Syria Today – One Year After Earthquake, the Wound is Still Fresh

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

In the village of al-Hamziyah, located in the northern countryside of Idlib, Syria, the devastating aftermath of the February 6 earthquake has left the community living in constant fear of aftershocks. Despite spending their days in their damaged homes, many villagers, including Abdul Karim and his family, choose to sleep in tents outside, unable to feel safe indoors due to the potential for further tremors.

According to Al-Jazeera, the earthquake inflicted significant damage on the village’s infrastructure, rendering homes uninhabitable with cracked walls and fields ruined by floodwaters. Yasmine Misto and her large family, for instance, have been forced to reside in a leaky tent near their partially collapsed home, struggling with the winter’s harsh conditions and a lack of employment opportunities due to the destruction of agricultural lands by the overflowing Orontes River.

The emotional and financial toll on the villagers is profound. Abdul Karim, who has invested over $1,000 in repairs, still fears living in his own house and stays alert to rumours of more quakes, a sentiment echoed by many in this besieged opposition enclave with limited access to secure housing and aid.

The United Nations estimates that out of 4.5 million residents in northwest Syria, about 2.1 million need shelter services, including those living in informal camps and outdated tents. The earthquake displaced 53,000 families and damaged 10,600 buildings, highlighting the urgent need for renovation and repair to make homes safe again.

Local authorities, such as Younis Shamat, the head of the local council in al-Hamziyah, note that while some families received financial aid for renovations, the majority of the village has not been adequately supported, with most assistance limited to food baskets and minor repair aid. The damage to agriculture has also stripped the villagers of their primary food source, compounding the challenges faced by this community as they navigate the trauma and ongoing dangers post-earthquake, clinging to their tents as symbols of safety in uncertain times.

Syria’s Assad raises public-sector salaries as inflation soars

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad ordered Monday a 50-percent pay rise for civil servants, military personnel and public sector pensioners, with the economy in free fall and inflation soaring after nearly 13 years of war, AFP reported.

Assad announced a similar decision last year, doubling salaries and pension payments, while also lifting fuel subsidies.

The Syrian economy has been battered by the conflict that has killed more than 500,000 people and displaced millions since it began in 2011.

More than 90 percent of Syrians have been pushed into poverty, according to UN figures, and the value of the Syrian pound has been slashed.

Prior to Monday’s decision, the monthly salary of civil servants had been between around $20 and $40, depending on the Syrian pound’s street value.

A separate presidential decree issued Monday set the minimum monthly wage in the private sector at 278,190 pounds, or about $19 on the parallel market.

The Syrian pound was trading at around 14,500 to the US dollar on Monday, according to unofficial monitoring websites, compared with the official rate of 12,500.

The currency has lost more than 99 percent of its value since the start of the war, when it was worth 47 against the greenback, leading to a surge in prices.

Yazidi woman held by IS for 10 years freed by Kurdish fighters in Syria

US-backed Kurdish fighters in Syria have liberated a Yazidi woman who had been held for a decade by Islamic State (IS), where she was raped and forced to marry extremists, The Guardian reported.

The 24-year-old woman was rescued with her son and daughter during a security operation by Kurdish fighters in Syria’s al-Hawl camp, which houses tens of thousands of people, mostly the wives and children of Islamic State fighters, the Syrian Democratic Forces said on Monday.

The SDF said the Women’s Protection Units, or YPJ, liberated the Yazidi woman on Sunday saying that she is originally from Hardan village in Iraq’s Yazidi heartland of Sinjar. The statement said the woman was abducted by IS fighters during the 2014 massacres committed by the extremists during which they killed thousands of men and took many women and teenage girls who were held as sex slaves.

The woman said in a video released by the YPJ that she was staying with a family before being taken to the camp and was told not to reveal her identity or say that she is Yazidi. The woman said she used a fake name during her stay at al-Hawl until she was liberated.

“They destroyed my life. I was sold and bought like a sheep,” the woman said about the time she spent before being brought to al-Hawl in 2019. She added that at one point she was with six other women in the house of an older man called Abu Jaafar who used to beat her up if she rejected him.

Syrian opposition’s Supreme Hajj Committee: No changes in the hajj file

Enab Baladi reported that the Supreme Hajj Committee, affiliated with the Syrian opposition’s National Coalition, denied any changes regarding the Syrian hajj file for the upcoming 2024 season.

In a post on its Facebook page today, Monday, February 5, the committee stated, “There is no truth to the news that talks about any party signing a hajj arrangement agreement with Saudi Arabia up to this moment.”

The committee added that it is communicating with the concerned Saudi authorities regarding the file.

The committee’s statement comes in response to statements made by the Syrian ambassador in Riyadh, Ayman Soussan, to the local pro-regime newspaper Al-Watan today.

Soussan said that Syrian pilgrims would set off to perform the hajj pilgrimage from Syria under the management of the Syrian Ministry of Religious Endowments, after 12 years.

He also announced that the Minister of Religious Endowments (Awqaf) in the Syrian regime’s government, Abdul Sattar al-Sayed, would visit Saudi Arabia next March to sign an agreement on this matter.

Since 2013, the Supreme Hajj Committee, affiliated with the Syrian National Coalition, has been managing the hajj file in coordination with the Saudi Ministry of Hajj, with diplomatic relations having been suspended since then until last year between Saudi Arabia and the Syrian regime.

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