August 2019 Recap: Syria & Lebanon
During the month of August, the MENA region has witnessed some political unrest and instability; In Lebanon, Palestinian refugees have been holding protests in for over six weeks following the Lebanese Ministry of Labor’s crackdown on undocumented foreign labor. Lebanese waste problem deepens amidst establishment of landfills around residential areas. In Syria, battles between the Syrian Army along with its allies and the opposition forces intensified and led to the Syrian Army advance on opposition strongholds and took over control of a number of towns in Idlib and Hama.
Take precautions such as staying up-to-date on the security and political situation by subscribing to security alerts to help you stay vigilant and safe in volatile countries in the Middle East. In this blog, we go over the major incidents that occurred in Syria and Lebanon this month with the aim of providing an incident recap.
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On the first day of the month, armed opposition groups agreed to a conditional ceasefire deal with Syria’s ruling regime as well as its Russian military allies in Idlib. This comes after months of attacks, which resulted in a dramatic rise in civilian casualties. The condition of the agreement required the armed opposition groups to withdraw forces and weaponry from a buffer zone, which was agreed upon between Russia and Turkey in Sochi, Russia in September 2018. However, on Aug. 5th, the Syrian government continued operations against armed opposition in Idlib, breaking the ceasefire agreement, and claiming that the armed opposition groups breached the truce.
On Aug. 11th, the Syrian army captured al-Hobeit town in Idlib. This move marks the most significant advance the Syrian army has made thus far in Idlib since the beginning of its offensive three months ago. On August 15th, the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) militants claimed responsibility for shooting down a Syrian government warplane (a Russian-made Rukhoi warplane). HTS militants used an anti-aircraft missile and shot it over the town of Khan Sheikhoun near Idlib. The next day, Syrian Civil Defense workers known as the White Helmets helped evacuate residents out of Khan Sheikhoun ahead of an expected regime assault. The residents fled further north.
On Aug.17th, seven members of one family (a mother and her six children) were killed in Deir al-Sharqi in Southern Idlib after an air raid struck their home in an escalation of a Russian-backed offensive against the last major rebel stronghold. A couple of days later, 5 civilians were killed by the Syrian regime forces; 3 of them were children. Moreover, opposition fighters and rebels have withdrawn from a key town in Syria's Idlib province, Khan Sheikhoun. The town has been under opposition fighters’ hold since 2014 and the withdrawal came after days of clashes between rebel factions and Russia-backed forces.
Local Syrian activists have also reported that opposition fighters have withdrawn from a number of towns and villages in northern Hama as well (a neighboring province to Idlib) including the towns of Latamneh and Kafr Zeita, after the Syrian regime threatened to surround the opposition and their allies in their last remaining territory in northern Hama.
On Aug. 6th, Around 700 Palestinian refugees gathered in front of the Canadian Embassy seeking asylum. The demonstration was organized by the Palestinian Youth Organization for Humanitarian Relief in Lebanon and the Youth Movement for Palestinians in Syria, who delivered letters to an embassy representative describing the living conditions of Palestinians in Lebanon and their need for asylum in Canada.
Palestinian refugees have been holding protests for over sixr weeks against the Lebanese Labor Ministry’s crackdown on undocumented foreign labor in Lebanon. Palestinians in Lebanon believe the bill to be unjust specifically to them; unlike other foreign workers, Palestinians cannot return to their country and they seldom have the needed documents to acquire a work permit.
The Palestinians Youth Organization for Humanitarian Relief in Lebanon’s representative also stated that Palestinians are protesting the alleged corruption within the UNRWA, in which the representative said aid is distributed in a biased manner. It was revealed in a leaked report by the Associated Press that an investigation had been launched at UNRWA into alleged corruption, nepotism, sexual misconduct and abuse of authority. The disclosure of the internal investigation led the Netherlands and Switzerland to suspend their funding to the agency.
Over 350 Syrian refugees’ homes were demolished in Akkar by the Lebanese Internal Security Forces based on the claim that the tents were in breach of Lebanese housing codes. Internal Security Forces have been giving Syrian refugees an ultimatum: either replace their homes’ concrete walls and roofs with less protective materials or face demolition. Moreover, Internal Security Forces arrested 47 people including a minor for not having valid legal residency papers.
51 international aid groups have scrutinised the Lebanese government and requested that it stops dismantling Syrian refugees homes, calling the act "punitive" and "traumatic."
Related: Lebanese New Government & its Agenda
Lebanon’s Waste Problem:
A sit-in in Zgharta was reported earlier this month in an attempt to raise awareness on the Lebanese government’s failure to solve the waste crisis. This comes after the government’s decision to postpone building incinerators. Citizens have been protesting the waste crisis in Lebanon for the past four years.
While on Aug. 14th, a protest broke out against the establishment of a landfill in the village of Terbol, East of Zahlé. The landfill was built as a temporary solution to the area’s waste crisis. It is stated that the wastes will be placed in a parking lot until a new landfill is built. Protestors are concerned that the parking lot will become a permanent landfill and any attempt at building a new one will be dismissed.
The next day, an unknown gunman opened fire and shot at the son of Mohammed Murad, the man who had provided property for the establishment of the temporary landfill. The son suffered two bullet wounds in his hip as a result. His car was also set on fire later that day. The suspect is still unknown and the incident is currently under investigation.
The security and political situation in Lebanon is continually escalating as all major issues of the country seem to hit a wall, while the government seems to lack the intention of solving the major issues facing the country in the near future.