Syria Today – Hezbollah Training Russian Drone Operators in Homs; Cross Border Aid Extended Three Months

Ukraine says Russian troops are being trained on the use of Iranian drones at the Shayrat airfield in Syria’s western province of Homs. At the same time, Syria has extended permission for the United Nations to deliver aid to opposition-held areas in the northwest of the country via two Turkish border crossings for another three months.

Hezbollah Training Russian Drone Operators in Syria – Ukrainian Intel Says

Ukraine’s military intelligence directorate (HUR) said on Monday, Feb 12 that Russian troops are being trained on the use of Iranian drones at the Shayrat airfield in Syria’s western province of Homs.

The training is being conducted by Lebanese Hezbollah Police and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and is teaching the Russian to become operators of Iranian Shahed-136 and Ababil-3 UAVs, as well as the Raad remote-controlled aircraft.

The head of this training has been identified as a senior Hezbollah commander, Kamal Abu Sadiq, who is a specialist in the manufacture and maintenance of drones. Syrian mercenaries, whom the Kremlin plans to use as UAV operators in the war against Ukraine, are being trained alongside the Russian servicemen.

Last week, the HUR reported that Moscow was recruiting mercenaries in Syria to join the war against Ukraine, training up to 1,000 mercenaries in urban fighting techniques and tactics.

Cyprus president wants the European Union to discuss designating Syria safe zones for refugees

The European Union won’t serve its own best interests if it doesn’t consider designating some parts of Syria as safe zones so refugees and migrants can return there, the president of Cyprus said Monday, according to AP.

President Nikos Christodoulides said Cyprus is working with like-minded EU member nations to start a discussion about that goal in order to help alleviate the pressure that Mediterranean countries receiving the most refugees and migrants are under.

“I don’t consider not discussing the situation inside Syria as an appropriate option for the European Union,” Christodoulides said after talks with Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

“The Cyprus Republic, in cooperation with other member states which share this approach, is working toward initiating a discussion within the European Union about the Syria situation,” he said.

In his most candid remarks on migration to date, Christodoulides said he acknowledges the “sensitivities” that some EU countries have on the issue but that the bloc “must address” whether some parts of Syria are safe enough for migrants to return.

“There are areas in Syria in which we must examine whether they are safe and by extension, enable the return of migrants from those specific areas,” he said.

Iran’s FM Holds Talks With Palestinian Militant Groups, Assad, In Damascus

Iran’s Foreign Minister has met with leaders of multiple Iran-backed Palestinian militant factions based in Damascus as the war in Gaza continues to fuel a proxy war around the region, Iran International (opposition) reported.

“Today, the issue of Palestine has become the world’s top issue, and October 7 and the Al-Aqsa Intifada showed that Palestine is alive and will not surrender to the demands of the Zionist regime and the coercive powers, including the United States government,” Hossein Amir-Abdollahian stated during the meeting. It is believed that at least 15 members of factions such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad were in attendance.

Israel has since intensified its airstrikes on Iranian-backed military targets in Syria and Iranian military personnel since the war broke out, with high-level killings gaining pace.

Debating the US presence in Syria: The ISIS factor

According to a report published by Responsible Statecraft website, nearly a decade after its meteoric rise, ISIS continues to pose a significant threat despite losing control of its territorial “caliphate.” Operating through sleeper cells and launching ambushes, ISIS remains active in Syria’s Deir Ezzor, Homs, and Raqqa governorates, targeting Kurdish forces, the Syrian Arab Army, and Iran-backed militias. Despite its diminished presence, ISIS’s guerrilla tactics have led to substantial losses in both Kurdish and Syrian government-controlled areas.

The potential for an ISIS resurgence is intertwined with regional instability, notably influenced by the broader conflict dynamics in the Middle East, including Israel’s military actions in Gaza and tensions between the U.S. and Iran-aligned groups. The debate in Washington about the future of U.S. military involvement in Syria weighs heavily on concerns over ISIS, as well as strategic interests related to Iran and Russia, and the Assad regime’s weakening.

The ongoing U.S. military presence, criticized by some as perpetuating conflict, is seen by others as a critical bulwark against ISIS’s return. The Kurds’ control over detention sites holding thousands of ISIS fighters represents a ticking time bomb, with fears that any lapse in security—possibly due to a U.S. withdrawal or major Turkish offensive—could lead to a significant resurgence of ISIS.

Experts’ opinions on the U.S. military’s role in Syria vary, with some arguing that American forces’ presence feeds into jihadist propaganda and exacerbates the problem, while others believe a coordinated withdrawal is essential to prevent ISIS from exploiting any resulting chaos. The debate underscores the complex interplay of local and international dynamics in Syria’s ongoing conflict and the challenge of addressing the persistent threat posed by ISIS.

Syria allows UN to keep delivering aid from Turkey

Syria has extended permission for the United Nations to deliver aid to opposition-held areas in the northwest of the country via two Turkish border crossings for another three months, said Syria’s U.N. envoy.

After an earthquake killed more than 50,000 people in Turkey and Syria in February 2023, Damascus initially allowed the U.N. to dispatch aid through the Turkish crossings for three months. That has now been extended for a fourth time until May 13, 2024.

Syria’s U.N. Ambassador Koussay Aldahhak told the United Nations on Saturday that it could continue to use the Bab al-Salam and Al Ra’ee crossings, Aldahhak said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The United Nations had also been using the Bab al-Hawa crossing from Turkey to deliver aid to millions in northwest Syria since 2014 with authorization from the U.N. Security Council. But that expired in mid-July last year after the 15-member body could not reach an agreement to extend it.

What is Iran’s strategy against Israel amid FM’s Middle East trips?

The Jerusalem Post published a report on Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian’s regional tour, covering Lebanon, Syria, and an upcoming visit to Qatar. This tour is particularly significant against the backdrop of heightened tensions and the potential for conflict in the region, especially concerning the situation in Gaza with Rafah being a focal point of concern.

In Lebanon, Amir-Abdollahian’s bold statements against Israel highlight the ongoing rivalry and the stakes involved. His warning of significant consequences for Israel in the event of a conflict with Hezbollah reflects Iran’s commitment to its allies and its readiness to confront Israel indirectly through proxy groups.

The visit to Syria, where Iran has been a steadfast supporter of the Assad regime, further emphasizes Iran’s role in bolstering allies against common adversaries, particularly the United States and Israel. The presence of a high-level delegation signifies the depth of the Iran-Syria partnership, focusing on “bilateral” issues that likely include military, economic, and strategic cooperation. This visit also illustrates Iran’s intent to maintain and possibly expand its influence in Syria, using it as a strategic base to project power and threaten U.S. interests in the region, as evidenced by the activities of Iranian proxies like Kataib Hezbollah.

Iran’s engagement with Qatar, especially its meetings with Hamas officials, aligns with its objective to forge a regional strategy that challenges U.S. influence and isolates Israel. Qatar’s role as a mediator between Israel and Hamas, with Doha hosting Hamas for a decade, is crucial in this context. Iran’s desire for a joint regional strategy, despite being excluded from key Arab diplomatic meetings, indicates its determination to assert its influence and shape the post-conflict landscape to its advantage.

The exclusion of Iran from the meeting of Arab Foreign Ministers hosted by Saudi Arabia underscores the regional divide and the challenges Iran faces in gaining broader acceptance for its views. However, Iran’s continued support for groups like Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Houthis, along with its plans for naval drills with China and Russia, signal its intention to remain a formidable player in regional dynamics, aiming to push the U.S. out of the Middle East and weaken Israel’s security posture.

In summary, JPost says, that Amir-Abdollahian’s tour is a strategic maneuver by Iran to reinforce its alliances, project power, and navigate the complex geopolitical environment of the Middle East. Through its support for allied groups and states, Iran seeks to counterbalance U.S. and Israeli influence, advocating for a regional order more aligned with its interests and vision.

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