TSI Syria Updates: March 2, 2017

Takeaway

The Manbij Military Council, a body affiliated with the US-backed Syrian Defense Forces (SDF), has negotiated an agreement with the Syrian government to hand over a band of villages in the western Manbij countryside. This will create a buffer zone of Syrian government troops between the SDF and advancing Turkish-backed forces. The Turkish-backed Syrian opposition fighters threatened to attack the SDF-controlled town of Manbij unless the Kurds withdraw to the east of the Euphrates river. This deal forces Turkey to either halt their progress towards Manbij, or directly attack Syrian forces if they want to capture portions of the territory currently controlled by the SDF.

Military

  • 2 MAR: Syrian government forces regained control over western portions of Palmyra from the Islamic State (ISIS) on Thursday, with the help of Russian air support and Iranian militias. ISIS had previously captured the city in December of 2016. (Reuters, Al-Jazeera, Step News-AR)
  • 2 MAR: Today, unconfirmed reports indicated that the SDF-affiliated Manbij Military Council (MMC) agreed to give the Syrian government control of villages near Manbij as part of an agreement brokered by Russia. These villages are on the frontline between the US-backed Kurdish forces and the Turkish backed Syrian opposition forces operating under the Euphrates Shield umbrella.  (Al Monitor, Kom News, Al-Jazeera-AR, TASS, announcement MMC-AR) (Analyst note: This creates a buffer zone between the Kurdish SDF forces and Turkish-backed forces, as Turkey has stated that it will advance to Manbij and push back the SDF.  This increases the likelihood of more Syrian government/Turkish proxy clashes.)
  • 2 MAR: On Thursday, al-Qaeda confirmed the death of their deputy leader Abu al-Khayr al-Masri, who was killed by a US drone strike in Syria over the weekend. (@Charles_Lister)
  • 2 MAR: Locals in the besieged al-Waer district of Homs city reported twelve airstrikes hit the city on Thursday, killing two civilians and injuring up to an additional thirty people. Four additional strikes reportedly hit Zafarana in the Homs countryside. (Step News-AR)

Political

  • 2 MAR: Today Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu restated Turkey’s threat to use military force to remove all forces from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) from Manbij. (Hurriyet Daily News) (Analyst Note: The Manbij Military Council’s deal with Russia means Turkey would be forced to attack Manbij by going through the Syrian government.)
  • 2 MAR: Today Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova accused the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), the main opposition delegation, of sabotaging Geneva IV Syria peace negotiations by refusing to form a joint delegation with the Moscow and Cairo opposition platforms. HNC spokesperson Nasr al-Hariri spoke positively about the HNC’s meeting yesterday with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov, though he also accused the Syrian government of undermining the negotiations through their continued attacks on civilian targets. Al-Hariri was scheduled to meet with the Russian Foreign Ministry today, where he was expected to address the issue of political transition with his Russian counterpart. (Reuters, Hurriyet News,Reuters, Al-Jazeera, Step News-AR)
  • 2 MAR: French cement company LafargeHolcim admitted it arranged a deal with armed groups in northern Syria in 2013 and 2014 to permit transportation of company materials within Syria in exchange for money. French prosecutors alleged that LafargeHolcim delivered funds to the Islamic State (ISIS) in exchange for this protection, though the company denied conducting any specific negotiations with them. (AP)
  • 2 MAR: Rumors indicated Jordanian joint chief of staff and director of intelligence may have met directly with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his brother Maher al-Assad on Wednesday. (@faisalirshaid, Addiyar-AR) (Analyst Note: Jordan is believed to be engaged in a rapprochement with the Syrian government. Meetings like this might be interpreted as continuous steps towards officially restoring diplomatic ties between the two countries)

Humanitarian

  • None

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 1 MAR: “Sieges, Demographic Shifts and Returns to ‘Liberated’ Cities” – Preethi Nallu (Syria Deeply)
  • 2 MAR: “Pentagon Gives ISIS Strategy to Trump, But ISIS is one Part of a Huge Problem” – John Ubaldi (In Homeland Security)
  • 2 MAR: “Syrian Opposition Delegation formed on 11 February: Intra-Syrian Talk – Media Stakeout (Geneva, 2 March 2017)” (UN WebTV)
  • 2 MAR: “Bashar Ja’afari (Syria): Intra-Syrian talks – Media Stakeout (Geneva, 2 March 2017)” (UN WebTV)