TSI Syria Updates: November 29, 2016

Takeaway

The first group of fighters and their families to be transferred out of Khan al-Shieh under the Damascus area’s latest forced surrender deal arrived in Idlib today. An additional transfer is expected to take place tomorrow for a total of 2,000-3,000 people. Khan al-Shieh was the last remaining pocket of resistance in Western Ghouta to accept a deal in the face of increased government attacks.

Meanwhile the pro-government offensive to capture besieged eastern Ghouta continued, with massive displacement reported amidst the deadly bombardment. At least 25 fleeing civilians were killed in an airstrike while attempting to cross into government-held territory near Bab al-Nayrab. Many details remain unclear as internet access in the besieged area has become difficult and there is a significant amount of propaganda being released.

Military

  • 28 NOV: On Monday, the Turkish Air Force conducted airstrikes against Islamic State (ISIS) shelters and vehicles in the Baratah, Dana, and Zarzur regions of northern Syria as part of Operation Euphrates Shield. The strikes killed 11 ISIS militants. (Hurriyet Daily News)
  • 29 NOV: The battle for eastern Aleppo continued today with fatal airstrikes overnight pounding the al-Shaar neighborhood and clashes between pro-government forces and opposition this morning in Bustan al-Basha and al-Hallak. Iranian militias and opposition clashed today in Aziza. There are reports that an airstrike targeting a group of IDP families in the Bab al-Nairab area fleeing eastern Aleppo, killed approximately 25 people. Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov said the gains have brought humanitarian access to more than 80,000 civilians. Other reports indicate civilians fear annihilation in the hands of pro-government forces, and there may have already been a number of arrests and executions of the fleeing civilians. A Syrian government official said pro-government forces hoped to take control of the entire city before Donald Trump’s inauguration in January. (Reuters, BBC, Reuters, Step News Agency-AR, Shahed Ayan-AR, Aleppo News Network Youtube, Reuters, all4syria-AR)
  • 29 NOV: Armed opposition groups (AOGs) in the the Yarmouk region of Daraa province launched an attack today against pro-government forces in the town of Ain Dakkur. (Step News Agency-AR, all4syria-AR)
  • 29 NOV:  The Turkish Armed Forces announced today that contact with two Turkish soldiers deployed in Syria was lost this afternoon. Searches are ongoing to find them. (Hurriyet Daily News)
  • 29 NOV: Men believed to be from Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (Formerly al-Nusra) disrupted a peaceful demonstration in Idlib city today and beat demonstrators carrying the flag of the Syrian revolution. The demonstration was to show solidarity with the people of Aleppo and demand unity among the armed group factions. (Radio AlKul YouTube)
  • 29 NOV: The first group of people being transferred out of Khan al-Shieh arrived in Idlib today. Khan al-Shieh – a Palestinian refugee camp in Western Ghouta – is the latest in a series of besieged and semi-besieged communities in Rural Damascus to surrender to the Syrian government in the face of increased attacks since the fall of Darayya in August. During the journey to Idlib, one of the 29 buses flipped in a traffic accident. One woman was killed and several were injured. An additional convoy is expected to transfer more people tomorrow. Between 2,000-3,000 are expected to transferred in total. (Syria Direct, @SiegeWatch)

Political

  • 28 NOV: US Defense Secretary Ash Carter met with French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian yesterday in Washington, DC. The two signed documents supporting US-France relations and discussed military cooperation in the current counter-Islamic State (ISIS) military campaign underway in Syria, particularly the progress of local forces in surrounding the ISIS stronghold of al-Raqqa. Carter said “local partners are now just 20 kilometers from Raqqah.” (DoD, DoD)
  • 28 NOV: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke on the phone with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. They discussed the humanitarian situation of the Syrian conflict and the role of UN in Syria. (Russian Foreign Ministry) (TSI Analyst note: This comes as after Egyptian President proclaimed his public support for Bashar al-Assad and rumors that Egypt recently sent an airforce pilot deployment to Latakia to support the Russian and Syrian government’s war efforts.)
  • 29 NOV: French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called for an immediate UN Security Council meeting this morning to discuss the situation in Aleppo, which will reportedly be held tomorrow. The UK joined the call. The UNSC was already slated to meet today to discuss the OPCW-JIM report. (OCHA, Reuters, @UKUN_NewYork, French Foreign Ministry-FR)
  • 29 NOV: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan criticized the UN for not protecting innocents in Syria and said Turkey initiated military operations in Syria to end Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s rule. ( Hurriyet Daily News)
  • 29 NOV: Today Staffan de Mistura, UN Syria envoy, addressed the potential policies of Donald Trump while speaking to the European Parliament, saying: “based on…statements, we have an idea that [Trump] intends to give total, top priority to fighting Daesh (Islamic State). I don’t think anyone around… will disagree with that, including me.”  (Reuters)
  • 29 NOV:  Ahrar al-Sham appointed a new leader today. The group chose Ali Azra’el (Abu Ammar al-Umar. Several leadership figures chose to quit the organization in protest over the infighting leading up to the elections.  (@Charles_Lister, all4syria-AR, El-Dorar, Step News Agency-AR)
  • 29 NOV: Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (a Democrat) and former US National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley (a Republican) are drafting a report to be released tomorrow about US involvement in the Middle East. It says the US should be more involved in the Middle East, particularly in Syria. The report warns against the dangers of isolationism, a policy touted by President-elect Donald Trump. (Reuters)
  • 29 NOV: A US Air Forces Central Command investigation of airstrikes that killed Syrian military personnel released its results today. The investigation looked at US-led Coalition airstrikes near Deir Ezzor last month on 17 September. It found that the strikes did not break international law because the targets were misidentified due to the combination of several factors. The Coalition conducted the airstrikes believing they were targeting the Islamic State (ISIS). The report also recommended ways to avoid the recurrence of such an event. (Al-Jazeera, CENTCOM, Redacted CENTCOM Report)

Humanitarian

  • None

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 27 NOV: “Obama’s Failure in Syria Clouds Foreign Policy Legacy” by Scott Lucas (Newsweek)
  • 28 NOV: “ISIS’s second-in-command hid in Syria for months. The day he stepped out, the U.S. was waiting” by Joby Warrick (Washington Post)
  • 28 NOV: “For Bashar al-Assad, Winning the SYrian War May Lead to New Troubles” by Alissa Rubin (NY Times)
  • 28 NOV: “Can the rebellion in Syria survive?” by Christopher Woolf (PRI)
  • 29 NOV: “Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien Statement on the Situation in Aleppo, Syria” (OCHA)
  • 29 NOV: “Dissecting a US Airstrike in Syria” by Christoph Koettl (Lemming Cliff)
  • 29 NOV: “Syrian Brothers, Divided by War, Report From Opposite Sides of Border” by Shelly Kittleson (Syria Deeply)
  • 29 NOV: “Why Hasn’t Raqqa Been Attacked Yet?” by Jamie Dettmer and Jeff Seldin  (VOA News)
  • 29 NOV: “Keeping the Lights On In Rebel Idlib” by Sam Heller (The Century Foundation)