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Divided, Contested and Collapsed Syria, by Jean-Michel Morel (Le Monde Diplomatic Department)

Sendiyan refugee camp is home to Syrian civilians displaced by Assad regime attacks (Idlib, Syria, 5 February 2023)

Muhammad Said Anadolu Getty

P.Resident Despite food insecurity affecting 12 million people in Syria and a poverty rate of over 90%, Bashar al-Assad’s grip on power appears solid. His regime’s stability is all the more surprising, as more than 6 million of the pre-war population of 21 million are refugees from other countries and about 7 million are internally displaced. It is the result of a combination of a severe crackdown on his political opponents, a weak and divided opposition, and the resolve of Mr. Assad and his family.

The earthquake, which has killed nearly 6,000 Syrians so far, may give President Assad a chance to end his diplomatic isolation, especially in the Arab world. Syria was suspended from the Arab League in 2011. There were calls both in the West and in the West. Arab countries have called for the temporary or permanent lifting of UN sanctions against the regime to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid.

President Assad had grounds for wanting social reintegration long before the earthquake (1). The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain reopened their embassies in Damascus in December 2018 (Iraq, Algeria, Lebanon, Mauritania and Oman have never severed diplomatic ties). In October 2021, Jordan’s King Abdullah called President Assad to end the war. Ten years of silence. In December 2021, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEP) unanimously decided to host the 2024 conference in Syria. In March 2022, President Assad visited the UAE Crown Prince (current President) Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (“MBZ”). More recently, Saudi Arabia, eager to contain the growing influence of Iran and Turkey, began talks with Damascus again.

At the Arab League summit in November 2022, Syria’s rejoining was postponed despite the recommendations of host country Algeria and Russia’s lobbying, but the postponement is likely to be short-lived, with Egypt It is even possible that Syria will rejoin at this month’s summit, as it is no longer opposed. The European Union has said it will not resume ties with Damascus until the political crackdown has ended, prisoners of conscience have been released, and Syria’s official negotiators have demonstrated a firm commitment to a democratic transition. However, some EU member states and candidate states have reopened their embassies, including Greece, Hungary, Serbia and the Republic of Cyprus.

EU will not resume relations

However, Syria’s loss of sovereignty over much of its territory cannot be hidden, even if Syria may rejoin the international community. Until February 6, war was probably the biggest fear for Syrians living near the Turkish border. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was planning military strikes again, such as in the Al-Arba region in 2016, Afrin in 2018, and areas between Ras al-Ain. Turkey claimed the attacks were justified by threats to national security by the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) and the Democratic Unity Party (PYD), which constitutes the Kurdish forces of the Syrian Democratic Forces rebel coalition.

Led by mercenaries fighting under the (misleading) name of the Syrian National Army, these offensives included violence against civilians, ethnic cleansing, and ultimately cost $2 billion a year. Occupied territory controlled by Turkey. Turkey replaced the Syrian pound with the lira, forced Turkish as an official language instead of Arabic and Kurdish, and took over the appointment of the Imam. A protectorate in name only.

Syria urgently needs humanitarian assistance.But some countries that have imposed sanctions say there is no difference between the Syrian people and the dictator

Will the catastrophic damage caused by recent earthquakes occur? (see) President Erdogan’s credibility is shaken, In this issue) make Erdogan abandon the plan? After targeting the Kurdish-majority areas west of the Euphrates, he hinted at his intention to occupy more areas east of the river. His ultimate aim was to create a “safe zone” 911 km long and 30 km deep on the Syrian side of the border. This would have enabled the repatriation of 1 million of the 3.5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey (1.7 million of whom were affected by the earthquake). It was an unwelcome prospect for both the refugees, who feared retaliation from the Syrian regime, and for Assad, who knew it meant another attempt to seize Syrian territory.

Syria also lost control of 6,000 square kilometers around the city of Idlib, south of Afrin. The region, which borders Turkey and already had a population of 1.3 million in 2010, is crammed with around 3 million. Half of them live in makeshift camps under plastic sheets and blankets.

Idlib still in rebel hands

The reason Idlib is not under the control of the Syrian government, despite the constant bombing by Russia and Syria, is due to the fact that Turkey has pledged to eliminate the enclave’s most radical Islamist groups. 2018 agreement. That didn’t happen, and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham of 35,000, led by Abu Mohammed al-Julani, began to dominate his rivals.

The Julani have no unanimous local support and some staunch opponents, but they control 75% of the enclave. He has set up a government called the Syrian Relief Government to tax retailers and collect tariffs at the Turkish border. He also controls traffic for Captagon, an amphetamine ingested by combatants, refined in Syria, now the world center for its production and use.

A former al-Qaeda member who considers himself the only surviving representative of the 2011 Syrian revolution, Julani frequently attacks government forces and seeks to expand his influence beyond the Idlib region. With improved relations between Ankara and Damascus imminent in recent months, he knows that the survival of his proto-state depends on the balance of power he can achieve with other regional actors. His trump card is to take control of the Bab al-Hawa border crossing. Bab al-Hawa was the only point of entry for NGO and UN trucks carrying humanitarian aid to Syria until mid-February. Since the earthquake, the Assad regime has opened two new intersections for the first three months.

Iran is another threat to Syria’s sovereignty. Immediately after the 2011 uprising began, the Iranian government, with the backing of the Assad regime, dispatched the Revolutionary Guard and mobilized Hezbollah from Lebanon and Shiite militias from Afghanistan and Pakistan. These thousands of fighters quickly shifted the balance of power in favor of Assad’s supporters, first facing the Free Syrian Army and then jihadists gradually replacing the revolutionaries. Iran has warned Turkey over suspicions of Turkey’s territorial ambitions to undermine its influence, but the two sides have officially agreed on regional issues. Iranians, in particular, are concerned that President Erdogan sees Aleppo and its surrounding areas as legitimate prey despite having a strong presence in Aleppo and its surrounding areas, such as Deir Ezzor province. ing. They have recruited young Syrians with better salaries than the Syrian Army and have set up a powerful strike force armed with Sahed-136 suicide drones.

Iran’s presence naturally invites interference from another regional power, Israel, which has little regard for Syrian sovereignty. After the US assassination of Qassem Soleimani in January 2020, Deputy Commander Esmail Khani took over command of the Revolutionary Guard Quds Force, building an arsenal in Syria and building an “axis of resistance” against Israel. there is Shia militia. Israel regularly conducts “preventive” airstrikes against these locations, Damascus’ airports and suburbs, villages and military bases occupied by Syrian government forces. On February 18, just 12 days after the first quake, Israel struck an apartment building in Damascus, killing 15 people and receiving weak protests from the Syrian government, which it said was an ally and protectorate over incidents of this kind. Some say they can’t expect help from Russia. .

But in 2015, Russia sent its air force to ensure the survival of the Assad regime, signaling a return to the Middle East. Instead, it was allowed to establish an army base in Qamishli in northeastern Syria and convert the port of Tartus into a naval base. There is also an air base in Khmeimim, near Latakia in the northwest, and a civilian airport in Shayrat in central Syria has been converted into a military installation. Since 2019, Russia has controlled most of Syria’s airspace. Wagner Group’s private military contractors are now active participants in operations rather than mere advisers and supervisors of the Syrian Army. Even if President Bashar al-Assad denies this and the Russian government claims to have control over the situation in Syria, Russia’s military plenipotentiary influences everything the Syrian regime does.

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Syrian earthquake survivors living in tents after February quake, Idlib, Syria, February 9, 2023

Muhammad Said Anadolu Getty

US foothold in Syria

The US has maintained a foothold in Syria since leading the coalition against ISIS in 2014. The United States has about 10 bases in the north and east to counter Iranian plans for oil and gas in Syria and to prevent ISIS from establishing a new caliphate. (ISIS once again became a glaring threat, with many former members fleeing Kurdish-run camps and prisons. On the day the first earthquake hit, 20 people left their jail in Derik, northeast Syria, where riots were raging. (200 fighters deserted.) Al-Tanf, in the Syrian desert, is home to a US military base near the Iraqi-Syrian border crossing, allowing Iranian forces to use the Baghdad-Damascus highway as a supply route. hindering.

There are more areas in northeast Syria that are beyond government control. In March 2019, the Syrian Democratic Forces, including Kurdish, Arab and Christian fighters from the Syrian Military Council, won a victory over ISIS. A new government was established to govern an area of ​​four million people and an area roughly the size of Denmark (43,000 square kilometers), known as the Autonomous Government of North and East Syria (Rojava). Before the war, the region was Syria’s breadbasket, where 80% of its oil was extracted, but the economy has been severely impacted by war, jihadist arson, drought caused by climate change, and water shortages under Turkish rule. Damaged. A dam on the Euphrates River. It is also blockaded by the Kurdistan Regional Government (which governs the Kurdistan Autonomous Region in northern Iraq) and Turkey, which uses anti-Kurdish rhetoric to justify its economic repression policies. (2).

Wounded and wounded Syria urgently needs humanitarian assistance. Some countries, especially those imposing (often unfair) sanctions, still insist there is no difference between the Syrian people and the dictator. But even if “Syria today is neither a sovereign nor a civilian state, but a gangster dictatorship under Russian mandate and under Iranian influence.” (3)humanitarian aid must definitely be a top priority.

https://mondediplo.com/2023/03/03syria Divided, Contested and Collapsed Syria, by Jean-Michel Morel (Le Monde Diplomatic Department)

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