Saturday, February 24, 2024
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Saturday, February 24, 2024

Assad is taking advantage of the earthquake in Syria

After a long absence from the international news stream, Syria has become a topic again. The wave of strong earthquakes that shook Türkiye and Syria in February led to devastation and the loss of tens of thousands of lives. And while aid is reaching Türkiye thanks to international efforts, the situation in Syria is particularly dire. The worst-hit area is northwest Syria, where several million people already live in camps and hardly standing buildings after continuous attacks by Russian jets and the forces of Bashar Assad’s regime. NW Syria, being under mixed and difficult opposition control, suffers from a lack of international response and the delivery of aid to the affected areas depends mostly on political decisions that Damascus seeks to influence and even deter. Several organizations working on the ground in NW Syria were also affected by the earthquakes – including the loss of staff and offices. But the story of bad events does not end here and the media’s attention is even more limited.

Artillery shelling hits a wider area and even without affecting infrastructure, makes it difficult to maintain normal daily lives in areas where active shelling is taking place — something Ukrainians know well at the moment

Ruslan Trad

Multiple Assad artillery attacks have been reported in Hama province and southern parts of Idlib province in the middle of February. All affected areas were hit by varying degrees by the early February earthquake. According to ​​the Syrian Emergency Task Force (SETF), the total number of registered small and medium-sized attacks carried out on opposition areas in the north and NW Syria from February 6 to the end of the month is more than 50. The attacks are mostly artillery shelling by the Assad forces, but there is also activity of Russian aviation in the area, and Iran-backed militias.

Artillery shelling hits a wider area and even without affecting infrastructure, makes it difficult to maintain normal daily lives in areas where active shelling is taking place — something Ukrainians know well at the moment. This leads to mass displacement, and in the context of an earthquake, it is difficult to find unaffected buildings ready to accommodate large-scale civilian populations. The humanitarian consequences of current events will be for a long time. We must also say that the security situation can escalate at any time.

Shipments of Fajr missiles and drones have been seen pouring in via humanitarian aid sent by residents of Iraq across the Qaim border checkpoint, which is now controlled by Qataeb Hizbullah and the pro-Iranian alliance Hashd al-Shaabi

Ruslan Trad

Amidst this also comes the question of where they will use the weapons Iranian-backed militias brought into Syria across the border with Iraq in the days following the first earthquake in early February. Shipments of Fajr missiles and drones have been seen pouring in via humanitarian aid sent by residents of Iraq across the Qaim border checkpoint, which is now controlled by Qataeb Hizbullah and the pro-Iranian alliance Hashd al-Shaabi. We can assume that Israel is following this movement, which means that more attacks on Syrian territory can be expected such as the recent one in Damascus where civilians were killed. Assad’s regime shelters Iranian militias, which pose a direct threat to the life of the civilian population, but nevertheless do not show signals of this practice of stopping — even on the contrary, as we see that weapons are entering Syria under the disguise of humanitarian aid for government areas.

the Syrian Embassy, along with the Russian mission, created a campaign in Bulgaria to whitewash the image of the regime, relying on the tragedy of the earthquake and the amnesia of the society toward Syria

Ruslan Trad

In Bulgaria, where I am based, many locals listened to the call of the Syrian embassy and the person temporarily acting as Syrian ambassador and donated to regime structures whatever they could. This aid has not yet been distributed in a number of settlements even in government-controlled parts of Syria, and opposition zones should not even be thought about. Moreover, the Syrian Embassy, along with the Russian mission, created a campaign in Bulgaria to whitewash the image of the regime, relying on the tragedy of the earthquake and the amnesia of the society toward Syria. The campaign includes messages on social networks, the distribution of misinformation, and the participation of useful commentators on television. Similar actions have been taken in other EU countries.

For many years, the Syrian regime has used humanitarian assistance as an instrument of war and a tool of pressure, not only on the population but also on international organizations. Humanitarian groups must accept the rules of the government in Damascus so that they can work without a problem, which is fiction — this tranquility never comes. The humanitarian groups operating on the territory of the government have no freedom necessary for such activity; the teams are monitored and the leaders are seduced, leading to a lack of efficiency. The result of all this is continued suffering, which will increase against the background of a new possible rebellion in Syria, for which Russia, Türkiye and Assad are ready, unlike Iran.

“The militias that Iran supports actively act by building local structures that can be activated in case of rebellion in Syria or to support operations in Lebanon and Israel”

Ruslan Trad

From chaos, Tehran can strengthen its position in Syria even against the backdrop of mass riots at home. The militias that Iran supports actively act by building local structures that can be activated in case of rebellion in Syria or to support operations in Lebanon and Israel. The earthquake tells the world that in Syria the conflict continues and that the it should not remain away from the news flow, as it has a direct impact on other regions.

Ruslan Trad
Ruslan Trad
A Resident Fellow at Atlantic Council's DFRLab and a Bulgaria coordinator of the Science+ project at Free Press for Eastern Europe; Interested in Eurasia, Syria, conflicts, hybrid warfare and mercenary groups; Member of the Association of European Journalists - Bulgaria and co-founder of De Re Militari

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