TSI Syria Updates: September 7, 2016

Takeaway

Potential military coordination between Russia and the US against ISIS and efforts to revitalize a failed ceasefire have failed to materialize due to “remaining gaps” between the two countries, even after weeks of intensive technical discussions. The Russian Foreign Ministry announced today that Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Secretary of State John Kerry would meet in Geneva from Sept 8-9 to continue discussions, but State Department spokesperson Mark Toner denied that claim, saying that the Secretary had no such travel plans.

Military

  • 7 September 2016: In Al-Sukari, two people have reportedly died from possible chlorine attacks while doctors continue to treat other victims. Rescue workers reported that Al-Sukari was again targeted on Wednesday, this time with “double-tap” barrel bomb strikes that killed an estimated 20 people. (NYTimes, Reuters)
  • 7 September 2016: Harakat al-Nujab, an Iraqi Shiite militia, claimed to send more than 1,000 fighters to reinforce the Syrian government forces fighting in Aleppo. Harakat al-Nujab’s spokesman said the fighters would hold newly-captured areas of southern Aleppo. The reinforcements are a sign of broadening sectarian war.  (Reuters)
  • 7 September 2016: The Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) marched south of Al-Rai, signaling a move to attack Al-Bab next. Speculations suggest a race for the city between the FSA, the Kurdish YPG, and potentially government-backed forces. (EA Worldview, Daily Sabah)

Political

  • 7 September 2016: After meeting with President Obama on the sidelines of the G20 summit, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey is discussing military coordination with the United States to take the Islamic State’s (ISIS) capital, Raqqa. Erdogan indicated Turkey-backed and US-backed forces would cooperate in Raqqa as they did in Al-Rai. US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said the US would try to maintain some physical distance between Turkish and Kurdish forces to ease tensions between them while combatting ISIS. (Hurriyet Daily News, Reuters, US Defense Department)
  • 7 September 2016: The High Negotiations Committee (HNC) presented a proposed transition plan today in London. The HNC’s proposed plan involves six months of negotiating a transitional administration with representatives from the Syrian government, opposition, and civil society. After six months, President Bashar al-Assad would leave office and the transitional governing body would take over for eighteen months in preparation for elections. Riyad Hijab, general coordinator for the HNC, said the HNC would reject any deal agreed upon by Russia and the US that was very different from their own. Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is supportive of the HNC’s plan. (Reuters, GOV.UK, Etilaf)
  • 7 September 2016: On Tuesday, Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said a deal between Russia and the US could be achieved “in the next 24 hours.” The Russian Foreign Ministry claimed US Secretary of State John Kerry would travel to Geneva to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov tomorrow and Friday, but on Wednesday, State Department spokesperson Mark Toner denied that claim. (Reuters, Etilaf, Reuters)
  • 7 September 2016: Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü released a statement to address the recent allegations of ongoing chemical attacks in Aleppo: “We are disturbed by the recent allegations of the use of toxic chemicals in Aleppo. Such allegations are taken very seriously by the OPCW. The use of chemical weapons by anyone, anywhere and under any circumstances is unacceptable.” (OPCW)
  • 7 September 2016: The Syrian government has reportedly started releasing 169 prisoners in exchange for the bodies of five Russian soldiers killed when their helicopter was downed by an armed opposition group (AOG) in Idlib last month. 134 prisoners have already been released from Hama and Adra prisons. Others in Homs prison have been told they will be freed as well. (Naharnet, All4Syria-AR)
  • 7 September 2016: Deputy Secretary General Naim Qassem of Hezbollah said there would be no Syria solution between the US and Russia until after the US elections in November. He expressed doubts about how Russia and the US might achieve a ceasefire or military coordination in Syria. Qassem denied an under-the-table deal between Turkey and Russia, citing their rocky relationship due to Turkey’s incursion. He also said Iran, Turkey, and Russia all share a “Kurdish issue” but did not elaborate what their stances on the issue might be. (NOW)

Humanitarian

  • 7 September 2016: Around 250 Jarablus civilians began returning to their homes on Wednesday. The civilians fled to Turkey to escape ISIS. A spokesman for the governor of the Turkish province Gaziantep said the returns would be gradual. (AFP, Reuters)

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 5 September 2016: “Inside the Syrian Dust Bowl” by Peter Schwartzstein (Foreign Policy)
  • 6 September 2016: “Press Release: 167th Chemical Weapons Use in Syria Reported in Besieged Eastern Aleppo City” (SAMS Foundation)
  • 7 September 2016: “Statement from the OPCW Director-General on Recent Allegations of Toxic Chemical Use in Aleppo” (OPCW)
  • 7 September 2016: “Water supplies in Syria deteriorating fast due to conflict, experts warn” by John Vidal (The Guardian)
  • 7 September 2016: “Will Darayya Normalize the Expulsion of Civilians?” by Aron Lund (Carnegie)
  • 7 September 2016: The High Negotiation Commission’s “Executive Framework for a Political Solution Based on the Geneva Communiqué” (Etilaf)