TSI Syria Updates: November 15, 2016

Takeaway

Russia launched a long-awaited aerial bombing campaign today, hitting targets in Homs, Idlib, and Aleppo provinces as and resumed strikes against besieged eastern Aleppo city for the first time in weeks. The airstrikes started only hours after US President-elect Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke over the phone, agreeing to work together to fight “terrorism.”

Military

  • 15 NOV: Today Russia launched a major offensive against opposition in Homs and Idlib provinces. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu claimed Russia is targeting Islamic State (ISIS) and Jabhat al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) in this offensive. Russia also resumed airstrikes against eastern Aleppo city, reportedly targeting the Haidariya, Hanano, Sakhour, Sheikh Faris, Bab al-Nairab, Qadi Askar, and al-Qaterji districts. An airstrike on the  village of Awaijel (west of Aleppo city) put its hospital out of service. This marks the first time every that Russia’s Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier has been used to carry out combat missions. The airstrikes started only hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President-elect Donald Trump spoke over the phone on Monday about working together to combat “terrorism.” (RT, Telegraph, CBC, USA Today, Reuters)
  • 15 NOV: Intensive attacks by pro-government forces today on besieged al-Waer, Homs, killing at least 6 and injuring more than 10. One mortar struck a shop selling fuel, starting a large fire that led some to mistakenly believe that napalm had been used. (All4Syria, @SiegeWatch)
  • 15 NOV: Today Turkish-backed Syrian forces took the town Qabasin from the control of the Islamic State (ISIS), which was the last major hurdle before reaching the ISIS stronghold of al-Bab. This morning Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Turkish-backed Syrian forces are nearing al-Bab. He added that they will clear the area of ISIS soon. Two commanders of the Turkish-backed Syrian forces said yesterday that their forces are poised for an assault on al-Bab. On Sunday, they came within two kilometers north and northwest of al-Bab by taking control of Hazvan, Susyan, Aldana, Kiyran, Uglan, and Avlan villages, in addition to other residential areas. (Reuters, Hurriyet Daily News, Reuters, Hurriyet Daily News)
  • 15 NOV: Hezbollah showed off military might in the Qusayr area of Syria during a parade. Hezbollah did not publish official photos of the event or of its weaponry. This is the first time Hezbollah has shown off its military strength outside of Lebanon. (YNet News, Al-Jazeera-AR)

Political

  • 14 NOV: In a press conference, President Barack Obama acknowledged that his strategy to pursue a political solution in Syria and pressure parties on the ground has not worked, blaming the “messy” situation on the ground, with “proxies coming from every direction.” (White House)
  • 14 NOV: On Monday, US President-elect Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke over the phone about and the situation in Syria, and spoke of working together to combat terrorist groups. (Al-Jazeera, Kremlin)
  • 15 NOV: Today the US House of Representatives passed a bill that would give the administration more tools to support Syrian civilians with sanctions against the Syrian government and its supporters, Russia and Iran, for committing atrocities and war crimes. HR 5732, also known as the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2016, passed the Republican-led House with overwhelming bipartisan support. (Washington Post, HR 5732 text)
  • 15 NOV: UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura said that supports efforts to fight terrorism, but urged Trump to support political devolution in order to prevent disenfranchised Syrians from joining ISIS. He stated that a military victory by Assad with lead to a resurgence of terrorism and it would be highly unlikely that the UN and EU would support future rebuilding efforts under these terms.  (BBC, Reuters, The Guardian)
  • 15 NOV: Today the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Program said food production in Syria is at an all-time low. (Reuters)
  • 15 NOV: In an interview with a Portuguese news station, Syrian President Bashar al Assad said US President Donald Trump could be a “natural ally” if he fulfills his pledge to fight terrorists. (AFP)
  • 15 NOV: According to a new Fox News report, the UN is quietly urging its agencies to scale back their humanitarian aid funding requests by as much as 20%. The documents reportedly cite extreme donor fatigue, as well as impediments to delivering aid on the ground, primarily those imposed by the SYrian government. (Fox News)
  • 15 NOV: US State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau condemned the resumption of Russian airstrikes, and said that recent attacks on hospitals violate international law. She said that Russia “let eastern Aleppo residents starve while seeking praise from the international community for halting indiscriminate strikes for three weeks.” (State Department)

Humanitarian

  • None

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 10 NOV: “Unknown Unknowns: What Trump Means for Syria” by Christopher Phillips (Middle East Eye)
  • 10 NOV: “Trump and Syria” by Frederic C. Hof (SyriaSource, Atlantic Council)
  • 13 NOV: “Syrian rebels brace for a Trump cutoff, and look for a silver lining” by Anne Barnard (NYT)
  • 14 NOV: “Aleppo’s old city devastated by war” (CBC)
  • 15 NOV: “The U.S.-Backed Assault on Syria’s Raqqa: What You Need to Know” by Alexander Smith (NBC)