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Syria Today – Assad in Teheran; HTS Criticizes the U.S.

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – Assad in Teheran; HTS Criticizes the U.S.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei received his Syrian ally President Bashar al-Assad in Tehran on Thursday, Iran International reported.

The visit comes shortly after the unexpected death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash. Assad’s visit is reportedly to offer condolences, reflecting the deep political and military alliance, criticized by many Iranians and Western governments.

Iran’s semi-official Student News Network reported that Khamenei used the opportunity to assert that Western nations and their regional allies “failed” in their attempts to destabilize Syria’s government. 

His remarks come amid widespread criticism of Iran’s role in the Syrian civil war, which led to extensive human suffering and regional instability.

Assad was absent from Raisi’s funeral, with the country’s envoy to Tehran citing personal reasons for his absence, raising questions about the Syrian leader’s commitment to his Iranian allies. 

Syria’s main insurgent group blasts the US Embassy over its criticism of crackdown on protesters

The main insurgent group in rebel-held northwest Syria blasted the U.S. on Thursday over its criticism of a crackdown on protesters in areas outside government control, AP reported. 

The group said Washington should instead respect protesters at American universities who have demonstrated against the war in Gaza.

The statement by the U.S. Embassy in Damascus came after months of protests against Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, or HTS, in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province by people opposed to the rule of the group that was once known as the Nusra Front, the Syria branch of al-Qaida. The group later changed its name several times and distanced itself from al-Qaida.

Anti-HTS sentiments had been rising for months following a wave of arrests by the group of senior officials within the organization.

Earlier this month, HTS members attacked protesters demanding the release of detainees with clubs and sharp objects outside a military court in Idlib city, injuring several people. Days later HTS fighters fired into the air and beat protesters with clubs, injuring some of them as protests intensified to demand the release of detainees and an end to the group’s rule.

The U.S. Embassy in Damascus posted on the social media platform X on Wednesday that it supports “the rights of all Syrians to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, including in Idlib.”

It added that “we deplore Hayat Tahrir al-Sham’s regime-style intimidation and brutality against peaceful protesters as they call for justice, security, & respect for human rights.”

The Normalizing of Assad Has Been a Disaster

Foreign Policy published a report focusing on the drawbacks of the normalization with Syria’s Assad.

One year ago, the report says, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was readmitted to the Arab League, signifying a major regional push to normalize relations with his regime. This initiative aimed to address Syria’s crisis by increasing humanitarian aid, facilitating refugee returns, combating drug production, advancing political solutions, and enhancing counter-terrorism efforts. However, every aspect of the crisis has deteriorated since then.

According to the report, humanitarian aid access remains restricted, with aid levels at their lowest. The World Food Program has ceased operations in Syria, and the U.N. humanitarian response is underfunded. Refugee returns are minimal, and neighbouring countries have resorted to forceful deportations.

The drug trade, particularly captagon production, has flourished, with the regime actively involved. Jordan, initially cooperative with Syrian intelligence, has shifted to military responses, including airstrikes against regime-held areas.

Diplomatic efforts have stalled, and regional summits have been postponed due to Syrian obstructionism. The U.S. has shown limited interest in Syria policy, with significant legislation like the Caesar Act set to expire, potentially allowing for increased engagement with Assad’s regime.

The report concluded that an attempt to normalize Assad’s regime has failed, driven by flawed assumptions and lacking international commitment. The ongoing crisis in Syria requires a renewed, collective international effort to achieve meaningful progress.

Deaths, Torture, and Arbitrary Detention in the Wake of the Islamic State in Syria: The US Responsibility to Act

Justsecurity.org published a detailed report on the ongoing human rights abuses in northeast Syria’s detention facilities highlighting the urgent need for the U.S. to reassess its involvement and address the inhumane conditions faced by detainees, including thousands of children.

The Biden administration recently repatriated 12 people from northeast Syria, where tens of thousands remain imprisoned without trial for perceived affiliation with the Islamic State (IS). The majority have been detained since 2019, with around 30,000 being children under 12. Detainees face systematic torture and inhumane conditions in at least 27 detention facilities and two massive camps.

The reports explain that the  U.S., providing significant support to this detention system, has a legal and moral responsibility to address the abuses. The U.S.-led coalition, formed in 2014 to combat IS, supported the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in defeating IS. However, this has resulted in mass deaths, torture, and ill-treatment of detainees. In facilities like Sini and Panorama, detainees suffer from beatings, electric shocks, and denial of basic necessities, leading to hundreds of deaths.

The conditions in the camps, especially Al-Hol and Roj, are dire, with detainees living in fear of violence and exploitation. Women and children are unlawfully separated, and many boys are transferred to more restrictive facilities as they age. The system fails both detainees and victims of IS, with no fair trials or justice for crimes committed.

The reports conclude that the U.S. continues to fund and visit these facilities, and detainees report seeing U.S. forces present during torture sessions. Repatriation efforts are inadequate, often leading to further torture in the receiving countries, particularly Iraq. The U.S. must stop joint operations with the SDF that lead to these detentions and work towards a comprehensive strategy involving the U.N. to address the ongoing violations and ensure fair trials and humane treatment for detainees.

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