TSI Syria Updates: October 20, 2016

Takeaway

Russia’s unilateral “humanitarian pause” in the bombing of eastern Aleppo reportedly went into effect today. The pause will consist of at least three days in which there are 11-hour windows of calm. They are also claiming to have opened up eight corridors through which civilians and fighters can safely exit eastern Aleppo. Though the corridors have supposedly been open for a day there have not yet been any reports of exits, increasing the likelihood that the “open humanitarian corridors” are just a media ploy. The UN has welcomed the move but said that it is insufficient for aid to enter and medical evacuations to take place, and de Mistura stressed that this is not the start of the UN’s “de Mistura” plan, which includes a comprehensive set of steps including the removal of JFS forces, the cessation of violence, and the respect of local civilian authority in Aleppo by the Assad government.

Military

  • 19 OCT: On Wednesday evening, Turkish jets carried out over 20 strikes against US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the villages of al-Hasiya, Um al-Qura, and Um Hosh in north of Aleppo city. The Turkish military confirmed bombing areas recently taken by the Kurdish forces. The Turkish state media claimed up to 200 Kurdish fighters were killed in these air strikes. The Turkish military also confirmed retaliatory fire against shells reportedly fired from the Kurdish-controlled Afrin area. An unnamed US defense official has reportedly said that the targeted Kurdish forces are not part of those forces trained by the US. (Reuters, Qasioun, Shaam News – AR, Anadolu Agency, AP)
  • 20 OCT: Russia’s unilateral humanitarian pause in Aleppo city began today. Russia told the UN it will maintain halted air strikes for 11 hours for three days starting on Thursday and open eight humanitarian corridors, with two designated for evacuating fighters. The Syrian military said it will honor Russia’s unilateral ceasefire so that civilians can leave and opposition fighters can withdraw. Some reports on the ground indicate the ceasefire is not holding in eastern Aleppo. Civilians attempted to leave the neighborhood of Bustan al Qasr, but snipers shot and injured a woman and child and began heavy artillery fire into the neighborhood. While pro-regime media outlets have said that opposition forces are shooting at civilians and holding them hostage, opposition media denies these claims, saying that it is actually pro-government forces shooting at anyone approaching the “corridors.” (Reuters, Russian MoD, AFP, AFP, Step Agency – AR, Aleppo24) (Analyst note: Last time Russia claimed to open up corridors for civilians to leave Aleppo it turned out to be untrue, and video aired by Russian media claiming to be evacuees was falsified using video filmed in other location and manipulated photos. Accordingly there is concern that these “corridors” will also turn out to be little more than media stunts, and that they will be followed by a new massive offensive against eastern Aleppo.)
  • 20 OCT: Bombing in Maraat Numan, Idlib hits Syrian Civil Defense center and one death is reported from the civil defense group along with five injured volunteers. (@snhr, @SyriaCivlDef, @RaedSaleh3)  
  • 20 OCT: The 2,000-3,000 Moadamiyeh evacuees arrived in Qalat al-Madiq, Idlib early this morning. With no UN support, few preparations were made for their arrival and many of the newly displaced people were left without lodging or support. See collected Siege Watch Tweets for more (@SyriaInstitute)

Political

  • 19 OCT: On Wednesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry commented on the meeting of US and Russian officials in Geneva yesterday. He said Russian and Syrian indiscriminate bombing of civilians radicalizes more people. Kerry also “urge[d] Russia to sit at this table in Geneva and be serious about finding a simple way, which we are offering, to make sure that those who are genuinely terrorists are in fact separated out, isolated, and that people who are willing to live by the ceasefire are respected for their willingness to live by the ceasefire.” (State  Department)
  • 20 OCT: Today Staffan de Mistura, UN Special Envoy for Syria, and his Special Advisor, Jan Egeland addressed Russia’s humanitarian pause in eastern Aleppo. De Mistura said “The UN considers the pause as a direct response to an urgent request for medical evacuation and relief for those who have been wounded or are heavily sick; victims inside eastern Aleppo….But, let me be clear, this is not the beginning of the so-called Special Envoy’s plan to produce a permanent cessation of hostilities in Aleppo.” De Mistura released the Special Envoy’s plan which requires both sides to stop fighting, the withdrawal of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS, formerly al-Nusra) fighters, public assurances from Syrian government to allow local governance to remain and permit non-JFS fighters to remain (with their weapons), and finally humanitarian access. Jan Egeland said the UN believes it has the “green light” from all parties to conduct medical evacuations starting tomorrow. The evacuees (and their families) will have the choice of going to western Aleppo or Idlib. Egeland said they hope for four days for evacuations starting tomorrow. It is still unclear if the UN will have four days starting tomorrow, but Russia is considering the extra day. (UN webtv)
  • 20 OCT: Russia’s escalating military intervention in Syria is a major topic of discussion at the EU Summit, being held today and tomorrow in Brussels. EU leaders thus far have made statements highly critical of Russia’s actions, with British Prime Minister Theresa May calling for more pressure on Russia “to stop its appalling atrocities, its sickening atrocities, in Syria.” While there is talk of sanctioning Russia over its bombing in Syria – with rumors that Germany and France are solidifying a sanctions proposal after a fruitless meeting with Putin on Wednesday, it is not clear that there is Council consensus on the idea. EU Council President Donald Tusk said that “the EU should keep all options open, including sanctions, if the crimes continue.”(EEAS – Mogherini statement, AP, DW)
  • 20 OCT: The British navy has been dispatched to monitor a flotilla of Russian warships as they pass off the coast of the UK, reportedly en route to Syria to support an intensified assault on opposition-controlled eastern Aleppo. Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, is one of eight ships making up the group. While it will bolster Russia’s sustained attack on Syrian opposition forces, the newly deployed flotilla also includes significant anti-air and anti-ship attack capabilities, posing a threat to any potential western interventions. (AFP, Navy Recognition)

Humanitarian

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 19 OCT: “Remarks With Republic of Korea Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se at a Press Availability” John Kerry, US Secretary of State (State Department)
  • 20 OCT: “Syria: UN must act to end onslaught aimed at purging civilians from eastern Aleppo” (Amnesty International)
  • 20 OCT: “OSE Syria – Media Stakeout: Humanitarian Access Task Force Update” (UN webtv; UN Transcript)
  • 20 OCT: “Staffan de Mistura (Special Envoy) on the situation in Syria – General Assembly, informal meeting, 71st session” (UN WebTV)
  • 20 OCT: “We Have Tried Every Kind of Death Possible” by Raed Saleh, head of the Syrian Civil Defense (NY Times)
  • 20 OCT: “Russia preparing to spy on Syria internet, activists warn” by Albin Szakola (NOW, SalamaTech FB-AR)
    20 OCT: “Pause in Aleppo is Not ‘Humanitarian’ But a Means of Military Escalation” by Sharif Nashashibi (Syria Deeply)