TSI Syria Updates: November 8, 2016

Takeaway

Russia appears poised to launch a major assault against opposition-controlled eastern Aleppo, potentially coordinated with the US presidential elections. Today the Russian Defense Ministry told Interfax it planned to renew airstrikes against opposition-controlled eastern Aleppo in the next few hours. This announcement follows weeks of rhetorical build-up in which Russia said it was maintaining a “humanitarian pause” and opening escape corridors for residents, in addition to claiming that ISIS forces were behind an ongoing opposition attempt to break the siege.

Supporting the likelihood of an imminent eastern Aleppo attack: two groupings of Russian warships converged off the Syrian coast today. The first, led by the Admiral Grigorovich, was recently dispatched from Russia’s Black Sea fleet and is armed with Kalibr land-attack cruise missiles. The second flotilla of eight ships from Russia’s northern fleet is led by the Admiral Kuznetzov, Russia’s only aircraft carrier, and has been chugging towards Syria since mid-October. Russian aircraft have intensified their bombing of opposition-held areas of the countryside in preparation for the eastern Aleppo assault.

Military

  • 4 NOV: On Friday, Russia’s frigate, the Admiral Grigorovich, arrived on Syria’s coast armed with Kalibr land-attack cruise missiles. Three submarines capable of firing Kalibr missiles also arrived. These ships were joined by the Admiral Kuznetzov – Russia’s only aircraft carrier – and seven other accompanying warships that arrived off the Syrian coast today after being dispatched in mid-October. (The Guardian, RT)
  • 7 NOV: On Monday, the Zabadani local council warned of an impending humanitarian catastrophe on its Facebook page and pleaded with the UN to pressure the Syrian government to allow aid to enter the city. (SMART News-AR, Zabadani Local Council FaceBook)   
  • 7 NOV: The Syrian Civil Defense (White Helmets) have published video showing what they claim to be the victims of a chemical attack yesterday in the town of Khan al-Assal to the west of Aleppo city. More than 30 civilians were reportedly hospitalized with symptoms of suffocation after government helicopters dropped barrel bombs containing what they believe to be chlorine gas. (White Helmets Youtube, Enab Baladi)
  • 8 NOV: The Syrian army claimed to have taken full control over the 1070 Apartments district of western Aleppo city, while leaders of armed opposition groups (AOGs) say the battle is ongoing. Al-Masdar reported the Syrian army and Hezbollah launched attacks against opposition in the Dahiyat Al-Assad and Minyan areas of western Aleppo. (Reuters, Al-Masdar)
  • 8 NOV: Today the Russian Defense Ministry told Interfax it planned on renewing airstrikes against opposition-controlled eastern Aleppo in the next few hours: “Planes from Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, naval ships armed with precision weapons preparing to strike militants on Aleppo area periphery.” (Interfax, Reuters)
  • 8 NOV: Russian planes targeted Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province today, reportedly killing seven children and two pregnant women. Idlib province is mostly controlled by opposition groups. Russian and Syrian planes reportedly dropped internationally-banned cluster munitions on Idlib city as well. (AFP, Qasioun, SMART News-AR)
  • 8 NOV: The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) pushed closer to Raqqa today. The SDF claimed to make slow gains as it pushed south from Ain Issa and Suluk toward Raqqa. They took control of about ten villages in their gains. US CENTCOM reported on anti-Islamic State (ISIS) coalition airstrikes in Syria today, including strikes near Ain Issa. (AFP, CENTCOM)
  • 8 NOV: The medical NGO USSOM released a statement that a hospital it supports in the Homs suburbs was targeted yesterday with shelling. Three patients were killed, two were seriously wounded, and the building was damaged. (Reliefweb)

Political

  • 7 NOV: Yesterday, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook reiterated Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s message welcoming the SDF announcement of Operation Wrath of Euphrates to retake Raqqa from ISIS. Cook also said “We will continue to support partnered forces on the ground in Syria as they begin the isolation of Raqqah and we will continue to work closely with all members of the international coalition to ensure the success of this operation and the elimination of the ISIL cancer wherever it remains in Syria.” US State Department Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner also said the US will continue to work with both the SDF and Turkey during Operation Wrath of Euphrates. (DoD, State Department)
  • 8 NOV: Today Turkish diplomat Mevlut Cavusoglu said US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joe Dunford promised Turkey the Syrian-Kurdish forces would not enter the city Raqqa once it has been liberated of the Islamic State (ISIS). Cavosoglu cautioned that Kurdish forces had not withdrawn from Manbij in spite of the US promising they would. Additionally, Cavosoglu said Turkey asked the US to stop arming Kurdish forces. (Reuters, Hurriyet Daily News, DoD)

Humanitarian

  • none

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 31 OCT: “Universal Periodic Review Second Cycle – Syrian Arab Republic” (HRC)
  • 7 NOV:  “Department of Defense Press Briefing by Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook” (DoD)
  • 7 NOV: “Daily Press Briefing with Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner” (State Department)
  • 8 NOV: “Analysis: How Civilians Will Lose in the Battle Against ISIS in Raqqa” by Mohamad Bazzi (Syria Deeply)