Syria Digest December 7

Syria in the Nation's Capital

NDAA: This week, the House is scheduled to consider the FY 2023 National Defense Authorization Bill. The negotiated compromise version (HR 7776) includes the legislative text of the Captagon Act, which would require establishing an interagency strategy to dismantle the Assad regime’s narcotics production activities. The legislation also extends the Syria Train and Equip program through 2023 and provides $165 million in funding, an $18.3 million cut from the $183.6 million budget request from the Biden administration.  

Syria Detainee Legislation: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee convenes this morning to hold a markup of a series of bills and nominations. On the docket is S 4996, the Syria Detainee and Displaced Persons Act. This measure would require an interagency strategy to address the situation in Kurdish-run detainee and displacement camps in eastern Syria, emphasizing efforts to address acute humanitarian and security concerns, repatriation and prosecution efforts, and a framework to measure progress. 

UN Aid to Assad: A recent article discussing a report documenting how the Assad regime profits from UN humanitarian aid to Syria caught the attention of a key lawmaker. Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Jim Risch, R-Idaho, posted a Voice of America piece citing the report’s findings that between 2019 and 2020, nearly 47% of procurement funding in Syria went to entities tied to the Assad regime and or engaged in human rights abuses. Risch declared both the UN and the Biden administration need to ensure support for the Syrian people does not support atrocities by the regime. 

Turkish-SDF Clash: The prospect of a military confrontation between Turkey and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) does not have senior lawmakers' support. In a joint statement, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks, D-NY, and ranking member Michael McCaul, R-Texas said they were deeply concerned that Turkey’s recent spate of attacks against the SDF are endangering anti-ISIS operations. They acknowledged Turkey has the right to self-defense but called on President Erdogan to refrain from taking any action that would hinder operations to combat ISIS.  

Syria at the UN and Abroad

Turkish-SDF Conflict: In the past week, the U.S. took a more active role in dissuading Turkey from pursuing a ground operation against the Syrian Democratic Forces. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar. A Pentagon readout expressed concern over the escalating action in northern Syria and Turkey and stated strong opposition to a new military operation. In response, Akar called on the United States to show understanding for military action in Syria.  

Cross-Border Reauthorization: A key diplomat tasked with addressing the humanitarian situation in Syria at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) recently raised grave concerns about the situation in the northwest. In an interview with Arab News, Norway’s Ambassador to the UN, Mona Juul, said the situation in that region of the country continues to deteriorate. As the current penholder of the Syria humanitarian file, Juul noted it was critical for the UNSC to reauthorize the Bab al-Hawa border crossing. The ambassador noted the current challenge of doing so saying, “It is no secret that every time we have to renew this cross-border mechanism, the starting point is that at least one member of the Security Council does not want to have this resolution and this mechanism.”        

Syria Resists Talks: Russia’s latest attempts to bring about a rapprochement between Syria and Turkey face resistance from the Assad regime, which reportedly resisted Russian efforts to broker a summit with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The opposition is based on the view that such a meeting could politically boost Erdogan ahead of the Turkish elections next year, especially if it addressed the return of Syrian refugees from Turkey. As a result, no rapprochement is expected before the elections, to the extent that Syria has ruled out the idea of a meeting between foreign ministers. 

Syria on the Ground

Sweida Protests: Individuals over the weekend stormed the governor’s office in Sweida and set fire to sections of it in protest of worsening economic conditions and government corruption. Prior to the event, 200 people gathered outside the building, chanting anti-government slogans and calling for the removal of Bashar al-Assad from power. These actions were then met with gunfire from security forces against the protestors, reported  Al Jazeera. Additional clashes ended in the death of a protester and a police officer.    

UN Aid Need in NW: The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs released its latest situation report for northwest Syria. Currently, there is an 82 percent gap in providing the $209.5 million needed for the region's winter and flooding preparedness response. In terms of housing, more than 6,000 dignified shelters have been implemented, and over 16,700 are in the process of implementation. For November, nearly 700 trucks with food and cholera kits crossed into the area from Turkey. As of the end of last month, there were 422 lab-confirmed cholera cases, and the Early Warning, Alert, and Response Network team in the region have recorded 12 deaths. 

ISIS Leader Killed: Last week, reports surfaced that in mid-October, an operation was carried out in southern Syria that ended in the death of the leader of ISIS. U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) confirmed the news. “The death of Abu al-Hassan al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi in mid-October is another blow to ISIS. The Free Syrian Army conducted this operation in Daraa province in Syria. ISIS remains a threat to the region,” CENTCOM spokesperson Col. Joe Buccino said in a statement. The Syrian Observer for Human Rights pointed out the U.S. was referring to Abdul Rahman al-Iraqi, who was killed by local fighters in the city of Jessim. The group also reported that leaders from Jassim revealed that the ISIS organization’s leadership is linked to officers from the Assad regime’s security services in Daraa.  


Syria: Families of ‘Disappeared’ Deserve Answers”: Amnesty International explains why United Nations member countries should establish an international, independent entity to track and identify those missing and disappeared since the start of the Syria crisis in 2011. 

Widening the Search for the Missing Victims of ISIS: Idlib and Aleppo” The Syria Justice and Accountability Center announced it has expanded the geographic scope of its missing persons' program to include formerly ISIS-controlled areas of Idlib and Aleppo governorates.

The Risks and Rewards of Erdogan’s Next Military Operation”: Posting on the Atlantic Council’s blog, Richard Outzen argues an impending Turkish incursion into northern Syria could present an opportunity for the United States and Turkey to find an end game to the Syria conflict.