Middleman for Iran Distributing Aid in Eastern Syria

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The following is an English-language version of Levant Network research prepared for Akhbar Alaan.

A businessman close to Iran has been distributing aid in Deir Ezzor as Syria confronts the COVID-19 epidemic, the latest example of Tehran’s efforts to gain influence in eastern Syria, according to an activist group group.

On Monday, Twasol News Agency, an outlet supportive of the Syrian regime, reported that Hussein Shaweesh distributed 700 bundles of food, blankets and medicine in Deir Ezzor. 

The outlet added that Shaweesh had previously provided financial assistance to residents who had to stop working due to the COVID-19 lockdown and have been unable to pay their rent. 

Eye of the Euphrates, a pro-opposition group following developments in eastern Syria, said that Shaweesh’s financial assistance was provided on behalf of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

Shaweesh owns an import and export company that serves as an exclusive agent for Iranian goods entering Syria, the group said, adding that Iran was backing his candidacy for the parliament in the upcoming elections scheduled for May.

According to Eye of the Euphrates, Shaweesh is the brother-in-law of Syria’ ambassador to Iran Adnan Mahmud and Mohammad Sleiman, a top aide of President Bashar al-Assad who was assassinated in 2008.

A death notice for Shaweesh’s mother, published in Al-Watan newspaper, confirms his relations to the two influential figures.

Sleiman, who was reportedly shot dead outside Tartous in August 2008, served as a national security advisor for Assad and was reportedly close to Hezbollah and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. 

Sleiman married Shaweesh’s sister Reem in 1994, helping boost the fortunes of her family as he rose through the ranks of the army, according to Eye of the Euphrates.

An October 2019 report by the Middle East Directions Programme said that Reem Suleiman “has resumed the close ties her husband previously enjoyed with Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah.”

The report added that in 2013 Shaweesh’s sister “established a charity named Truthful Promise, inspired by a famous phrase coined by Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah.”

Middle East Directions Programme’s report, written by journalist Ziad Awad, said that Iran is trying to “get closer to the local population” in Deir Ezzor and “gain legitimacy with it through its civil, charitable and humanitarian activities.”

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