TSI Syria Updates: October 31, 2016

Takeaway

The opposition offensive launched on Friday to break the siege of eastern Aleppo continued today, although progress has slowed since initial rebel gains made during the first day of attacks. There are reports that unnamed “Western intelligence” are predicting a major escalation against eastern Aleppo by Russia as soon as the end of the week, when its warships are estimated to reach the Syrian coast.

Military

  • 31 OCT: The opposition offensive that was launched on Friday to break the siege of eastern Aleppo continued today, with rebel territorial gains having slowed and in some cases reversed due to pro-government counterattacks. Etilaf said that the offensive would now enter its second stage with an attack against the Assad Military Academy. UN officials and human rights organizations have all condemned the indiscriminate shelling of government-controlled civilian areas of western Aleppo, which have reportedly killed at least 41 so far. Unnamed “Western intelligence” sources reportedly predicted that Russia will soon launch a major assault on eastern Aleppo, with the goal of achieving a decisive victory for Assad before a new US administration takes office. (Time, Times UK, Etilaf)
  • 31 OCT: On Saturday the 29th, pro-government and Kurdish forces reportedly took control of several strategic locations in the northern Aleppo countryside including the infantry school, Tel Shaeir, and the Al-Maslimyet cement factory. Opposition news sources allege that ISIS withdrew  quietly and without a fight, allowing pro-government forces to take these locations over. The Syrian government claimed terrorist forces incurred “major losses in equipment” but did not give details of any fighting. (Syrian Observer)
  • 31 OCT: Six Turkey-backed Syrian fighters were killed today in clashes with the Islamic State (ISIS) over three towns in near al-Rai. (Hurriyet Daily News)
  • 31 OCT: Today the Syrian military claimed armed opposition groups (AOGs) attacked residential areas in western Aleppo over the weekend. The statement claimed AOGs fired chlorine gas in the 1070 Apartments and the Hamdaniyeh neighborhood of western Aleppo city on Sunday. AOGs denied using chlorine. UN Special Envoy for Syria said yesterday that he is “appalled and shocked by the high number of rockets indiscriminately launched by armed opposition groups on civilian suburbs in western Aleppo” and said indiscriminate weapons “could amount to war crimes.” The Syrian military reportedly dropped barrels of chlorine attack on the Rashidin neighborhood in Aleppo yesterday. (SANA, Reuters, UNOG, SMART News Agency-AR, Qasioun, @FSAPlatform)

Political

  • 30 OCT: On Sunday, a controversial two-day conference began in Damascus, organized by the British Syrian Society. The Society was founded by Bashar al-Assad’s father-in-law, and those who believe that the conference is an attempt to whitewash the crimes of the Assad regime have been highly critical of westerners in attendance, which include journalists, think tank analysts, and several British politicians. One person on the original speak list, Rania Khalek, was forced to step down from her role as editor of the Electronic Intifada following the intensive criticism of her participation. (Guardian, Ibrahim Hamidi Tweet -conference agenda, Rania Khalek Tweet)  
  • 31 OCT: Today the UN Security Council voted to extending the mandate of the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), which was otherwise set to expire today. A short term extension for two weeks was unanimously approved by the council with the adoption of Resolution 2314 (2016), but a longer mandate for the JIM investigations to continue remains the subject of debate. Russia has publicly rejected the conclusions of the JIM, which has found evidence that the Syrian government used chlorine in three attacks, and that ISIS has used mustard gas in one. Amendments proposed by Russia to alter the JIM’s mandate have been rejected by other council members, and Russia has reportedly threatened to veto a renewal of the JIM in its current state. (What’s in Blue, UKUN Tweet, UN)
  • 31 OCT: Today the Lebanese parliament elected Lebanon’s new president, Michel Aoun, who has ties with Hezbollah. At his swearing-in, Aoun mentioned Lebanon must be protected from the Syrian conflict and Sunni jihadists, warning that Syrian refugee camps cannot become hideouts for militants. The US State Department congratulated Lebanon and reminded the Lebanese government about UN Security council Resolutions 1559 and 1701, which emphasize giving the Lebanese government full control over Lebanon and the disbanding of all militias including Hezbollah. (Reuters, US State Department) (Analyst Note: Hezbollah is providing military support to the Syrian government in the conflict. How Aoun will respond to the nearby conflict remains to be seen.)

Humanitarian

  • 30 OCT: The UN, Syrian Red Crescent, and ICRC delivered aid for 11,000 people to Harasta. (@OCHA_Syria, @ICRC_sy)
  • 31 OCT: The UN and Syrian Red Crescent delivered food and education supplies for 30,000 people in Qudsayya. (@OCHA_Syria)

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 28 OCT: Statement: “Secretary-General Condemns Attack on West Aleppo, Reiterating Call for Referral of Situation in Syria to International Criminal Court” (UN)
  • 28 OCT: “Security Council Press Statement on Syria (SC/12569)” (UNSC)
  • 29 OCT: “Syria: Security Council strongly condemns attacks against schools and against the Russian Embassy” (UN)
  • 29 OCT: “Stark Choice for Syrians in Rebel Areas: ‘Doom’ or the Green Bus” by Anne Barnard and Swaida Saad (NY Times)
  • 30 OCT: “Security Council Press Statement on Syria” (UNOG)
  • 30 OCT: “Media statement from the Office of the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, Mr. Staffan de Mistura” (UNOG)
  • 31 OCT: OpEd: “How to Turn Things Around in Syria: I’m the only presidential candidate with a plan to bring an end to the worst crisis in the Middle East” by Evan McMullin (Foreign Policy)
  • 31 OCT: “Security Council Unanimous Adopts Resolution 2314 (2016), Extends Mandate of Joint Investigative Mechanism Identifying Perpetrators Using Chemical Weapons in Syria” (UN)