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Syria Today – Hundreds Return from Lebanon; Assad’s Portraits in Manama

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – Hundreds Return from Lebanon; Assad’s Portraits in Manama

Some 300 Syrian refugees headed back home from Lebanon to Syria in a convoy on Tuesday, leaving two remote northeastern towns in crisis-stricken Lebanon where anti-refugee sentiment has been surging in recent months, ABCnews.com reported.

Lebanese officials have long urged the international community to either resettle the refugees in other countries or help them return to Syria. Over the past months, major Lebanese political parties have become increasingly vocal, demanding that Syrian refugees go back.

A country of about 6 million people, Lebanon hosts nearly 780,000 registered Syrian refugees and hundreds of thousands who are unregistered — the world’s highest refugee population per capita.

In the northeastern town of Arsal, Syrian refugees piled their belongings onto the back of trucks and cars on Tuesday as Lebanese security officers collected their U.N. refugee agency cards and other paperwork before clearing them to leave.

As the trucks pulled away, the refugees waved to friends and relatives staying behind, heading to an uncertain future in Syria.

Ahmad al-Rifai, on his way to the Qalamoun Mountains after over a decade in Lebanon, said that whatever the situation was in Syria, “it’s better to live in a house than in a tent.”

Bahrain erects Assad portraits and Syria flags for Arab Summit causing uproar

Billboards featuring portraits of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad have appeared across Bahrain ahead of an Arab Summit in Manama, which has sparked outrage across social media from pro-democracy Arab activists, according to NewArab.com.

The portraits of Assad, responsible for horrific human rights abuses in Syria, were erected ahead of the 33rd Arab Summit held in Bahrain on 16 May, which the Syrian regime’s head is expected to attend.

Around Bahrain, major roads have been closed as Arab leaders arrive, while flags of the participating countries have also been erected at major landmarks across the island state.

However, online, many activists have sharply criticized the portraits of Assad due to his role in a brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protests in 2011, and subsequent armed uprising, resulting in 500,000 dead, the vast majority civilians killed in regime bombing and shelling.

“In Bahrain, the dictator throws people in prison for waving a Palestinian flag, while celebrating Assad, the murderer of a million Arabs. That’s why Zionists call him moderate,” wrote British-Syrian writer and thinker Robin Yassin-Kassab.

“Bahrain presents the positions of Saudi without the associated backlash. It’s a Saudi colony in all but name,” another said.

Others called the move “disgusting”, with around 130,000 Syrians still detained in regime prisons since the 2011 crackdown which saw Syria suspended from the Arab League until last year.

A ministerial meeting will be held on Tuesday to discuss draft resolutions ahead of the Arab summit including on the situation in Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Lebanon, Comoros and Yemen, as well as maintaining Arab national security and counter-terrorism.

Jordan and Syria discuss border security amid Gaza war tensions

The foreign ministers of Jordan and Syria have discussed border security at an Arab League meeting in Bahrain, official media said on Tuesday, after threats from groups supported by Iran to infiltrate the kingdom, The National has reported.

After Jordan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Ayman Safadi met his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad, an official Jordanian statement said: “They went over the outcome of contacts … between the two countries to stop smuggling operations and deflect their danger.”

The two men met on the sidelines of a conference in Manama convened to prepare for an Arab summit on Thursday.

For the past six years, border areas controlled by the Syrian military and pro-Iranian militias have been a main conduit of smuggling drugs, and increasingly weapons, into Jordan.

Damascus and Teheran have denied Jordanian accusations of financing the flow of illicit items. Amman has not provided information on who receives the contraband on the Jordanian side of the border.

But in the second half of last year, Jordanian authorities increased operations in tribal areas near the border against unidentified arms and drug dealers.

Tracking Anti-U.S. Strikes in Iraq and Syria During the Gaza Crisis

Militia Spotlight presents a regularly updated tracker with the best-known information about drone, rocket, and missile attacks against U.S. and allied targets, which have intensified since the Gaza war broke out.

The Washington Institute has published a detailed table which is primarily a tally of attack claims by the Islamic Resistance in Iraq (IRI) since it emerged on October 18, 2023, with an increasing mix of claims by emergent groups and unclaimed attacks since October 26. (The “Islamic Resistance” is not a group itself, but a collective mechanism to claim attacks by existing U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations such as Kataib Hezbollah, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, and non-sanctioned groups such as Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada.)

The table went through an extensive scrub on November 12, resulting in some presentational changes and reordering. Some duplicate and fake IRI claims were removed, with markers left to show where this occurred. Overall, IRI claims are still quite reliable indicators of real attacks, but on some occasions the brand has issued detailed claims for attacks that did not occur. One sub-brand with two claims—the Islamic Resistance in Iraq-Dhafireen Group—has been left in the dataset because the information may be useful later even if the claimant seems unreliable. This all suggests a high but imperfect level of coordination and communication between groups using the IRI brand.

Some attacks in Iraq and Syria since October have not been claimed, most likely because they represent instances in which Iran-linked Syrian Arab militias (e.g., the Sons of Jazira and Euphrates (Furat) Movement) targeted bases run by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Strikes on Israel have been retained in the table but excised from the serial numbering to keep the count focused on attacks against U.S. sites in Syria and Iraq. These steps should partially close the gap between Militia Spotlight’s numbers and those issued by the U.S. Defense Department, though we may still count slightly differently (e.g., Militia Spotlight counts all attempted attacks, successful or otherwise).

Syrian Constitutional Committee’s fate remains uncertain, Riyadh is unenthusiastic and regime is obstructive

In a long report, Enab Baladi explained how more than two weeks have passed since the scheduled date for the ninth round of the Syrian Constitutional Committee’s sessions of April 22-26, which went by calmly, only marred by a statement from the UN’s Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, expressing his disappointment—without deviating from the usual context regarding the stalled political track meetings for about two years, due to Moscow’s intransigence and its refusal to continue meetings in Geneva (Switzerland), aligning with the Syrian regime’s stance.

The report says the future of the Syrian Constitutional Committee remains uncertain amid a lack of enthusiasm from Riyadh and obstructions by the Syrian regime. The ninth round of meetings, initially scheduled for April 22-26, failed to take place, reflecting ongoing political stalemates influenced by external factors, including regional conflicts and geopolitical interests.

UN Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, expressed his disappointment during a Security Council briefing, citing the overhanging regional conflicts and Moscow’s reluctance to continue meetings in Geneva as significant obstacles to progress. Pedersen stressed the urgency of creating a stable and neutral environment in Syria to facilitate a political process that could ensure the safe and voluntary return of Syrian refugees.

Despite proposals to shift the meeting venue to Riyadh, both logistical and political challenges persist. The Syrian regime’s lack of commitment to the process and Saudi Arabia’s tepid interest due to doubts about achieving meaningful results have further complicated matters. Riyadh’s reception of the idea followed a series of engagements and discussions but did not translate into a definitive plan of action.

Overall, the political process, including the work of the Constitutional Committee, remains stalled due to a lack of genuine negotiating partners and continuous efforts by the regime to obstruct progress. The absence of significant advancement casts a shadow over the prospects for resolving the Syrian crisis through the committee, highlighting the broader regional and international implications of the stalemate.

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