TSI Syria Updates: October 28, 2016

Takeaway

Armed opposition groups (AOGs) launched a major offensive early this morning to break the siege of eastern Aleppo. Most of the initial fighting occurred in government-controlled neighborhoods in southwestern Aleppo, with AOGs making some initial territorial gains. AOGs area also reportedly coordinating attacks against government-controlled airbases in Latakia and Aleppo provinces in an attempt to stifle counterattacks. Moderate opposition and jihadist groups are working together in this offensive, with more expected to join the general call to arms.

Military

  • 17 OCT: An unconfirmed report from an anonymous US official said a Russian fighter jet unintentionally flew close to a US-led coalition aircraft in Syria earlier this month. (Reuters)
  • 28 OCT: Shelling by armed opposition groups against government-controlled areas of western Aleppo city reportedly struck a school in the Shahaba neighborhood, killing three children and wounding more than a dozen. Six people total were killed in the attacks. (Reuters)
  • 28 OCT: Armed opposition groups (AOGs) launched an offensive early this morning to break the siege of eastern Aleppo city in a joint Aleppo offensive. AOGs gained ground in the government-controlled neighborhoods of Dahiyet al-Assad, the 3000 apartments and Assad military academy in southwestern Aleppo city. AOGs also targeted the 1070 apartments. AOGs coordinated attacks against the al-Nayrab military airport to the east of Aleppo city and the Hmeimim airbase near Latakia city; the coordinated attacks across Latakia and Aleppo provinces are presumably meant to suppress military responses from Russia and the Syrian government. Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra), Jaysh al-Fateh, and Ajnad al-Sham are among the groups participating in the offensive. More are expected to join the general call to arms in what could be a decisive battle. (BBC, Reuters, Shaam Network-AR, ABC) (TSI Analyst note: Opposition forces are using the hashtag #معركة_حلب_الكبرى to post about the offensive on Twitter)
  • 28 OCT: Russia dispatched the naval destroyer Smetlivy today. The ship will stop first in the Greek port Piraeus for a Russian-Greek year of culture event before heading to Syria. (Reuters) (TSI Analyst Note: this is in addition to the 8-ship fleet already headed to the coast of Syria, which entered the Mediterranean two days ago.)

Political

  • 27 OCT: Yesterday Virginia Gamba, Head of the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), briefed the UN Security Council on the fourth JIM report, which assessed three pending cases from a previous report: Kafr Zita (18 April 2014), Qmenas (16 March 2015), and Binnish (24 March 2015). The status of the cases of Kafr Zita (18 April 2014) and Binnish (24 March 2015) are unchanged, but the case of Qmenas (16 March 2015) had enough information to indicate that the Syrian Arab Armed Forces used chlorine as a weapon. Helicopters from the 63rd brigade based at Hama and Hmeimim airbases conducted the attack against Qmenas (16 March 2015) in addition to previously investigated attacks in Talmenes (21 April 2014), and Sarmin (16 March 2016). (UNSC, US State Department)
  • 28 OCT: Today the UN Secretary-General condemned yesterday’s reported attack on a school in western Aleppo. Yesterday he condemned the attack on a school in Haas village. He said if either of the attacks were deliberate, the attacks “may amount to war crimes.” He additionally called for an investigation of the attack against the school complex in Haas. (UNOG, UNOG)
  • 28 OCT: Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Russia to discuss solutions to the Syria conflict. (RadioFreeEurope, BBC)
  • 28 OCT: Rolando Gomez for the Human Rights Council announced the next batch of countries to have their human rights records reviewed by the HRC Universal Periodic Review working group (UPR). The UPR will review the Syrian Arab Republic’s record on Monday afternoon. Syria was last reviewed four years ago. He said the conflict in Syria will feature prominently in its review. Gomez also said the Human Rights Council elections were this morning. (UNOG, WebTV)
  • 28 OCT: Russia was not re-elected to the UN Human Rights Council today. Hungary and Croatia will represent eastern Europe instead. Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and the US were elected to the council as well. (AFP, US State Department)
  • 28 OCT: The EU’s diplomatic chief, Federica Mogherini will travel to Iran on Saturday and Saudi Arabia on Monday to discuss Syria in an effort to engage these key stakeholders in new diplomatic efforts. (AFP)
  • 28 OCT: Today Lt. Gen. Sergey Rudskoy, General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, reportedly asked President Vladimir Putin for permission to resume airstrikes in eastern Aleppo today because “militants have resumed military activities against government forces.” Putin denied the request. Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov said  Putin believes refraining from airstrikes will “allow the withdrawal of the wounded and the militants who wish to leave the city. And…allow our American partners to fulfill the obligations to separate the so-called ‘moderate’ opposition and the terrorists.” Peskov relayed Putin’s caveat that Russia “reserves the right to use all means at its disposal to provide an appropriate level of support to the Syrian armed forces.” (RT)

Humanitarian

  • None

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 27 OCT: “For Syrian women under siege, a special struggle: periods” (AFP)
  • 27 OCT: Press Release: “Security Council Considers Fourth Report by Joint Investigative Mechanism” (UN)
  • 27: “SC President, Vitaly Churkin (Russian Federation) on Middle East (including Syria) – Security Council Media Stakeout (27 October 2016)” (WebTV)
  • 27 OCT: “Russia Stalls Western Push to Sanction Syria for Chemical Weapons Attacks” by Colum Lynch (Foreign Policy)
  • 27 OCT: “Fourth report of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism (S/2016/888)” (UN)
  • 28 OCT: “UN hires Assad’s friends and relatives for Syria relief operation” by Emma Beals and Nick Hopkins (The Guardian)
  • 28 OCT: Press Statement: “Fourth Report of the Joint Investigative Mechanism” (US State Department)
  • 28 OCT: “United States Election to the Human Rights Council” Press Statement by John Kerry US Secretary of State (US State Department)