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Syria Today – 7.5 Billion Euros Pledged During Brussels VIII; First Damascus-Jeddah Flight in Decade

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – 7.5 Billion Euros Pledged During Brussels VIII; First Damascus-Jeddah Flight in Decade

On 27 May, during the eighth edition of the Brussels Conference on ‘Supporting the future of Syria and the region’ hosted by the European Union, the donor community pledged a total amount of €7.5 billion. This strong commitment shows once more the willingness of the EU and the international community to mitigate the impact of the Syrian crisis; and support the populations both in Syria and in neighbouring countries.

The total amount of pledges includes €5 billion of grants and €2.5 billion of loans for 2024 and beyond.

The overall figure includes the €2.12 billion pledged by the EU for 2024 and 2025, announced during the conference by High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Josep Borrell.  The total amount pledged by the EU and its Member States amounted to almost €6 billion, reaffirming them as the largest donor to the Syria response.

The Ministerial meeting brought together representatives from EU Member States, neighbouring countries, other partner countries, international organisations, including the UN, and international financial institutions to mobilise vital financial support to address the most pressing needs of Syrians and their host communities in the region. The event concluded with the announcement of the global pledge amount by Commissioner for Crisis Management, Janez Lenarčič.

First Syrian jet in over a decade transports Muslim worshippers to Saudi Arabia for Hajj pilgrimage

For the first time in over a decade, 270 Syrians travelled on a direct flight early Tuesday from Damascus to Saudi Arabia for the annual Islamic Hajj pilgrimage, the Syrian Transportation Ministry said, as quoted by AP.

The development is part of an ongoing thaw in relations between Damascus and Riyadh, which days ago appointed Saudi Arabia’s first ambassador to war-torn Syria since severing ties in 2012.

Syria was readmitted to the 22-member Arab League in 2023, after it had been suspended from the group for more than a decade over President Bashar Assad’s brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters in 2011. Most countries in the Arab world have since restored diplomatic ties with Damascus.

A second plane of pilgrims is set to depart from Damascus to Jeddah late Tuesday, the ministry said.

1.8 million Muslims from around the world took part in last year’s Hajj pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca, making it one of the world’s largest religious gatherings. This year, it’s scheduled to begin on the evening of June 14.

In Syria, we are still paying down the debt from Obama’s Iran deal

Bilal Bilici published an op-ed in The Hill, which focused on the US approach in Syria marked by ambiguity and a reluctance to get deeply involved, which has frustrated regional actors. 

The article sees that the upcoming U.S. presidential election will likely bring changes in how the Syrian crisis is handled. Analysts believe that a Biden or Trump presidency would approach the crisis differently. Trump, known for his aversion to costly foreign engagements, might focus on securing commitments from allies to counter ISIS without re-engaging in extensive conflicts. Meanwhile, Biden’s policy is seen as constrained by the legacy of the Obama-era Iran Nuclear Deal (JCPOA).

The JCPOA aimed to stabilize the region and protect U.S. interests but underestimated the complexities of Middle Eastern alliances and rivalries. The Obama administration’s strategic missteps included misjudging Iran’s ambitions and failing to effectively bridge gaps with Gulf countries.

According to the op-ed, the U.S. alliance with the Kurdish YPG, linked to the PKK, has also strained relations with Turkey. The YPG’s goals for an independent Kurdistan exacerbate regional tensions.

A future Trump administration might adopt a “Trump-Reagan fusion” doctrine, emphasizing American interests, military strength, and alliances. Trump might seek practical deals through intermediaries like Oman or Qatar to de-escalate the Syrian conflict, contrasting with previous ambitious but flawed strategies.

Biden’s policy needs a serious rethink to align with regional dynamics, especially regarding the YPG and cooperation with Turkey. The Syrian conflict, overshadowed by other global crises, requires urgent attention to avoid further destabilization.

In summary, the article urges the next U.S. president to develop a pragmatic, regionally informed approach to address the enduring challenges of the Syrian conflict.

Who was Louay Al Nayef, the Syrian officer killed in a car bomb in Damascus?

A Syrian officer killed in a car bomb in Damascus this weekend served in electronic warfare, in an army department linked to Iran and North Korea, a relative and other sources told The National, deepening the mystery behind his assassination.

The National has published a Who’s Who piece on Al-Nayef. 

Col Louay Al Nayef was killed in the West Mazzeh area on Saturday by a bomb planted under his car, loyalists to President Bashar Al Assad said on social media.

He was the latest in an increasing number of security officers assassinated mostly in Damascus in the past several years.

Motives are still unclear, but range from an Israeli campaign to eliminate Syrian operatives who liaise with Iran, which intensified since the Gaza war on October 7, to internal regime competition over the war economy, said a communications engineer who was in the Syrian army.

Iran has also been eliminating figures in Syria deemed as untrustworthy, he said, adding that very little is known about the colonel, beyond information in his death notice that identifies him as a member of the Okeidat tribe in Eastern Syria.

“There are precedents of obscure figures in the regime who were later found to have been crucial players,” the engineer The National.

He pointed out the example of Brig Gen Mohammed Suleiman.

Suleiman, believed to have been killed on the Syrian coast by Israeli commandos in 2008, was seen as having been the point man in Syria’s military ties with Iran and North Korea. He was close to the Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, but most of the ruling elite had not heard of him until he was assassinated.

Al Nayef could have been also killed “by error, either by Israel or by Iran, or he could have been target of a tribal revenge”, the engineer said.

Electronic warfare started relying on Iran and North Korea for training and equipment since the early 2000s, replacing Soviet eavesdropping and jamming systems, he said.

The number of new German citizens hit another high last year as many Syrians naturalized

AP reports that Germany saw another big increase in the number of people gaining citizenship last year as large numbers of people from Syria helped push naturalizations up to their highest level since at least 2000, according to official data released Tuesday.

About 200,100 people were granted German citizenship in 2023, the Federal Statistical Office said. That was an increase of about 31,000, or 19%, compared with the previous year.

The increase followed a 28% rise in 2022, which also was fueled by large numbers of Syrians being naturalized as increasing numbers of people who migrated to Germany between 2014 and 2016 fulfilled the requirements for citizenship.

Last year, 75,500 people from Syria were naturalized — the biggest single group, accounting for 38% of the total — the statistics office said. That number was up 56% compared with 2022. They had spent an average 6.8 years in Germany before becoming citizens.

About 10,700 citizens each of Turkey and Iraq became German citizens last year, putting those groups in second place.

The overall number of new citizens was the highest since current records started in 2000 following a change in the law under which people of German ancestry from the former Soviet Union, who arrived in large numbers in the 1990s, were automatically granted citizenship rather than having to apply for it.

Requirements for being granted citizenship include a working knowledge of German and proof of being able to support oneself financially.

Under the law as it was last year, people were in principle required to have lived in Germany for at least eight years, though that didn’t apply to spouses and children. The period could be reduced to six years for people who show “special integration accomplishments” such as very good knowledge of the language, professional achievements or civic engagement.

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