TSI Syria Updates: September 9, 2016

Takeaway

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held a marathon 12 hour meeting on Syria in Geneva today. Secretary Kerry unexpectedly flew to Geneva Thursday night, just hours after the State Department had announcement that Kerry did not plan to attend such a meeting.

At the time of this post, Secretary Kerry was still interred in post-meeting consultations with Washington, delaying a joint press conference with FM Lavrov for more than five hours. The wait has intensified speculation as to whether the two were able to reach a consensus on a potential ceasefire in Syria. “We’re thinking of maybe calling it a day,” Lavrov told the Geneva press corps, although there has been no word yet from Secretary Kerry.

Military

  • 8 September 2016: Abu Omar Saraqeb, top military commander and founding member of Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra), was killed in an airstrike on Thursday outside Aleppo. The nationality of the jets is unknown. Initial reports suggested it was a US strike, but the Pentagon denied that claim. “We don’t have any reason to be in Aleppo, it’s not a place where ISIS is.” The attack was the first time a key figure was targeted since the group changed its name in July. (Reuters, AFP, BBC, Daily Star)
  • 8 September 2016: Only a day after residents started returning to their homes in the recently liberated town of Jarablus in Aleppo governorate, the Islamic State (ISIS) carried out an attack against the town. At least five people were killed and twelve wounded. (Daily Star, Reuters)
  • 9 September 2016: In Aleppo city, fighting between pro-government forces and armed opposition groups (AOGs) continued on Friday. The Syrian Civil Defense (the White Helmets) claimed Syrian government helicopters dropped barrel bombs on the Salah Al-Din neighborhood of Aleppo. (Washington Post, BBC, Step News Agency-AR)

Political

  • 9 September 2016: US Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Geneva Thursday night to speak with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday, after the State Department quickly backtracked on an earlier announcement that Kerry would not be heading to Geneva. State Department officials denied this visit would finalize any cooperation deal between the US and Russia, but stated that the US still believed discussions could produce one. Their caveat to ongoing discussions was that “if we get to a point where we think they’re just playing for time, that’s probably when you’ll see us go in a different direction.” (State Department, Reuters)
  • 9 September 2016: Staffan de Mistura, UN Special Envoy for Syria, said the meetings between Kerry and Lavrov are vital and could greatly affect the humanitarian condition in Syria. De Mistura added that a Cessation of Hostilities would help humanitarian aid and positively impact the political process for peace in Syria. Stephen O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, stated that, once again, the UN and its partners have trucks ready to deliver aid with short-term notice. As of today, the UN has not delivered any aid for the month of September. De Mistura warned that fuel, food, and water supplies were quickly running out in Aleppo. Both de Mistura and O’Brien expressed deep concern for the violent situation in Aleppo. (UN webtv, Reuters)
  • 9 September 2016: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the Syria conflict over the phone on Thursday. The presidents agreed to push for a Cessation of Hostilities in Aleppo. They also agreed on the need to combat ISIS and other terror groups along the Turkey-Syria border. The men talked about the economic relationship between their nations, including nuclear and gas pipeline projects. (Hurriyet Daily News, Al-Masdar, Al-Jazeeara-AR)
  • 9 September 2016: Stephane Dujarric, Spokesperson for UN Secretary-General, said the UN will study the letter signed by 73 humanitarian NGO’s concerned about the Syrian government’s influence over the UN’s aid deliveries. Dujarric said the UN welcomes public scrutiny of their work. He also defended the UN’s work in a complex situation in Syria, claiming the organization was doing the best it could to provide aid to all who needed it. (Reuters, UN, Al-Jazeera-AR)
  • 9 September 2016: On Friday, Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary-General, said NATO welcomes Turkey’s fight against ISIS in Syria. Stoltenberg avoided a question about support for a no-fly zone in  Syria. (Reuters, NATO)

Humanitarian

  • 9 September 2016: SARC evacuated 25 medical cases from Madaya, Fu’ah, and Kafarya on Thursday. Stephen O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, confirmed the medical evacuations in a press briefing on Friday. (UN webtv, @SYRedCrescent)

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 7 September 2016: “This Is How Turkey’s Incursion Into Syria Could Get Bogged Down” by Aaron Stein (War On the Rocks)
  • 8 September 2016: “What is Aleppo? This is Aleppo” by Alan Taylor (The Atlantic)
  • 8 September 2016: “Background Briefing: Previewing Secretary Kerry’s Visit to Geneva” (State Department)
  • 9 September 2016: “The UN Enters Syria’s Moral Labyrinth” by Aron Lund (Carnegie)