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Syria Today – Lebanon Receives Financial Aid Package in Exchange for Holding Refugees; Syria Launches e-Visa System

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – Lebanon Receives Financial Aid Package in Exchange for Holding Refugees; Syria Launches e-Visa System

The EU’s Ursula von der Leyen unveiled a €1 billion economic aid package for Lebanon in exchange for the country slowing migration to the EU. The move comes amid a sharp rise in Syrian refugees headed to Cyprus, DW reported.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen traveled to Lebanon to announce a multi-year economic aid package worth €1 billion ($1.07 billion) for the country on Thursday.

The visit comes with EU member state Cyprus increasingly anxious about a sharp rise in Syrian migrant numbers from Lebanon, just 185 kilometers (100 miles) from the Mediterranean island.

What the EU chief said

“I can announce a financial package of $1 billion for Lebanon that would be available from this year until 2027,” she said, adding that “we want to contribute to Lebanon’s socio-economic stability.”

Von der Leyen said the aid was designed to shore up basic services such as education and health care.

She also appealed for the country to adopt reforms, saying, “Lebanon needs a positive economic momentum to give opportunities to its businesses and citizens.”

Von der Leyen said the EU was committed to keeping “legal pathways open to Europe” in place and resettling refugees in the 27-member bloc. 

“At the same time, we count on your good cooperation to prevent illegal migration and combat migrant smuggling,” she added.

Why is the aid needed?

Lebanon hosts some 805,000 UN-registered Syrian refugees, of which 90% live in poverty. The country has also faced a lengthy financial crisis and months of border clashes between its powerful, Iran-backed Shiite movement Hezbollah and Israel.

For months, Cyprus has lobbied the bloc, urging it to extend aid to Lebanon in a way similar to EU deals with Turkey, Tunisia, and, more recently, Egypt. Cyprus has told Brussels the number of migrants is no longer sustainable, and it has suspended the processing of asylum applications by Syrian nationals.

Lebanese officials had lately threatened to stop intercepting migrant boats destined for Europe unless Beirut receives more economic support. 

Syrians accuse Russia of hitting hospital in new complaint filed with U.N. rights committee

Reuters reports that a Syrian man and an aid organisation have accused Russia of violating international law by deliberately bombing a hospital in northern Syria in 2019, in a new complaint filed at the United Nations Human Rights Committee this week.

Russia, which intervened militarily in Syria’s conflict in 2015 to bolster the forces of its ally President Bashar al-Assad, has been accused by U.N. investigators of committing war crimes in Syria, but has not faced any international tribunal.

Moscow has repeatedly denied accusations that it violated international law in Syria.

The new complaint, filed on May 1 but made public on Thursday, accuses Russia’s Air Force of killing two civilians in a series of air strikes on the Kafr Nobol Surgical Hospital in the northwest province of Idlib on May 5, 2019.

It was brought to the committee by the cousin of those killed and by Hand in Hand for Aid and Development, an aid group that was supporting the hospital, which was in territory held by armed groups opposed to Assad.

The complaint relies on videos, eyewitness statements and audio recordings, including correspondence between a Russian pilot and ground control about dropping munitions.

“Syrians are looking to the Human Rights Committee to show us some measure of redress by acknowledging the truth of this brutal attack, and the suffering caused,” said Fadi al-Dairi, the director of Hand in Hand.

Syrian government launches electronic visa for entry 

Enab Baladi reports that the Syrian government has launched an electronic visa platform, allowing  Arab and foreign nationals, to apply for entry visas online without the need to visit Syrian embassies or consulates. 

This new system was announced by the Ministry of Tourism in coordination with the Interior and Foreign Affairs ministries, and it promises to provide visa approvals within 72 hours of application. 

This service can be accessed directly by Arab and foreign nationals via the E-Visa website, and Syrians can also apply on behalf of friends and relatives abroad through the Ministry of Tourism or the Anjez Syria platform.

Tourism Minister Mohammed Rami Martini indicated that the initiative is aimed at revitalizing the tourism sector, which has been severely impacted, particularly in areas without Syrian diplomatic presence. 

The system includes flexible payment options, allowing fees to be paid online or upon arrival at Syrian border points. This e-visa initiative is expected to significantly increase the number of visitors to Syria, as part of the government’s broader strategy of digital transformation and procedural simplification.

Economic analyst Dr. Firas Shaabo suggests that the electronic visa has both economic and political objectives. Economically, it aims to generate foreign currency for the government, as allies of President Bashar al-Assad, who control much of the tourism sector, stand to benefit from increased tourist arrivals. Politically, the visa is portrayed as a signal that Syria is returning to normalcy, potentially attracting tourists and investors despite ongoing infrastructural challenges.

However, there are indications that the e-visa system may not be fully operational. Reports from Enab Baladi indicate that the online platforms for visa registration were out of service as of the launch date, and local travel agencies were uninformed about the registration and fee processes. This has led to skepticism about the effectiveness and readiness of the e-visa system, with some observers like Shaabo criticizing it as mere “media talk” and questioning Syria’s capability to manage such a digital process effectively.

Additionally, the Syrian Ministry of Finance has introduced new fees for Gulf and foreign vehicles entering Syria, which could be another measure to increase foreign currency earnings from tourism. Despite these efforts, the actual impact of the electronic visa on tourism and economic revitalization remains to be seen, especially considering the technical issues at the outset.

Was Iran’s embassy in Syria really spared by the Israeli raid?

France 24 published a report explaining how image analysis confirm that the Israeli strike did indeed hit part of the embassy compound, raising questions about the legality of the attack under international law.

The reports say that despite claims from pro-Israeli social media that an Israeli airstrike on April 1 did not hit Iran’s embassy in Damascus, evidence suggests otherwise. 

Photos and reports confirm that a building within the Iranian consulate, part of the embassy compound, was destroyed. Contrary to claims that only a nearby Revolutionary Guard facility was targeted, the damaged building was indeed part of the diplomatic premises. 

This attack has raised questions about the legality under international law, given the protected status of diplomatic sites. Critics argue that, unless Israel can justify the strike under the principle of legitimate defence by proving direct threats or attacks orchestrated from the consulate, the attack would be deemed illegal under international law.

‘I refuse to simplify Syria for western audiences’: director Soudade Kaadan on making a war movie without bloodshed

In a long report by The Guardia, Soudade Kaadan, a Syrian director, crafted her film “Nezouh” to challenge conventional expectations of how Syrian stories should be portrayed for Western audiences. Set against the backdrop of war-torn Damascus, “Nezouh” — which means displacement in Arabic — offers a nuanced, dreamlike narrative that focuses on a Syrian family’s dilemma of whether to stay in their besieged home or leave the country they love. The film eschews the typical bloodshed and action scenes common in war movies, opting instead for a blend of dark humor and magical realism to convey its story.

Kaadan’s film captures the complex dynamics of a family living in a house partially destroyed by a missile, symbolizing their exposure to the external world. The narrative delves deep into the emotional and psychological impacts of war, focusing on personal and family experiences rather than the broader political context. This approach reflects Kaadan’s commitment to portraying Syrian lives with dignity and depth, rather than reducing them to mere victims of conflict.

“Nezouh” was filmed in Gaziantep, Turkey, during the pandemic and features cinematography by Hélène Louvart. The film has garnered international acclaim, winning the Armani Beauty audience award at the Venice Film Festival in 2022 and the Amnesty International human rights award at the Rome MedFilm festival in 2023. Kaadan, who moved from Damascus to Beirut in 2012 and later to London, uses her platform to advocate for a deeper, more empathetic understanding of refugee experiences and the profound hardships of displacement.

By refusing to oversimplify the narrative for Western viewers, Kaadan emphasizes the real, lived experiences of Syrians, aiming to foster a greater understanding of the complexities of war and its human cost. This approach challenges viewers to rethink their perceptions of Syria and its people, promoting a narrative that respects their resilience and agency.

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