The Rami Makhlouf saga poses a dangerous challenge for Assad (Middle East Institute)
“Rami Makhlouf, the godfather of a financial empire estimated to have controlled a staggering 60 percent of Syria’s pre-war economy, is out of favor, out of access, and seemingly at the point of no return. Yet despite his fall from grace, he remains a powerful figure.
Makhlouf is more than just a mere name, he is a shadow ruler of the country’s black markets, a key financial pillar of its flailing economy, and has been under immense pressure from a government crackdown on corruption — augmented by the sharpened knives of his domestic enemies — for almost a year.
After a Spanish inquisition-style investigation by the Syrian Ministry of Communications into his prized asset, the mobile network provider SyriaTel, and its accounts from 2015-19, Makhlouf was becoming an isolated man. But things took a dramatic turn this past week as the 50-year-old businessman went public with his side of the story in a series of videos posted on Facebook, addressing the many questions and rumors surrounding him and his companies’ fate.”
ISIS seeks to exploit pandemic to mount resurgence in Iraq and Syria (CNN)
“The coronavirus pandemic has forced the US-led military coalition battling ISIS to pause or suspend significant aspects of its campaign in Iraq and Syria, even as the terror group seeks to exploit the instability caused by the pandemic and a dramatic fall in oil prices.
ISIS has increased its attacks as Iraq's security forces have been diverted toward enforcing curfews aimed at preventing the pandemic's spread and maintaining stability, a senior official with the US-led coalition tells CNN.
A US defense official also told CNN that ISIS had increased its attacks in recent weeks, seeking to capitalize on the instability.”
Talking about water pipes: The fraught reconstruction of Syria’s Yarmouk camp (Middle East Institute)
“Talking about water pipes might seem like a bit of a ridiculous task, absurd in its granularity. But away from the endless official planning documents of glitzy skyscrapers rising out of the ashes of Syria’s war, this is all too often the real story of the country’s reconstruction. Rebuilding is slow, repairs often small-scale and mostly carried out by groups of local residents or community figures. And progress on the ground until now has been negligible — especially in areas formerly held by opposition or hardline Islamist groups, like Yarmouk, which have been emptied and completely devastated during the course of the conflict.”
Into the Abyss: The al-Hota Mass Grave in Northern Syria (Human Rights Watch)
"The video footage is shocking. A group of seven masked men are shown tossing the body of a dead man into a deep gorge. The body tumbles down a cliff and appears to collide with another body already there, plunging both off a ledge to the joyful shouts of the men. ‘Jarjaq,’ utters one of the men as the body hits the corpse below. The phrase is a local expression from playing marbles which means, in essence, ‘we win, let’s go again.’ And they do: thirty seconds later, the men toss a second body into the abyss and, like the first, it strikes a body stuck on a ledge and both tumble into the bottom of the gorge.”