Syria Media Roundup – February 18 to 24, 2019

In this Media Roundup, we collect weekly local news from Syria, which is published mainly in Arabic and Kurdish media. Our aim is to make this news accessible to a broader readership. The sources come from news channels that we consider the most trustworthy, though we cannot guarantee absolute reliability. The focus is on areas where mainly ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities live, such as ʿAfrin, Al-Qamishli and As-Suwayda.

Arrests in Areas under PYD Control

Last week, a series of arrests by PYD forces took place. The PYD’s YPG forces arrested one woman in the west of Ar-Raqqah. Allegedly, the reason for her arrest was her marriage to a member of ISIS. In addition, three young men were detained in the city of Ar-Raqqah. The motives for their arrests were not publicly announced (SMART News, February 18, 2019). In the east of Ar-Raqqah, in the village of Al-Karamah, six young persons were arrested and forcibly recruited by PYD’s SDF forces (SMART News, February 18, 2019). According to a report by the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) the number of people who were detained by forces of the Self-Administration or have disappeared, has considerably risen since the beginning of 2019. Accordingly, in the past two months 107 people, including four children and six women, have been detained by the PYD’s Self-Administration. The SNHR states that around fifty percent of the persons concerned may be considered victims of enforced disappearance, since their families have no possibility of contacting them and their fates are unknown. In particular, the governorates of Al-Hasakah and Ar-Raqqah have been affected by large campaigns of arrests and forced recruitment. The report of SNHR is available online in Arabic and English (SNHR/ SMART News).

According to a report of February 20, 2019, a demonstration took place at the checkpoint Al-Baqaan, south of Hajin, where the inhabitants of Hajin demanded permission to return to their homes. The area of Hajin has been affected by the fights of SDF forces against the last bastion of ISIS. During the demonstration one civilian was wounded by a gunshot, a second one was hit by a SDF forces’ car (SMART News, February 20, 2019).

In a PYD-run prison close to Manbij, a young man died. The family was told that the young man died from a heart attack, even though his body showed clear signs of torture (ARK News, February 24, 2019).

PYD’s YPG forces handed over two young men to the Department 248 of the Syrian regime’s State Security, which is part of the military intelligence and known for committing severe human rights abuses. The two men had been arrested by YPG forces at the beginning of February 2019. They had been accused of smuggling oil (SMART News, February 21, 2019).

Considerations of Buffer Zone along Syrian-Turkish Border

Aldar Khalil, one of the PYD’s leaders, said that his party intents to further cooperate with the Assad regime. In order to protect the Syrian-Turkish border and to prepare for a potential Turkish invasion, the party is willing to let military forces of the regime pass through areas currently under PYD-control (ARK News, February 21, 2019).

On February 16, 2019 members of the Kurdish National Council (KNC) met William Robak, the adviser of the International Coalition against ISIS, at the American military base close to ʿAyn al‑ʿArab (Kobanî). In addition to a dialogue about the general political situation and the future administration of northern Syria, the two sides discussed the establishment of a buffer zone at the border to Turkey (Rudaw). On February 22, 2019, members of the KNC and officials of the US-administration met in Erbil, Kurdistan Region of Iraq, to discuss similar issues as in the previous meeting (ARK News).

On February 22, 2019, the White House announced that President Trump had agreed with President Erdoğan to work on the establishment of a “safe zone” along the Turkish-Syrian border (SMART News). The White House’ spokesperson revealed further that a “small peacekeeping group” of around 200 soldiers will remain in northern Syria after the withdrawal of US-forces. Yet, it is unclear for how long this small unit will remain in the area and where in the country they will be stationed (Reuters, ARK News). The Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lawrow, confirmed that Russia will also consider a buffer zone along the Syrian-Turkish border, taking into account the position of Damascus and the interests of Ankara (ARK News, February 24, 2019).

Car Explosion in ʿAfrin

On February 21, 2019, a car bomb exploded in the city of ʿAfrin, near the Hospital Dirsem. The explosion killed a girl and a young man and injured another twenty-two people. (ARK News, Rudaw, SMART News). So far, no group has claimed responsibility for the act. On February 22, 2019, an unknown armed group kidnapped a woman from her house in the village of Qatma in the district Shara and took her to an unknown destination (ARK News).

Blackouts in As-Suwayda

On Monday, February 18, 2019, gunmen kidnapped fifteen members of Syrian regime forces in As-Suwayda city. With the abduction, the participants wanted to extort the release of a prisoner of the regime. The intervention of local leaders led to the release of the prisoner of the regime as well as the kidnapped regime forces (SMART News, Suwayda24).

On February 21, 2019, about 100 people held a sit-in in front of the Baath Party’s headquarter in Shahba, a town near As-Suwayda city. The protesters criticized the lack of fuel and electricity in the city and called the officials to solve the problem (SMART News). Opponents see the scarcity of resources and blackouts as an instrument of the regime to exert political pressure on the Druze population in southern Syria (Der Standard, February 14, 2019).