[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]
Truce and War
29 March 2020
With the emergence of the first cases of the new coronavirus, the International Commission of Inquiry on Syria called for a ceasefire to avoid “further catastrophe” in a country ripped by a nine-year war.
“Syrian civilians now face a deadly threat in the form of the COVID-19 outbreak, one that will strike without distinction and that will be devastating for the most vulnerable in the absence of urgent preventative action,” said Paulo Pinheiro, chair of the commission.
Damascus has reported five cases of corona infection, whereas no cases have been reported in areas not under the control of government forces in Idlib governorate (northwest) or in areas controlled by the Kurds in the northeast.
The Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres called for “an immediate global ceasefire,” and the UN Envoy to Syria Geir Pedersen called for a comprehensive ceasefire in the country to focus efforts on fighting COVID-19.
Obituary of a Camp
28 March 2020
Palestinian refugees’ dreams of going back to Yarmouk camp, south of Damascus, have largely faded after the Syrian government revealed a new organizational plan that will change the urban and demographic characteristics in the area. The camp symbolizes the “right of return” of Palestinians to their lands, but the war destroyed large parts of it.
Many displaced Palestinians from this camp, who resettled in neighboring areas, are mourning the camp in their private gatherings. They build it brick by brick over long decades, turning it to a strong community and an important commercial center in Damascus, and then to a starting point for the largest demonstrations that condemned the practices of the Israeli authorities in Palestine.
28 March 2020
For the second time since thirty-six of its soldiers were killed in an air strike in the governorate on 27 February, the Turkish army has deployed a US air defense system in Idlib, northwest of Syria.
Turkish media said the previous day that the army sent a mid-range MIM-23 Hawk air defense system to the area, which has witnessed tension in recent weeks after the death of the Turkish soldiers. The media showed footage of the army transporting the defense system through Idlib. The media said that this deployment means that the Turkish army will no longer need to rely on its fighter jets or drones to bring down Syrian fighter jets.
Al-Assad and bin Zayed
27 March 2020
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi made a phone call with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to discuss the implication of the coronavirus outbreak.
“I discussed with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad updates on the coronavirus outbreak. I assured him of the support of the UAE and its willingness to help the Syrian people in these exceptional circumstances.”
The Emirates reopened its embassy in Damascus in 2018 after seven years of diplomatic severity between the two countries.
Annexation of Idlib to Turkey
26 March 2020
Turkey has tied areas in northwest Syria to its electric grid after a series of similar procedures in areas where the Turkish army launched the Euphrates Shield, Olive Branch, and Peace Spring operations in collaboration with Syrian opposition factions in northern Syria.
The General Institution for Electricity in Idlib, affiliated with the opposition “interim” government, announced the deal with a Turkish company to provide electricity for the governorate. The institution confirmed the onset of work on necessary preparations to build and extend a new line from the Turkish border to the nearest power transformation unit in Idlib, so that electricity can be distributed to all areas gradually.
People in Idlib city and its countryside have suffered from electric blackouts after many power transformation units went out of service as a result of bombardment by the Syrian government.
Call for Truce
25 March 2020
The UN Envoy to Syria Geir Pedersen called for a “complete and immediate nationwide ceasefire” in Syria to focus on suppressing the “common enemy” COVID-19 in the country ripped by nine years of war.
“Syrians are acutely vulnerable to the coronavirus; healthcare facilities have been destroyed; medical equipment and health professionals are in short supply; and internally displaced persons and refugees are living in especially dangerous conditions,” said Pedersen.
He also expressed his willingness to work with the Syrian government, the opposition, all relevant parties on the ground, and key countries with influence on “ensuring that a ceasefire holds.”
“Firm” Message to al-Assad
24 March 2020
The Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu had to take a corona test upon his return from Syria and his meeting with President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus.
The Russian minister and the Syrian president discussed the truce agreement in Idlib, the mechanism to implement the Russian-Turkish deal, and the situation in the northeast of the country, a statement from the Defense ministry said.
The most prominent conclusion is that Shoigu, who directly handles the situation in Syria, carried a “firm message” from the Kremlin, stating that breaching the Russian deals with Ankara or attempting to jeopardize them would not be allowed. This comes after Damascus alluded to the possibility of resuming fighting to complete the control of the Aleppo-Lattakia road.
23 March 2020
Nine years of bitter war have not hampered the Syrian society’s ability to rise from under the ashes of war and unite in the confrontation against the new COVID-19 pandemic. After the government declared a ban on transportation inside and between governorates and closed off markets, many individual and group initiatives have emerged to provide delivery services to the elderly and those incapable of going out to get essential things like food and medicine.
The ministry of health decided to halt all transportation between governorates starting on Tuesday and all transportation within each governorate starting on Monday. Ministries, unions, and production facilities in the private sector have to provide transportation for their on-duty staff.
The interior ministry closed all border crossings with Lebanon, preventing all passengers, including Syrians, from entering the country starting on Sunday until further notice. Trucks are exempt from this order, but the drivers have to go through necessary tests at border centers.
The information ministry suspended the publishing of local newspapers as paper could potentially transfer the virus. Newspapers will continue to be issued electronically.