans more US retaliation.

The American strikes on dozens of targets — said by Washington to be Iran-backed militias — drew criticism from Iraq and Syria and also from Iran, which denies any role in last month’s drone attack.

“There is no group affiliated with the Islamic Republic of Iran’s armed forces, whether in Iraq, Syria or elsewhere, that operates directly or indirectly under the control of the Islamic Republic of Iran or acts on its behalf,” Iran’s UN ambassador Amir Saeid Iravani said in a letter to the  Security Council that was published Monday.

Iran says US strikes are a ‘strategic mistake’

Iran has called US air strikes on Iraq and Syria a “strategic mistake” after 85 targets were hit across the region on Friday.

The US launched retaliatory strikes in response to last week’s drone attack on a US military base that killed three American soldiers.

The White House blamed the drone attack on an Iran-backed militia group.

The US and UK also launched a new round of joint strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen on Saturday.

Iran’s foreign ministry said the strikes on Iraq and Syria “will have no result other than intensifying tensions and instability in the region”.

Earlier, Iraq said the US retaliatory strikes would bring “disastrous consequences” for the region.

At least 16 people, including civilians, were killed as a result of the strikes, Iraqi officials said.

A spokesman for Iraq’s prime minister said the strikes were a “violation” of his country’s sovereignty and that they would impact “the security and stability of Iraq and the region”.

While Syria said the US “occupation” of Syrian territory “cannot continue”.

According to a US military statement, the US struck the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force and affiliated militias in Iraq and Syria.

Why did Abu Dhabi return its ambassador to Damascus now?

Times of Israel published a long article discussing Abu Dhabi’s decision to return its ambassador to Damascus, arguing this move should be understood within a broader context of regional dynamics and geopolitical shifts. The reappointment of Hassan Ahmad al-Shihi as the first Emirati ambassador to Syria in 13 years marks a significant move by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) amidst ongoing complexities in Middle Eastern politics. This decision comes after Syria was re-accepted into the Arab League approximately a year prior, signalling a tentative step towards reintegrating Syria into the Arab fold despite its ongoing economic and political crises.

The economic situation in Syria remains dire, with UN estimates indicating that 90% of Syrians live in poverty, exacerbated by Western sanctions imposed in 2011. These sanctions, aimed at penalizing the Assad regime for its actions during the civil war, have hindered direct investment in the Syrian economy. Additionally, the influence of Iran in Damascus, particularly through Iranian militias and their involvement in both security matters and illicit drug trade, notably the Captagon drug empire purportedly sponsored by President Bashar Assad, presents a complex challenge.

The reintroduction of the UAE’s ambassador is more likely motivated by security concerns rather than economic investments, given the context of Iranian militias’ activities within Syria. These groups not only pose a security threat but are also implicated in the regional drug trade, affecting neighbouring countries. The Arab League’s initial hope in reintegrating Syria was partly to curb the Captagon drug flow into their cities, yet significant progress on this front remains elusive, with recent months seeing intensified confrontations between drug traffickers supported by Iranian militias and the Jordanian army.

The UAE’s strategic interest lies in stabilizing the region, defending Jordan, and preventing the escalation of conflicts to Syria and Lebanon. Thus, the ambassador’s role in Damascus will likely focus on these security concerns, reflecting a broader strategy to contain the spread of conflict and influence in the region.

Meanwhile, the article also touches upon an economic crisis deepening in Egypt, with new amendments expanding military jurisdiction over crimes against public and essential facilities, indicating the government’s move to tighten control amid economic hardships. High inflation and a decline in Suez Canal revenues due to Houthi attacks in the Red Sea contribute to a volatile situation that could lead to public unrest.

In Israel, the article highlights a divisive political climate as the far-right champions resettlement in the Gaza Strip, contrasting sharply with potential paths toward normalization and peace in the region. The “Settlements Bring Security” conference and its attendees’ disregard for regional stability and peace negotiations underscore a critical crossroads for Israel: the choice between diplomatic engagement and isolation.

The return of the UAE ambassador to Syria, therefore, is emblematic of a nuanced attempt to navigate these multifaceted regional challenges, balancing between security interests, economic considerations, and the complex interplay of regional politics and diplomacy.

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