Syria in ruins as war enters 9th year

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A Syrian refugee who fled to Lebanon looks through a bus window as she returns to her country from the southern Lebanese village of Shebaa on April 18, 2018. (Reuters)
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Syrian refugees stand in line for aid packages at Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, on Jan. 20, 2016. (Reuters)
Updated 18 March 2019
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Syria in ruins as war enters 9th year

  • Despite the tide turning in favor of President Bashar Assad’s regime, he says the conflict ‘is not yet over’
  • The war has killed more than 500,000 people, displaced at least 12 million, and left the country’s economy and infrastructure in ruins

SYRIA: The Syrian crisis enters its ninth year this month, leaving in its wake a trail of death, destruction, destitution, displacement and division. 

The war has killed more than 500,000 people, displaced at least 12 million, and left the country’s economy and infrastructure in ruins.

Syrian President Bashar Assad said in a speech on Feb. 17: “We have this romantic view sometimes that we are victorious. No, the war is not over.”

Statistics and figures from Syrian Customs, provided by economist and financial advisor Dr. Humam Al-Jazaeri, show that the volume of foreign trade plummeted between 2010 and 2016 due to non-UN (US and EU) sanctions, the suspension of oil production, damage to physical infrastructure and the closure of border crossings with Jordan and Iraq. 

“A compliance buffer zone at financial institutions has been put in place voluntarily, especially by international banks, against transactions in goods and services traded with Syria, leading to a significant rise in international transaction costs, including the costs of shipping, insurance and financing,” he said.

“Due to non-UN sanctions, combined with the conflict, the capabilities of Syrian banks have been significantly eroded in facilitating international payments.”

The tide of the war has turned in the Syrian regime’s favor, with the bulk of the country back in its control, prompting some Arab states to begin normalizing ties with Damascus. 

Jordan reopened its main border crossing with Syria in October 2018, and Sudan’s President Omar Al-Bashir visited Damascus in mid-December, the first Arab ruler to visit the country since the war began in 2011. 

There is a growing consensus among Arab League countries about readmitting Syria to the regional bloc, after its membership was suspended seven years ago. 

Mark Gasiorowski, a political science lecturer at Tulane University in the US, told Arab News: “This is part of a process of rehabilitating the Syrian regime that has been going on for a year or so now, as the regime has increasingly been winning its civil war with extensive help from Russia and Iran.” 

Even though Arab states are reluctant to have any dealings with Damascus, “Syria is a key Arab state, and other Arab powers can’t afford to keep ostracizing it, as the US and EU countries can,” he said. 

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) forecast in December 2018 that up to 250,000 Syrian refugees could return to their devastated homeland in 2019, despite massive hurdles facing them. 

But the following month, the UN said conditions were not right for the safe and orderly return of large groups of refugees. 

The French and German ambassadors to Syria blame Damascus for “creating a climate of fear and injustice” that is preventing refugees from returning. 

They called on Damascus to “credibly end arbitrary arrests and prosecution,” and to “stop restricting the work of the UNHCR” so that “it can freely move within Syria to access and protect all refugees.” 

Damaged markets in the old quarter of Syria’s second city Aleppo. AFP

Meanwhile, the third Brussels conference on “Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region,” held on March 12-14, noted that more than 11 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance. 

The conference pledged $7 billion for 2019 in aid for Syrians in the country and its neighbors.

Even though the security situation has improved with the defeat of Daesh, many parts of Syria remain a serious security concern. 

And while pro-regime forces have recaptured areas surrounding the capital, shortages of fuel, cooking gas and electricity have hit Damascus hard this winter, leading to rising food prices and transport costs. 

With persistent power cuts and a rise in fuel prices, residents are increasingly relying on gas for heating. Other major cities are also facing an energy crisis, including Aleppo, As-Suwayda, Hama, Homs and Latakia.

Locals have taken to social media to express their anger not just toward their living situation, but also Parliament Speaker Hammouda Al-Sabbagh’s claim that these complaints are “campaigns … managed by foreign parties.”

Social media activist Ahmed S. said: “The people’s rightful demands for the provision of basic products are popular demands that Parliament … must support, not consider them campaigns that are managed by foreign parties.”


Lebanon arrests Syrian plotting Daesh bomb attacks on churches

Updated 17 June 2019
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Lebanon arrests Syrian plotting Daesh bomb attacks on churches

  • Security forces say suspect was ‘active on social media spreading ideology and recruiting people’ for Daesh
  • Army commander: We are dealing with an unconventional terrorist enemy hiding among people

BEIRUT: A Syrian national has been arrested in southern Lebanon on suspicion of involvement with the Daesh terrorist group. It is alleged he discussed with other people potential locations, including churches, for attacks in Lebanon where the largest numbers of people could be targeted and killed.

It is thought that they were aiming to emulate similar Easter attacks in Sri Lanka. Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi released a video message in April in which he praised the Sri Lankan terrorists.

A security source confirmed that a Syrian man has been detained and investigations are continuing. He added that the arrest “came on the basis of a professional intelligence operation” and that the security forces are working with external parties.

The General Directorate of Internal Security Forces (ISF) said that as a result of “preventive and proactive security operations conducted by the Information Division of the ISF concerning the monitoring of activities of serious terrorist cells, especially those affiliated with Daesh, the division was able to monitor and identify a resident of southern Lebanon who was active on social media spreading the ideology of the organization and recruiting people for it.”

It continued: “A special force from the Information Division arrested a person named Z.M. who was born in 1999 and is a Syrian residing in the town of Yater. The investigation found that he was promoting the ideology of Daesh through social media by creating a large number of channels and groups on a number of applications that follow and publicize publications of the Daesh organization.”

Yater is a village near Tyre in Southern Lebanon. Locals said that Z.M. was arrested six days ago. He worked in construction and agriculture and lived alone in a house without a family, they added.
The ISF said that the man “was associated with people outside Lebanon and cooperated with them to establish online groups to spread and promote Daesh ideology. After publishing the video in which Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi blessed the operations in Sri Lanka...the detainee bought spray paint and...sprayed on one of the walls at the entrance to Yater slogans containing the words ‘Grandson of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi’ and ‘The Islamic state.’”

Preliminary ISF investigations found that the detainee “discussed with a number of those he communicated with the idea of carrying out actions for the organization in Lebanon, including entering a church and killing the largest number of people there.

“He also discussed with them the idea of targeting husseiniyas (congregation halls for Shiite ceremonies) in Shiite villages and towns. He also logged on to jihadist websites of the organization on the internet, including encyclopedias giving details of how to make explosives, and downloaded them to his phone.”

The ISF also said that the detainee “communicated with the Syrian S.B. (born in 1990), who has also been arrested, and tried to recruit him to embrace the ideology of Daesh. He said that at the time of his arrest he was still in the process of planning and had not taken any practical steps.”
The security source did not specify whether Z.M. is a Syrian refugee, a laborer working under the sponsorship of a Lebanese citizen, or in the country illegally. However, he stressed: “What this person did has nothing to do with Syrian refugees in Lebanon.”

Lebanese army commander Gen. Joseph Aoun said on Monday: “The army is dealing today with an unconventional terrorist enemy hiding among people, where the complexities are many and unclear.”

He added: “The rapid response of the (security) units to the terrorist attack in Tripoli recently confirms the importance of the principles that we learn in the College of Command and Staff.

“Terrorism is waiting for opportunities, through sleeper cells, to spread hatred in society. However, the improvement and readiness of the intelligence community has thwarted many of these attempts, and those that managed to evade them were eliminated by other security units.”