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Syria Today – Assad Meets Chinese Speaker; SDF Implement Curfew in Deir-ez-Zor; Coalition Arrests Two ISIS Commanders

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – Assad Meets Chinese Speaker; SDF Implement Curfew in Deir-ez-Zor; Coalition Arrests Two ISIS Commanders

China’s highest-ranking legislator, Zhao Leji, held a meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Beijing on Monday during President al-Assad’s ongoing visit. Concurrently, Kurdish-led forces supported by the United States implemented a curfew following renewed clashes on Monday in eastern Syria. These clashes had persisted for several weeks as Kurdish fighters faced off against rival Arab militiamen. In a separate development, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported on Sunday that the International Coalition forces carried out an airdrop operation in northern Hassakeh, arresting two ISIS commanders in a village near the city of Ras Al-Ain.

China’s top legislator meets Syrian president

China’s top legislator Zhao Leji met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Beijing on Monday, Xinhua reported.

China is ready to work with Syria to implement the important consensus reached by the two heads of state, deepen friendly cooperation, safeguard common interests and push for new and greater development of China-Syria strategic partnership, Zhao, chairman of the National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, said.

Zhao discussed China’s concept of building a community with a shared future for humanity, saying that the NPC is willing to work with the Syrian People’s Assembly to strengthen exchanges and cooperation between legislative bodies at all levels and contribute to consolidating the traditional friendship and promoting practical cooperation between the two countries.

Assad said China’s development is the growth of the force for justice in the world, and that he expects China to play a greater role in promoting world peace, justice and progress.

Syria is willing to strengthen bilateral cooperation and push bilateral relations to a new level, he said. 

US-backed Kurdish forces impose curfew in eastern Syria after new clashes with rival Arab militia

U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces imposed a curfew after clashes erupted again on Monday in eastern Syria, where their fighters had battled for weeks with rival Arab militiamen, AP reported.

The fighting in a region where hundreds of American troops are deployed has pointed to dangerous seams in a coalition that has kept a lid on the defeated Islamic State group for years.

The reports say the Syrian Democratic Forces imposed the open-ended measure in several towns in Deir el-Zour province, including the town of Ziban, close to the Iraqi border where the Americans are based. Hundreds of U.S. troops have been there since 2015 to help in the fight against the militant Islamic State group. The oil-rich province is home to Syria’s largest oil fields.

Al Mayadeen, a pan-Arab TV station, said several fighters from the Kurdish-led forces were killed after Arab gunmen took over several parts of Ziban on Monday. Britain-based opposition war monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said some of the Arab fighters had crossed from government-held areas.

Local media in the province reported that some Kurdish fighters had fled the area as the clashes intensified. There were no further details.

The Kurdish-led forces have accused the Syrian government of inciting the violence by allowing the rival Arab militiamen to cross the Euphrates River. The clashes first erupted in late August when two weeks of fighting killed 25 Kurdish fighters, 29 members of Arab tribal groups and gunmen, as well as nine civilians, according to the Syrian Democratic Forces.

The Syrian government of President Bashar Assad in Damascus sees the Kurdish-led forces as secessionist fighters and has denounced their alliance with the United States in the war against IS and their self-ruled enclave in eastern Syria.

Meanwhile, Turkey, which has troops inside Syria, and Turkish-backed opposition groups in Syria’s northwest, routinely clash with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

Syrian regime attempts to ‘co-opt’ protests in Suweida by pressuring notables

A Suweida notable and pro-regime figure, Hassan Abdullah al-Atrash, called for a meeting of the province’s leading families and religious figures on Saturday, 23 September, to demand the end of the more than month-long anti-regime protests in the Druze-majority enclave.

While a pro-regime figure himself, the Atrash family commands respect, and its members have historically been chosen to lead the city of Suweida as its titular “Pasha.”

Al-Atrash, the head of the ruling Baath party’s economic office in Suweida, said that while the protesters’ economic demands are legitimate, their demands that the regime fall are “unacceptable,” local outlet Suweida 24 reported.

Thousands of protesters have occupied the southern province’s main square for over a month, tearing down flags of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and storming regime buildings.

Protests were sparked by an over 150 per cent price hike in fuel, but demands quickly turned political, with protesters calling for the downfall of the Syrian regime.

The regime has not confronted protesters in Suweida directly, a contrast to its brutal and violent treatment of activists since the Syrian revolution started in 2011.

Instead, activists say it has attempted to foment internal division within the protest movement.

“This is not the first time, and this will not be the last time. There are attempts to divide the street … but until now, these attempts have failed. The movement is intensifying, its leadership is strong,” Rayan Maarouf, the editor of Suweida 24, told The New Arab.

Previously, activists accused the regime of funding armed gangs to degrade security conditions and foment chaos in Suweida.

Druze militias, notably “the Men of Dignity” and “the Anti-Terrorism Force”, expelled the most prominent of these gangs from the province in September 2022.

The current round of protests has been the longest-lasting since 2011, despite the regime’s back-channel attempts to quell the movement.

“The people the regime is choosing have no credibility. Every day, they present a new person that is supposedly defending the demands of the people … but the street in Suweida today is the first and the loudest to speak,” Maarouf said.

Syrian Observatory: Int’l Coalition Arrests Two ISIS Commanders in Hassakeh

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported Sunday that the International Coalition forces arrested two ISIS commanders in an airdrop operation on a village near the city of Ras Al-Ain, northern Hassakeh, Asharq Al Awsat reported.

According to SOHR sources, one of the arrested commanders is Iraqi, while the other is Syrian.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) issue has again become a global concern discussed at the UN General Assembly, as Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia launched a new round of negotiations.

The issue was highlighted in speeches by the Foreign Ministers of Egypt and Ethiopia amid doubts about progress in the current round, aiming to reach an agreement by the end of November.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry, focused on the GERD crisis, addressing Egypt’s severe water scarcity and 98 percent dependency on the Nile River.

Shoukry highlighted Egypt’s annual water deficit, which is more than 50 percent of its water needs, forcing the country to reuse its limited available water multiple times.

The top diplomat reiterated Egypt’s rejection of Ethiopia’s unilateral practices on filling the GERD and its attempts to use the dam to impose a fait accompli “when it comes to the lives of over 100 million Egyptians.”

The country needs to reuse water and import “virtual water,” estimated at $15 billion annually, in the form of food.

He recalled that Ethiopia has unilaterally, and without previous impact studies, built a Grand Renaissance Dam, noting that Cairo is trying to reach a binding agreement on the rules of its operation while also considering the interests of the neighbouring countries.

For his part, Ethiopia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Demeke Mekonnen Hassen emphasized the importance of regional cooperation, welcoming the resumption of trilateral talks with Egypt and Sudan regarding the dam.

He affirmed Ethiopia’s commitment to collaborate with its neighbours in trade, investment, and regional integration.

Negotiations between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia regarding the dam have been ongoing since 2011, but extensive negotiation rounds have yet to produce an agreement.

The talks halted in 2021 but resumed upon mutual agreement between Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed last July. They aim to agree on the dam’s filling and operation within four months.

Despite these efforts, the issue remains contentious. Ethiopia announced this month the completion of the dam’s fourth and final filling stage, a move criticized by Egypt.

Experts such as the former Egyptian Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation, Mohamed Nasereddine Allam, believe the negotiations may not yield any new outcomes.

Allam told Asharq Al-Awsat that Egypt’s focus on reintroducing the GERD issue at international forums reflects the challenges of the water situation in the country.

He highlighted that Egypt’s share of Nile waters provides about 500 cubic meters per person annually, half of the minimum water poverty level defined by the World Bank.

The former official pointed out that the circumstances in Sudan and Egypt need to offer more leverage to resolve this regional crisis, noting that resorting to the Security Council will not provide a decisive solution.

Negotiations between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia have been suspended since January 2021.

Syrian IDPs in Idleb recount deadly shelling by Assad forces

At least two civilians have been killed and two others wounded in a rocket attack by Syrian regime forces on a displacement camp on the outskirts of Sarmin city in the rebel-held Idleb province, according to a Syrian volunteer emergency rescue group, Al-Jazeera reported

The Syria Civil Defence group, also known as the White Helmets said on Sunday that an elderly man and a woman were killed in the northwestern province on Saturday, and two others were wounded, including a child who is in serious condition.

The White Helmets said that the camp, which accommodates approximately 25 displaced families from Idleb and the Hama countryside, was shelled by the Syrian regime forces based in the city of Saraqib east of Idleb.

“After our teams rescued the victims, provided medical assistance to the injured, and extinguished the fire that broke out in the camp, Syrian regime forces resumed shelling the vicinity of the camp,” said Munir Mustafa, the deputy director of the Syria Civil Defence.

Mustafa told Al Jazeera that this is the fourth attack targeting a camp in northwest Syria and the second shelling on a camp on the outskirts of Sarmin city, which has been targeted by regime forces for months.

On September 2nd, the shelling of residential neighbourhoods in Sarmin resulted in the death of a baby and the injury of four other civilians.

“Our teams have responded to 711 attacks by the regime, Russia, and their affiliated militias since the beginning of this year until September 12,” Mustafa said, adding that 61 people have been killed, including 11 children and 5 women, and 261 others wounded.

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