Executive Summary for March 8th

We review the key developments in Syria, including a delay in aid delivery to East Ghouta as the government splits the enclave in two, Turkey calling on the U.S. to block Kurdish redeployment and members of a far-right German party visiting Syria.

Published on March 8, 2018 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Aid Delayed as Government Splits Eastern Ghouta In Two

An aid convoy that was supposed to deliver life-saving assistance to the besieged suburbs of Damascus on Thursday has been postponed because of ongoing violence in the enclave, the Associated Press reported.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said that there is no confirmation yet as to when the delivery would take place. “The situation is evolving rapidly on the ground, which doesn’t allow us to carry out the operation in such conditions,” Ingy Sedky, the ICRC spokeswoman in Syria was quoted as saying by the AP.

Government forces have intensified their assault on the Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus over the past 48 hours. On Wednesday, pro-government forces seized large swathes of territory in the rebel holdout, effectively splitting the enclave in two, the AP said, citing the U.K.-based monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

The monitoring group said that Wednesday’s advance brought half of rebel-held territory in Eastern Ghouta under government control.

Wednesday’s ground push was accompanied by a barrage of heavy airstrikes and artillery attacks that killed at least 62 people, including eight children and eight women, the SOHR reported. Escalated government attacks have killed more than 800 people since the government launched an offensive on the region on February 18.

Doctors and residents also accused Damascus of using chlorine gas on civilians Wednesday night after more than 20 people suffered breathing difficulties following a government attack, the AP said.

Turkey Calls on U.S. to Stop Kurdish Redeployment

Ankara called on Washington on Wednesday to prevent the redeployment of Kurdish fighters from eastern Syria to a Kurdish enclave in the country’s north, the New York Times reported.

The request came after the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced on Wednesday that they would pull 1,700 fighters from the front line against the so-called Islamic State in Deir Ezzor province to the enclave of Afrin, where the Kurdish YPG militia is battling Turkish troops and allied rebels.

Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said his country “expected from the U.S. that it should absolutely step in” to prevent the movement of the Kurdish forces. “This is our most natural right,” Kalin added.

Turkey has been battling the YPG in Afrin since January 20. The SOHR claims that Turkey-backed forces have captured 40 percent of the Kurdish enclave since the start of the campaign.

The U.S. has expressed concern that continued operations in Afrin will distract from the fight against ISIS in eastern Syria.

German Far-Right Party Visits Syria

Seven members of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party are currently on a tour of Syria, which the party wants to classify as a “safe country of origin,” Reuters reported on Wednesday.

Designating Syria as a safe country would make it easier for Germany to deport failed asylum seekers, Reuters said.

The members of the anti-immigrant party visited Damascus, which they described as a “normal” city. “You hardly see any military. There are adverts for mobile phones and televisions. Normal life,” Christian Blex, the head of the AfD delegation, wrote on his Facebook page, according to Reuters.

The delegation also visited the city of Homs on Wednesday, according to Syria’s state-run SANA news agency. Blex commented on the return of “normal life” to the city after it was cleared of gunmen, SANA said. He said that the situation in Syria is better than many other places and vowed to convey the “true image” of the situation in Syria to Germans, SANA reported.

The fact-finding trip has drawn criticism from both Syrian refugees and German politicians, including Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesperson, according to Reuters. “Those who flatter this regime disqualify themselves,” Steffen Seibert told a news conference. “The Syrian regime shows every day how inhumanly it treats its own people.”

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