TSI Syria Updates: September 22, 2016

Takeaway

In a show of defiance, the Syrian army and allied forces timed the start of a major offensive against eastern Aleppo to coincide with a critical meeting of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) in New York. The contentious meeting was seen by many as a last chance for the US and Russia to get the failed Syria ceasefire agreement back on track. After the meeting Secretary Kerry expressed his frustration in a press statement, but said that he would meet again tomorrow with the Russians.

Military

  • 22  SEP: The evacuation of 350 residents from the besieged Al-Waer neighborhood of Homs took place today. Evacuees included approximately 100 fighters and 50 of their families. The UN was not involved in the process as it cannot guarantee the safe passage of residents. There is still a possibility that the UN may be involved in future evacuations as more residents are removed from the neighborhood in the coming days. The opposition fighters and their families will reportedly be taken to the opposition-controlled Homs countryside. (AP, Reuters, SANA)
  • 22 SEP: On Wednesday night, warplanes attacked several neighborhoods in Aleppo city with the heaviest airstrike in months hitting Sukkari, Ammeriah, Sa’ad Al-Ansari, Fardos,  Bustan Al-Qaser, Saliheen, Bab Al-nairab, al-Shaar and more. Over 100 air raids struck until early morning hours. Reports by doctors, rescue workers and armed opposition fighters indicate that barrel bombs, cluster bombs,and incendiary bombs were used. (Reuters, Asharq al-Awsat)
  • 22 SEP: A rocket launched from territory in northern Syria controlled by the Islamic State (ISIS) wounded six Syrian nationals in the Turkish town of Kilis on Thursday. In response, Turkey struck ISIS locations south of al-Bab in Syria, reportedly killing 40 ISIS fighters. (Reuters, Hurriyet)
  • 22 SEP: The Free Idlib Army in northern Syria announced its formation today. Three armed opposition groups (AOGs) combined to create a united force: the Mountain Hawks Brigade ( Liwa’ Suqour al-Jabal‎), the 13th Division (Al-Farqa 13), and the Northern Division (Al-Farqa Al-Shamali). Their intent is to fight the Syrian government and the Islamic State (ISIS), maintain Syria’s territory, and unite armed opposition groups (AOGs). The claimed to deploy six thousand fighters to the provinces of Aleppo, Idlib, Hama, and Latakia. (Step News Agency-AR, Free Idlib Army Twitter, Formation Video)
  • 22 SEP: A suicide bombing in the town of Inkhel in Daraa governorate killed approximately 7 people, including Yacoub al-Ammar, the Minister of Local Administration in the opposition’s Syrian Interim Government. Although the attack has not been claimed, a local ISIS affiliated is suspected. The suicide attacker was reportedly a child or teenager.  (Syria Direct, all4syria)
  • 22 SEP: The Syrian military announced an offensive in eastern Aleppo late today. The announcement came during the UN International Syria Support Group (ISSG) meeting, indicating a dismissal of US Secretary John Kerry’s plea to ground planes in contested areas of the country. The Syrian military warned citizens to avoid areas with armed opposition groups (AOGs). (SANA, Reuters)

Political

  • 22 SEP: The AP has published most of the text of the US-Russia Syria Ceasefire deal, which had previously been kept private. The deal was supposed to come into force ten days ago on 12 September, but none of its clauses have yet been carried out with the possible exception of US-Russia initial information sharing on Jabhat al-Nusra territory. (AP)
  • 22 SEP: In an interview with the Associated Press, President Bashar al-Assad denied that eastern Aleppo was under siege, saying “if there’s really a siege around the city of Aleppo, people would have been dead by now.” He acknowledged the Syrian government made some mistakes, but claimed the war would end if the US, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar stopped backing armed opposition groups (AOGs). Assad also said the UN decided an airstrike against the aid convoy in Urem al-Kubra never occurred. A top deputy to UN envoy Staffan de Mistura denied Assad’s claim. (AP, Washington Times, video-Syrian Presidency, AP)
  • 22 SEP: Deputy to UN Special Envoy for Syria Mr. Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy and Jan Egeland, Special Advisor to UN Special Envoy, addressed the media this morning. Ramzy said the attack against aid workers in “Urem al-Kubra and Khan Touman are particularly despicable acts.” Egeland added it is worst attack ever sustained on a cross-line, cross-border convoy. Ramzy said the US and Russia, co-chairs of the ISSG, both indicated to their determination to make a ceasefire agreement work. (UNOG, UN webtv)
  • 22 SEP: Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Turkey would be upset if the US armed Syrian Kurdish forces. “One should not fight against a terrorist organization using another terrorist organization.” (Hurriyet Daily News)
  • 22 SEP: US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke after the critical meeting of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) in New York. He expressed frustration with the process, saying “Russia and the regime must do their part, or this will have no chance… The simple reality is that we can’t resolve a crisis if one side is unwilling to do what is necessary to avoid escalation.” He ended by saying he  will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov tomorrow to discuss ideas on moving forward: “If the Russians come back to us with constructive proposals, we will listen.” (State Department)

Humanitarian

  • 22 SEP: A 23-truck UN humanitarian aid convoy entered Moadamiya today. UN humanitarian adviser Egeland told reporters that they hope to soon deliver aid to the towns of the “Four Towns Agreement” (Fu-ah, Kafarya, Madaya, and Zabadani), particularly to alleviate the meningitis epidemic in Madaya. Egeland also said there were 40 UN aid trucks sitting at the Turkish border with food expiring on Monday: “Please President Assad, do your bit to enable us to get to Eastern Aleppo.” (UN webtv, Reuters, YouTube, Local Council FB)

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 21 SEP: “Obama’s Syria Strategy Is the Definition of Insanity” by Charles Lister (Foreign Policy)
  • 21 SEP: “ERC O’Brien’s Opening Remarks at London Conference Follow-up Session” (UNOCHA)
  • 22 SEP: “AP interview with Syrian President Bashar Assad” (Transcript-AP, Video)
  • 22 SEP: “How video games are influencing war propaganda in Syria” by Murtaza Hussain (The Intercept)
  • 22 SEP: “After suspension of USAID project, 250,000 in north Homs without water subsidies” by Mahran Mohammad, Alaa Nassar, and Justin Schuster (Syria Direct)
  • 22 SEP: “OSE Syria – Media Stakeout: Humanitarian Access Task Force Update (Geneva, 22 September 2016)” (UN WebTV, Transcript)
  • 22 SEP: “Election data offers clues about Russian troop strength in Syria” by Andrew Osborn (Reuters)
  • 22 SEP: “Text of Syria cease-fire deal” (AP)
  • 22 SEP: “Confirmed: Russian Bomb Remains Recovered from Syrian Red Crescent Aid Convoy Attack” by Eliot Higgins (bellingcat)
  • 22 SEP: “Statement to the Press After the ISSG Meeting” by John Kerry, US Secretary of State (State Department)