A Saudi custom officer opens imported pomegranates after officials foiled an attempt to smuggle over 5 million pills of Captagon at Jeddah Islamic Port, Saudi Arabia, in 2021. (Saudi Press Agency via AP) (AP)

After the Oct. 7 terrorist attack in Israel, several Hamas militants were reportedly found to be high on the illegal drug Captagon, which surely fueled their murderous rampage. But the drug’s threat is greater than just the boost it gives terrorists. The Captagon trade has become a key tool of influence for the Syrian regime and a massive source of income for the Iranian-backed militias now attacking U.S. troops.

The highly addictive methlike drug Captagon typically comes in small white pills exported by the millions across the Middle East and beyond. Its manufacturing is directly linked to the Syrian armed forces and the family of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.…  Seguir leyendo »

Crowds gathered outside the Peace Palace early on the morning of the hearing on 10 October 2023. A protester carrying a Syrian flag looks over photos of the detained, disappeared, and tortured. The photos are accompanied by signs reading “Where are they?”, and “ICJ: Hold Assad Accountable!”. © Lucy Gaynor

“We trust in international law”. These were the words of Alan Kessel, representative of the Canadian government before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), during a post-hearing press conference on the steps of the ‘Peace Palace’ on 10 October. Standing mere feet away from Kessel, outside the grandiose building, surrounded by carefully manicured lawns and flowerbeds, I struggled to hear him. Outside the gates, chants of ‘Hurriyah, Hurriyah, Hurriyah’ (Freedom, Freedom, Freedom), rose loudly as Syrian flags waved. Kessel’s pledge of allegiance to ‘international law’ was a response to a specific question from a reporter: “The Syrians didn’t even turn up today, what makes you think they would adhere to any measures demanded by the court?”…  Seguir leyendo »

Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, May 2023. Bandar Algaloud /Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court / Reuters.

In July, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made his triumphant return to the Arab League, 12 years after it had suspended his country’s membership for cracking down on protesters during the Arab Spring. On his arrival at the group’s summit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Assad exchanged kisses with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He shook hands with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. And in front of the assembled leaders, he celebrated Syria’s reentry. Syria’s “past, present, and future are Arabism”, Assad said.

Assad’s appearance in Jeddah caps off what has been a dramatic recovery for him and his regime. For more than a decade, Syria’s leader had been at odds with most Middle Eastern and North African states as he fought to crush a domestic rebellion.…  Seguir leyendo »

A Syrian child and others sheltered in a former carwash in Antakya, Turkey, in the days after the earthquake in February. Emily Garthwaite for The New York Times

It was the Syrians who were responsible for the earthquakes. That’s what a Turkish man told Seyfeddin Selim, a refugee from Homs, Syria, who used to sell groceries in Antakya, the capital of Hatay province in southern Turkey. When the earthquakes hit in February, Mr. Selim’s shop was cleared out by looters before he could get there.

The blame that followed added insult to injury, but it wasn’t anything new. Mr. Selim didn’t say anything to the man in his defense, he told me, because he was worried an altercation could get him deported. But when I spoke to him months later, the encounter still made him burn up inside.…  Seguir leyendo »

Syrian President Bashar Al Assad with UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi, March 2023. Abdulla Al Neyadi / Reuters

After many years of equivocation and handwringing, Arab states have decided to bring Syria in from the cold and back into the fold. Arab foreign ministers announced earlier this month that Syria would be readmitted to the Arab League, the regional organization that suspended the country’s membership in 2011. At the time, President Bashar al-Assad’s regime had become a regional pariah because of its brutal crackdown on a popular uprising in the country, which eventually claimed roughly half a million lives and displaced another 13 million people.That period of ostracization is now over.

This decision marks the culmination of a tortuous debate among Arab governments about how to handle the Syrian tragedy.…  Seguir leyendo »

A general view of a wheat field in Mariupol, Ukraine on 31 July 2022, as Russia-Ukraine war continues. Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.

Russia’s involvement in smuggling wheat out of the occupied regions or territories of Ukraine has been widely reported over the past year. In response, the US issued sanctions in September 2022 against Russian proxy officials involved in the theft of Ukrainian grain. While these targeted measures have managed to steer many countries in the Middle East and Africa away from buying the stolen wheat, Syria has become one of its primary destinations.

Due to the sanctions already imposed on both Russia and Syria they do not have many alternative trading partners and are also less concerned about any additional consequences they may face as a result of their cooperation.…  Seguir leyendo »

Volunteering with the Syria Civil Defence in the aftermath of an earthquake, Jandaris, Syria, February 2023. Khalil Ashawi / Reuters

The pair of massive earthquakes that struck Turkey and Syria in early February killed tens of thousands and displaced many more. They have also aggravated a humanitarian catastrophe in northwest Syria in ways that could end up fundamentally reorienting the balance of power in Syria’s long-running conflict. Assad’s regime has long sought to punish civilian populations as a means of advancing its war effort—a strategy now greatly helped by the earthquakes. Without a massive recovery effort, the extensive damage in Syria’s opposition-held northwest could not only leave the people there unable to rebuild their lives but also tilt the balance of the conflict in Assad’s favor.…  Seguir leyendo »

Muhammad Al Halbouni, de 31 años, perdió una pierna en un bombardeo hace años. En el terremoto a principios de febrero perdió a sus dos hijas. Diego Ibarra Sanchez para The New York Times

Ella no recuerda el terremoto que le partió la espalda y se tragó a sus hijas. Khaira al Halbouni solo sabe lo que le contó su marido después. En la mitad de la noche, el edificio tembló. Él agarró a una de sus hijas, Bisan, y a su hijo, Alí. Carga a Mayas —su hija menor— y corre, gritó.

Ella se llevó instintivamente la mano al velo. Después, nada.

Lo primero que Khaira recuerda es despertar sobre un montón de escombros. Vio un pequeño rayo de luz, y después un par de botas. Gritó. Miró alrededor, buscando a su hija. Habían pasado casi 30 horas.…  Seguir leyendo »

A partially collapsed house in the Syrian town of Azaz close to the border with Turkey, following the earthquakes in February 2023. Photo by BAKR ALKASEM/AFP via Getty Images.

Despite sharing a catastrophe, the earthquake aftermath and response in Syria and Turkey could not be further apart.

Turkey has received an outpouring of support and aid from dozens of countries and tens of thousands of search-and-rescue personnel, including international teams, have been deployed to Turkey’s east.

In contrast, only five per cent of the impacted sites and towns in northwest Syria are being covered by the overstretched Syria Civil Defence – known as the White Helmets – search-and-rescue operations, according to the United Nations (UN).

The level of relief aid which has entered northwest Syria has also been limited so far, with bureaucracy, manipulation of aid, and a lack of political will among the main factors hindering efforts to help the most impacted region in Syria.…  Seguir leyendo »

t’s been an entire week since the devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria — seven days of horror and heartache on a scale we did not experience even in the darkest hours of the Syrian conflict.

Our team of White Helmets volunteer rescue workers in northwest Syria have been working around the clock night and day, pulling survivors from the rubble and searching for signs of life — with virtually no help from the outside world.

Our hope of finding survivors has faded. As we pull more dead bodies from the rubble, my heart breaks for every soul that could have been saved and was needlessly lost because we did not get the help we needed in time.…  Seguir leyendo »

El enorme terremoto que sacudió el este de Turquía y el noroeste de Siria en la madrugada del lunes 6 ha provocado conmoción y horror tanto en la región como en Europa. A estas alturas, ya roza los 42.000 fallecidos y hay miles de edificios arrasados en los dos países, muchos de los cuales no cumplían las normas sísmicas, sobre todo en el lado sirio, destrozado por una década de guerra y abandono de los poderes civiles. Los gobiernos europeos se han movilizado para enviar equipos y material de rescate, pero la situación geopolítica de la región afectada ha supuesto un grave problema.…  Seguir leyendo »

The rescue effort among damaged buildings following the earthquake in the city of Jenderes, Syria, on February 12, 2023. Photo by Rami Alsayed/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

The earthquakes that have devastated northwest Syria are highly unlikely to reinvigorate the stalled Syrian peace process. Rather, they have already amplified existing political fault lines.

The natural disaster has highlighted deepening divides between the Syrian regime of Bashar Al Assad and its allies on one side and the Syrian opposition and its international backers on the other side, as well as the impotence of the UN.

Damascus is trying to use the humanitarian catastrophe to get out of international isolation. Shortly after the earthquakes, the regime’s public reaction was not to express condolences for all Syrian people affected by the tragedy but to use its key figures to try to achieve de facto legitimacy on the international stage for Assad.…  Seguir leyendo »

A doctor and family rush to safety in their pajamas on the snowy streets

Almost eight hours after a powerful earthquake struck Turkey and Syria early Monday, Dr. Abdurrahman Alomar and his family were bracing against the next onslaught.

With few safe places to go, the Syrian doctor, along his wife and two children, were taking refuge in his car, parked in an open area away from buildings.

Still, the ground continued to shake.

“I’m sorry, as I’m talking to you, a new aftershock is happening”, Alomar told CNN Opinion by phone from his car in the Turkish city of Gaziantep near the epicenter of the quake.

In the background, sirens wailed. And Alomar calmly described how hours earlier he had been woken by one of the strongest earthquakes to hit the region in more than a century.…  Seguir leyendo »

Los terremotos que arrasaron el sur de Turquía y el norte de Siria la madrugada del 6 de febrero podrían dejar más de 20.000 víctimas mortales, según la Organización Mundial de la Salud (OMS). Continúa la carrera contra reloj para encontrar a quienes puedan seguir con vida bajo los escombros, pero esos esfuerzos se ven entorpecidos por las condiciones climáticas: fuertes vientos que complican las labores de rescate y temperaturas gélidas que reducen las posibilidades de supervivencia de las víctimas. Además, las numerosas réplicas y la amenaza de nuevos derrumbes impiden que los damnificados regresen a sus hogares.

El presidente turco, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, ha declarado un estado de emergencia de tres meses en las diez provincias más afectadas y ha movilizado a decenas de miles de miembros del personal de rescate, y la comunidad internacional se está volcando en muestras de solidaridad hacia Turquía.…  Seguir leyendo »

An aerial view shows the destroyed buildings in the rebel-held town of Jindayris, Syria, on Thursday, three days after a deadly earthquake. (Omar Haj Kadour/AFP/Getty Images)

Following the devastating series of earthquakes that struck southern Turkey and northwest Syria on Monday, the Syrian regime has re-energized its calls for lifting sanctions leveled against it. Syrian government spokeswoman Bouthaina Shaaban told Sky News that if the United States and the European Union lift sanctions, then “the Syrian people will be able to take care of their country”. A number of well-meaning civil society and religious groups have also made similar pleas.

The U.S. State Department has thus far rightly dismissed such calls. But as the full scope of the destruction and human suffering comes into focus, expect these calls to intensify.…  Seguir leyendo »

El terremoto del lunes devastó la ciudad de Nurdagi en el sur de Turquía. Khalil Hamra/Associated Press

Cada vida tiene una serie de fechas indelebles: el nacimiento de un hijo, la muerte de un padre, una tragedia nacional como la del 11 de septiembre.

Una fecha imposible de olvidar en mi caso es el 19 de septiembre de 1985.

Entonces era un niño de 11 años que vivía en Ciudad de México, y unos minutos después de las 7:00 a. m. iba de camino a la escuela. De pronto, la calle empezó a sacudirse; el auto se balanceaba de un lado al otro de la calle. Se sentía como si estuviéramos volando. Esto duró casi tres minutos.

En la escuela circulaba el rumor de que el centro de la ciudad había quedado destruido.…  Seguir leyendo »

Go See What Happened to My City, Then You’ll Know How I Am

Homs is the name of my city.

Once it was the capital of the Syrian Revolution and in all the newspaper headlines. In its neighborhoods and alleyways, the rebels held out against government forces for years. Many buildings were flattened or shot full of holes. In the end, as everyone knows, the government took back what was left.

Even before Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, the world had moved on from Homs. One of the most destroyed cities in Syria became a footnote. But not to me.

I left Syria in November 2011. Peaceful protests were sweeping across the city but they had been met with brutal violence.…  Seguir leyendo »

Mazloum Abdi, commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces, speaks at a Nov. 26 news conference in Hasakah, Syria. (Baderkhan Ahmad/AP)

In 2014, the world learned about my hometown, Kobane, and my people, the Syrian Kurds, when we dealt the Islamic State its first major defeat in partnership with the United States and the Global Coalition. The alliances we forged there led to the end of the ISIS caliphate in 2019.

Today, Kobane is again under threat — and all the gains of those partnerships are also in danger.

This time, the threat comes not from Islamic State terror, but from a U.S. ally and a member of NATO. For more than a week, the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has rained bombs down on our cities, killing civilians, destroying critical civilian infrastructure and targeting the Syrian Democratic Forces working to keep ISIS down.…  Seguir leyendo »

Smoke rises from an oil depot hit by a Turkish airstrike near Qamishli, Syria, on Wednesday. (Baderkhan Ahmad/AP)

Turkey’s fixation on alleged Kurdish terrorism reached a dangerous flash point this week, as Turkish warplanes bombed targets in northern Syria that are perilously close to U.S. forces there guarding against a resurgence of the Islamic State.

The danger of this latest spasm of Turkish reprisal attacks was described to me on Wednesday by Gen. Mazloum Kobane Abdi, commander of the Syrian Kurdish militia known as the Syrian Democratic Forces or SDF. He said that after three days of Turkish bombing, the SDF could lose its ability to maintain security at prisons and a refugee camp for ISIS fighters and their families.…  Seguir leyendo »

Actors on a set of the Chinese film “Home Operation,” in Hajar al-Aswad, a Syrian suburb destroyed by the al-Assad regime. Louai Beshara/Agence France-Presse, via Getty Images

At first the image didn’t make much sense: tanks bunched together, red flags flying and a line of soldiers in Yemeni-style red berets. The scene was set in the shadows of bombed-out apartment buildings that, confusingly, didn’t look much like Yemen.

The scene was fake, a photo of the set of “Home Operation”, a film produced by Jackie Chan and inspired by a Chinese mission to evacuate Chinese and foreign nationals from Yemen in 2015. The apartment buildings were real, but not in Yemen. Filming started last month in Hajar al-Aswad, a southern suburb of Damascus, Syria, that used to be home to thousands of people.…  Seguir leyendo »