TSI Syria Updates: November 28, 2016

Takeaway

Pro-government forces have made significant gains in their offensive to capture eastern Aleppo. They have taken almost one third of the besieged area over the past three days. Intensive airstrikes, artillery fire, and ground attacks caused civilians to flee the shifting frontlines. There were reports of new chlorine gas attacks today, this time against the al-Qaterji neighborhood. It is likely the opposition-held area will fall to government control in the near future.

Military

  • 12 NOV: There are unconfirmed reports that Egypt may have sent a military air unit with 18 helicopter pilots to Syria on 12 November, in preparation for a larger deployment of Egyptian military to support the Syrian government early next year. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi recently expressed support for the Syrian government. (Alaraby, Assafir)
  • 24 NOV: At approximately 3:30 am, three Turkish soldiers were killed and ten were wounded in what Turkey believes to be a Syrian government airstrike in northern Aleppo governorate near al-Bab. Turkey’s Prime Minister vowed to retaliate, saying the attack will “not be left unanswered.” He also said the attack would not change Turkey’s determination to clear the border area of “terrorists.” The day after the strike, Russia reassured Turkey it was not involved in the incident.  (Al Jazeera, Turkish Military Statement-TR, Hurriyet, Hurriyet Daily News) (Note: Turkey is supporting Syrian armed groups to fight against ISIS, but also considers the Kurdish YPG forces terrorists.)
  • 24 NOV: On Thursday, pro-government forces attacked the city of Al-Tal (in Rural Damascus), despite agreeing to a truce with opposition forces. Negotiations the previous day failed except to establish a truce, which pro-government forces violated when they launched their attack. The Syrian government and the local negotiating committee reportedly reached an agreement on Sunday, in which the government agreed to not enter the city if the opposition gave their heavy weaponry to the government, but the local negotiating committee rejected the terms of a forced surrender and the deal fell through. The city has been under attack since. (all4syria, Reuters, @SiegeWatch, Al-Tal Media Center-AR, @SiegeWatch)
  • 24 NOV: On Thanksgiving day, an American Navy explosives expert was killed near the Ayn Issa area in northern Syria. He was the first US combat casualty fighting the Islamic State (ISIS) in  Syria. (DoD, Operation Inherent Resolve, Telegraph, Wall Street Journal)
  • 25 NOV: Syrian or Russian aircraft bombarded a women’s hospital in opposition-held Idlib province on Friday. The gynecology hospital was reportedly hit with four consecutive rockets, destroying the east side of the building and damaging emergency and operating rooms. (The Globe and Mail)
  • 27 NOV: On Sunday, Islamic State (ISIS) fighters struck Israeli soldiers in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights with machine-guns and mortar fire. The Israeli Air Force bombed the vehicle carrying the ISIS fighters in retaliation, killing the four ISIS militants who fired on the Israeli soldiers. This morning, the IAF also bombed an ISIS building in Syrian-controlled Golan Heights, which was reportedly used as a base for the attack against Israeli soldiers. (AFP, BBC)
  • 28 NOV: Over the past three days, pro-government forces made significant gains in their offensive to take control of eastern Aleppo. On Sunday, pro-government forces moved into the Hanano and Jabal Badro districts of eastern Aleppo, displacing hundreds and capturing nearly one third of the besieged area. Clashes in the Sakhour, Bustan al-Basha, and Haidariya neighborhoods are ongoing. Civilians are fleeing from the shifting frontlines to government-held western Aleppo, the Kurdish-held Sheikh Maqsoud district, and the besieged southern portion of eastern Aleppo. There were reports of new chlorine gas attacks today, this time against the al-Qaterji neighborhood. (Syria Direct, Reuters, Reuters, RFS Media FB)
  • 28 NOV: Yesterday opposition fighters in Khan al-Sheih and nearby towns in Western Ghouta agreed to give their heavy weapons to the Syrian government in exchange for safe passage to the opposition-held Idlib province. The transfer reportedly began today with the evacuation of 29 buses of fighters and their families. (Reuters, SMART News Agency-AR, @SiegeWatch, Khan al Shieh News FB Post-AR)
  • 28 NOV: The al-Waer negotiations committee met with a Russian delegation today to discuss outstanding issues over the agreement between the Syrian government and the neighborhood. The agreement was reached in August with the promise to stop shelling the neighborhood, but the government is has been escalating its bombardment of al-Waer since 15 November, creating a dire situation for civilians. (SMART News Agency-AR, @SiegeWatch)

Political

  • 23 NOV: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi vocalized support for the Syrian government last week on Tuesday, putting the nation at odds with their financial supporter Saudi Arabia. (Al-Jazeera)
  • 24 NOV: Last week Jan Egeland, Special Advisor to the Special Envoy for Syria, said Russia and armed opposition groups (AOGs) in eastern Aleppo granted the UN permission to deliver aid to eastern Aleppo last week, but they were still waiting on the Syrian government to acquiesce. (UNOG, EA Worldview, Reuters)
  • 24 NOV: The Darayya Local Council announced it was officially closing last week, after the forced displacement of Darayya in August. (Daraya Council FB)
  • 25 NOV: Last week, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan threatened to open border gates and allow a immigrants to stream into Europe if the European Union continues to pursue freezing Turkey’s accession talks. Turkey has been trying to become a member of the EU for over a decade. (Hurriyet Daily News)
  • 24 NOV: Former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, endorsed President-elect Donald Trump’s possible pick for Secretary of State, Hawaiian congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. Duke praised Gabbard’s position on Syria, which is to stop backing opposition groups and ally with the Syrian government and Russia in combating terrorism. (davidduke.com) (TSI Analyst Note: The position to ally with the Syrian government and Russia in the conflict to fight international terrorist groups that threaten the west such as ISIS suggests a poor understanding of the conflict dynamics in Syria.)
  • 26 NOV: Iranian chief of staff of the armed forces, General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, said Iran is considering setting up naval bases in Syria and Yemen. It was the first time an Iranian official spoke about formal naval bases in other countries. No Middle Eastern country has a known formal naval base in another country in the region. (Washington Post)
  • 26 NOV: Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said Qatar will continue arming opposition groups in Syria even if President-elect Donald Trump chooses to end US backing. (Reuters)
  • 28 NOV: A group of lawyers in Germany presented a criminal complaint against Bashar al-Assad that they plan to submit to federal prosecutors for alleged war crimes committed by Syrian and allied troops in Aleppo. German law allows for “universal jurisdiction.” (Al Jazeera)

Humanitarian

  • 22 NOV: Jordanian authorities announced on Tuesday last week that Jordan would permit the resumption of aid deliveries to Syrian refugees along the Jordan-Syria border. Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the UN OCHA, said the UN is happy to resume aid deliveries, and that aid was delivered on Tuesday to the Rukban community. (VOA News, UNOG)
  • 22 NOV: The besieged al-Rastan enclave in northern Homs countryside received an aid convoy of 51 trucks on Tuesday last week. It was the first aid convoy to reach the area since July. The UN, ICRC, and Syrian Red Crescent convoy delivered aid for 107,500 people. (@OCHA_Syria, @OCHA_Syria, @SARC_Homs, TRT World, @SiegeWatch)
  • 28 NOV: Five UN aid trucks accompanied by a Syrian Red Crescent car entered Madaya today delivering aid. Another 65 trucks will reportedly enter after the first five trucks are inspected. Children protested the delivery, calling for an end to the siege. (SMART News Agency-AR, @SiegeWatch)

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 22 NOV: “Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien Statement on the resumption of life-saving assistance at the Jordan-Syria border” (OCHA)
  • 23 NOV: “Idleb Students Chafe Under Restrictions” by Damascus Bureau (Syrian Observer)
  • 24 NOV: “Jan Egeland, Special Advisor to Special Envoy for Syria – Media Stakeout (Geneva, 24 November 2016)” (UN WebTV, Transcript-UNOG)
  • 24 NOV: OpEd: “How President Trump could help end the Syrian civil war” by Monzer Azbik (CNN)
  • 25 NOV: “A Voice From the Shadows” by Aron Lund (Carnegie)
  • 25 NOV: “Regular Press Briefing by the Information Service” (UNOG)
  • 26 NOV: “As it advances on rebel forces in Aleppo, Syrian government looking more upbeat” by Nabih Bulos (LA Times)
  • 28 NOV:  “Moscow, Washington and the Wreckage of Syria” by Frederic C. Hof (Syria Deeply)
  • 28 NOV: “Aleppo – A city under siege” by Christian Inton and Michael Ovaska (Reuters)
  • 28 NOV: “Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, and Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien remarks to NATO Deputies Committee Brussels, 28 November 2016” (OCHA)