Weekly Media Digest May 1, 2020

SyriaUntold brings you the latest edition of our digest. We want to share with you the features, investigative pieces and long-form essays that we're reading this week.

01 May 2020


An independent media platform advancing critical perspectives on Syria and Syrians.

Syria: Aid Restrictions Hinder Covid-19 Response (Human Rights Watch)

“Restrictions on aid deliveries from Damascus and Iraq are preventing medical supplies and personnel needed to prevent, contain, and treat Covid-19 from reaching two million people in northeast Syria. On April 17, 2020, the authorities in northeast Syria announced the first confirmed Covid-19-related death."

WHO changes to U.N. Syria memo risk stoking Trump-fueled criticism (Reuters)

“Aid groups working with the United Nations want the Security Council to urgently allow an Iraq border crossing into Syria to be used again for deliveries to help combat the coronavirus pandemic, according to a draft World Health Organization memo seen by the 15-member U.N. Security Council.”

Ravaged by war, Syria’s health care system is utterly unprepared for a pandemic (Middle East Institute)

“In early March, the already-tense atmosphere in Damascus’s central hospital grew darker and fear more pervasive. Rumors were circulating that hospitals were facing huge numbers of COVID-19 cases and patients infected by the virus were being liquidated. In reality, a handful of patients presenting symptoms reached the hospital but were not tested, even though the staff collected samples from them and the World Health Organization (WHO) had already delivered the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machines needed to do the testing. Hassan,* an experienced doctor working at the hospital, became even more acutely aware of the constant presence of secret police (mukhabarat) officers. Usually, they would guard patients who were political detainees, preventing them from communicating with the staff. Now they had a new mission: making sure no information about possible COVID-19 cases got out.”

Syrian Executive and Security Forces Take Advantage of COVID-19 Curfew to Oppress Civilians (Syrians for Truth and Justice)

“Two locals of Duma confirmed to STJ that a number of people in the city showed symptoms similar to that of coronavirus, some were taken by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to a quarantine center, while others have been quarantined in their homes.

A local source said that a soldier of the government forces called M. Teameh, showed coronavirus symptoms after returning to his home in Duma, and it is likely that his family got the infection. Another soldier from al-Masri family also showed symptoms when he returned to his home in Duma’s al-Hajariyah neighborhood from the regiment he serves in, near the village of Harf Banmara in the province of Tartous. He was taken to Hamdan hospital in Duma and then transferred to the Military Hospital 601 in al-Mazzeh. Subsequently, the police evacuated the building in which the soldier lives, leaving only his family quarantined in it, and watched by a police patrol to prevent any contact with people.

Another local source spoke to STJ on the situation of public and health care services in Duma, saying that there are only three health facilities in the city which are Hamdan Hospital, al-Yaman Hospital and a post of the SARC in the Jala’a neighborhood. The witness said that people are tested for coronavirus only by taking their temperature, and if any suspected to be infected, he/she would be transferred to Damascus Hospital (also known as al-Mujtahid).

Coronavirus measures have reshaped the everyday life in Syria; the partial curfew which aimed at relieving congestion and gatherings to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, had an opposite effect causing greater overcrowding, especially at bread and food distribution centers of the government, from which they can purchase rationed quantities of tea, rice, sugar, gas cylinders and other stuff using the “smart card”. Citizens had to stand in long queues (200 to 500 people) for long hours to obtain only one stuff, without following the WHO protective measures, even the personal, like wearing face masks or gloves.”

In Syria's Idlib city, a caravan spreads the word about coronavirus (Reuters)

"A white caravan splashed with images of the coronavirus roams the streets of opposition-held Idlib city in northwest Syria where a volunteer tell passers-by of the virtues of social distancing and hygiene to avoid infection.

‘We remind people that they should stay at home so they don’t mingle and remind them of a lurking danger that could at any moment enter our areas,’ Ibrahim Sarmini, a volunteer in the charity called Violet, said of the campaign in the war-torn town.”

Syria telecoms tycoon Rami Makhlouf makes rare video addressing Assad regime (The National)

“Rami Makhlouf, the maternal cousin of Syria's Bashar Al Assad, has made a rare public statement addressing the president over an order to seize his assets.

In the video, posted to Facebook, the wealthy businessman said that he had offered money to ‘assist people’ in Ramadan, but that he had received threats against his companies.

‘After reports about a donation we planned to make during the holy month of Ramadan to assist our people, things went out of control,’ he said. ‘We received threats to stop our work, simply because we dared to publicly offer assistance to the needy ... Why the more grants we offer, the more the curse we receive?’"

Assassinations in southern Syria expose limits of Assad’s control (Financial Times)

“Two senior army officers and a political official have been killed in southern Syria this month, the highest-profile assassinations in a spate of murders that have exposed President Bashar al-Assad’s struggle to maintain control of the country’s war-torn south.

A little under two years since Russian-brokered peace deals were supposed to have pacified opposition to Mr Assad’s regime, rebel groups have continued to take up arms in parts of the southern province of Dera’a, considered the birthplace of Syria’s 2011 uprising.”

Syria's long road to justice and the man hoping to walk it there (Al Jazeera English)

“It is 10:30am on April 22; a sunny Wednesday morning.

Anwar al-Bunni, a 61-year-old with small dark eyes beneath bushy brows, is standing outside Berlin Hauptbahnhof, the German city's main train station, in a light grey jacket and dark pants. Where travellers and commuters usually hurry in and out of the large glass and steel building, all is quiet today. Whoever can, is staying at home because of the coronavirus.

Al-Bunni calmly picks a cigarette from a silver case and lights it. There is still enough time for a smoke before the train that will take him 600km (373 miles) to the western German city of Koblenz is due to depart.

The renowned Syrian human rights lawyer is making his way to Koblenz's Higher Regional Court, where he will testify in a case due to begin the next day. But al-Bunni is more than just a witness at the trial. He is, many of those connected to the trial agree, one of the people who made it possible.”

This work is under a Creative Commons license. Attribution: Non commercial - ShareAlike 4.0. International license

Illustation by Dima Nechawi Graphic Design by Hesham Asaad