TSI Syria Updates: September 20, 2016

Takeaway

The political fallout from yesterday’s unprecedented attack on a joint UN/Red Crescent aid convoy continued today, as US Secretary of State John Kerry struggled to salvage sensitive ceasefire negotiations with Russia. According to eyewitness accounts and official statements, the aid convoy come under attack by repeated airstrikes by Syrian and/or Russian jets while offloading humanitarian supplies in the town of  Urem Al-Kubra (Big Orem) in the western countryside of Aleppo. 15 people including the director of the local Syrian Arab Red Crescent were killed in the attacks and 25 injured. The Russian Defence Ministry denied that any air strikes occurred, stating that the damage was caused by cargo catching fire. According to UN officials, the route of the trucks had been shared with all parties prior to its departure and all necessary approvals had been received. In a statement, UN OCHA also said that it had become aware of the attacks while they were happening but their communications to stop the attacks were ignored. Accordingly, the UN said it was suspending all aid deliveries in Syria until it conducts a security review.

Military

  • 20 September 2016: Two Turkish soldiers died in an explosion along the Syrian border, during the construction of a wall. (Reuters)
  • 20 September 2016: Syrian and Russian planes conducted heavy airstrikes against Aleppo province Monday night, hitting Aleppo city particularly hard. (NOW, SOHR,
  • 20 September 2016: Homs province was also hit with heavy airstrikes Monday night. Talbiseh received aid for over 84,000 people yesterday and Sunday, and was targeted in the airstrikes. (SOHR, Step News-AR, @ShaamNewsEn, @snhr)

Political

  • 20 September 2016: The Turkish government submitted a motion to parliament to extend the deployment of Turkish troops in Iraq and Syria. The motion allows operations against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Syria and Iraq, and permits foreign forces to deploy from Turkish military bases. (Hurriyet Daily News)
  • 20 September 2016: The US State Department designated the group Jund al-Aqsa (JAA) as a terrorist group. JAA formed as a subgroup of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly al-Nusra Front). It still maintains ties with Fatah al-Sham, but operates independently in the provinces of Idlib and Hama. (US State Dept)
  • 20 September 2016: The international community expressed outrage today over Monday’s deadly double-tap strikes against an aid convoy near Orem al-Kubra (Big Orem) yesterday. Stephen O’Brien, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said he is “disgusted and horrified,” calling for an investigation, and indicating that the attacks amount to war crimes if they were deliberate. Staffan de Mistura, UN Syria envoy, expressed “enormous” outrage. A UN OCHA statement said that the route of the trucks had been shared with all parties prior to its departure and all necessary approvals had been received. It also said that it had become aware of the attacks while they were happening but their communications to stop the attacks were ignored. The ICRC, SARC, and IFRC released a joint statement expressing their outrage and saying that the attack deprived thousands of aid. State Department spokesperson John Kirby said the Syrian and Russian governments knew the convoy’s location and called the attack an “egregious violation of the Cessation of Hostilities,” that would cause the US to reconsider future cooperation with Russia. Russia and the Syrian government denied responsibility. Russia said only armed opposition groups (AOGs) knew the location of the trucks, but O’Brien said the location had been given to all parties on the ground and the trucks had been clearly marked. The Russian Defence Ministry denied there were airstrikes at all, suggesting instead that there was a cargo fire and that the Nobel Peace Prize-nominated Syria Civil Defense (White Helmets) was involved. The Syria Civil Defense released a statement describing the second bombing of the double-tap strike, which their staff witnessed. (The Telegraph, Reuters, US State Dept, ICRC, Reuters, Reuters, Reuters, SCD)
  • 20 September 2016: UN OCHA edited its original statement on the destruction of the aid convoy, changing the words “air strikes” to “attacks. Spokesman Jens Laerke said the inclusion of “air strikes” was likely a drafting error and they did not have sufficient evidence to make that claim. (Reuters)
  • 20 September 2016: “The ceasefire is not dead,” US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters following a short ISSG meeting on the sidelines of the annual UN General Assembly summit in New York. While Kerry expressed this hope that the ceasefire deal can be resumed, other global leaders were more skeptical. Marine General Joseph Dunford,  chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said there was general consensus that “as difficult as this may be, that probably dealing with the Russians right now is one of the paths that might mitigate the risk of civilian casualties and humanitarian disaster in Aleppo.” (Reuters, Reuters, DoD)
  • 20 September 2016: The removal of people from besieged Al-Waer neighborhood in Homs under a forced evacuated agreement was postponed for a second time as Talal Barazi, Homs governor, said the evacuation was postponed because of concerns about safe passage. Citizens reportedly refuse to participate in the evacuation without the UN present to guarantee their safety as most no longer trust Syrian government forces. (Reuters, Step News-AR)
  • 20 September 2016: President Barack Obama delivered a speech at the UN General Assembly today. He defended his foreign policy. Obama also said there is no ultimate military victory in Syria citing diplomacy as a key tool for peace. (@AFP, NPR)
  • 20 September 2016: White House asked House of Representative leaders to shelve the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act. The act adds more sanctions to the Syrian government and its allies, pushes investigations of war crimes in Syria, and encourages a negotiated solution to the conflict. The bill would impose sanctions on any entity that “knowingly provides significant financial, material or technological support to, including engaging in or facilitating a significant transaction or transactions with, or provides significant financial services.” This language is also enough to sanction international supporters Iran and Russia, which would derail diplomacy talks the US has continued with Russia. The act was supposed to be brought up and passed this week. (Washington Post, HR 5732)

Humanitarian

  • 20 September 2016: Jens Laerke, OCHA spokesperson, announced the UN is temporarily suspending all aid deliveries in Syria. ICRC is also suspending four deliveries planned for today. (The Telegraph)

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 19 September 2016: “Strike on Humanitarian Aid Convoy in Syria” John Kirby, Assistant Secretary and Department spokesperson (US State Dept)
  • 19 September 2016: “Background Briefing on  Syria” Senior Administration Officials (US State Dept)
  • 20 September 2016: “Statement on  Convoy to Urum al-Kubra, Syria” by Stephen O’Brien, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator (UNOG)
  • 20 September 2016: “Syria: Attack on humanitarian convoy is an attack on humanity” news release by SARC, ICRC, and IFRC (ICRC)
  • 20 September 2016: “Meeting of the International Syria Support Group” Office of the Spokesperson Readout (US State Dept)
  • 20 September 2016: “Why did Jabhat Fatah al-Sham fail to merge with Syrian rebels” by Haid Haid (NOW)
  • 20 September 2016: “Statement on the Bombing of the Humanitarian Aid Convoy” Syria Civil Defense (The White Helmets) (SCD)
  • 20 September 2016: “Statement attributable to Massimo Diana, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordination a.i. for Syria, and Kevin Kennedy, Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis”  (OCHA)