Given Syria's involvement in the Arab-Israeli conflict since 1948, solidarity with Palestine has been a fundamental element within Syria's political culture. Regarding Syria's local actors’ stances on Gaza war (Syrian regime, Syrian opposition, “Hayat Tahrir al-Sham”, and “Syrian Democratic Forces”), while there is consensus in expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people in Gaza, their approaches to the war varied significantly in respective to their stances on Hamas, the “al-Aqsa flood” operation, and how they used the war in their different political strategies. These differences stemmed from a blend of ideological political identities on one hand and objective considerations related to their different relations with international and regional actors on the other. This article provides insight into the discourse projected by these actors on Gaza.
The Syrian regime has consistently propagated a narrative of resistance since the onset of the Gaza war, publishing official statements through its foreign ministry or speeches delivered by its prominent figures, notably Bashar al-Assad and his Foreign Minister, Faisal Mekdad. The regime praised the “al-Aqsa flood” operation as a “glorious achievement,” linking it to the October 1973 war due to its historical significance as a victory within the Syrian and Arab narrative.
Using the Gaza war in emotional mobilization of its popular incubator and its narrative of conspiracy, the regime associated the Israeli aggression with the ongoing struggle in Syria, holding Israel accountable for supporting the perpetrators of the drone attack on the Homs Military Academy on October 5th. This sentiment was further underscored by Mekdad when he criticized the stances of the United States and European states on Gaza accusing them of “Western deceit and open appetite for killing Arabs, including Palestinians.” In response to Israeli escalation of targeting various Iranian and regime sites in Syria, the regime continued to propagate a discourse centered on the right to defend sovereignty and reclaiming the Golan Heights within the 1967 borders.
By political means, the Syrian regime leveraged the regional atmosphere after the Gaza war to bolster its diplomatic activity within the Arab League and its bilateral diplomatic engagement with various Arab countries. While Assad advocated for halting the process of Arab-Israeli normalization during the extraordinary joint Arab Islamic summit on Gaza in November, the regime did not record formal reservation on any of the summit's resolution provisions, including having “normal relations with Israel,” a reservation upheld by Algeria, Iraq, and Tunisia (1).
This reflects the regime's alignment with the official and prominent Arab stance concerning the Israeli aggression on Gaza in formal diplomatic means, while concurrently maintaining a vehement anti-Israeli and anti-Western sentiment through its rhetoric, as a cornerstone of the “axis of resistance” led by Iran.
“Hayat Tahrir al-Sham” adopted a different narrative toward the “al-Aqsa flood” operation in comparison to jihadist groups - al-Qaeda and its branches - that advocated in their statements for jihad and targeting Western sites in Muslim countries. HTS's official rhetoric, expressed through statements by its “Syrian Salvation Government,” revolved around praising the operation carried out by Hamas, endorsing the Palestinian people's right of “the entire liberation of Palestinian land,” and calling on the “international community and Arab nations” to halt the Israeli aggression on Gaza after the Israeli targeting of Jabalia refugee camp. HTS’s call, in essence, mirrored a statement issued earlier by the Taliban government, which has been promoted as a “model” by prominent figures within HTS.
As it has been promoting itself as a moderate actor, the SSG’s Ministry of Media issued -ironically- a statement on press freedom and condemned the Israeli targeting of journalists regardless of their faith. This condemnation included Israeli violations of the targeting of journalist Wael al-Dahouh's family, the killing of journalist Sherin Abu Akel in Palestine, and the targeting of journalist Carmen Joukhadar in Lebanon.
At the same time, the jihadist element remained present in the speeches of HTS figures, notably Abdul Rahim Atoun, the head of its Fatwa Council. He said that the conflicts in both Syria and Palestine constitute a jihad that is an "obligation" upon every Muslim. This declaration was made during a symposium titled "From Idlib to Gaza... One Wound," organized by the SSG’s Ministry of Media. This highlights the tone difference in the technical statements and media discourses as well as the continuation of the jihadist ideological element within HTS's narrative.
Nevertheless, the primary objective of the symposium was to draw parallels between the Palestinian resistance against Israel and the Syrian struggle against the regime. The focus was on highlighting the similarities in crimes committed against the Syrian and Palestinian people, by the Assad regime and Israel respectively. This narrative resonated with SSG’s official statement, which regarded Palestinian resistance as an inspiring model for the struggle against the Syrian regime. A narrative aligns with HTS's efforts to project a national-Islamist image at the expense of its former Jihadist one.
As for the Syrian Opposition, the Syrian Negotiation Commission, the Syrian National Coalition, and the Syrian Interim Government expressed solidarity with Gaza, particularly following the bombing of al-Maamadani Hospital. Both the statements from the Negotiations Committee and the National Coalition condemned the crimes committed by Israel and emphasized the significance of the Arab Peace Initiative (2002), rejecting the forced displacement of Gaza residents. Simultaneously, the Interim Government condemned the crimes of the Israeli occupation and declared a three-day national mourning in its controlled areas.
Regarding their stance on Hamas or “al-Aqsa flood,” there hasn’t been any official statement or position issued on the matters, given the challenge of attaining a unified stance within the opposition due to the varying and sometimes conflicting positions toward Hamas, driven by ideological or political reasons related to Hamas's stance on the Syrian regime or Iran. Let alone the objective considerations related to the opposition’s political relations with international and regional actors.
As for the “Syrian Democratic Forces,” the SDF-affiliated “Syrian Democratic Council,” issued a statement condemning the targeting of civilians in Gaza, particularly the al-Maamadani Hospital, taking into consideration the pro-Palestinian sentiment among Syrians. The statement made reference to the “right of the Palestinian people to self-determination,” in line with SDF’s claim of the “Autonomous Administration” in Northeastern Syria. On Hamas, the head of the SDF, Mazlum Kobane, condemned it, yet expressed concerns over the Israeli objective to eradicate Hamas because of the potential spillover effects of such eradication.
The response of local actors in Syria to the Gaza conflict varied significantly in their level of engagement, political stances, and the use of the war in their narratives. There has been notable and active engagement by the regime and HTS, moderate engagement from the opposition, and cautious one from the SDF. The regime leveraged the Gaza war in emotional mobilization within its popular incubator as a cornerstone of the resistance axis by endorsing Hamas. Simultaneously, the regime has politically capitalized on the regional atmosphere to strengthen its diplomatic presence within Arab politics. HTS has also used the war in emotional mobilization in Idlib and in its rebranding process as a local actor endorsing Hamas as a model. In contrast, the opposition limited its response to humanitarian solidarity with Gaza, refraining from issuing an official stance on Hamas. The SDF pursued minimal engagement with Gaza and was the only actor to take an anti-Hamas stance along with fearing the repercussions of the war.
Finally, the result of the war on Gaza, will have impact on these actors, particularly for HTS and SDF, at least in terms of boosting their confidence to survive as semi-state actors in case Hamas survives the Israeli military campaign or diminishing that confidence in case Israel manage to eradicate Hamas.
() This stance followed the regime's prior formal reservation on “any wording that could be interpreted to equalize between the Israeli occupier and the Palestinian people living under occupation,” in the resolution of the extraordinary ministerial session of the Arab League on Gaza in October, akin to reservations expressed by Iraq, Libya, Algeria, as well as Tunisia which objected to the resolution entirely, advocating for “the right of the Palestinian people to establish their independent state on all of the territory of Palestine.”
This report provides an overview of the key events in Syria during the month of October 2023, focusing on political, security, and economic developments. It examines the developments at different levels.
The escalating tensions in Gaza have markedly impacted regional dynamics, prompting:
Key sites such as the US's al-Tanf base, al-Omar oil field, and the al-Shadadi base have been subjected to intensified UAV and rocket attacks by these militias. Additionally, the Koniko gas pipeline, the American base in “Rubarba” near al-Malikiyah, and the “Kharab” base have sustained damage from these attacks.
Beginning October 7th, Israel escalated its military actions against Syrian Regime and Iranian-backed militia targets, executing over nine strikes in different areas. Significantly, Israel targeted Aleppo International Airport four times, Damascus International Airport twice, and four military locations in Daraa. These strikes in October represent a strategic shift, aiming to:
In another development, the military college in Homs city was attacked by unidentified drones, according to regime media, resulting in the deaths of dozens, including officers. This attack is notable for several reasons:
The attack on the military college led the regime, with Russian support, to launch airstrikes and heavy artillery bombardments on over /30/ locations in Northwest Syria, blaming what they labeled as “Terrorist Organizations” for the attack. This resulted in the deaths and injuries of dozens, including /14/ children, /12/ women, and /38/ men.The regime aimed to use this incident to:
Following the “PKK's” claim of responsibility for the Ankara attack near the Turkish Ministry of Interior on the 1st of October 2023, the Turkish Armed Forces launched a series of airstrikes and security operations targeting “SDF”, military bases, and vital facilities in northeast Syria, the technical aspect of this operation signifies a shift in the Turkish military strategy and goals:
The Israeli aggression on Gaza affected the political environment in the region and had a direct impact on the Syrian file. During a UN Security Council session, U.S. Ambassador “Linda Thomas-Greenfield” noted that the events in Gaza are:
The French FM “Catherine Colonna” canceled a meeting with the “SNC” delegation, which had traveled to Paris to urge French officials to hold a Security Council session and take necessary actions to stop the Regime military escalation in Northwest Syria.
The “SNC” met with Turkish FM “Hakan Fidan”, focusing primarily on economic demands and the need to empower the Syrian Interim Government to provide basic services to the people.
The Saudi FM contacted the Syrian regime's FM to discuss regional developments and bilateral relations. “Bashar al-Assad” also met with the Iranian FM in Damascus to discuss the Israeli aggression on Gaza. The regime appointed an ambassador to Tunisia, aiming to enhance its effectiveness in regional and international forums.
In the Southern region, at As-Suwayda Governorate:
The Autonomous Administration in Northeast Syria and the Deir Ezzor Civil Council held a conference to involve the people of Deir Ezzor in decision-making and address public discontent in the governorate. The conference included various community segments, administration employees, and local leaders from Deir Ezzor. The conference concluded with recommendations to:
The Supreme Council for Economic and Social Planning has set the 2024 budget for Syria at /35,500/ billion SYP. This is 114% more than last year but 27% less than in 2022 when converted to USD. This budget is unlikely to help the economy grow and will probably cause more inflation and reduce the value of the Syrian lira.
The Central Bank has set the official exchange rate of the Syrian lira to the USD at /12,500/ SYP, close to the black-market rate /13,900/ SYP. Since the start of the year, the Central Bank was and still trying to close the gap between the official and the black-market rates, to encourage people to use the official rate to help increase foreign currency reserves.
Despite the rising cost of living, the Regime government kept on exporting a lot of vegetables and fruits, mainly to Saudi Arabia. This has led to higher prices locally because of reduced supply and increased costs for things like fuel, seeds, transport, and labor. This approach shows a lack of concern for the citizens' living standards and seems to favor the interests of businesspeople and profit over everything else.
Attempts by the administration to regulate the markets and money movements have met with objections from traders. After the Autonomous Administration issued a circular reminding of the necessity to obtain the necessary licenses to engage in currency exchange and financial remittances, set minimum capital clauses, and deposit money with the Monetary Office
The Corruption in within the Autonomous Administration continues to undermine the development of the region and puts pressure on the livelihood of the population, notable incidents:
Idlib witnessed the opening of its first textile factory, this development might inspire other entrepreneurs to establish similar factories in the area. Additionally, the city hosted the (Idlib Markets 2023) exhibition, featuring numerous new companies and stores. This event is significant for several reasons:
In North Aleppo, the Syrian-Turkish Electricity Company has reduced electricity rates to /2.77/ TL for residential use and /3.17/ TL for industrial and commercial use in Jarablus, Afrin, Azaz, and surrounding regions.
Efforts to revive the economy continue, with local councils and organizations collaborating on infrastructure projects like road repairs, water, and sewage pipe installations, and extending electricity networks. To regulate local affairs, several directives have been issued:
However, the agricultural sector in Ras al-Ain is experiencing difficulties. The interim government is grappling with several issues: