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Syria Today – Israeli Strike Wounds Three; Syria Worst in ME Freedom Ranking

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – Israeli Strike Wounds Three; Syria Worst in ME Freedom Ranking

Syria Hopes Iran-Saudi Agreement Will Ease Regional Tension

Syria on Saturday welcomed the agreement reached between Iran and Saudi Arabia to reestablish diplomatic relations and reopen their embassies, saying it will lead to more stability in the region, AP reports.

Iran has been a main backer of President Bashar Assad’s government, while Saudi Arabia supports opposition fighters trying to remove him from power.

Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed Friday to reestablish diplomatic relations and reopen their embassies after seven years of tensions. The major diplomatic breakthrough negotiated with China decreases the likelihood of armed conflict between the regional rivals directly and in proxy conflicts.

The deal was struck in Beijing amid China’s ceremonial National People’s Congress. It represents a major diplomatic victory for the Chinese as Gulf Arab states perceive the United States to be slowly withdrawing from the wider Middle East. It also comes as diplomats have been trying to end Yemen’s lengthy conflict, in which Iran and Saudi Arabia are deeply entrenched.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has wanted to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia, but the deal with Iran, Israel’s arch-rival, will complicate that. It also could make Israel feel more alone if it decides to carry out a military strike against Iran’s nuclear program as it creeps closer to weapons-grade levels.

It was not immediately clear if the agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran would help end Lebanon’s political deadlock. The country has been run by a caretaker government since President Michel Aoun’s term ended in late October. Lebanon has been without a president since then amid deep divisions in the country’s parliament.

The powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah group said it backs Christian politician Sleiman Frangieh to become the country’s next president earlier this week. Still, there have been reports that Saudi Arabia opposes the group’s ally becoming president.

Lebanon is in the grips of the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history. It’s rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement by the political class that has been running the small nation of 6 million people, including 1 million Syrian refugees, since the end of the 1975-90 civil war.

Countries, including oil-rich Gulf nations, have said they will help Lebanon after implementing reforms. That could release billions of dollars in investments and loans.

Syria’s Foreign Ministry welcomed the agreement, calling it an “important step that will lead to strengthening security and stability in the region.”

It added that the agreement will also lead to cooperation that will “reflect positively on the common interests of the peoples of the two countries in particular and the peoples of the region in general.”

Three wounded in Israeli air attacks on central, west Syria

At least three soldiers have been wounded in Israeli air attacks targeting locations in central and west Syria.

Syria’s state news agency SANA reported that an attack was carried out on Sunday morning.

“At around 7:15am (04:15 GMT), the Israeli enemy carried out an air attack, firing missiles from the direction of north Lebanon with targets in the Tartus and Hama countryside,” SANA reported, citing a military source.

“The attack wounded three soldiers and caused some material losses,” the report said, adding that Syrian air defences intercepted some of the missiles.

SANA did not say what sites were targeted, but a war monitor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said pro-Iran forces and a “scientific research centre” were present in the areas.

Earlier this week, the news agency reported that Israel had attacked Aleppo airport in northern Syria and put it out of service.

For almost a decade, Israel has carried out hundreds of air attacks against suspected Iranian-sponsored weapons transfers and personnel deployments in neighbouring Syria, but it rarely acknowledges or discusses the operations.

The raids, which in recent months have targeted Syrian airports and air bases, are part of an escalation of what has been a low-intensity conflict with the goal of slowing down Iran’s growing entrenchment in Syria, military analysts say.

Iran has expanded its military presence in Syria in recent years and has a foothold in most state-controlled areas and thousands of members of militias and local paramilitary groups under its command, according to Western intelligence sources.

Iran’s proxy militias, led by Lebanon’s Hezbollah, now hold sway in large areas of eastern, southern and northwestern Syria and several suburbs around the capital, Damascus.

Tunisian president says he wants ambassador in Syria

Tunisian President Kais Saied said on Friday he wants to see Tunisia and Syria appoint ambassadors to their countries, the latest sign that full restoration of diplomatic relations with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government could be imminent, Reuters reported.

“A decision must be taken on this issue.”, Saied told foreign minister Nabil Ammar during a meeting, according to a video posted on Facebook by the president’s office.

Iraq seizes three million Captagon pills on Syria border

Iraqi authorities on Saturday said they had seized three million pills of Captagon, an amphetamine-type stimulant that has been sweeping the Middle East for years, near the Syrian border.

The Iraqi border authority said the pills had been hidden in apple crates “loaded onto a refrigerator truck” and discovered at the al-Qaim crossing between Syria’s Deir Ezzor province and western Iraq’s Anbar desert region.

The truck driver had been arrested, the agency added in a statement.

A border authority official told AFP on condition of anonymity that the shipment from Syria into Iraq contained Captagon pills produced by several manufacturers.

Iraqi security forces have intensified narcotics operations recently, with several high-profile drug seizures reported.

Sharing borders with Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait and other countries, Iraq has served as a major conduit for traffickers of Captagon, which is primarily produced in Syria and has its largest market in Gulf Arab states.

The sale and use of drugs in Iraq have soared in recent years.

MidEast freedom rankings: Syria worst, Tunisia in decline, says Freedom House

Syria is the least, and Israel is the freest country in the Middle East and North Africa region, while Turkey remains one of the worst-performing countries in Europe, according to Freedom House.

The U.S.-based international human rights watchdog released its 50th annual Freedom in the world report this week. It reviewed access to political rights and civil liberties in 195 countries and 15 territories between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31 2022. The nations are rated as “free,” “partly free,” or “not free” based on their scores out of 100. The watchdog listed three countries from the Middle East and North Africa region among “the worst of the worst” countries worldwide: Syria, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

The watchdog said overall freedom access in the region has “slightly improved,” owing to very limited upswings in the scores of the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon. 

“While political rights and civil liberties are few and far between in a region dominated by despotic regimes, there was some piecemeal progress during the year,” the report said.

Israel’s second-largest bank involved in illegal Afrin settlements

North Press reported that Hapoalim Bank, Israel’s second-biggest bank, is being used by a Palestinian association constructing illegal settlements in the Kurdish region of Afrin.

In a recent Facebook post, the ‘Living with Dignity Association’ (Jamia’at al-Aish Bikarama) announced it was selling 100 40-square-meter units on a new settlement being built near Marata, 3 km west of the city of Afrin. According to the association, the plot of land “is guaranteed to have all the infrastructure, as well as a water and sewage line from a Turkish association.”

The post did not go into detail about the legal mechanism by which the association acquired the land. According to Afrin Post, a local news site, the plot of land is owned by the Kurdish Dado family.

The formerly Kurdish-majority region of Afrin has been under Turkish occupation since 2018. The invasion displaced around 300,000 indigenous Kurds. Turkey and its affiliated opposition factions of the Syrian National Army (SNA), replaced the population with Arabs fleeing other parts of Syria. Kurds in Afrin are subject to systemic discrimination and violence. In 2022 alone, 633 people, mostly Kurds, were arbitrarily arrested by SNA factions and Turkey. Marata, the site of the new settlement, is home to one of several Turkish-run prisons. Former inmates say they were subjected to torture.

On the government side

U.S. occupation transfers Daesh terrorists to its bases in the al-Tanf area

The U.S. occupation forces transferred a group of Daesh terrorists from the Industrial Secondary Prison in Hasaka city towards their base in al-Shadadi, south of the city, SANA reported.

Local sources said that the U.S military helicopters transferred a group of Daesh terrorists from the industrial Secondary school, which the occupation forces and the QSD (SDF) militia turned into a prison, and headed south to their illegal bases in al-Shaddadi and Omar oil field, in preparation for their transfer to the occupation’s base in al-Tanf area in Homs eastern countryside on the Syrian-Iraqi border to attack residential compounds, state’s infrastructures, and the Syrian Arab Army’s posts.

Over the past years,  SANA says what it calls occupation forces transferred a large number of Daesh terrorists from Ghweran prison and a number of illegal camps and bases to the al-Tanf area to train and deployed them around its base in the region and Syrian Badia (desert)to attack civilians, buses, safe areas, and the Syrian Arab army points in the eastern region of the country, the last of which was on the 3rd of the current month, claiming the lives of 56 citizens.

The Swedish Communist Party calls for lifting the sanctions imposed on Syria

The Swedish Communist Party expressed solidarity with the earthquake victims that struck Syria last February, calling for lifting the sanctions imposed on the Syrian people, according to SANA .

The party indicated in a statement that the rescue work after the earthquake became more difficult due to the sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union on Syria and noted that the rescue workers suffered from a lack of fuel for ambulances at a time when the American forces were stealing the Syrian oil.

The party called on the Swedish government not to participate in the policy of brutal sanctions by the U.S. and the European Union against millions of Syrians and called on Stockholm to use its veto in the face of European sanctions against the Syrian people.

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