TSI Syria Updates: November 18, 2016

Takeaway

While all eyes are on eastern Aleppo, pro-government forces have launched deadly attacks on towns across Eastern Ghouta with airstrikes from Russian and Syrian jets as well as all types of artillery shelling. These attacks targeted many densely populated areas, killing at least 20 civilians and injuring more than 100.

Additionally, the UN has just officially raised the number of people living in besieged areas to 974,080 following a “comprehensive review” of their classifications, bringing them increasingly closer to the Siege Watch population estimate which currently stands at around 1.3 million. The review saw them add an additional 16 communities in Rural Damascus to their besieged list as of November 1. Most of these areas have been under siege since mid-2013, and have been classified as besieged by the Siege Watch project since its inception. All of the newly recognized areas are besieged by the Syrian government and its allies.

Military

  • 18 NOV: The Syrian government intensified its assault on eastern Aleppo city overnight. Hospitals in the besieged areas were targeted in attacks Thursday night and this morning. The last pediatric hospital in eastern Aleppo, located in al-Shaar neighborhood, was targeted today. Hospitals are running low of medical supplies, particularly low-dose medicine for children. Russia and the Syrian government denied hospitals were targeted. (Al-Jazeera, Telegraph, AP)
  • 18 NOV: Turkey reopened the border crossing of Öncüpınar near Azaz in northern Syria today. Turkish authorities initially closed the border checkpoint temporarily on Monday to avoid civilian injuries when clashes between armed opposition groups (AOGs) reportedly began. Clashes came to a head yesterday with a car bombing of the opposition group Jabhat al-Shamiyah’s headquarters. The clashes have now reportedly died down. (Hurriyet Daily News, SMART News Agency-AR)
  • 18 NOV: Last night Syrian and Russian forces intensified attacks against Eastern Ghouta, targeting parts of Douma, Harasta, Erbin, Kafr Batna, Jisreen, Saqba, Beit Sawa, Ein Tarma, Hamouria, Zamalka, Reyhan and Meydani, as well as the Damascus city neighborhoods of Qaboun, and Jobar. Many of these attacks hit densely populated residential areas. At least 20 civilians were killed and 100 injured. (Step New Agency-AR, @SiegeWatch, @SiegeWatch)

Political

  • 17 NOV: Yesterday the UN Security Council voted to extend the mandate for the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism for another year. United States representative, Samantha Powers, directly stated the use of chemical weapons by the Government of Syria in three attacks “constituted a clear violation of that country’s obligations under Security Council resolution 2118 (2013), as well as the chemical weapons convention.” Russian representative, Vladimir Safronkov, encouraged the identification of terrorist groups involvement as well as such as ISIL, al-Nusrah Front, and other non-state actors. (UN)
  • 18 NOV: Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said Russia is in contact with President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team about the Syrian conflict indicating a hope for a new approach and open dialogue. The deputy foreign minister also referred to both the Obama and Trump administration in hopefully accepting that the Syrian conflict is impossible to solve without Russia. (Telegraph)
  • 18 NOV: Russian Foreign Defense Minister Sergei Lavrov claimed that “Our aviation and the aviation of Syria work only in the provinces of Idlib and Homs in order to prevent the IS from crossing into Syria from Mosul.” The Russian Defense Ministry denied that any hospitals have been bombed in the past few days, and said “the allegedly destroyed ‘hospitals’ and ‘mobile clinics’ in Aleppo exist only in the mind of the US Department of State spokesperson John Kirby.” (TASS, Russian Defense Ministry) (TSI Analyst note: Russian claims that it is only bombing in Idlib and Homs along with the Syrian airforce is demonstrably untrue. Russian and Syrian jets have been intensively bombing targets in Rural Damascus and Aleppo. It is also unclear what Lavrov meant by saying that these airstrikes are intended to prevent ISIS fighters from entering Syria from Iraq, since Idlib and the populated portion of Homs that are being bombed by Russian and Syrian forces are in western Syria, nowhere near the Iraqi border.)

Humanitarian

  • 15 NOV: The UN has officially raised the number of people living in besieged areas to 974,080 following a “comprehensive review” of their classifications, which saw them add an additional 16 communities to their besieged list as of November 1. Most of these added areas have been under siege since mid-2013 and have been classified as besieged by the Siege Watch project since its inception. With this update, the UN numbers continue their slow creep towards the numbers reported by Siege Watch, which currently stand at approximately 1.3 million people under siege. (UN)

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 9 NOV: “The Long Walk to Protect Syrian Artifacts” (SyriaUntold)
  • 15 NOV: “Implementation of Security Council resolutions 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2191 (2014) and 2258 (2015) Report of the Secretary-General” (UNSC)
  • 17 NOV: “Will Turkey present Trump with a fait accompli in Syria?” by Aaron Stein (War on the Rocks)
  • 17 NOV: “Unanimously Adopting Resolution 2319 (2016), Security Council Extends Mandate of Mechanism to Identify Perpetrators Using Chemical Weapons in Syria” (UN)
  • 18 NOV: “Unanimous Renewal by the UN Security Council of the Joint Investigative Mechanism Press Statement by John Kirby State Department Spokesperson” (State Department)