TSI Syria Updates: February 17, 2017

Takeaway:

Syria and Russia significantly escalated attacks across the country today, with airstrikes reported in Idlib, Aleppo, Homs, Hama and Daraa government. The escalation comes just one day after the end of the Astana conference, and Russia’s announcement that it had created a ceasefire monitoring group with Turkey and Iran. The new wave of attacks threatens to derail the UN-sponsored Geneva Talks, which are still scheduled to begin next week on February 23. UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura’s office said that invitations to the talks received a “positive” response, but gave no word on any confirmed participants.

Military

  • 17 FEB: Locals in Daraa reported at least 30 airstrikes by Russian and Syrian warplanes since Tuesday, after opposition group launched an offensive to retake the city from the Syrian government over the weekend. The offensive is being led by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra), but also reportedly includes Ahrar al-Sham and moderate FSA battalions. Airstrikes today hit Naemeh, Basra al-Sham, Tareq al-Sad, Um al-Mayadin, Yadodeh, Tal Shihab. Six hospitals in total reportedly closed as a result of the attacks. Al Jazeera also reported that one of its journalists was killed in one of the Daraa airstrikes. (Al Jazeera, Nabaa-AR Smart News-AR, Al-Jazeera, Smart News-AR, map, ReliefWeb, @AJABreaking-AR)
  • 17 FEB: Locals in al-Bab reported that Turkish artillery strikes killed at least nine civilians on Thursday, however the Turkish Government is claiming only ISIS forces were hit. (AFP, Aleppo AMC Facebook) (Analyst note: there are unconfirmed reports that Turkish-backed forces have been losing ground in al-Bab despite Turkey’s claims to the contrary).
  • 17 FEB: Two civilian deaths were reported in the al-Waer neighborhood of Homs, after Syrian government planes struck the city on Friday. At least 12 airstrikes hit the neighborhood, causing significant infrastructure damage. (Shaam, @PetoLucem-map, Siege Watch Tweet)
  • 17 FEB: Pro-government airstrikes in Idlib province targeted several cities today including Khan al-Sabil, al-Tamanah, al-Sukayk, Madaya, Baarabu, and Abu al-Dhuhur. The number of injured and killed civilians is unclear right now. (Step News-AR, Smart News-AR, Qasioun)
  • 17 FEB: Pro-government airstrikes targeted residential areas of Taybat al-Imam, Kafr Zita, Al-Lataminah, and Atshan cities in Hama province today. Several civilians were injured, but no deaths were reported. (Step News-AR, Qasioun, map)

Political

  • 17 FEB: The Turkish government said that it is taking new measures to avoid a future friendly fire incident, like the February 9 Russian airstrike that killed three Turkish soldiers and wounded 11 near al-Bab. It said that the Turkish air force will be to run 24-hour air patrols in the Syrian territory captured as part of Operation Euphrates Shield, and that Turkish jets will “fly parallel” to Russian warplanes to avoid miscommunication. Turkey also stated that it believes that Syrian officers may have mislead the Russians about the location of Turkish forces, leading to the attack. (Hurriyet) (Analyst note: With the announcement of these air patrols, it appears as if Turkey may be creating a de facto safe zone.)
  • 17 FEB: After their first meeting with new US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on the sidelines of the G20 summit, US allies opposed to Russian and Syrian government actions in Syria appeared to be reassured that the US would not drastically change its positions. According to a diplomat who attended the meeting, Tillerson said the US would continue to reject cooperation with Russia in Syria until it stopped labelling all opposition forces opposed to Bashar al-Assad as terrorists. Tillerson also reportedly said that the US remained committed to working towards a diplomatic solution to the crisis. (France24, CBC)
  • 17 FEB: The results of an analysis by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and Forensic Architecture about 2016 airstrikes that targeted an MSF-supported hospital in Idlib and a second hospital nearby strongly suggest that both Russia and Syria are responsible for the attacks. The investigation used videos, photos, and firsthand accounts of the attacks as well as satellite imagery to recreate the sequence of events. (MSF)
  • 17 FEB: Today UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura’s spokesperson Yara Sharif said de Mistura is still finalizing who will be attending Geneva talks next week, but added that invitations to Geneva have been “positively responded to.” Also, in a perceived concession to Russia and Bashar al-Assad, de Mistura’s office has reportedly stopped saying that the talks will focus on a “political transition.” (Reuters, Reuters, UN Webtv, Al Jazeera-AR, Reuters)
  • 17 FEB: Tunisia’s foreign minister said that his government was ready to recognize the Syrian government and to cooperate with Assad on the extradition and prosecution of Tunisian nationals who traveled to Syria to fight with terror groups. Tunisia’s first post-revolution government originally cut ties with Assad in February 2012 in response to its violent crackdowns against peaceful protesters. (CNN-AR)
  • 17 FEB: The Russian Foreign Ministry stated that Iran, Russia, and Turkey finalized an agreement to create a group for monitoring ceasefires inside of Syria during a second round of discussions held in Astana, Kazakhstan on Thursday. (RT-AR)
  • 17 FEB: During a meeting between Turkish General Hulusi Akar and US General Joseph Dunford, Akar claimed that civilians were already beginning to return to the areas captured as part of Operation Euphrates Shield and al-Bab is largely under Turkish control. The meeting between the two generals occurred one week after the head of the CIA Mike Pompeo meet with Turkish Intelligence officials. (Hurriyet-TR, Hurriyet-TR, @CNNTurk_ENG)

Humanitarian

  • None

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 15 FEB: “Forensic Architecture investigate the bombings of hospitals in Ma’arat Al Numan” (Médecins Sans Frontières Youtube)
  • 17 FEB: “Will the US leave Syrian Kurdish partners for Turkey?” – Murat Yetkin (Hurriyet Daily News)
  • 17 FEB: “Going South in East Ghouta” – Aron Lund (Carnegie Middle East Center)
  • 17 FEB: “As talks falter, Moscow finds brokering Syria peace trickier than waging war” (Reuters)
  • 17 FEB: “US under pressure on Syria stance ahead of Geneva talks” (AFP)