organization:syrian army

  • Tension grows in Lebanon over refugees in #Beqaa

    Tension remains high on Monday in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley, following the forced displacement of hundreds of Syrian refugees at the weekend.

    Local media reported the possibility that about 400 refugees, including many women and children, may be forcibly transferred to Syria, which is where they originally fled from the armed conflict that is still underway.

    The epicentre of the refugee tension in Lebanon is in #Deir al-Ahmar in the northern Beqaa Valley.

    Since the start of the civil war in Syria in 2011, over a million Syrians have taken refuge in Lebanon, a country whose own population is less than four million.

    Lebanese authorities have recently intensified the dismantling of refugee camps and increased pressure on the refugee community.

    Lebanon did not sign the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention, and since 2011 the country has considered the presence of “foreign guests” in its territory as a temporary situation.

    http://www.ansamed.info/ansamed/en/news/sections/generalnews/2019/06/10/tension-grows-in-lebanon-over-refugees-in-beqaa_132742bf-f2d4-48a3-ad21-4b
    #réfugiés #réfugiés_syriens #Liban #asile #migrations #expulsions #renvois #retour_au_pays #camps_de_réfugiés #démantèlement

    • Thousands of Syrian refugees could be sent back, says Lebanese minister

      Gebran Bassil claims many refugees are not living in political fear, but stay for economic reasons.

      As many as three quarters of Syrian refugees in Lebanon could return to Syria because they face no fear of political persecution or threat to their security, Lebanon’s controversial foreign minister has said.

      Gebran Bassil also urged the UK to rethink how it was spending aid money on keeping 1.5 million refugees in Lebanon, where he said they were taking the jobs from the Lebanese, and undercutting wages.

      The UK has supplied as much as £500m to help house, feed and educate Syrian refugees in Lebanon since the start of the ciivl war in 2011.

      Bassil is the son in law of the president, Michel Aoun, and the leader of the Lebanese Free Patriotic Movement, the largest political party in the country’s parliament. Last week he faced allegations of racism that he denies after it was alleged he had implied that some refugees might be corrupt.

      In an interview with the Guardian, he said: “Most of the Syrians – much more than 75% – are no more in security and political fear, but are staying for economic reasons. We know more than 500,000 Syrians working in Lebanon. They are working every where in breach of our labour laws, and yet even though they break the law they are not being repatriated.

      “They are working in Lebanon, taking jobs from the Lebanese because they paid at cheaper rate because they have no taxes to pay and they are being assisted on top of the wages they are paid.”

      Aid agencies working with refugees have cited concerns over loss of property and conscription into the Syrian army and fear of reprisals as major reasons why they did not want to return home. The agencies have resisted Lebanese government efforts to tear down any semi-permanent structure put up by refugees.

      Bassil insisted it was not his government’s policy to try to force Syrians to return to their homeland.

      He added: “The British taxpayers are paying money for an unlimited period of time that is not being spent in the right direction. They should be paid to return to their country. As President Trump said, money spent on a refugee to go back to his country is much much less than to keep him out of his country.”

      He defended his country’s record of welcoming Syrian refugees. He said: “No one country did what Lebanon did. No one country is able to host 200 refugees per square kilometre, more than 40% of its population. Imagine here in Britain you are receiving 50 million people. That is the comparison.

      “Despite all that we have endured we never thought of forcing anyone to return. We are talking of a dignified and safe gradual return for people who are willing. That now applies to the majority of Syrians in Lebanon because now most of Syria is safe and most of those in Lebanon do not face any political or security obstacles for their return. They are staying because they are assisted to stay in the Lebanon, and if they go back to Syria they will lose that assistance. This is the main reason.”

      Bassil added: “They are receiving aid for every aspect of their lives they are receiving free education, shelter and healthcare. They are better covered on health than the Lebanese. They are afraid that once they leave, they will lose the assistance”.

      He said the number of movements across the border is 700,000 to 800,000 a month, and people who hold refugee cards go regularly to Syria and come back to Lebanon.

      “The tension is mounting internally. Our economy is really collapsing. How can you put your own economy on your feet when you carry this burden.”

      Bassil also denied that any of his remarks could be construed as racist, arguing every country puts its citizens first.

      https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jun/15/thousands-of-syrian-refugees-could-be-sent-back-says-lebanese-minister

  • Notes sur l’“arrogance israélienne” et conséquences
    http://www.dedefensa.org/article/notes-sur-larrogance-israelienne-et-consequences

    Notes sur l’“arrogance israélienne” et conséquences

    26 septembre 2018 – Pour mieux appréhender les derniers développements entre la Russie et Israëlaprès la destruction de l’Il-20 dans les conditions qu’on sait, ce texte(ci-dessous) de E.J. Magnier nous paraît intéressant. Il y a d’abord la compétence, l’expérience et les sources du commentateur, que nous connaissons bien ; mais il y a aussi et surtout son point de vue, qui nous permet de mieux éclairer la situation en Syrie.

    Magnier, en effet, perçoit la position de Poutine et l’intervention russe en Syrie d’une manière qui est assez peu habituelle aux commentateurs occidentaux, et notamment aux antiSystème pro-Poutine, et notamment à ceux que nous avons nommés affectueusement “hyper-antiSystème”. Pour lui, Poutine est beaucoup moins un allié de la Syrie (...)

    • D’une façon générale, DEBKAFiles estime que la mesure la plus importante décidée par les Russes est la livraison vers la Syrie de matériels de guerre électronique, notamment les stations Krashuka-4 qui, dans l’architecture électronique que les Russes ont mis en place en Syrie, pourraient se révéler comme un élément déterminant en réduisant considérablement sinon radicalement les capacités d’action israéliennes (le Saker-US parle d’une “no-fly-zone”de facto). Le site assortit cette considération de l’annonce que Netanyahou, qui rencontre Trump aujourd’hui à New York, va sans doute lui demander que les USA offrent des concessions à Poutine pour que la Russie retire ses Krashuka-4 qui ont d’ores et déjà commencé à être déployés en Syrie…

    • Russia’s first Krasukha-4 electronic warfare unit lands in Syria. It can jam spy satellites, enemy radar - DEBKAfile
      https://www.debka.com/russias-first-krasukha-4-electronic-warfare-unit-lands-in-syria-it-can-jam-sp

      The Russian Krasukha-4 mobile electronic warfare system, which can neutralize spy satellites and ground-and airborne radars and damage enemy EW, landed in Syria on Tuesday, Sept. 25. It was unloaded at the Russian Khmeimim Air Base near Latakia, one day after Russian Defense Minister Gen. Sergei Shoigu pledged systems for jamming satellite navigation and the on-board radars and communication systems of combat aircraft attacking Syria, in punishment for Israel’s alleged role in downing the Russian IL-20 spy plane.
      The Krasukha-4 is highly advanced, although not the most sophisticated EW system in the Russian arsenal. But it fits Shoigu’s book. The system can jam communications systems, disable guided missiles and aircraft, and neutralize Low-Earth Orbit spy satellites and radars (AWACS) at ranges of 150-300km, which cover northern and central Israel. The Krasukha-4 can also damage opposing EW.
      Israel’s military has focused its response to Russia’s hostile measures on the eight S-300 aid defense batteries promised the Syrian army in the coming weeks. Little mention has been made by Israeli spokesmen of the electronic warfare duel awaiting the IDF with Russia. Israel’s military and air force know about the Krasukha-4 but have never met it in action. However, it is well known to the Americans. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is expected to ask Donald Trump when they meet at UN Center on Wednesday to offer Vladimir Putin some incentive for removing the EW jamming threat. There is scarcely any chance of any such a trade-off. Our sources believe that Putin will hold out for nothing less than the withdrawal of US troops from Syria, to which President Trump will not agree.

  • China to allegedly assist Syrian Army in Idlib - report
    https://www.almasdarnews.com/article/china-to-allegedly-assist-syrian-army-in-idlib-report

    China will allegedly assist the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) in their upcoming battle in southwestern Idlib, the Chinese Ambassador to Syria, Qi Qianjin, told Al-Watan this week.

    According to the Al-Watan, Qianjin told the Syrian daily that the Chinese military is prepared to ‘somehow’ take part in the upcoming Idlib offensive, especially because of the large presence of Uyghur fighters near Jisr Al-Shughour.

    “The Chinese military has played an imperative role in protecting sovereignty, security and stability of China. At the same time, it (China) is wanting to take part in peacekeeping operations,” Qianjin told Al-Watan.

    Tiens ! Les Chinois aussi en #syrie.

  • THE BATTLE OF DARAA IS HAPPENING : AL-RIDWAN, HEZBOLLAH’S SPECIAL FORCES WILL PARTICIPATE.
    https://ejmagnier.com/2018/06/19/the-battle-of-daraa-is-happening-al-ridwan-hezbollahs-special-forces-will

    The Syrian command ignored the US and the Israeli requests to exclude Hezbollah and the Iranian allies from being present in Daraa. Thus, the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad asked Hezbollah al-Ridwan Special Forces to take positions in Daraa and around it to participate in the forthcoming attack.

    Sources on the ground believe the US is not expected to pull out of al-Tanf crossing between Syria and Iraq – as requested by Damascus in exchange of Hezbollah and Iran absence in Daraa – because Israel believes the battle is not going to take place. Therefore, the Syrian government has decided to engage in the Daraa’ battle and remove all jihadists from the south to regain total control of the territory or even impose a negotiation by force to reached a withdrawal of the US forces from al-Tanf.

    The Syrian Army is also aiming to end the southern battle so it can move all offensive forces to the north and al-Badiya afterwards, to attack the remaining ISIS forces present in that part of Syria.

    The US faces a dilemma with thousands of trained, supported and funded Syrian proxies militias in the border area between Syria and Iraq. These militias can be a burden if the US decides to withdraw because they are Arab and non-Kurdish forces.

  • Russia says only Syrian army should be on country’s southern border with Israel

    Israel believes Russia may agree to withdrawing Iranian forces and allied Shi’ite militias from Israel-Syria border

    Noa Landau and Reuters May 28, 2018

    https://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/syria/russia-says-only-syrian-army-should-be-on-country-s-southern-border-1.61198

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday that only Syrian government troops should have a presence on the country’s southern border which is close to Jordan and Israel, the RIA news agency reported.
    Lavrov was cited as making the comments at a joint news conference in Moscow with Jose Condungua Pacheco, his counterpart from Mozambique.
    Meanwhile, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman will leave on Wednesday for a short visit to Russia. He is scheduled to meet with his counterpart, Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shvigo, the ministry said in a statement on Monday. Lieberman is expected to discuss with his hosts the recent events in the Middle East, primarily the tension between Israel and Iran over the Iranian military presence in Syria.
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke at the Knesset Monday, saying that “there is no room for any Iranian military presence in any part of Syria.”
    Lieberman said that “these things, of course, reflect not only our position, I can safely say that they reflect the positions of others in the Middle East and beyond the Middle East.”
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    On Sunday, Haaretz reported that Israeli political and military officials believe Russia is willing to discuss a significant distancing of Iranian forces and allied Shi’ite militias from the Israel-Syria border, according to Israeli officials.
    The change in Russia’s position has become clearer since Israel’s May 10 military clash with Iran in Syria and amid Moscow’s concerns that further Israeli moves would threaten the stability of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.
    Russia recently renewed efforts to try to get the United States involved in agreements that would stabilize Syria. The Russians might be willing to remove the Iranians from the Israeli border, though not necessarily remove the forces linked to them from the whole country.
    Last November, Russia and the United States, in coordination with Jordan, forged an agreement to decrease the possibility of friction in southern Syria, after the Assad regime defeated rebel groups in the center of the country. Israel sought to keep the Iranians and Shi’ite militias at least 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the Israeli border in the Golan Heights, east of the Damascus-Daraa road (or, according to another version, east of the Damascus-Suwayda road, about 70 kilometers from the border).

    FILE – Iran’s Army Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri, left, in Aleppo, Syria, in photo provided October 20, 2017/AP
    According to Israeli intelligence, in Syria there are now around 2,000 Iranian officers and advisers, members of the Revolutionary Guards, around 9,000 Shi’ite militiamen from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, and around 7,000 Hezbollah fighters. Israel believes that the Americans are now in a good position to reach a more effective arrangement in Syria in coordination with the Russians under the slogan “Without Iran and without ISIS.”
    The United States warned Syria on Friday it would take “firm and appropriate measures” in response to ceasefire violations, saying it was concerned about reports of an impending military operation in a de-escalation zone in the country’s southwest.
    Washington also cautioned Assad against broadening the conflict.
    “As a guarantor of this de-escalation area with Russia and Jordan, the United States will take firm and appropriate measures in response to Assad regime violations,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement late on Friday.
    A war monitor, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, reported on Wednesday that Syrian government forces fresh from their victory this week against an Islamic State pocket in south Damascus were moving into the southern province of Deraa.
    Syrian state-run media have reported that government aircraft have dropped leaflets on rebel-held areas in Deraa urging fighters to disarm.
    The U.S. warning comes weeks after a similar attack on a de-escalation zone in northeastern Syria held by U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. U.S. ground and air forces repelled the more than four-hour attack, killing perhaps as many as 300 pro-Assad militia members, many of them Russian mercenaries.
    Backed by Russian warplanes, ground forces from Iran and allied militia, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah, have helped Assad drive rebels from Syria’s biggest cities, putting him in an unassailable military position.

  • Former Jaysh al-Islam leader stole millions to make business in Turkey - reports
    https://www.almasdarnews.com/article/former-jaysh-al-islam-leader-stole-millions-to-make-business-in-turkey

    Former leader of the militant group Jaysh al-Islam, Mohammed Alloush, has stolen $47 million from its budget, reports the FARS news agency, citing media activists close to the group. There were no official reports confirming the information.

    According to the news agency’s sources, he used the money to buy restaurants and commercial centers in Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Jaysh al-Islam commanders reportedly called on Alloush to return the stolen sum.

    Mohammed Alloush was one of the founders of the Jaysh al-Islam militant group and until recently lead its political division.

    He resigned from his post on May 3, after the group sustained several defeats at the hands of the Syrian army in Eastern Ghouta.

    Source iranienne, mais information plausible. Tout le monde n’a pas tout perdu en #Syrie...

  • ‘Whole story was staged’ : Germany’s ZDF reporter says Douma incident was false flag attack — RT World News
    https://www.rt.com/news/424832-douma-attack-german-media

    The alleged chemical attack in the Syrian city of Douma was staged by local militants, who tried to frame it as a Syrian Army strike, a German TV correspondent, who travelled to Damascus, has said publicly, citing local witnesses.

    “People told us in a very convincing manner that this whole story was staged,” Uli Gack, a reporter with the German ZDF public broadcaster, said (referring to the alleged Douma chemical attack) while he spoke live on ZDF Heute (‘Today’) show on Satuday.

    Gack had travelled to Syria and visited one of the refugee camps near Damascus, where “some 20,000 people from Eastern Ghouta and particularly from Douma” were living.

    Maintenant que même des journalistes « sérieux » confirment qu’il s’agissait bien d’une mise en scène, on fait quoi ?

    #syrie

  • Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia: Top three stunning admissions from the top U.S. general in the Middle East

    Assad has won, Iran deal should stand and Saudis use American weapons without accountability in Yemen: head of U.S. military’s Central Command’s stunning Congressional testimony

    https://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/top-three-stunning-admissions-from-the-top-u-s-general-in-the-region-1.5910

    Haaretz and Reuters Mar 16, 2018

    The top U.S. general in the Middle East testified before Congress on Tuesday and dropped several bombshells: from signaled support for the Iran nuclear deal, admitting the U.S. does not know what Saudi Arabia does with its bombs in Yemen and that Assad has won the Syrian Civil War.
    U.S. Army General Joseph Votel said the Iran agreement, which President Donald Trump has threatened to withdraw from, has played an important role in addressing Iran’s nuclear program.
    “The JCPOA addresses one of the principle threats that we deal with from Iran, so if the JCPOA goes away, then we will have to have another way to deal with their nuclear weapons program,” said U.S. Army General Joseph Votel. JCPOA, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, is the formal name of the accord reached with Iran in July 2015 in Vienna.
    Trump has threatened to withdraw the United States from the accord between Tehran and six world powers unless Congress and European allies help “fix” it with a follow-up pact. Trump does not like the deal’s limited duration, among other things.
    Votel is head of the U.S. military’s Central Command, which is responsible for the Middle East and Central Asia, including Iran. He was speaking to a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the same day that Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson after a series of public rifts over policy, including Iran.
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    Tillerson had joined Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in pressing a skeptical Trump to stick with the agreement with Iran.
    “There would be some concern (in the region), I think, about how we intended to address that particular threat if it was not being addressed through the JCPOA. ... Right now, I think it is in our interest” to stay in the deal, Votel said.

    When a lawmaker asked whether he agreed with Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford’s position on the deal,Votel said: “Yes, I share their position.”
    Mattis said late last year that the United States should consider staying in the Iran nuclear deal unless it was proven Tehran was not complying or that the agreement was not in the U.S. national interest.
    A collapse of the Iran nuclear deal would be a “great loss,” the United Nations atomic watchdog’s chief warned Trump recently, giving a wide-ranging defense of the accord.
    Iran has stayed within the deal’s restrictions since Trump took office but has fired diplomatic warning shots at Washington in recent weeks. It said on Monday that it could rapidly enrich uranium to a higher degree of purity if the deal collapsed.
    Syria
    Votel also discussed the situation in Syria at the hearing.
    During the Syrian army’s offensive in eastern Ghouta, more than 1,100 civilians have died. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, backed by Russia and Iran, say they are targeting “terrorist” groups shelling the capital.
    U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley warned on Monday that Washington “remains prepared to act if we must,” if the U.N. Security Council failed to act on Syria.
    Votel said the best way to deter Russia, which backs Assad, was through political and diplomatic channels.
    “Certainly if there are other things that are considered, you know, we will do what we are told. ... (But) I don’t recommend that at this particular point,” Votel said, in an apparent to reference to military options.
    Republican Senator Lindsey Graham asked whether it was too strong to say that with Russia and Iran’s help, Assad had “won” the civil war in Syria.
    “I do not think that is too strong of a statement,” Votel said.
    Graham also asked if the United States’ policy on Syria was still to seek the removal of Assad from power.
    “I don’t know that that’s our particular policy at this particular point. Our focus remains on the defeat of ISIS,” Votel said, using an acronym for Islamic State. 
    Saudi Arabia
    In a stunning exchange with Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, Votel admitted that Centcom doesn’t know when U.S. fuel and munitions are used in Yemen. 
    “General Votel, does CENTCOM track the purpose of the missions it is refueling? In other words, where a U.S.-refueled aircraft is going, what targets it strikes, and the result of the mission?” Warren asked.
    “Senator, we do not,” Votel replied.
    The Senator followed up, citing reports that U.S. munitions have been used against civilians in Yemen, she asked, “General Votel, when you receive reports like this from credible media organizations or outside observers, is CENTCOM able to tell if U.S. fuel or U.S. munitions were used in that strike?”
    “No, senator, I don’t believe we are,” he replied.
    Showing surprise at the general’s response, Warren concluded, “We need to be clear about this: Saudi Arabia’s the one receiving American weapons and American support. And that means we bear some responsibility here. And that means we need to hold our partners and our allies accountable for how those resources are used,” she said.

  • Syria Does Not Fear War With Israel: The Rules Of Engagement Have Changed – Elijah J. Magnier | ايليا ج مغناير
    https://elijahjm.wordpress.com/2018/02/11/syria-does-not-fear-war-with-israel-the-rules-of-engagement-have

    It is not in the interests of Russia to see war break out in Syria where its forces are present on the ground and in the Mediterranean. Russia considers it has the right to intervene because its official presence on Syrian territory is at the request of and in agreement with the Damascus government. In its role as a superpower, it is in its interest to stop the tension on the Syrian border and show it has the power to impose peace on would-be belligerents.

    It is also in Moscow’s interests to push Syria to react to Israel’s violations, even at the cost of downing an Israeli jet- especially when Russia accuses Washington of supplying the Faylaq al-Sham militants (al-Qaeda’s allies in northern Syria city of Idlib and its surroundings) with the anti-aircraft missiles which downed the Russian jet over Idlib and to the murder of its pilot who refused to surrender to the militants and jihadists.

    All of this took place one day after the liberation of the entire area from the “Islamic State” (ISIS) group in rural Aleppo, Homs and Idlib, with over 1200 square kilometres returned to government control. This freed over fifteen thousand officers and soldiers from the Syrian army and special units which were engaged there to move to another front, the one against Israel if necessary, with al-Qaeda as the only remaining threat to the Syrian state.

    This shows that the government of Damascus – which lived in a state of war for more than six years – is ready to fight its battle with Israel and begin now. The Lebanese Second War in 2006 proved that air force power does not give superiority and does not finish off the opponent, Hezbollah, whose militants continued firing missiles and rockets consistently throughout the 33 days of war. The thousands of missiles delivered to Syria from Russia and Iran in the last years represent a major threat to Israel in the event of war, invalidating its air superiority.

  • Thousands of ISIS Fighters Flee in Syria, Many to Fight Another Day - The New York Times

    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/04/world/middleeast/isis-syria-al-qaeda.html

    WASHINGTON — Thousands of Islamic State foreign fighters and family members have escaped the American-led military campaign in eastern Syria, according to new classified American and other Western military and intelligence assessments, a flow that threatens to tarnish American declarations that the militant group has been largely defeated.

    As many of the fighters flee unfettered to the south and west through Syrian Army lines, some have gone into hiding near Damascus, the Syrian capital, and in the country’s northwest, awaiting orders sent by insurgent leaders on encrypted communications channels.

    #daech #syrie

  • ISRAEL’S “SAFE ZONE” IS CREEPING FARTHER INTO SYRIA

    https://theintercept.com/2018/01/23/israel-syria-safe-buffer-zone-golan-heights

    ISRAEL IS EXPANDING its influence and control deeper into opposition-held southern Syria, according to multiple sources in the area. After failed attempts to ensure its interests were safeguarded by the major players in the war next door, Israel is pushing to implement the second phase of its “safe-zone” project — an attempt to expand a buffer ranging out from the occupied Golan Heights deeper into the southern Syrian provinces of Quneitra and Daraa. The safe zone expansion marks a move toward deeper Israeli involvement in Syria’s civil war.

    The Intercept learned the outlines of the safe-zone expansion plan through a monthslong investigation relying on information from a variety of sources, including Syrian opposition activists on the ground in the south, Syrian opposition figures based in Jordan, Syrian government sources, and an Israeli-American NGO directly involved in the safe-zone project.

    The safe zone appears intended to keep the Syrian army and its Iranian and Lebanese allies as far away from Israel’s border as possible, as well as solidify Israel’s control over the occupied Golan Heights. Israel seized the Golan from Syria in 1967’s Six-Day War. Expanding a buffer zone would likely make any negotiations over the return of the Syrian territory more difficult in the future, because the Golan Heights will be surrounded on both sides by areas with significant Israeli influence.

    Over the last two years, Israel started building out the first phase of a safe zone in southern Syria. The project enabled the Israeli army, through humanitarian organizations and military personnel, to gain access to opposition-held areas in return for supplying aid, medical treatment inside Israel, and basic goods.

    According to sources, the second phase, which is currently underway, includes, among other things, the establishment of a 40-kilometer, Israeli-monitored buffer beyond the Golan Heights, a Syrian border police force armed and trained by Israel, and greater involvement in civil

  • Israeli army warns: Danger of violence escalating into war is growing -

    With eye on recent events, military intel warn of potential war ■ Abbas may have backed himself into a corner ■ Gaza threat looms over Israelis

    Amos Harel 13.01.2018
    read more: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.834343

    The odds of a neighboring country, or one of the terrorist organizations operating inside of it, launching a war against Israel this year are almost nonexistent, according to the Israeli army’s intelligence assessment for 2018.
    Sounding remarkably similar to the 2017 assessment provided to the defense minister, the military noted there is not much left of the Arab armies, and Israel’s neighbors are mostly preoccupied with themselves, while internal problems are distracting Hezbollah and Hamas.
    Is there any difference from 2017? Well, the danger of deterioration – perhaps even to the point of war – has grown significantly, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot stated. The intelligence branch and the chief of staff, who is beginning his fourth and final year at the helm of the army, are concerned about two possible scenarios. 
    The first would be the result of a reaction by one of Israel’s enemies to an Israeli show of force. The second would stem from a flare-up on the Palestinian front. When the terrorism genie gets out of the Palestinian bottle, it takes many months or even years to put it back.
    The first scenario, which the army terms “the campaign between the wars,” might happen when Israel tries to prevent rivals from obtaining advance weaponry they might want to use during a future war, according to Eisenkot.

    Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, center, being briefed by Col. Gilad Amit, commander of the Samaria Brigade, following the murder of Rabbi Raziel Shevach, January 18, 2018.IDF Spokesperson’s Unit
    Most of these operations occur under the radar, far from Israel’s borders. Usually, such operations draw little media attention and Israel invariably dodges the question of responsibility. The previous Israel Air Force commander, Gen. Amir Eshel, told Haaretz last August there were nearly 100 such attacks under his five-year command, mostly on Syrian and Hezbollah arms convoys on the northern front.

    However, the more Israel carries out such attacks, and the more it does so on increasingly sophisticated systems (according to foreign media reports), the higher the chances of a confrontation with other countries and organizations, increasing the danger of a significant retaliation.
    A similar thing is happening on the Gaza border. Work on the defense barrier against cross-border attack tunnels is advancing, while Israel is simultaneously developing and implementing more sophisticated methods to locate these tunnels.
    At least three tunnels were seemingly located and destroyed near the Gaza border in recent months. However, this success could exact a price if Hamas or Islamic Jihad decide to try and use the remaining attack tunnels before they are completely destroyed or redundant.

    Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, accompanied by Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot during a visit to a military exercise in the Golan Heights in 2017.Ministry of Defense
    It is usually accepted practice to call out intelligence officials over mistaken forecasts. But we received a small example of all these trends on various fronts over the past two weeks. The cabinet convened for a long meeting about the northern front last Sunday. Arab media reported early Tuesday morning about an Israeli attack on Syrian army weapons depots near Damascus. A base in the same area, which Iran had reportedly built for one of the Shi’ite militia groups, was bombed from the air in early December. In most of the recent attacks, the Syrians fired at the reportedly Israeli aircraft. The Syrians also claimed recently that the attacks have become more sophisticated, made in multiple waves and even included surface-to-surface missiles.
    A few days beforehand, there was a report about an Israeli aerial attack – apparently on a cross-border attack tunnel – next to the Gaza border. Meanwhile, in the West Bank, the demonstrations to protest U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital were dying down, out of a seeming lack of public interest. Then, on Tuesday evening, Rabbi Raziel Shevach, from the illegal outpost of Havat Gilad, was killed in a drive-by shooting attack near Nablus. The army responded by surrounding villages and erecting roadblocks around Nablus, for the first time in two years. The IDF moves were acts of collective punishment the chief of staff would normally rather avoid, but they were approved on a limited basis due to the murder of an Israeli.
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hinted that the Shin Bet security service is close to solving the murder, but at the time of writing it was still unclear who did it. Hamas and Islamic Jihad released statements praising the deed, while, in a rare move, Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades – which has been virtually inactive for a decade – took responsibility for the attack.
    Its statement, which was posted on several Facebook pages, attributed the attack to the “Raed Karmi cell,” marking the anniversary of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades leader’s death. Israel assassinated Karmi – the military leader in Tul Karm responsible for the killing of many Israeli civilians and soldiers during the second intifada – on January 14, 2002.

    U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at a more amicable time, May 3, 2017Carlos Barria, Reuters
    Woe to Abbas
    The Palestinian Authority, whose leadership has avoided condemning the murder of an Israeli citizen, is making an effort nonetheless to capture terrorists in designated areas in Nablus under its jurisdiction. The Israeli moves in the area added to the humiliation of the PA, which looks like it has navigated itself into a dead end. 
    President Mahmoud Abbas is in trouble. The Trump declaration on Jerusalem provided him with a temporary escape. Last November the Palestinians received worrisome information that the Trump administration’s brewing peace plan was leaning in Israel’s favor. Trump’s so-called deal of the century would likely include leaving settlements in the West Bank in place, and declaring Abu Dis the Palestinian Jerusalem, capital of a prospective state.
    These planks are unacceptable to Abbas. However, the Trump declaration allowed the PA leader to accuse the Americans of giving up any pretense to being an honest broker. He found refuge in the embrace of attendees at the Islamic Conference in Turkey, and in halting all discussion of renewing negotiations.
    Abbas soon discovered that rejecting a reopening of talks with Israel didn’t stop the drumbeat of bad news coming his way. UNRWA was facing a severe financial crisis well before the Trump administration threatened to freeze the U.S. share of funding for the UN agency in charge of Palestinian refugee assistance. The crisis, incidentally, also worries Jordan, which hosts at least 3 million Palestinian refugees and descendants. The flow of funds from the donor nations to the territories is dissipating, at a time that the reconciliation process between the PA and Hamas has ground to a halt, with Abbas saying he doesn’t see any benefit that can come of it.
    Meanwhile, Fatah members from activists in the field to the aging leadership are despairing of the chance of realizing the two-state solution. Israel protests the statements of senior Fatah officials about the right to wage armed struggle. It recently arrested a retired Palestinian general on the charge that he had organized protests in East Jerusalem. Fatah plans a council meeting next week, in which participants are expected to adopt a militant line.
    Abbas, who turns 83 in March, is increasingly feeling his years. His health has deteriorated and so has his patience and fitness to work, although it seems his love for travel has not faded. Claims of widespread corruption, some of which allegedly involve his family, are increasing. Other forces in the West Bank are aware of his weakened physical and political condition. Hamas is vigorously encouraging attacks against Israel, probably in expectation of humiliating the PA. Last week the Shin Bet asserted that for the first time, an Iranian agent was operating a Palestinian terror cell in Hebron.
    Meanwhile, a multiparty effort is being made to halt the violence and prevent a sliding into a military confrontation. Under the shadow of rockets by Salafi groups in Gaza, Israel and the PA announced the transfer of additional funds from the PA to pay for increasing the electricity supply from Israel to the Strip. There has not been a single rocket fired this week, but the situation remains fragile. The army increased security around communities close to the border and has stepped up exercises that simulate terrorists using tunnels to infiltrate under the border to kidnap and kill Israelis. The chief of staff watched the elite Shaldag unit going into action in such a scenario this week.

    Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants take part in the funeral of their comrade in the central Gaza Strip October 31, 2017. SUHAIB SALEM/REUTERS
    The army has to stay alert because Islamic Jihad has yet to avenge the killing of its people together with Hamas operatives in a tunnel explosion on the border last October. In November, Jihad militants fired over 20 mortar shells in a four-minute span at an army outpost near Sderot (no one was injured).
    Shells were fired a month after that, probably by Islamic Jihad, at Kibbutz Kfar Aza during a memorial ceremony for Oron Shaul, who was killed in the 2014 Operation Protective Edge and whose body is being held in Gaza. Army officials expect more attempts.
    The large number of gliders the Palestinians have launched near the border recently likely attests to intelligence gathering ahead of attacks. Israeli officials are also kept awake by recent reports from Syria of a mysterious glider attack against a Russian air force base in the country’s north. Organizations in Gaza are in arm’s reach of this technology.

    An opposition fighter fires a gun from a village near al-Tamanah during ongoing battles with government forces in Syria’s Idlib province on January 11, 2018.OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP
    Syria war still isn’t over 
    The civil war in Syria, which enters its eighth year in March, has not completely died out. The Assad regime, which has restored its rule over most of the country’s population, is still clashing with rebels in the Idlib enclave in northern Syria and is preparing for an eventual attack to chase the rebels out of the border area with Israel, along the Golan. The two attacks on the Russian base in Khmeimim (artillery shelling, which damaged a number of planes and helicopters, preceded the glider attack) indicate that some of the groups are determined to keep fighting Assad and his allies.
    The war in Syria started with a protest by residents of Daraa, a town in the south, against a backdrop of economic difficulties for farmers whose incomes were suffering from desertification. The regime’s brutal methods of oppression led to the spread of protest, and things quickly descended into civil war, in which several countries have meddled until today. The war often has consequences on nature. There has been a rise in the number of rabies cases in Israel in recent months, mainly in the north. One of the possible explanations involves the migration of rabies-infested jackals from Jordan and Syria. During the war Syria has suffered a total collapse of civilian authority, and certainly of veterinary services. When there are no regular vaccinations, neighboring countries suffer as well.
    The Middle Eastern country suffering the second bloodiest civil war, Yemen, gets only a tenth as much attention as Syria. The war in Yemen has raged for three years. Some 3 million residents out of a total of 28 million have fled the country as refugees. Over half of those remaining suffer from food insecurity. The UN recently estimated that about a million residents have contracted cholera from contaminated water or food.
    Such outbreaks can erupt easily, even closer to home. The European Union is expected to hold an emergency session in Brussels about the worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The Israeli defense establishment has confirmed the frequent reports by humanitarian organizations of the continued collapse of civilian infrastructure, mainly water and sanitation, in Gaza. Wastewater from Gaza, flowing straight into the sea, is reaching the beaches of Ashkelon and Ashdod. I recently asked a senior Israeli official if he doesn’t fear an outbreak of an epidemic like cholera in Gaza.
    “Every morning, I am surprised anew that it still hasn’t happened,” he replied.

    Amos Harel

  • Rania Masri - #Nasrallah's speech on 10-Nov, on the ’day... | Facebook
    https://www.facebook.com/rania.masri/posts/10159471113935363

    #Nasrallah's speech on 10-Nov, on the ’day of the martyr’.
    Note: I don’t translate religious terminology.
    Very quick translation.
    –—

    [...]

    Since last Saturday, Lebanon was entered into a political crisis and a new and important situation. Whether or not the situation is dangerous depends on the Lebanese ability. We hear threats. What is the situation?

    In one year, Lebanon entered a political stability - with a President, a Prime Minister, and a national-unity government. A budget was decreed, for the first time in 12 years. A voting law was passed for elections. Dialogue and conversations amongst political spectrum after years of isolation. Security and stability in Lebanon that has no comparison. (We are safer than the US.) We have a calmness among Lebanese, in general.

    This does not mean that there are no problems.

    Even official polls show this, such as within the Beirut airport the number of travelers in the airport is 9 million. 2 million in just July and August. This is a reflection of security and calm.

    This does not mean that there are no problems. there are livelihood problems and corruption and political. These should be resolved, yes, but shoudl not cover the positive side of Lebanon in general. All are responsible for this security. The compromises made by everyone brought us to this stage of security. And the liberation of Lebanon in Arsal and others also brought us here.

    Within this situation, and within the positive vibes of all political spectrum to reach elections and to resolve issues - suddenly, and in one blow, Saudi Arabia summons the PM quickly and orders him, without his consultants, to issue his resignation and to read their letter. Before that, and escalating since, we have had Saudi threats ...

    So what have the Saudis done until now?
    (1) Direct and exceptional intervention to force the PM to resign and to read a letter that they (Saudi) had read, to place the PM under involuntary detention and not allowed to return. It is clear today that all Lebanese know that the PM was forced to resign, and all the world knows, even the US Foreign Office claim they had no knowledge. The PM is held captive in Saudi and is not allowed, until now, to return to Lebanon.
    (2) A Saudi attempt to remove Hariri from his leadership of the Future movement, and to impose a new leadership upon the Future movement.
    (3) A Saudi attempt to impose a new PM on Lebanon - under threat and with their vision.
    (4) Attempts to inflame Lebanese against each other, to drive Lebanese to insult and protest against each other, and to fight each other. ANd when Saudi Arabia doesn’t find a response, then it accuses Lebanese of cowardice.
    (5) Pushing Gulf states and other countries to pressure Lebanon
    (6) Removing their citizens from Lebanon
    (7) More dangerous - although it does not scare us - encouraging Israel to attack Lebanon. This is not analysis, but clear facts and information. Saudi has asked Israel to attack Lebanon and is ready to support it with millions of dollars! Today there is a discussion within the Zionist entity on this issue, and today and yesterday within the Israeli press, there is lots of discussion that the 2006 was upon a Saudi request and that Saudi encouraged Israel to continue with the war until the Resistance was vanquished. Of course, Israel has its own calculations.

    Clearly, Saudi leadership has declared war on Lebanon, and not just on Hezbollah in Lebanon. Clearly, they have declared war on all of Lebanon.
    I say to all Lebanese, with all love and honesty, to propose to them ... Until the evening of the resignation, we were living a very important stage - of stability and security; we need to realize that this was/is very important. We need to understand the importance and value that we are living in Lebanon and to protect it. On the other hand, Saudi calls upon you to destroy it the stability and security in Lebanon, to destroy your own homes with your own hands. Will you do that?

    Is it true that Saudi, through all these actions, want to save Lebanon? We understand that there is a problem between Saudi and Hezbollah, but are these actions by Saudi a war against Hezbollah or a war against Lebanon?
    Lebanese need to learn from all that has happened around them in the region. In Syria, the facts - from documents and interviews and clear statements - leaders from Saudi were on the battlefield and what happened? Those Saudi who were running the battlefield from Amman, where are they now?

    I call on Lebanese to think very carefully before taking a position: to where are we taking the country?

    Lebanese today are facing a critical path..
    I assert
    (1) In clear language, we condemn this Saudi intervention in Lebanese internal politics. We condemn this insulting behavior against PM Hariri, from the time he arrived at the airport ... The facts are clear. We consider, in Hezbollah, that an insult against Lebanon’s PM is an insult against every Lebanese. He is Lebanon’s PM!
    (2) We join our voices with all Lebanese in calling for the return of Saad Hariri to Lebanon! Let him resign from the Presidential Palace, and say and do what he wishes. He may come and declare war on Hezbollah - but let him come, let him return to Lebanon, and declare his own thoughts. But for Lebanon’s PM to remain in involuntary detention is not acceptable. NO Lebanese or Arab or free person should accept this. Yes, we say, in all clarity, Lebanon’s PM is held hostage in Saudi! and we call for his release.
    (3) Currently, we consider the declared resignation to be unconstitutional, and illegal, and illegitimate, and of no value - because it was not voluntary. No value to any statement made involuntarily! This applies to individuals, of course it applies to the fate of nations. The current government is still viable and legitimate and constitutional. If Hariri returns to Lebanon and submits his resignation, even if under pressure but if he offered it here in Lebanon, then we would be under a different legal and constitutional situation.
    (4) The wise and rational leadership of President Aoun, with the Speaker of the House Berri, has to be one of consensus and all Lebanese should stand behind this wise leadership. So far, this leadership has managed to keep the country safe and secure
    (5) The call for greater wisdom and to reject calls for political escalation. ... This current declared war on Lebanon is one of hate and anger, and the greater the anger, the greater the mistakes. ...
    As I stated on Sunday, do not worry and do not fear. Our collective desire to keep our country safe is the insurance.
    Today, in the face of this insult and the clear and declared threats, we need to feel responsibility to our nation and to each other, and to stand together and protect each other and defend each other, and to overcome our fears and sensitives of each others.
    (6) I need to pause, as I did Sunday, in the face of the Arabiyah’s words about an assassination attempt against Hariri. Different security agencies in Lebanon refuted this - yet Arabiya Channel continues with this claim. This is Saudi news. Also the letter read by Hariri is Saudi statement. Their claim that certain Iranian elements worked for and spoke of an assassination attempt. These words and insistence are dangerous; why this insistence on this accusation? What are they planning?
    (7) W/ regards to Israel, we have to be careful and pay attention. If Saudi calls for a war, no one can refute this possibility. We can say, that it is unlikely, based on our readings . furthermore, Israel has an opportunity now to attack Lebanon and Hezbollah without calling for a war since a war has high costs for Israel. .. yes, Israel can join under other headlines. Israeli FM declared to all Israeli embassies to support - diplomatically and media wise - Saudi in its war against Hezbollah! Of course, Israel will work internationally shoulder to shoulder with Saudi. Also, Israel will work to create internal division in Lebanon. A week ago, there was a dangerous event in southern Syria. The armed elements, some of whom were in Nusra Front, entered - via Israeli assistance and from areas occupied by Israel - to a Syrian village (Haddath), that is predominately Druze. Were it not for the popular defense and the Syrian Army and the pressure from occupied Golan Heights - the situation would have become much worse. For who? For Nusra Front? For what - for sectarian division between Sunni and Druze in the region? ... As for a war, we are following the situation carefully, along w/ the Lebanese Army. .. ON this day, of Ahmad Qasser who imposed a 3 day mourning on them in 1982, I say to them - that today we are stronger! Let them not think that we are scared; not at all! We are stronger! ... Israel will not lead a war for others, as their press declares will Saudi fight until the last Israeli soldier?; Israel will have a war based on their own calculations.
    (8) What is between us and Saudi? Let no one claim that we are hiding from the problem. Yes, we do not deny that there is a problem. There is large Saudi anger directed against us, though primarily against Iran. I understand their anger, but we cannot understand their reaction and their insult! In Syria they had plans and hopes to change the region’s borders and maps; their hopes are vanquished. ISIS that they created is being vanquished. In Iraq, we know who brought ISIS also. We also know that they were supporting the separation of Iraqi Kurdistan and this plan also failed. In Yemen, the war has gone on for more than 1000 days! Only more massacres and now a blockade! The UN declares that if the blockade continues, then millions in Yemen would face famine! This is the current situation by Saudi. The UN - not Hezbollah - placed Saudi on the blacklist for their killing of children. But when we condemn their actions we are accused of committing a historical crime. We cannot be quiet if others are quiet. They commit these massacres but they get infuriated if their massacres are condemned. Yesterday you heard [the claim] that the missile - from Yemen to the airport in Riyadh - was smuggled from Iran, and Hezbollah was the one who sent the missile from Yemen! There is a problem with this logic. In the Saudi leadership mind they underestimate and insult Yemenis. They cannot believe that Yemenis can build missiles. Yes, Yemenis within these years can build their own missiles! Yemenis build their own drones. It is because the Saudis insult the mind of the Yemenis and underestimate them, that is when they lose. And so the Saudi blame Iran and Hezbollah for their failure in Yemen. This is the Yemeni people! They have fought and sacrificed and surprised the world. the claim that the Saudi plan in Yemen is a failure because of Hezbollah .. then wow, we are something great really! This is an exaggeration. ... What about the failure between Saudi Arabia and Qatar? We have not taken a position on this issue. Saudi wanted Qatar to kneel, and it didn’t. Also a failure. And Bahrain, yes, Saudi prohibited public protests, and threw thousands in the jails, and yet this didn’t break the will of the people but pushed the monarch to near bankruptcy! The Bahraini king regularly gets money from Saudi to pay the salaries in the Army. This is what Saudi has done to Bahrain. Another failure.
    In all events, when Saudi sees in all this region failure - they come to Lebanon and think they can do something here. It is not true that Lebanon is totally under either Iranian or Saudi patronage. Big difference between Saudi and Iran in Lebanon: Iran does not interfere in internal Lebanese politics! I say this one my responsibility. Iran does not impose which PM or which leader or which electoral law... Iran does not interfere in any internal Lebanese politics. ...
    Let me simplify things to you. Saudi is coming to vent its anger at us in Lebanon. It cannot respond to Iran.
    To Saudi: if you think that you can defeat Lebanon or to defeat the Lebanese resistance or to defeat the Lebanese political leadership, then you are wrong and you have nothing but failure as you have failed elsewhere.
    More detail... If you think your objective can be the obliteration of Hezbollah, no matter what Saudi does, they cannot defeat Hezbollah. Don’t let that be your objective. Let your objective be realistic.
    Punish Hezbollah or pressure Hezbollah so it can change its actions. To leave Syria? Well, the battle is ending in Syria. Okay, pressuring and sanctioning Hezbollah to change its actions... Our position with Yemen will not be changed, because it is right! God will ask us about our position and our position there is outside of any political calculations.
    As Saudi Jubair said yesterday, the Lebanese people are innocent and they are under the control of Hezbollah and we need to find a way to help Lebanese to get out of Hezbollah’s control. Great. Is this a way to rescue the Lebanese people? Are your actions in line with that objective? OR do you want to rescue Lebanese as you are trying to rescue the Yemeni people, since isn’t the war on Yemen also under the headline of rescuing the Yemeni people? Millions threatened with famine! Not one place has been left unbombed, the souks, the mosques... Is this how you rescue the Yemeni people? by killing and besieging them?! that is your way. this is how you want to rescue the Lebanese people?
    Want to rescue the Lebanese people by insulting Lebanon’s PM?! Rescue Lebanese by fear-mongering?
    Is Lebanon to be punished because we did not obey Saudi dictates? Even the declaration by the Future Movement calling the return of Hariri was criticized! It is not allowed to even breath.
    You can sanction Hezbollah without punishing Lebanese and the government. think about it - and you will think of something. But if only hatred is thinking, then “I am blind and don’t see but i will wave my sword.”
    On this day, on this great day of great martyrdom, we are here, together, holding on to our achievements, to our country and our army, to our national unity. We should not worry or be scared from all these threats.
    With our unity, we shall be stronger

  • La #Turquie lance une opération militaire à Idlib en #Syrie
    https://fr.news.yahoo.com/la-turquie-lance-une-op%C3%A9ration-militaire-%C3%A0-idlib-122109918.

    La Turquie a conclu le 15 septembre avec l’Iran et la Russie un accord sur le déploiement d’observateurs aux franges de la province d’Idlib, qui est contrôlée par une alliance rebelle conduite par l’ex-front Al #Nosra, anciennement affilié à #Al_Qaïda.

    La province d’Idlib a été définie par les trois pays comme une zone de « désescalade » où doit être mis en place un cessez-le-feu. Mais l’alliance islamiste, baptisée Tahrir al Cham, refuse cette trêve même si Ankara est parvenue à persuader deux des groupes de l’alliance à faire défection.

    « Nous ne permettrons jamais l’existence d’un sanctuaire terroriste le long de nos frontières avec la Syrie », a déclaré samedi Recep Tayyip Erdogan. « Nous continuerons à prendre d’autres initiatives après l’opération d’Idlib. »

  • The Race for Deir al-Zour Province - The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
    http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/the-race-for-deir-al-zour-province

    Août 2017 Fabrice Balanche

    [...] rumors [are] circulating in Washington about a future U.S.-backed rebel offensive in Deir al-Zour province. According to such rumors, the Arab rebels and SDF will advance on the northern shores of the Euphrates, up to Mayadin, then cross the river and travel until Abu Kamal before seizing the Iraqi border area. Thus, the Syrian army will be limited to taking Deir al-Zour city and its nearby surroundings. Such a development would allow the United States to block the planned Iranian corridor and maintain pressure on the Assad regime. On the other side of the border, the Iraqi army, not the Shia militias, would eliminate the IS presence. The Sunni Arab tribes on both sides of the border would thus be under a U.S. protectorate and the Iranian corridor project rendered moot. Even excepting geopolitical considerations not discussed here, this rosy situation is unlikely to play out, as evidenced by various clues on the ground.

  • MoA - Syria - Russia Accusing U.S. Of Attacks, Abduction Attempts, Team-play With Al-Qaeda
    http://www.moonofalabama.org/2017/09/syria-russia-accuses-us-of-attacks-direct-coordination-with-al-qaeda.

    The U.S. wants to keep Syrian government forces away from the oil fields north of the Euphrates. It has plans to build and control a Kurdish proto-state in north-east Syria and control over the eastern Deir Ezzor oil would give such a state the necessary economic base.

    But the U.S. has too few proxy forces available to actually take the oil area away from the Islamic State. Only the Syrian army has enough resources in the area. The U.S. is now cheating, attacking Syrian-Russian forces, and rushing to get an advantage. According to the Russians the U.S. Kurdish proxies have even stopped the fight against ISIS in Raqqa and moved forces from that area to take the oil in the east. I doubt that Syria and Russia will allow that to happen without taking measures to counter it.

    With the al-Qaeda diversion attack in north-west Syria defeated and more reserves available the Syrian alliance should think about a fast air-assault on the oil fields. As soon as the oil wells are under Syrian government control and the ISIS presence eliminated the U.S. has no more excuse to continue the current deadly game.

  • Farsnews
    http://en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13960629000537

    Pour tenter d’empêcher l’armée syrienne de passer à l’est de l’Euphrate pour compléter leur victoire sur Daesh, les Kurdes soutenus par les USA ouvrent les vannes des barrages...

    The army units continued to liberate the Euphrates valley East of Deir Ezzur city with the help of the Russian Air Force, the statement from the ministry said, adding that the government forces had retaken more than 60 square kilometers on the left (Eastern) bank of the Euphrates from the ISIL.

    The army also faced difficulties as it cut across the Euphrates River, where the water level surprisingly rose within several hours. Such water-level changes could only be the result of a deliberate flush at the dams that are also currently controlled by the militant groups backed by the US-led coalition, the major general said.

    The Syrian army crossed the Euphrates to deploy on the Eastern bank of the river last week.

  • Why Syria hasn’t retaliated to the alleged Israeli strike

    Syria and allies practice restraint after alleged Israeli attack on missile plant

    Amos Harel Sep 10, 2017
    read more: http://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/syria/.premium-1.811402

    It appears, however, that the timing isn’t convenient for sabre rattling by the Assad regime and its supporters. The regime scored an important victory last week when the Syrian army and Shi’ite militias took over Deir el-Zour in eastern Syria and drove out Islamic State fighters. Iran is explaining its active military involvement in Syria with the need to help the Assad regime, more than opening a front with Israel, while Hezbollah is playing down the assistance it receives from Iran and Syria.
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    A military retaliation against Israel could create difficulties for the parties bolstering Hezbollah. The response could come at a later stage and indirectly, like the tightening of Russian-Iranian cooperation.
    Recently, reports have said Russia will provide air defense in western Syria, mainly via S-400 missiles, for Iranian arms plants as well. As far as is known, Iran operates such facilities in Syria in coordination with the Assad regime, but so far hasn’t implemented plans to set up similar ones in Lebanon.

    Syrian soccer fans hold a portrait of President Bashar Assad before a match with Iran in a World Cup qualifier, Tehran, September 6, 2017.Vahid Salemi / AP
    On Sunday, Israel’s military will continue the large drill in the north that began last week; numerous infantry units and aircraft will be involved. The exercise, which is taking place in a Lower Galilee area that simulates Lebanon, will move this week from defense to offense. Presumably, Hezbollah and Syria will also have to take the Israeli army’s high alert into account if they’re considering a retaliation to the airstrike.
    Former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said he didn’t know who attacked the plant in Syria, “but whoever it was did Israel an excellent service.”
    As Ya’alon put it, “The Russians, even if they think we did it, aren’t saying a word. There’s a hotline between our defense establishments and understandings that we won’t get in their way and they won’t get in ours. I don’t see a fear of an escalation, but we have to keep evaluating the situation.”

  • Panique : Netanyahou, l’Iran et le Hezbollah
    http://www.dedefensa.org/article/panique-netanyahou-liran-et-le-hezbollah

    Panique : Netanyahou, l’Iran et le Hezbollah

    A la lumière de la confirmation avec les effets psychologiques et politiques à mesure de la victoire syrienne de Deir ez-Zour, le long commentaire ci-dessous d’Alastair Crooke sur la “panique Netanyahou” prend une singulière importance. Les Syriens d’Assad ont, avec l’aide des Iraniens et surtout du Hezbollah, et le soutien aérien massif de la Russie, emporté une victoire stratégique qui marque évidemment un tournant dans le conflit syrien, et sans doute un tournant décisif. Le concours du Hezbollah dans cette bataille, comme dans la majeure partie du conflit, constitue un élément majeur de ce conflit, et l’une des préoccupations fondamentales de Netanyahou.

    Crooke analyse dans toute son ampleur la très difficile situation du Premier ministre israélien qui (...)

    • Une attaque aérienne israélienne la nuit dernière, contre une position syrienne proche de la frontière libanaise avec des missiles air-sol tirés d’avions israéliens ayant pénétré prudemment l’espace aérien libanais (et pas syrien), signale cette extrême nervosité israélienne, mais sans convaincre de l’efficacité de la chose. Les Israéliens ne sont pas en position de force. Selon plusieurs sources, les Russes tiennent complètement l’espace aérien de la région, notamment avec l’arrivée de cinq avions d’alerte et de contrôle de l’espace aérien à très grandes capacités Beriev A-50 désormais basés en Syrie. D’autre part, DEBKAFiles signale que le Hezbollah devrait être conduit à changer complètement ses tactiques et sa stratégie suite aux victoires remportées en Syrie, ce qui rend complètement caduc le scénario utilisé par les forces armées israéliennes dans des manœuvres en cours pour ttester ses capacités de l’emporter sur le Hezbollah : « In the remaining seven days of the exercise, the IDF still has a chance to update its scenario », écrit ironiquement DEBKAFiles.

    • L’article d’Alaistair Crooke pointé par dedefensa

      The Reasons for Netanyahu’s Panic – Consortiumnews
      https://consortiumnews.com/2017/09/01/the-reasons-for-netanyahus-panic

      The increasingly “not to be” constituency of the Middle East has a simpler word for Netanyahu’s “#ethnic_nationalism.” They call it simply #Western_colonialism. Round one of Chas Freeman’s making the Middle East “be with Israel” consisted of the shock-and-awe assault on Iraq. Iraq is now allied with Iran, and the Hashad militia (PMU) are becoming a widely mobilized fighting force. The second stage was 2006. Today, Hizbullah is a regional force, and not a just Lebanese one.

      The third strike was at Syria. Today, Syria is allied with Russia, Iran, Hizbullah and Iraq. What will comprise the next round in the “to be, or not to be” war?

    • @simplicissimus : Pour aller dans ton sens, le timing israélien est intéressant, juste après le désencerclement de Deir-Ezzor, commepour dire on est là. Et il vient appuyer, si l’on peut dire, le rapport de l’ONU accusant - same player shoots again - la Syrie d’attaque chimique.

    • “Just to be clear: if 2006 marked a key point of inflection, Syria’s “standing its ground” represents a historic turning of much greater magnitude. It should be understood that Saudi Arabia’s (and Britain’s and America’s) tool of fired-up, radical Sunnism has been routed. And with it, the Gulf States, but particularly Saudi Arabia are damaged. The latter has relied on the force of Wahabbism since the first foundation of the kingdom: but Wahabbism in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq has been roundly defeated and discredited (even for most Sunni Muslims). It may well be defeated in Yemen too. This defeat will change the face of Sunni Islam.
      Already, we see the Gulf Cooperation Council, which originally was founded in 1981 by six Gulf tribal leaders for the sole purpose of preserving their hereditary tribal rule in the Peninsula, now warring with each other, in what is likely to be a protracted and bitter internal fight. The “Arab system,” the prolongation of the old Ottoman structures by the complaisant post-World War I victors, Britain and France, seems to be out of its 2013 “remission” (bolstered by the coup in Egypt), and to have resumed its long-term decline.”

    • If Israel did strike Syrian arms facility, it may have shot itself in the foot

      www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.811226

      While Thursday’s alleged attack may have seen Israel widen its definition of what it deems a threat, it may give Iran an excuse to increase its military presence and lead Russia to declare Syrian airspace a no-fly zone

      By Zvi Bar’el | Sep. 7, 2017 | 10:20 PM

      The Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center is the code name for part of the Syrian unconventional weapons industry. The center, better known by its French acronym CERS, is commanded by a Syrian general. It is also responsible for Syria’s chemical weapons manufacturing plants, which are reportedly located in three separate sites: Two near Damascus and the third close to the city of Masyaf, northwest Syria, only about 70 kilometers (43 miles) from the Khmeimim Russian Air Force base near Latakia.

      According to official Syrian reports, Israeli planes attacked CERS from within Lebanese territory early Thursday morning. The reports do not provide details of the damage to the facility and what it made. But an official statement said the attack was meant to raise the morale of Islamic State fighters after they suffered serious casualties in the fighting around Deir ez-Zor. According to President Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria, Israel not only founded ISIS, it also aided in its recent operations.

      It is not completely clear whether this facility, where they manufacture long-range missiles and artillery shells, also continues to assemble chemical weapons shells. But if Israel knows about such production at the plant, then there is no doubt the United States and Russia know about it too.

      We can assume Israel informed Washington before the attack and received the necessary nod of approval. As far as Russia is concerned, meanwhile, it seems Israel decided to attack from within Lebanese territory to avoid the need to coordinate its operation with the Russians – as is required from the understandings between the two air forces whenever Israel sends fighter jets into Syrian territory – and to prevent the information from leaking out.

      This was not the first alleged Israeli aerial attack in Syrian territory, of course. But the timing is quite interesting. It comes after Russia threatened to veto any UN Security Council resolution that describes Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, and a short time after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi – a meeting Netanyahu returned from without any Russian commitment to bring about an Iranian pullback from Syrian lands.

      As Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said, Russia has made a commitment that Israel’s security interests will not be harmed as a result of the establishment of de-escalation zones in Syria.

      But the Russian interpretation of the meaning of harming Israel’s security interests is not necessarily the same as Israel’s definition. Given that the presence of Hezbollah forces in Syria is seen as a threat to Israel, how much more so is the presence of pro-Iranian forces deployed near Israel’s eastern border on the Golan Heights, as well as in the area near Daraa in southern Syria?

      At the same time, Russia – which itself does not define Hezbollah as a terrorist organization – would find it difficult to force the group’s forces out of Lebanon. That’s mainly because of Iran’s position that sees Hezbollah as an essential foundation for preserving its influence in Lebanon and as an important tactical force in the Syrian war. Unlike in Lebanon, where Iran needs Hezbollah to force the hand of the Lebanese government when necessary, Iran’s influence on the Assad regime is direct and in no need of intermediaries.

      Russia, which has acted to limit Iran’s freedom of operation in Syria, recognizes that it must coordinate its actions with Iran if it wishes to fulfill its aspirations to stabilize Assad’s rule.

      The Aleppo lesson

      Russia has already learned its lessons from Aleppo, when it thought it could implement the cease-fire agreement that was reached at the end of last year without coordinating with Iran – and then realized that the Shi’ite militias and Hezbollah were preventing rebel soldiers from boarding the buses that were meant to take them out of the city, on Iran’s orders.

      The Iranian explanation was that because Tehran was not a partner to the agreement, it was not obligated by it. Russia has avoided Syrian negotiations since then, whether local or international, without Iranian participation.

      The attack on the weapons facility, especially one suspected of producing chemical weapons, is seemingly an act that should not cause an aggressive Russian response. Four years ago, Russia convinced then-President Barack Obama at the last minute not to attack Syria for its use of chemical weapons in Aleppo, and in return co-signed a tripartite agreement in which Syria agreed to destroy or send to Russia its entire chemical weapons inventory. Now, Russia may attempt to prove that the facility did not produce such weapons, but it is doubtful it will strain itself too much in doing so.

      By the way, that 2013 agreement included chlorine gas too, which the Syrian army still continues to use.

      Russia also understands that Israel’s alleged attack on the suspected chemical weapons plant, similar to the U.S. cruise missile strikes on Syria after the chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhun in April, is considered to be a legitimate action by the international community.

      Even Russia made it clear back in 2013 that it would not object to an attack on chemical weapons stores if the UN decided on such a step, and if it is proved Syria did use such weapons.

      The new element in the latest attack – if Israel did indeed carry out such an attack – is that Israel now defines what it sees as a threat in a much broader sense.

      The question is whether Russia will accept this definition as part of Israel’s strategic worldview – which sees Syria as a threatening enemy state. Russian agreement to expanding that definition could grant Israel approval for other attacks – such as against Syrian Air Force bases, or even against Syrian ground forces, with the argument that they are considered a threat.

      And so, if until now there was a red line between the Russian and Israeli air forces, this time the attack could lead at the very least to Russia imposing stricter “aerial discipline” on Israel. If this happens, Russia could declare that any foreign planes entering Syrian airspace would be considered a legitimate target for the Russian Air Force, except for coalition planes fighting against the Islamic State.

      Saving the United States

      From Washington’s perspective, Israel has pulled its chestnuts out of the fire. Following numerous reports on the renewed use of chlorine gas by the Syrian army, the Americans would have been forced to act. And this could have caused its relations with Russia to deteriorate even further.

      But the “service” Israel has provided to Washington just sinks it even deeper into the Syrian arena. This time, not only as an interested observer knocking on the doors of the superpowers in order to promote its own security interests, but as an active partner whose military presence adds yet another component to the array of forces (which already includes Russia, Iran, Turkey and Syria).

      But the Israeli element could threaten to spoil Russia’s plans. For example, Iran, Turkey and Russia are about to establish a security zone in the Idlib province, where most of the militia forces of the Al-Shams Front (formerly Nusra Front), which is affiliated with Al-Qaida, are concentrated. This is a region where Iran and Turkey have opposing interests, even though both are interested in a cease-fire.

      Turkey wants to use this region as a strategic base for military operations against the Syrian Kurdish regions that border Turkey. Iran sees Idlib province as a strategic outpost to serve as a base for its control of Syria. All three countries are planning a combined attack against the rebel centers, if Russia is unable to enforce a cease-fire according to the model that was built in the southern provinces.

      It would seem Israel has no real interest in the Idlib province, except for the concern about Iran’s expansion and settling in there. But the takeover of Idlib – like the military campaign in Deir ez-Zor in southeastern Syria, where ISIS continues to rack up losses – is preparing the diplomatic channels for a permanent agreement.

      Russia is striving to demonstrate control of Idlib and Deir ez-Zor by the end of next week, when the representatives of the various parties in the Syrian civil war are set to meet in the Kazakh capital of Astana. The Russians want to present such a takeover as proof of a total victory by the Syrian regime, a victory that would destroy the opposition groups’ tools for applying pressure.

      Syrian-Russian control of these two provinces would strengthen the diplomatic working assumption that Assad will continue to be Syrian president, especially since opponents of his regime in Europe, the United States and Turkey – and even Saudi Arabia – have nearly completely withdrawn their demands to remove him as a precondition to any negotiations.

      Such a result would obligate Israel to be a partner, even if only indirectly, in the process of establishing a new Syrian government; in the debate over the status of Iran and Hezbollah in Syria; and the guarantees that Russia, and not the United States, can provide in response to the possible threats resulting from such an agreement.

      Double-edged sword

      Israel may very well conclude that the greater its military involvement in Syria, whether through sporadic attacks or by tightening its military ties to rebel groups, it more it will strengthen its position when the time comes to formulate a political settlement.

      But such a view can be a double-edged sword. It will grant Iran a wonderful excuse to increase its military presence in Syria; Russia may reduce or even eliminate its aerial coordination with Israel and declare Syrian airspace a no-fly zone; and Hezbollah could turn the Golan Heights into a legitimate front against Israel as part of its balance of deterrence with it.

      There is a big difference between the ability to attack specific targets and a permanent situation of two hostile fronts, one facing Syria and the second Lebanon – especially when Israel’s most important backer, the United States, is sunk deep inside itself and does not want to intervene at all.

  • VIDEO : The moment the first Syrian Army tanks lifted the siege on Deir Ezzor
    https://www.almasdarnews.com/article/video-moment-first-syrian-army-tanks-lifted-siege-deir-ezzor

    BEIRUT, LEBANON (6:50 P.M.) – A video has been released by Hezbollah’s media wing showing the moment the first Syrian Army tanks used by relieving forces officially lifted the siege on Deir Ezzor.

    Earlier today, the Syrian Army units outside Deir Ezzor linked up with besieged forces protecting the city, ending the three year long siege imposed by ISIS.

    Le Hezbollah sait depuis très longtemps gagner la bataille des images. Les Russes doivent donner un coup de main. L’équipe de foot syrienne marque un but à la dernière minute d’un match important (contre l’Iran : je pense que les Syriologues vont nous expliquer que le match était truqué !) #syrie

  • Nasrallah révèle des “canaux de négociations” avec l’EI en territoire syrien - L’Orient-Le Jour
    https://www.lorientlejour.com/article/1069025/nasrallah-revele-des-canaux-de-negociation-avec-lei-en-territoire-syr

    Le secrétaire général du Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, a révélé jeudi soir que des négociations ont lieu entre les autorités syriennes et le groupe État islamique à la demande des combattants de l’EI, parallèlement à la bataille qui se déroule dans le jurd. Des négociations qui comprennent notamment la libération des militaires libanais otages de l’EI, et pour lesquelles, a souligné le leader chiite, une « coopération officielle et une demande officielle (de la part du Liban) à Damas » sont nécessaires.

    En pro-iranien, cela se traduit ainsi :
    "No negotiations with ISIL until they reveal fate of kidnapped Lebanese soldiers: Sayyed Nasrallah.

    Sayyed Nasrallah began his televised speech by saluting the Lebanese and Syrian armies, along with the soldiers of Hezbollah that have fought against the Islamic State terrorists on the border.

    “I offer my heartfelt gratitude to the Lebanese Army, the Syrian Army, and the Resistance fighters, especially the martyrs and the wounded among them,” Sayyed Nasrallah opened his speech with.
    “The Syrian leadership and the Resistance confirm that there will be no commitment to negotiations with Daesh unless it is tied to revealing the fate of the Lebanese soldiers abducted by the group,” he announced, stressing that “the resistance acts as though the battle was one; and on one front,” promising the Army Command and the families of the kidnapped “not to accept any solution beyond revealing the fate of the kidnapped Lebanese military personnel.”

    • Not Without Dignity: Views of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon on Displacement, Conditions of Return, and Coexistence

      Discussions about a future return of refugees and coexistence among groups currently at war in Syria must begin now, even in the face of ongoing violence and displacement. This report, based on interviews with refugees, makes it clear that the restoration of dignity will be important to creating the necessary conditions for return and peaceful coexistence — and building a stable post-war Syria one day.


      https://www.ictj.org/publication/syria-refugees-lebanon-displacement-return-coexistence
      #rapport

    • New ICTJ Study: Syrian Refugees in Lebanon See Security, Restoration of Dignity as Key Conditions for Return

      A new report from the International Center for Transitional Justice argues that discussions about a future return of refugees and coexistence among groups currently at war in Syria must begin now, even in the face of ongoing violence and displacement. The report makes it clear that the restoration of refugees’ sense of dignity will be important to creating the necessary conditions for return and peaceful coexistence — and building a stable post-war Syria one day.

      https://www.ictj.org/news/study-syrian-refugees-lebanon-conditions-return

    • We Must Start the Conversation About Return of Syrian Refugees Now

      If millions of displaced Syrians are to go home one day, we need to understand refugees’ conditions for returning, attitudes to justice and the possibility of coexistence, say the authors of an International Center for Transitional Justice study of refugees in Lebanon.

      https://www.newsdeeply.com/refugees/community/2017/06/21/we-must-start-the-conversation-about-return-of-syrian-refugees-now

    • Nowhere Left to Run: Refugee Evictions in Lebanon in Shadow of Return

      Lebanon wants to evict 12,000 refugees who live near an air base where foreign military assistance is delivered. The evictions, which began in spring and recently resumed after a short respite, have left refugees more vulnerable amid rising demands they return to Syria.


      https://www.newsdeeply.com/refugees/articles/2017/09/28/nowhere-left-to-run-refugee-evictions-in-lebanon-in-shadow-of-return
      #Liban

    • Syrian Refugees Return From Lebanon Only to Flee War Yet Again

      Refugees who returned to Syria from Lebanon under cease-fire deals this summer have been displaced again by fighting. Those who stayed behind are pressing for international guarantees of safety on return, as Lebanese officials explore ways to get more refugees to leave.


      https://www.newsdeeply.com/refugees/articles/2017/10/11/syrian-refugees-return-from-lebanon-only-to-flee-war-yet-again

    • Dangerous Exit: Who Controls How Syrians in Lebanon Go Home

      AS HALIMA clambered into a truck leaving Lebanon in late June, she resolved that if the men driving the vehicle were arrested at the Syrian border, she would get out and walk back to her village on her own. The 66-year-old grandmother had not seen the son and daughter she left behind in Syria for five years. Wearing an embroidered black dress and a traditional headdress, her crinkled eyes shone with determination. “I’m coming back to my land,” she said.

      Having begged her not to leave, Halima’s two daughters staying in Lebanon wept on her shoulders. “We’re afraid she won’t come back,” 42-year-old Sherifa said, as her voice cracked. Sherifa cannot follow her mother to Syria; her eldest son, who has single-handedly kept the family afloat with odd jobs because of his father’s disability, would be sent to war.

      Huddled in groups at the checkpoint in northeast Lebanon, other families also said their goodbyes. A teenage girl knelt on the dirt road, refusing to let go of her 19-year-old brother’s legs. Their mother, Nawal, held her as he left for a truck to the border. “I don’t know how he will live on his own in Syria. Only God knows what will happen to him,” Nawal said. “I didn’t think he would actually leave. It all happened very fast.”

      A few months earlier, 3,000 Syrians in the Lebanese border town of Arsal had registered their names with Syrian and Lebanese intelligence agencies to return to their villages just over the mountains in Syria’s Qalamoun region. When the first group of several hundred people was approved to leave on June 28, many families were separated, as some members either decided not to register or were not approved by Syrian authorities.

      “We need a political solution for these people to go back, but the politics doesn’t start here in Lebanon,” a Lebanese intelligence agent said, as a scuffle broke out that scorching June morning. A Syrian man lunged at Khaled Abdel Aziz, a real estate businessman who had been put in charge of signing up fellow refugees to return. Abdel Aziz sweated in his suit as he dashed between television interviews, repeating that Syrians had a country of their own to go back to. “You’re protecting the army, not protecting yourself,” the man yelled, before being pulled away.

      The TV cameras rolled as dozens of trucks and tractors piled high with timber, water tanks and chicken coops were checked off a list by Lebanese intelligence agents and headed with an army escort to the Syrian border. A line of TV reporters announced to their Lebanese viewers that these refugees were going home.

      The next day, on the other side of Arsal, a small group of refugees held a sit-in, to much less fanfare. “We’re asking for return with dignity,” one banner read, “with guarantees from the international community and the U.N.”

      “We’re not against the return, but we want conditions, guarantees,” said Khaled Raad, one of the organizers. His refugee committee has been petitioning the U.N. and sympathetic Lebanese politicians for international protection for returning Syrians for a year. “I mean, this is not like taking a cup of tea or coffee to say, after seven years, go ahead and return to your houses. It’s not an easy thing.”

      “WE NEED A POLITICAL SOLUTION FOR THESE PEOPLE TO GO BACK, BUT THE POLITICS DOESN’T START HERE IN LEBANON.”

      By then, Halima had arrived back in Syria. Apart from some tractors breaking down en route, they had no problem crossing the border. Halima went to stay with her son while she waited to hear about the situation in her hometown, the mountaintop village of Fleeta. Her granddaughters had grown up quickly while she was in Lebanon, and she loved spending time with them in the neighboring town.

      But as more of their friends and relatives returned to Fleeta, with subsequent groups departing Arsal in July, word came to the family of empty homes and little power, water or work in the Syrian village. Sherifa received messages from relatives who had returned to Fleeta but now wanted to escape again. With no easy way to come back to Lebanon legally, they planned to smuggle themselves back across the border.

      Without her mother, and with bad news from Fleeta making it less likely she would ever return to Syria, Sherifa became increasingly desperate. Her husband, who is unable to work for health reasons, sunk into depression. “By God, dying is better than living,” Sherifa said. “I seek refuge in God from this return.”

      LONGING FOR HOME, AFRAID TO RETURN
      RETURNING TO SYRIA during this eighth year of conflict is both an excruciating personal decision and a political calculation: by refugees, the government in Syria, and other nations with a stake in the war. As the government recaptures more territory from opposition groups, and fighting quells in certain areas, some refugees are considering returning, while others are terrified of the increasing pressure to go back. After Lebanon began organizing small group returns this year, including from Arsal, these dilemmas became more urgent.

      To return is to take a political gamble: Refugees must weigh the risks of staying against the risks of going. They try to figure out who can be trusted to tell them the truth. They gather snippets of information from their cities, towns and villages about what happens to people who return. They struggle to decipher the intentions of the mercurial and multi-layered Syrian authorities and their foreign allies.

      Some of the broader dangers are well-known: an estimated half a million people killed in Syria’s war, including thousands dead this year; some one million people forced to leave their homes this year alone; a third of all houses and half of all schools and hospitals damaged or destroyed; in government-controlled areas, mandatory conscription into battle for men under 43, fear of arrest and torture, and the difficulties of reintegrating into a society and economy fractured by war.

      Until now, few refugees have considered this a risk worth taking. In 2017, the U.N. said 77,300 refugees went back independently to Syria, out of 5.6 million who had fled the country. The vast majority of Syrian refugees have consistently told U.N. and independent surveys they hoped to return home one day, but do not yet feel safe to do so.

      There are also risks to staying. More than 80 percent of Syrian refugees remain in three neighboring countries: Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. There, they face soaring poverty, years out of work or school, lack of official documents, risk of arrest and, above all, an increasing public clamoring for Syrians to be sent back.

      In Lebanon, where at least 1.5 million Syrians have sought refuge – increasing the country’s population by a quarter – the pressure to leave is the most intense. Few Syrians have legal status, even fewer can work. Many towns have imposed curfews or carried out mass evictions. At the U.N. General Assembly last year, Lebanon’s president Michel Aoun insisted Syrians must return, voluntarily or not. “The claim that they will not be safe should they return to their country is an unacceptable pretext,” he told world leaders.

      https://www.newsdeeply.com/refugees/articles/2018/08/08/dangerous-exit-who-controls-how-syrians-in-lebanon-go-home
      #Liban

    • Turkish minister: 255,300 Syrian refugees have returned home

      Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said on Sunday that 255,300 Syrian refugees have returned home over the past two years, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

      “Some 160,000 of them returned to the Euphrates Shield region after Turkey brought peace there,” added Soylu, speaking to reporters in the southern province of Hatay bordering Syria.

      Turkey carried out Operation Euphrates Shield between August 2016 and March 2017 to eliminate the terrorist threat along the border in the northern Syrian regions of Jarabulus, Al-Rai, Al-Bab and Azaz with the help of the Free Syrian Army.

      Expressing concern about a possible operation in the Idlib region of Syria by regime forces, the minister underlined that Turkey would not be responsible for a wave of migration in the event of an offensive.

      Soylu also noted that an average of 6,800 irregular migrants a day used to enter Greece from western Turkey in 2015 and that now it has been reduced to 79.

      https://www.turkishminute.com/2018/09/09/turkish-minister-255300-syrian-refugees-have-returned-home

    • The fate of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Between forced displacement and forced return

      Recent news reports have surfaced on a possible United States-Russia deal to arrange for the return of refugees to Syria—reports that coincided both with the announcement that thousands of Syrians have died in regime prisons, and with one of the worst massacres in the conflict, perpetrated by ISIS in the city of Swaida. The US-Russia deal has been welcomed by Lebanese politicians, particularly those who have been scheming to repatriate Syrians for years now. But, unsurprisingly, the absence of a clear and coherent strategy for repatriation by the Lebanese government puts Syrian refugees at grave risk.

      In June, UNHCR interviewed Syrian refugees in Arsal who had expressed their willingness to go back to Syria in order to verify that they had the documentation needed for return and to ensure they were fully aware of the conditions in their home country. In response, caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil accused the agency of impeding refugees’ free return and ordered a freeze on the renewal of agency staff residency permits.

      This tug of war raises two main questions: What are the conditions in Lebanon that are pushing refugees toward returning to Syria while the conflict is ongoing and dangers persist? And what are the obstacles preventing some Syrians from returning freely to their homes?

      Conditions for Syrians in Lebanon

      Syrians began fleeing to Lebanon as early as 2011, but the Lebanese government failed to produce a single policy response until 2014, leading to ad-hoc practices by donors and host communities.

      By the end of 2014, the government began introducing policies to “reduce the number of displaced Syrians,” including closing the borders and requiring Syrians to either register with UNHCR and pledge not to work, or to secure a Lebanese sponsor to remain legally in the country and pay a $200 residency permit fee every six months. In May 2015, the government directed UNHCR to stop registering refugees. These conditions put many Syrians in a precarious position: without documentation, vulnerable to arrest and detention, and with limited mobility. Municipalities have been impeding freedom of movement as well, by imposing curfews on Syrians and even expelling them from their towns.

      In addition to the difficulties imposed by the state, Syrians face discrimination and violence on a day-to-day basis. Refugee settlements have been set on fire, Syrians have been beaten in the streets, and camps are regularly raided by the Lebanese army. All the while, Lebanese politicians foster and fuel the hatred of Syrians, blaming them for the country’s miseries and painting them as existential and security threats.

      Despite the polarization among Lebanese politicians regarding the situation in Syria, there is a consensus that the Syrian refugees are a burden that Lebanon cannot bear. Politicians across the board have been advocating for the immediate repatriation of refugees, and state officials are beginning to take action. President Michel Aoun made a statement in May declaring that Lebanon would seek a solution regarding the refugee crisis without taking into account the preferences of the UN or the European Union. This was followed by Bassil’s move, to freeze the residency permits of UNHCR staff, the leading agency (despite its many shortcomings) providing services for, and protecting the interests of, Syrian refugees. While UNHCR maintains that there are no safe zones in Syria as of yet, Lebanon’s General Security has begun facilitating the return of hundreds of refugees from Arsal and nearby towns. This process has been monitored by UNHCR to ensure that the returns are voluntary. Hezbollah has also established centers to organize the return of Syrians to their homes in collaboration with the Syrian regime.

      Syrian regime obstructing refugees’ free return

      As the situation for Syrian refugees in Lebanon becomes more and more unbearable, conditions for them back home remain troubling. Since 2012, the Syrian regime has been taking deliberate measures that would effectively make the situation for returning Syrians extremely difficult and dangerous.

      Conscription

      Syrian males aged 18 to 42 must serve in the Syrian Armed Forces. While exemptions were allowed in the past, a decree issued in 2017 bans exemptions from military service. Refusing to serve in the Syrian army results in imprisonment or an $8,000 fine, which most Syrians are unable to pay, thus risking having their assets seized by the regime.

      Property as a weapon of war

      Law No. 66 (2012) allowed for the creation of development zones in specified areas across the country. Under the pretense of redeveloping areas currently hosting informal settlements or unauthorized housing, the law is actually being used to expropriate land from residents in areas identified in the decree, which are mostly former opposition strongholds such as Daraya and Ghouta.

      Law No. 10 (2018), passed in April, speeds up the above process. This law stipulates the designation of development or reconstruction zones, requiring local authorities to request a list of property owners from public real estate authorities. Those whose have property within these zones but are not registered on the list are notified by local authorities and must present proof of property within 30 days. If they are successful in providing proof, they get shares of the redevelopment project; otherwise, ownership reverts to the local authority in the province, town, or city where the property is located. Human Rights Watch has published a detailed Q&A that explains the law and its implications.

      These laws, coupled with systematic destruction of land registries by local authorities, fully equip the regime to dispossess hundreds of thousands of Syrian families. Reports indicate that the regime has already begun reconstruction in areas south of Damascus.

      Statements by Syrian officials

      Syrian officials have made several public statements that reveal their hostility toward refugees. On August 20, 2017, at the opening ceremony of a conference held by Syria’s foreign ministry, President Bashar al-Assad gave a speech in which he said: “It’s true that we lost the best of our young men as well as our infrastructure, but in return we gained a healthier, more homogeneous society.” On another occasion, Assad stated his belief that some refugees are terrorists.

      In September 2017, a video of Issam Zahreddine, a commander in the Syrian Armed Forces, went viral. In the video, Zahreddine threatens refugees against returning, saying: “To everyone who fled Syria to other countries, please do not return. If the government forgives you, we will not. I advise you not to come back.” Zahreddine later clarified that his remarks were meant for rebels and ISIS followers, but that clarification should be taken with a grain of salt given his bloody track record in the war up until his death in October 2017. Along similar lines, leaked information from a meeting of top-ranking army officers just last month reported the following statement by the head of the Syrian Air Force Intelligence administration, General Jamil Al-Hassan: “A Syria with 10 million trustworthy people obedient to the leadership is better than a Syria with 30 million vandals.”

      Unknown fate

      Considering the unwelcoming policies in Lebanon and the treacherous conditions in Syria, what is the fate of Syrian refugees, specifically those who oppose the Assad regime? Until now, the return championed by Lebanese politicians implies return to a fascist regime that has caused the largest refugee crisis since the Second World War and unapologetically committed countless war crimes. While Lebanese politicians continue to focus on repatriation, they are failing to acknowledge the major barriers preventing Syrians from returning home: the Assad regime and ongoing mass violence.

      We cannot speak of safe, dignified, and sustainable returns without demanding justice and accountability. Regime change and trials for those who committed war crimes over the span of the last seven years are a long way off, and all evidence currently points toward the Assad regime retaining power. Any strategy must therefore prioritize the safety of Syrians who are likely to be detained, tortured, and killed for their political views upon return, or simply denied entry to Syria altogether. Lebanese policy makers must take into account that Syrians residing in Lebanon are not a homogenous entity, and some may never be able to return to their homes. Those Syrians should not be forced to choose between a brutal regime that will persecute them and a country that strips away their rights and dignity. It is time for Lebanon to adopt clear policies on asylum, resettlement, and return that ensure the right of all Syrians to lead a safe and dignified life.

      http://www.executive-magazine.com/economics-policy/the-fate-of-syrian-refugees-in-lebanon

    • Le retour des réfugiés en Syrie commence à préoccuper la communauté internationale

      Lors d’une conférence sur la Syrie à Bruxelles, le retour des réfugiés syriens dans leur pays a été évoqué. Démarrée en 2011, la guerre en Syrie touche à sa fin

      La situation en Syrie est loin d’être stabilisée. Les besoins de financement, de nourriture de matériel sont même en constante augmentation. Selon un haut fonctionnaire de l’ONU, un éventuel assaut contre la dernière enclave rebelle pourrait entraîner une « catastrophe humanitaire ». Pourtant, alors que 12 millions de Syriens, soit près de la moitié de la population syrienne avant la guerre, a fui le pays ou a été déplacée à l’intérieur, la question du retour, étape indispensable à la reconstruction, commence à se poser.

      C’est le principal message ressorti de la conférence « Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region » , qui vient de se tenir à Bruxelles. Les diplomates européens ont mis l’accent sur les difficultés de l’Europe à isoler le Président Bashar al-Assad, vainqueur de la guerre, soutenu par la Russie et l’Iran, pendant que les États-Unis retirent leurs troupes.

      L’UE a rappelé qu’un soutien à la reconstruction à long terme dépendrait du processus de paix de l’ONU pour mettre fin à une guerre responsable de la mort de centaines de milliers de personnes.

      Les Européens sont toutefois divisés sur la question de la reconstruction du pays, dans la mesure où le processus de paix de l’ONU est bloqué, que l’intervention militaire russe de 2015 s’avère décisive et que les pays arabes voisins envisagent de rétablir des liens diplomatiques.

      « Les États-Unis se retirent et les Russes n’ont pas l’argent. Voilà le contexte », a expliqué un haut fonctionnaire de l’UE, cité par Reuters. L’Allemagne, la France et les Pays-Bas défendent ouvertement l’idée de libérer les fonds de reconstruction uniquement quand le pays aura démarré sa transition politique et que Bashar-al-Assad ne sera plus au pouvoir. Aucun représentant officiel de la Syrie n’a été invité à la conférence. L’Italie, l’Autriche et la Hongrie, grands détracteurs de la politique migratoire européenne, plaident en revanche pour une négociation avec les autorités syriennes pour que les millions de réfugiés puissent rentrer chez eux.

      Mogherini craint le « ni guerre ni paix »

      La cheffe de la diplomatie européenne, Federica Mogherini, a déclaré qu’il y avait un risque que le pays se retrouve coincé dans une situation de « ni guerre ni paix ». Le Haut Commissaire des Nations Unies pour les réfugiés, Filippo Grandi, a déclaré qu’il était prévisible que 2019 soit la première année depuis le début de la guerre « où il y aura plus de Syriens (réfugiés et déplacés internes) qui rentreront chez eux que de nouveaux déplacés. S’étant rendu en Syrie la semaine dernière, le Haut Commissaire a déclaré avoir été « marqué et touché » par la résilience du peuple syrien.

      « C’est dans un contexte de grandes destructions, avec des zones encore dangereuses et un manque de produits de première nécessité (nourriture, médicaments, eau) et d’emplois que de nombreux Syriens rentrent chez eux. Les agences humanitaires font ce qu’elles peuvent, mais un très grand nombre de déplacés internes et quelques réfugiés prennent la décision difficile de rentrer chez eux, et les besoins en produits de première nécessité ne font qu’augmenter », a-t-il expliqué, ajoutant que la plupart des réfugiés voyaient leur avenir dans leur pays natal et que « nous savons que 56 000 Syriens sont rentrés chez eux via des mouvements organisés l’année dernière, mais ce chiffre est certainement plus élevé ».

      Engagements financiers

      « Je suis heureux de vous annoncer que nous collaborons notamment avec le gouvernement syrien. Et j’aimerais particulièrement remercier la Fédération de Russie pour sa coopération face aux problèmes que le retour des réfugiés syriens implique pour eux », a ajouté Filippo Grandi. Dans le cadre de l’appel de l’ONU, 3,3 milliards de dollars seraient nécessaires pour venir en aide aux déplacés internes et 5,5 milliards de dollars pour les réfugiés et les communautés d’accueil dans les pays voisins.

      Le Secrétaire général adjoint aux affaires humanitaires, Marc Lowcock, a déclaré à la presse que les engagements financiers s’élevaient « au moins à 6,5 milliards de dollars » et peut-être même à près de 7 milliards de dollars. « C’est un très bon résultat, et si nous y parvenons vraiment en fin de compte, nous serons très heureux », a-t-il déclaré. Federica Mogherini a déclaré que l’UE contribuerait à hauteur de 560 millions d’euros pour venir en aide au peuple syrien durant l’année 2019 et que le même montant serait libéré les années suivantes.

      Filippo Grandi a également exprimé son inquiétude quant à la situation en déclin de la ville d’Idlib, près de la frontière turque. Près de 90 personnes y ont été tuées par des obus et des frappes aériennes, et la moitié d’entre elles étaient des enfants.

      « La pire des catastrophes humanitaires »

      « Permettez-moi de répéter ce que nous avons déjà dit à maintes reprises. Une attaque militaire d’envergure sur la ville d’Idlib occasionnerait la pire catastrophe humanitaire du 21ème siècle. Ce serait tout simplement inacceptable », a déclaré Filippo Grandi.

      Avec l’aide d’avions russes, l’armée syrienne a attaqué des villes au mains des forces rebelles dans la région d’Idlib, dernier bastion rebelle du pays. Ce bombardement a été le plus important depuis des mois. Les forces rebelles qui se sont battues depuis 8 ans pour faire tomber le Président al-Assad sont désormais confinées dans une enclave du nord est du pays, près de la frontière turque. Près de 4 millions de Syriens y vivent aujourd’hui, dont des centaines de milliers d’opposants au régime qui ont fui d’autres régions du pays.

      La Turquie, qui a commencé à patrouiller dans la zone tampon vendredi, a condamné ce qu’elle a qualifié de provocations croissantes pour mettre fin à la trêve et a averti qu’une offensive des forces russes et syriennes causerait une crise humanitaire majeure. De nombreux résidents sont exaspérés de l’incapacité des forces turques à répondre aux bombardements. L’armée syrienne a appelé au retrait des forces turques.

      L’enclave est protégée par une zone de « désescalade », un accord négocié l’an dernier par les pays qui soutiennent Bashar al-Assad, la Russie, l’Iran ainsi que la Turquie, qui avait auparavant soutenu les forces rebelles et envoyé des troupes pour surveiller la trêve. Le ministre turc des Affaires étrangères, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, a déclaré que 320 000 Syriens avaient pu rentrer chez eux grâce aux « opérations anti-terrorisme » menées par la Turquie et la Syrie.

      https://www.euractiv.fr/section/migrations/news/return-of-refugees-to-syria-timidly-comes-on-the-agenda

    • Assad asks Syrian refugees to come home — then locks them up and interrogates them

      Guarantees offered by the government as part of a ’reconciliation’ process are often hollow, with returnees harassed or extorted.

      Hundreds of Syrian refugees have been arrested after returning home as the war they fled winds down — then interrogated, forced to inform on close family members and in some cases tortured, say returnees and human rights monitors.

      Many more who weathered the conflict in rebel-held territory now retaken by government forces are meeting a similar fate as President Bashar al-Assad’s regime deepens its longtime dependence on informers and surveillance.

      For Syrian refugees, going home usually requires permission from the government and a willingness to provide a full accounting of any involvement they had with the political opposition. But in many cases the guarantees offered by the government as part of this “reconciliation” process turn out to be hollow, with returnees subjected to harassment or extortion by security agencies or detention and torture to extract information about the refugees’ activities while they were away, according to the returnees and monitoring groups.

      Almost 2,000 people have been detained after returning to Syria during the past two years, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, while hundreds more in areas once controlled by the rebels have also been arrested.

      “If I knew then what I know now, I would never have gone back,” said a young man who returned to a government-controlled area outside Damascus. He said he has been harassed for months by members of security forces who repeatedly turn up at his home and stop him at checkpoints to search his phone.

      “People are still being taken by the secret police, and communities are living between suspicion and fear,” he said. “When they come to your door, you cannot say no. You just have to go with them.”

      Returnees interviewed for this report spoke on the condition of anonymity or on the understanding that their family names would be withheld, because of security threats.

      Since the war erupted in 2011, more than 5 million people have fled Syria and 6 million others have been displaced to another part of the country, according to the United Nations – together representing slightly more than half the Syrian population.

      In the past two years, as Assad’s forces have largely routed the rebels and recaptured much of the country, refugees have begun to trickle back. The United Nations says that at least 164,000 refugees have returned to the country since 2016. But citing a lack of access, the United Nations has not been able to document whether they have come back to government- or opposition-held areas.

      Assad has called for more homecomings, encouraging returnees in a televised address in February to “carry out their national duties.” He said forgiveness would be afforded to returnees “when they are honest.”

      According to our data, you are the exception if nothing happens to you

      A recent survey of Syrians who returned to government-held areas found that about 75 percent had been harassed at checkpoints, in government registry offices or in the street, conscripted into the military despite promises they would be exempted, or arrested.

      “According to our data, you are the exception if nothing happens to you,” said Nader Othman, a trustee with the Syrian Association for Citizens’ Dignity, which said it had interviewed 350 returnees across Syria. “One of our most important takeaways is that most of those people who came back had thought that they were cleared by the regime. They thought their lack of opposition would protect them.”

      The Syrian government did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the treatment of returnees and other Syrians now back under government control.

      Outside Syria, many refugees say they were already apprehensive about going home, with fears over a lack of personal security only growing with reports that the government is reneging on its guarantees. Aid groups say there are few signs that a large-scale return will begin anytime soon.

      And in conversations with UN representatives, senior Syrian officials have made it clear that not all returnees are equally welcome. According to two European officials who recounted the conversations, individuals with links to opposition groups, media activism or humanitarian work will be least well received.

      But pressure on the refugees to return is rising across the Middle East, with Syria’s neighbours tightening restrictions on them in part to get them to leave.

      Homs

      Hassan, 30, left his home in the western province of Homs in 2013. Before returning at the end of last year, he secured what he believed were guarantees for his safety after paying a large bribe to a high-ranking security official.

      But officers from the state security directorate met him at the airport and took him for interrogation. “They knew everything – what I’d done abroad, which cafes I’d sat in, even the time I had sat with opposition supporters during football matches,” he recalled.

      A week later, he was arrested during a visit to a government registry office and taken to a nearby police station. In a dingy room, officers took turns beating and questioning him, he said, accusing him of ferrying ammunition for an armed opposition group inside Syria in 2014.

      “I kept telling them that they knew I wasn’t in the country then,” he said. “All they did was ask me for money and tell me that it was the way to my freedom.”

      At one point, he said, the guards dragged in a young woman he had never met. “They beat her with a water pipe until she screamed, (then) told me they would do the same if I didn’t cooperate,” Hassan said.

      He said he was released at the end of January after relatives paid another bribe, this time $7,000.

      Syrians returning from abroad, like Hassan, often have to gain security approval just to re-enter the country, in some cases signing loyalty pledges and providing extensive accounts of any political activities, according to documents listing questions to be asked and statements to be signed.

      https://nationalpost.com/news/world/assad-asks-syrian-refugees-to-come-home-then-locks-them-up-and-interro

    • Weighed down by economic woes, Syrian refugees head home from Jordan

      Rahaf* and Qassem lay out their plans to return to Syria as their five-year-old daughter plays with her toys in their small apartment in the Jordanian capital, Amman.

      It is early October, six years after they fled their home in Damascus, and the couple have decided it’s time to give up trying to make a life for themselves in Jordan.

      Last year, 51-year-old Qassem lost his job at a cleaning supplies factory when the facility shut down, and Rahaf’s home business as a beautician is slow.

      For months, the couple have resorted to borrowing money from friends to cover their 200 Jordanian dinar ($282) monthly rent. They are three months overdue. “There’s nobody else for us to borrow money from,” explains Rahaf.

      Weeks later, Qassem crossed the border and headed back to their old neighbourhood, joining an increasing tide of Syrian refugees who are going home, despite the dangers and a multitude of unknowns.

      According to the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, 34,000 registered Syrian refugees have returned from Jordan since October 2018, when a key border crossing was reopened after years of closure. It’s a fraction of the 650,000 registered Syrian refugees remaining in Jordan, but a dramatic jump from previous years, when annual returns hovered at around 7,000.

      Syrian refugees from the other main host countries – Turkey and Lebanon – are making the trip too. UNHCR has monitored more than 209,000 voluntary refugee returns to Syria since 2016, but the actual figure is likely to be significantly higher.

      Some Syrian refugees face political pressure to return and anti-refugee rhetoric, but that hasn’t taken hold in Jordan.

      Here, many refugees say they are simply fed up with years spent in a dead-end job market with a bleak economic future. The uptick appears to be driven more by the fact that Syrians who wish to go home can now – for the first time in three years – board a bus or a shared taxi from the border, which is about an hour and a half’s drive north of Amman.

      People like Rahaf and Qassem are pinning their hopes on picking up what is left of the lives they led before the war. Their Damascus house, which was damaged in the conflict, is near Qassem’s old shop, where he used to sell basic groceries and cleaning supplies.

      Qassem is staying with relatives for now. But the family had a plan: if and when he gave the green light, Rahaf and their children would join him back in Damascus.

      While she waited for his signal, Rahaf sold off what little furniture and other possessions they acquired in Jordan. “Honestly, we’ve gotten tired of this life, and we’ve lost hope,” she said.
      Money problems

      Before he lost his job, Qassem endured years of verbal abuse in the workplace, and few clients made the trip to Rahaf’s home.

      When she tried to set up a salon elsewhere, their refugee status created bureaucratic hurdles the couple couldn’t overcome. “I did go ask about paying rent for one shop, and they immediately told me no,” Qassem said. “[The owners] wanted a Jordanian renter.”

      Their story echoes those of many other refugees who say they have found peace but little opportunity in Jordan.

      Syrian refugees need a permit to work in Jordan – over 153,000 have been issued so far – but they are limited to working in a few industries in designated economic zones. Many others end up in low-paying jobs, and have long faced harsh economic conditions in Jordan.

      Thousands of urban refugees earn a meagre living either on farms or construction sites, or find informal work as day labourers.

      Abu Omran, who returned to Syria three months ago, fled Damascus with his family in 2013, and for a while was able to find occasional car mechanic jobs in Amman. Work eventually dried up, and he struggled to find ways to make money that did not require hard manual labour.

      “He spent the past three years just sitting at home, with no job,” recalled Abu Omran’s wife, Umm Omran.

      Speaking to The New Humanitarian in her Amman living room several months after her husband’s departure, she was soon joined for coffee and cigarettes by her youngest son, 19-year-old Badr. Newly married, he wore a ring on one finger.

      Times were so hard for the family that Abu Omran left Jordan before he had a chance to attend the wedding, and Badr has also been contemplating a return to Syria – the country he left as a young teenager.

      Badr works in a factory near Amman that produces cleaning products, but the pay is low. And although his older brother brings in a small salary from a pastry shop, it’s getting harder and harder for the family to pull together their rent each month.

      “I’m not returning because I think the situation in Syria is good. But you don’t enter into a difficult situation unless the one you’re currently in is even worse.”

      Entering a void

      While return may seem the best option for some, there are still more unknowns than knowns across the border in Syria.

      President Bashar al-Assad’s government forces control most of the country, but there are still airstrikes in the rebel-held northwest, and the recent Turkish invasion of the northeast has raised new questions about the country’s future.

      “I’m not returning because I think the situation in Syria is good,” said Farah, a mother of three who spoke to TNH in September – about a month before she packed up her things to leave. “But you don’t enter into a difficult situation unless the one you’re currently in is even worse.”

      In 2012, Farah and her husband left their home in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of Damascus for Jordan, where she gave birth to her three children.

      Her husband suffers from kidney stones, and the manual labour he has managed to pick up is just enough for them to pay for the rent of a shared house – crammed in with two other refugee families.

      The vast majority of Syrian refugees in Jordan – including Farah and Abu Omran’s families – live in urban areas like Amman, rather than in the country’s three refugee camps. They are still eligible for aid, but Farah had decided by October that she was “no longer able to bear” the poverty in Amman, even though UN food vouchers had covered some of her expenses.

      She took her three young children and crossed the border into Syria to stay with her mother, who lives in a southeastern suburb of Damascus. TNH has not been able to contact her since.

      Farah’s husband stayed behind in Jordan, fearing arrest or forced military conscription by Syrian government authorities.

      This has happened to other people who have gone back to Syria from Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, or other host countries. Despite promises to the contrary from the government, hundreds – and possibly thousands – of returnees have reportedly been detained.

      “There are issues with what information is made available to refugees… about what is going to happen to them on the other side, in Syria.”

      Lebanese authorities have also forcibly deported thousands of Syrian refugees, and Human Rights Watch says at least three of them were detained by Syrian authorities when they got back. It isn’t clear if any Syrians have faced the same fate returning from Jordan.

      Sara Kayyali, a researcher for Human Rights Watch based in Jordan, told TNH she has yet to verify reports of disappearance, conscription, and detainment of returnees from Jordan.

      “There are issues with what information is made available to refugees… about what is going to happen to them on the other side, in Syria,” said Kayyali. “Partially because people inside are too scared to talk about the conditions in government-held areas, and partially because the restrictions applied and the behaviour of the Syrian security forces is so arbitrary that it’s difficult to predict.”

      Kayyali pointed to the 30 Jordanian citizens detained in Syria since the border opened a year ago – Amman said they entered for tourism and were arrested without reason – as a sign of what could be to come for Syrians.

      “[If those threats] apply to Jordanians, then they’re most certainly going to be applied to Syrians, potentially on an even larger scale,” said Kayyali.

      There are other obstacles to return, or challenges for people who manage to get back, including destroyed homes and lost jobs. Healthcare and water provision is scattershot in certain parts of the country, while violence and war is ongoing in others.

      Francesco Bert, a UNHCR spokesperson in Jordan, said the agency “does not facilitate returns, but offers support to refugees if they voluntarily decide to go home”.

      Asked whether it is safe for refugees to go back to Syria, Bert said the agency “considers refugees’ decisions as the main guideposts”, but gives refugees considering or planning to return “information that might inform their decision-making”, to help ensure it is truly voluntary.
      The waiting game

      Despite the obstacles, more and more people are making the trip. But families often can’t travel back together.

      For Rahaf, that meant packing her things and waiting, before finally joining her husband last weekend.

      For Umm Omran, however, that means wondering if and when she will ever see her husband again.

      The family had hoped that Abu Omran could find a job repairing cars again in Damascus, and if that didn’t work out at least he could live rent-free with his sister’s family.

      But plans for his wife and sons to join him someday, once he had found his footing, now look increasingly unlikely.

      “He hasn’t said yet if he regrets going back home,” said Umm Omran, who communicates regularly via WhatsApp with her husband and other family members who never left Syria. They live in government-controlled Damascus and don’t give away much in their chats for fear of retaliation by security forces, who they worry could be monitoring their communications.

      What Umm Omran has managed to piece together isn’t promising.

      Her husband has yet to find a job in Damascus, and is beginning to feel like a burden at his sister’s home. Their own house, where he and Umm Omran raised their sons, is bombed-out and needs extensive repairs before anyone can move back in.

      For the time-being, Umm Omran has ruled out her own potential return to Syria, fearing her two sons would insist on joining her and end up being conscripted into the armed forces. So, for now, the family remains split in two.

      “When I ask him how things are going, he just says, ‘Thank God’. He says little else,” said Umm Omran, scrolling through chats on her mobile phone. “I think he’s upset about leaving us.”

      https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/news-feature/2019/11/19/Syrian-refugees-return-Jordan
      #Amman #Jordanie

  • U.S. Will Lose Syria to Iran and Abandon Kurdish Allies, Former Ambassador Says
    http://www.newsweek.com/us-military-kurds-lose-iran-syria-former-ambassador-627395

    Robert Ford, who served as envoy to Syria under former President Barack Obama from 2011 through 2014, said during an interview Monday with the London-based Arabic-language newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat that “Obama did not leave the Trump administration many options to achieve its goal” of defeating the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) and curbing Iran’s foothold in the region. While Iran and Russia back Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against various insurgents and jihadists trying to topple him, the U.S. supports an irregular coalition, the Syrian Democratic Forces, made up mostly of Kurds, but including other ethnic minorities and Arabs. Despite the group’s recent successes in storming ISIS’s de facto capital of Raqqa, Ford said “the game was finished” for U.S. plans to overthrow Assad or compete with Iran’s success in the country.

    (...) The Syrian Democratic Forces were mostly neutral in the battle between pro- and anti-Syrian government forces, but tensions have risen between the U.S. and pro-Syrian government forces that now share extensive front lines since ISIS’s collapse on multiple fronts. Recent clashes between the Syrian army and the Syrian Democratic Forces were followed by the U.S.’s unprecedented decision to shoot down a Syrian military jet it claimed was operating too close to positions held by the Syrian Democratic Forces. Siding with the U.S,, however, will turn out to be a grave mistake for the Kurds, according to Ford. He said U.S. support for Kurds would disappear, as it did in post-invasion Iraq, after ISIS was defeated in Raqqa and in other areas.

    “[The U.S.] will not defend the Kurds against Assad’s forces,” the former envoy said. “What we’re doing with the Kurds is not only politically stupid, but immoral.”

    Syrian Kurds are making their biggest mistake in trusting the Americans,” he added.

    De fait, on peut imaginer que ce seront les Kurdes qui finiront par payer la note en #syrie, même si c’est immoral comme le dit un ex-ambassadeur qui s’y connaît dans ce domaine...

  • UN sees spike in meetings between Israeli army, Syrian rebels, warns of escalation -

    Israel says the meetings are held for humanitarian purposes, but the UN warns they could trigger clashes between rebels and the Syrian army

    Barak Ravid Jun 19, 2017
    read more: http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.796536

    During the last seven months, the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force has noted a significant escalation in contact and interactions between Israeli armed forces and rebel organizations along Israel’s border with Syria, chiefly in the area of Mt. Hermon, says a report released in recent days by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to the members of the UN Security Council.
    The report expressed Guterres’ concern, for the first time, that the interactions between the Israelis and the rebel organizations could lead to escalation, causing harm to UN observers.
    Published on June 8, the United Nations report describes the activity of the UN observers from March 2 to May 16. Every few days during that time, they observed meetings and contacts between the Israel Defense Forces and the rebels in the area of the border, including by the Hermon. Altogether they listed at least 16 such meetings in that time.
    The meetings took place in proximity to UN outposts in the Mt. Hermon area, in the area of Quneitra and in the central Golan Heights, near moshav Yonatan.
    “Relative to the previous reporting period, there has been a significant increase in interaction between Israel Defense Forces soldiers and individuals from the Bravo side, occurring on four occasions in February, three in March, eight in April and on one occasion in May,” the report stated, referring to the Syrian side of the border.

    Members of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) ride armored personnel carriers (APCs) in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights before crossing into Syria, August 31, 2014.Reuters
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    That increase in the number of interactions between Israeli soldiers and representatives of the rebels continues a trend evident in the previous report, which had been published on March 17. That report covered the period between November 18, 2016, and March 1, 2017, and listed at least 17 interactions along the Golan border, including in the vicinity of the Hermon.

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    According to both reports, UN observers saw 33 interactions between Israeli and rebel representatives over the last seven months.
    In comparison, only two such meetings took place from August 30 to November 16 of last year according to UN reports, and they were only by the border, not by the Hermon.
    One topic addressed in the latest report was meetings that took place in the area of the Hermon in the last three months. It stated that all such meetings happened in the vicinity of one of the IDF outposts there and all followed the same pattern: Unidentified people apparently affiliated with the rebel organizations, some of them armed, arrived at the IDF outpost accompanied by mules, and were greeted by the soldiers.
    “In some instances, personnel and supplies were observed to have been transferred in both directions. On all occasions, the unknown individuals and mules returned to the Bravo side,” the report stated.
    The UN secretary general clarified in the report that the nature of the interactions could not be observed.
    “The Israel Defense Forces have stated that the interactions were of a humanitarian and medical nature,” the report said.
    Israel contends that all the interactions with rebel representatives on the Syrian side were for humanitarian reasons, but in recent months the UN has started to view these interactions askance and began to warn they could lead to escalation. The report especially noted concern about the meetings around the Hermon, which the UN secretary-general defined as an area of strategic importance.
    “Interaction between the Israel Defense Forces and unidentified individuals from the Bravo side, including in the area of Mount Hermon, has the potential to lead to clashes between armed elements and the Syrian Arab Armed Forces. I reiterate my call to both parties to the Disengagement of Forces Agreement regarding the requirement to maintain stability in the area. All military activities in the area of separation conducted by any actor pose a risk to the ceasefire and to the local civilian population, in addition to the United Nations personnel on the ground,” the secretary-general wrote in the report.
    The UN secretary-general’s latest report on the activities of the UN observers on the Golan Heights, as well as the three preceding reports, criticized the Syrian army for bringing heavy weapons to the area of the border, violating the disengagement agreement. The UN also criticized Israel for the same thing.
    According to the last four reports, in the last year the IDF has kept one or two batteries of the Iron Dome system in the Golan, and also holds heavy 155mm cannons and rocket launchers in the area, in violation of the disengagement agreement with Syria. UNDOF has protested the violations to both sides.
    On Sunday, The Wall Street Journal reported Israel has been secretly providing aid to Syrian rebels in the Golan Heights for years, with the goal of maintaining a buffer zone of friendly forces to keep ISIS and forces aligned with Iran at bay.