Coronavirus may give ISIS a new chance in Syria

WASHINGTON, MOSCOW, (BM) – The spread of coronavirus in refugee camps in Syria could lead to a revival of the Islamic State and a new escalation of violence. The federal news agency was figuring out how close Syria is to a new round of instability.

Coronavirus has already entered Syria

Syrian doctors who work under difficult conditions in refugee camps in Idlib believe that the coronavirus most likely has already penetrated into Syria and is rapidly spreading among the temporarily displaced, writes The New York Times. There is no doubt that the disease is observed not only in the northwest, but also in other parts of the country.

In a global pandemic, reports of an “unknown infection” spreading in numerous refugee camps can only mean one thing. The foci of infection were Er-Rukban, which is located in the US occupation zone and is almost completely devoid of contact with the outside world, and Al-Khol, which turned into a concentration camp for 70,000 wives and children of Islamic State militants a year ago. The same camp contains about two thousand captured militants.

Al-Khol, where ISIS fanatical supporters continue to cultivate IS ideology, has been a threat to all of eastern Syria for a year now. After the start of the Turkish operation “Source of Peace”, the Kurdish security in the camp was reduced – 70 thousand ISIS supporters are guarded by only about 300 militants of the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF).

Following the guard, according to the Washington Institute for Middle Eastern Policy, the humanitarian missions of Doctors Without Borders and the International Rescue Committee began to leave the camp in mid-October.

The humanitarian situation in Al-Khol has remained catastrophic since March 2019. There is no doubt that coronavirus will spread lightning fast in a refugee camp, because even the simplest preventive recommendations cannot be followed there.

“Do you tell us to wash our hands more often?” Yes, we can’t wash our children for weeks! ” – the Syrian refugee told The New York Times indignantly.

ISIS is somewhere nearby

Most of Al-Khol’s population is young women and their children, for whom COVID-19 is not fatal. However, they can remain carriers of the disease and smash it everywhere when they get out of the camp. At the moment, most of the nearly 70 thousand inhabitants of Al-Khol are limited in their mobility – however, this may change soon.

In an outbreak of coronavirus infection, the first to flee from the camp are those who can do this – those who are most at risk of the disease – adult men from the Kurdish guard. After the appearance of the captured ISIS wives in Al-Khol, the life of the camp guards was regularly endangered, several of them were killed. If they are “sick on guard,” they will soon be killed by the “ISIS wives.”

The tension in the camp is constantly growing: sources on social networks report that on March 20, during a clash, Kurdish guards shot the angry inhabitants of the camp, among whom there are wounded and dead.

The danger threatens the protection of both inside and outside Al-Khol: after the call of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi “to break the doors of prisons” (that is, to release “ISIS wives”) made by “sleeping ISIS” sounded in October 2019 “Terrorists regularly tested SDF for durability.

In March, ISIS attacks in northern Syria became more frequent, forcing the US to come to the rescue of Kurdish militants using drones.

Meanwhile, the ISIS wives are trying again and again to flee the camp. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported an unsuccessful attempt by five ISIS wives of Chechen ethnicity and eight children to escape from the camp in March.

When the virus forces the camp’s guards to flee, ISIS supporters will break free in northern Syria and be able to get help from the “sleeping cells” of the terrorists, reviving the “caliphate”.

Meanwhile, the SDF continues to release dozens of captured ISIS militants in dozens. Some of them may join the ranks of pro-American forces, while others may establish contact with their old accomplices.

Syria in quarantine

Syria has not yet officially reported a single case of COVID-19 disease – however, this is not due to the successful isolation of the country from the global pandemic, but because a significant part is not controlled by the central government.

There are reports of infection of Turkish troops in the occupied territories in northern Syria, where quarantine was introduced and checkpoints were closed. The Turks became infected from the militants of the Syrian National Army, and where they caught the disease is unknown. They could be in contact with someone infected in Turkey.

Because of the coronavirus, Damascus closed border crossings with Jordan and Iraq, as well as cafes and restaurants. In the near future, all markets, cultural and social events, state institutions will also be closed throughout Syria. Restrictions on population displacement are also introduced. Conscription to the Syrian Arab army was postponed until April 22 because of the coronavirus.

Similar actions are being taken in the territory not controlled by Damascus: the administration in northeastern Syria also announced quarantine from March 23, and the suspension of all movements between settlements from March 21. It is estimated that restrictive measures can last up to three months.

Quarantine time can give ISIS “sleeping cells” a decisive advantage in northern and eastern Syria – a few Kurdish guards will not want to defend Al-Khol, if they decide to stay on guard of the camp, which has become a focus of the epidemic. A mass of nearly 70 thousand refugees will flood into northern Syria, many of which are infected with coronavirus.

West will leave Syria to its mercy, but not Russia

The forecast is disappointing, and not only for Syria, but for most of the countries covered by wars, warns member of the Federation Council Franz Klintsevich – now their residents will have to confront not only terrorists, but also a catastrophic pandemic. The Islamic State will immediately take advantage of quarantine in areas of Syria not controlled by Damascus.

“Of course, terrorists will not reckon with quarantine. They will act to drive the situation into a dead end and intimidate people who will be in double danger,” Klintsevich said in an interview with the Federal News Agency. “But there is a second side to the coin: patients will also appear in their ranks and problems will begin.”

The senator warned that the epidemic in Syria will become a serious problem – Damascus cannot cope on its own.

“Our military, of course, will fulfill its main task in Syria – to provide assistance and support. Actually, our military is the main resource that Syria has today. I dare to assure you that everything is not so simple there either – and we have risks, and we have problems, and we need to think about our people,” the senator recalled.

“But Russia has always been a country that helps others – we are supporting Italy now, where there are very serious problems, a dialogue is ongoing with other countries, because Russia today has specialists, experience and knowledge on working with epidemics.”

The West, Klintsevich is sure, will not render Damascus any real help and will not lift sanctions in order to facilitate the fight against the epidemic and terrorism.

“The West today is at a loss, they are engaged in self-isolation, so they will not do anything for Syria. A stream of refugees comes from there, so the West will tightly close its borders to block both refugees and the spread of the disease. The West will leave Syria to its mercy” the senator is sure. “Nobody will do anything except Russia.”


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Editorial team / Riafan / Valentin Melikov

The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.