[The following is a selection by our editors of significant weekly developments in Syria. Depending on events, each issue will include anywhere from four to eight briefs. This series is produced in both Arabic and English in partnership between Salon Syria and Jadaliyya. Suggestions and blurbs may be sent to email@example.com.]
General “Corona” Empties Prisons
22 March 2020
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Sunday issued a legislative decree granting general amnesty for crimes committed before Sunday in an effort to combat the coronavirus.
The official Syrian news agency SANA reported that the decree provides for the replacement of the death penalty with a life sentence for hard labor, a life sentence for hard labor with a sentence for hard labor for a period of twenty years, and the sentence of life imprisonment with a twenty-year sentence.
SANA said that the mitigation provisions in the decree do not apply to crimes that resulted in personal harm unless the victim forfeited their personal rights, adding that payment of compensation awarded to the victim is not considered as forfeiture of rights.
Syrian legal sources in Damascus said that the presidential decree is meant to empty the overcrowded prisons as part of the Syrian government’s effort to confront the Corona virus. The amnesty decree does not apply to people arrested and imprisoned for dealing with foreign currency.
Syrians in Cyprus
21 March 2020
Authorities in the northern part of Cyprus said that they saved a group of one hundred and seventy-five Syrians on board of a boat and stopped them from landing on the shores of Cyprus.
Police in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus said that the refugees, including sixty-nine children, were spotted at night after their boat collapsed ten meters off the shore south of the Karpas Peninsula. They were transported to a sports stadium in Isklieh, northeast of the island where they will undergo medical exams, the police said.
On Friday, the authorities in Cyprus prevented a boat from landing in the southern part of the island, and they do not know where it came from.
Cyprus is one hundred kilometers far from Lebanon and eighty kilometers from Turkey. Both countries are host to more than four million Syrian refugees who fled the war in their country.
Several boats have landed in Cyprus in recent months coming from the shores of the Turkish city of Mersin.
The Army and the Pandemic
20 March 2020
The Syrian army has halted the conscription of new members in the military service due to the health situation and the outbreak of the coronavirus.
The Higher Command of the Syrian Army and Armed Forces on Friday announced the cessation of compulsory conscription until 22 April due to the health situation the world is currently witnessing.
Syria has prevented the entry of foreign visitors from various countries that have a coronavirus outbreak, in an effort to expand the procedures to confront the pandemic.
Death of Two Turkish Soldiers
19 March 2020
Two Turkish soldiers were killed in Idlib, northwest of Syria, in a missile attack carried out by “some radical groups,” the Turkish defense ministry said on Thursday. Another soldier was hurt, and Turkish forces opened fire on targets in the area, the ministry added.
Turkey, which supports militants opposed to the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, had reached a ceasefire agreement with Russia two weeks ago after confrontations that went on for months and displaced around one million people in Idlib. Moscow supports the Syrian government forces.
This is the first incident in which Turkish soldiers were killed in Idlib after the ceasefire agreement went into effect.
10 March 2020
Turkey reduced the salaries of Syrian militants it sent to fight in Libya, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said on Thursday. The SOHR said that this came after “the number of militants exceeded the limit set by Turkey, which is six thousand fighters.”
This information could not be verified by other sources.
The SOHR also said that the number of militants allied to Turkey who died in the battles in Libya has risen to 129 fighters.
Tragedy of Idlib
18 March 2020
A relief organization on Wednesday cautioned against the tragic repercussions if the stranded refugees in northern Syria become a subject of a coronavirus outbreak.
“In light of its evident brutality, one can expect a genocide if the coronavirus reaches northwest of Syria,” said Derek Hegmanz, the Regional Coordinator of the German Anti-hunger Organization.
The government offensive, which began last April, destroyed dozens of hospitals.
Doctors Without Borders cautioned that an outbreak of the coronavirus in northwest Syria could rapidly lead to a critical situation if additional actions and procedures are not taken.
Raed Saleh, the head of the White Helmet Organization said, “we will carry out intensive awareness campaigns starting on Friday in coordination with health associations in northwest Syria.”
17 March 2020
Four soldiers in the Syrian government forces and a militant in the armed opposition factions were killed on Tuesday in fierce clashes in the southern countryside of Idlib, the last stronghold for the opposition which is subject to a ceasefire agreement that started on 6 March.
Despite the clashes in the early hours of the truce, which killed six people from government forces and nine jihadists, the agreement has brought forward noticeable tranquility in Idlib governorate. Idlib witnessed months-long bombardment by Syrian and Russian forces that caused a humanitarian catastrophe.
17 March 2020
For the first time, the United States on Tuesday held Russia responsible for the death of dozens of Turkish soldiers in Syria and imposed more sanctions on Syrian officials.
Thirty-four Turkish soldiers were killed in the previous month in Idlib in an airstrike. Ankara blamed Syrian forces and reached a new ceasefire agreement with Moscow.
In an announcement declaring new sanctions against Syrian officials, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Russia, which supports Iran and the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his attempt to eliminate opposition militants in Idlib.
Punishment of a Minister and Passing away of Another
17 March 2020
The United States on Tuesday imposed new sanctions on the Syrian Defense Minister Major-General Ali Abdullah Ayyoub for his responsibility of the violence and humanitarian crisis in northern Syria.
The General Command of the Syrian Army and Armed Forces announced on 20 March that the former Defense Minister Major-General Ali Habib died at the age of eighty-one.