TSI Syria Updates: March 21, 2017

Takeaway

According to the UN, all parties have agreed to attend the next round of Geneva peace talks, which are scheduled to begin this Thursday. It is unclear whether political progress can be made in Geneva given the volatile situation on the ground. Armed opposition groups (AOGs) have launched several new military offensives within the past week – notably in Damascus city and Hama – and are meeting with heavy pro-government response. Additionally, forced civilian population transfers out of the besieged al-Waer neighborhood will continue throughout the Geneva talks, following its surrender last week.

Military

  • 21 MAR: Armed opposition groups (AOG’s) detonated a car bomb near Jobar on Tuesday as their offensive launched near Damascus over the weekend continued. Opposition reporting sources indicate that AOG’s have made progress in the Abassiyyeen Square area, with several airstrikes being reported by locals. (Reuters, AP, Al-Jazeera-AR, ElaphAR, Harasta Coordinating Council FBAR)
  • 21 MAR: Suspected US coalition airstrikes near al-Mansora in Raqqa governorate reportedly killed over a dozen civilians on Tuesday. Coalition strikes in the area are conducted in support of the Syrian Defense Forces, who are advancing near Raqqa as part of operation Euphrates Volcano. (Step NewsAR, Smart News-AR)
  • 21 MAR: AOG’s captured more areas in the Qalamoun mountains near Jebel Batra from ISIS on Tuesday, and are now in control of 24 kilometers of territory since a new offensive began over the weekend. (ShaamAR, @CivilWarMap, @jaishalislam)
  • 21 MAR: An Israeli drone was shot down by suspected Syrian air defense systems near Quneitra on Monday. (Times of Israel) (Analyst note: A recent increase in the number of Israeli strikes inside of Syria has resulted in heightened tensions between the two countries, with at least one instance of Syrian missiles being fired at Israeli planes over the past week.)
  • 21 MAR: The al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) announced the beginning of a new offensive in northern Hama on Tuesday, attacking Syrian government positions near the town of Soran. (Reuters)

Political

  • 21 MAR: The Israeli Defense Force’s Chief of Staff General Gadi Eizenkot told attendees at a conference on Tuesday that Israeli intelligence believes Mustafa Badreddine, a Hezbollah commander in charge of Syrian operations, was assassinated in May of 2016 by a separate Hezbollah member over disagreements about the group’s future strategy in Syria. (Reuters)
  • 21 MAR: The UN special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, announced that he will not be attending the first day of intra-Syrian peace negotiations scheduled to be held in Geneva on March 23. He is instead travelling to to Riyadh, Moscow, and Ankara before the meeting to brief each delegation. Opposition representatives confirmed that the same delegation which attended the previous Geneva summit will be sent to the current round of talks. The UN spokeswoman Alessandra Vellucci told reporters on Tuesday that the talks walk focus on governance strategies, constitutional reforms, future elections, and counter terrorism efforts. (Reuters, AP, Smart News, AFP, VOA, UNOG) (Analyst Note: Having the same opposition delegation attend the upcoming round of talks might be interpreted as a sign of consistency, as there are likely to be less disagreements over the agenda of the meeting.)

Humanitarian

  • None

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 20 MAR: “Turkey Is in a Bind as Syria’s War Approaches its Final Chapter” – Aaron Stein (Atlantic Council)
  • 21 MAR: “Saving Syria’s Heritage: Archaeologists Discover Invisible Solution” – Frank Gardner (BBC)
  • 21 MAR: “Displaced Fighters of Damascus Establish Positions in Idleb, Hama” (Syrian Observer)
  • 21 MAR: “The Race to Raqqa Could Cost Trump Turkey” – David Kenner and Molly O’Toole (FP)
  • 21 MAR: “Russian Public Perception Pressuring Putin to Wrap Up Syria Operation” – Alexander Bratersky (News Deeply)