Syria Digest November 30

Syria in the Nation’s Capital 

Turkish Offensive: This week, the White House stated Turkey has the right to defend itself but does not want actions that could lead to more casualties in Syria. Turkey’s air campaign in northern Syria has drawn pushback from some members of Congress. Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez, D-NJ, viewed Turkish airstrikes against the Syrian Democratic Forces as undermining the fight against ISIS and not the actions of a NATO ally. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., noted that Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan had made repeated threats to attack Syrian Kurdish allies, and the Biden administration needs to speak forcefully on this issue. 

Religious Freedom ReportThe United States Commission on International Religious Freedom released a factsheet on the religious freedom conditions in areas of northwestern Syria under the control of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). The commission found that while HTS has attempted to rebrand itself as a civic authority, it continues to restrict the religious freedom of those it perceives as not conforming to its brand of Sunni Islam and threatens the property, safety, and existence of religious minority groups. Earlier this year, the commission recommended the U.S. redesignate HTS as an “Entity of Particular Concern” over its violations of religious freedom.  

Starvation Resolution: The House later today is expected to vote on a nonbinding resolution (HRES 922) condemning the use of hunger as a weapon of war. The measure introduced by a bipartisan group of members led by Rep. Sara Jacobs, D-Calif., urges the U.S. to consider the use of hunger as a weapon of war when holding individuals and governments accountable through sanctions. The measure was marked up and approved by the Foreign Affairs Committee by voice vote in July. The Senate passed a similar resolution (SRES 669) at that time.  


Syria at the UN and Abroad

UN Interactive Dialogue: The United Nations Security Council held an interactive dialogue session on Syria earlier this month. This closed meeting was held in accordance with UN resolution 2642, which reauthorized the Bab al-Hawa cross-border point in July for six months. Among the issues discussed, the Syria Response Coordinators team observed that the value of early recovery projects submitted by the United Nations for Syria amounted to $517 million. Of this funding, over ninety percent of this funding goes to regime-held areas of the country. In addition, UNSC members were informed that humanitarian operations in northwestern Syria are still limited to relief operations only and some other simple projects, which are witnessing a noticeable decline since the implementation of UN Resolution 2642. 

Iran-Israeli Escalation: Israeli officials are bracing for Iran to take action in response to the recent killing of an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) officer in Syria. The IRGC accused Israel of being responsible for the assassination of Daoud Jaafari, who was killed last week with an explosive device outside Damascus. Israel has taken the precaution of increasing the security detail for senior security officials abroad, emphasizing former senior Mossad officials.

Defund Assad Campaign: Syrian activists residing in Germany have launched a campaign to deny funding to the Assad regime through the renewal of passports at the Syrian embassy in Berlin. The “Defund Assad” project initiated in October is a pressure campaign on German authorities to stop funding the Syrian regime by forcing Syrians to renew their passports. Under current German law, they must have a valid Syrian passport to obtain temporary protection residency and citizenship. If a valid passport cannot be presented to verify identity, that individual must submit an application to their country's embassy for a passport.


Syria on the Ground 

Turkish Ground Offensive: Earlier this week, Turkish officials signaled that the Turkish army was just days away from launching a ground incursion into Syria. The head of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Mazloum Abdi, said Turkish forces were mobilizing around Manbej and Kobani, and Turkish-backed forces were building up near Manbej and Tell Rifaat. Abdi warned that statements from the United States and Russia opposing a ground offensive were insufficient to address Turkish threats. Al-Monitor reported that all U.S. civilian staff, including diplomats, in Syria have been relocated to the Iraqi city of Erbil. Last week, the SDF announced it would suspend anti-ISIS operations, partly over its annoyance at the failure of the U.S. to address the Turkish bombing of SDF targets. 

Captagon at University: The Captagon drug trade has seeped into the campus of a prominent university in Homs. The drug is sold through shops to trusted customers who sell and promote them among young people and students attending Al-Baath University in central Homs. According to Enab Baladi, students obtain Captagon pills by requesting “Captain Majed” as a coded password among drug users to acquire the product. Captagon has flourished among students given security authorities on the university campus, led by the National Union and the Al-Baath Party’s branch, ignore the issue of promoting and selling drug pills, pointing out that the most prominent drug users among the students are the organizers of the Al-Baath Brigades.  

Extortion in Dier Ezzor: Pro-regime militia groups in Dier Ezzor have engaged in an extortion scheme that forces Syrian expats to provide bribes to reclaim their homes. Orient News profiled one family living in Saudi Arabia that was blackmailed upon returning to the town of Baghuz Fawqani in the eastern countryside of the city. Militia officers would not vacate their property until they were provided 30 million Syrian pounds. The militia stole the belongings of the house, including the windows.

Humanitarian Work and Civil Society in Syria

Refugee Olympian: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees recently screened the Netflix film The Swimmers, a movie based on the real-life story of two Syrians who fled their country, one of whom went on to participate in the Olympics. Yusra Mardini, profiled by the International Olympic Committee, is a competitive swimmer who has used her sport to draw attention to the value of refugees. A participant in the Rio 2016 games, Mardini has stated she competes for all refugees. “I know that I am maybe not carrying my country’s flag, but I’m carrying the Olympic flag which represents the whole wide world,” said Mardini.   



Pay Attention to Syria or Pay a Price”:  Tara Sonenshine, former U.S. undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, authored an op-ed in The Hill outlining why Syria remains a flashpoint of concern for the U.S.

Turkey-Syria LPG Shipments & The Lebanon Link”: The Middle East Economic Survey has published an article examining how Syria receives liquid national gas imports from Turkey via vessels ostensibly heading to Lebanon. 

What Awaits Hundreds of Thousands Of IDPs In Northeast Syria?”: The North Press Agency has published a report that examines the conditions facing the estimated 200,000 internally displaced persons that live in 78 camps and makeshift facilities in northeastern Syria.