Syria Media Roundup – August 12 to 18, 2019

In this Media Roundup, we collect local news from Syria, which is published mainly in Arabic and Kurdish media, weekly. 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.

Military Armament on the Turkish-Syrian Border

The topic of military armament on the Syrian-Turkish border dominated last week’s media channels. Evidently, both sides, the Turkish army and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), are preparing for a potential military intervention. Eyewitnesses report that members of the SDF had installed mines in Tall Abyad, near the Syrian-Turkish border (SMART News, 11 August 2019). Furthermore, military vehicle and units were moved from ʿAyn ʿIsa and Al-Hasakah closer to the border region in Tall-Abyad and Suluk (SMART News, 13 – 16 August 2019).

An agreement regarding the “Save Zone”, demanded by Turkey, is not in sight yet. While the SDF had initially agreed to a zone up to five kilometers, the Turkish government calls for a withdrawal of SDF troops from thirty to forty kilometers (Al-Monitor). However, it seems that there is no internal agreement within the PYD and SDF regarding the extent of the zone. SDF commander Mazloum Kobani announced that a zone under Turkish control would be unacceptable and, in case it should be installed, it should be limited to fourteen kilometers and the area between Tall Abyad and ʿAyn al – ʿArab (Kobanî) (Rudaw, 16 August 2019). Abdul Karim Saroukhan, chairman of the PYD’s Self-Administration, mentioned a zone along the entire Syrian-Turkish border of no more than five kilometers (SMART News, August 17, 2019).

Arab tribes held a meeting in Al-Qamishli on August 17, 2019, to discuss the current situation. The tribes called on the Syrian regime to engage in serious dialogue with the Syrian Democratic Council, led by the PYD (SMART News, 18 August 2019, ARK News, August 17, 2019). According to ARK News, there is already an agreement between the PYD and the Syrian regime. PYD members have already removed some of the PYD flags and symbols in Al-Qamishli (ARK News, August 13, 2019). Sabri Ok, a high PKK official, is said to have met with the Syrian Deputy Minister of Defense in Al-Qamishli. Allegedly, the two discussed joint military actions by SDF and the Syrian army (ARK News, August 16, 2019).

Fearing a military conflict, dozens of families from Tall Abyad and ʿAyn Al-ʿArab (Kobanî) fled to the cities of ʿAyn ʿIsa and Skeiro (SMART News, August 16, 2019).

Arrests of Activists

In areas under PYD control three human rights activists were arrested. The NGO-activist Hassan Kassab was arrested and ill-treated bay SDF-troops in Al-Tabqah. So far, the reasons for his arrest and his whereabouts are unknown. Furthermore, the office of the NGO Inmaa, in the district of Al-Karamah in Ar-Raqqah, was attacked by members of the SDF. The organization’s director and activist Ahmad Al-Hashlom were arrested (SMART News, August 17, 2019).

Participation in Drug Trafficking

On August 15, 2019, the forces of the Sheikh Al-Karamah militia in As-Suwayda posted a statement on Facebook accusing official members of the Syrian intelligence service and the Lebanese Hezbollah of numerous murders in As-Suwayda and involvement in drug trafficking in southern Syria (SMART News).