TSI Syria Updates: April 13, 2017

Takeaway

The “Four Towns” population transfer started today. The deal brokered by Qatar and Iran is supposed to end the sieges surrounding Fuaa, Kefraya, Zabadani, and Madaya. An estimated 8,000 people will leave Fuaa and Kefraya and 3,400 people will leave Zabadani and Madaya during this stage of the agreement. Once the transfers are complete, pro-government forces will take control of Madaya and Zabadani while opposition forces will take control of Fuaa and Kefraya.

Military

  • 13 APR: Pro-government warplanes (reportedly Russian) carried out strikes on the opposition-held towns of Anadan and Darat Izza in western Aleppo, Maaret al-Numan and Jisr al-Shughour in Idlib, and the Daraa al-Balad neighborhood in the city of Daraa. Many local sources claimed the planes used incendiary and phosphorous bombs in the three provinces. (Qasioun-AR, smartnews-AR, smartnews-AR, Qasioun-AR, @azazmedia2011, 7al -AR, Shaam -AR, Orient News)
  • 13 APR: The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced that the fourth phase of their “Wrath of the Euphrates” operation started today. This phase includes pushing the Islamic State (ISIS) out of the northern Raqqa countryside and Jalab valley, in preparation for the liberation of Raqqa city. (YPG, Qasioun, Zaman al-Wasl-AR, RT-AR)
  • 13 APR: The “Four Towns” (Fuaa, Kefraya, Zabadani, and Madaya) population transfers began today. An estimated total of 8,000 people will reportedly leave Fuaa and Kefraya for government-held areas of Syria in exchange for the transfer of 3,400 people from Madaya and Zabadani to opposition-held areas. Pro-government forces will take control of Madaya and Zabadani, while opposition forces will take control of Fuaa and Kefraya. (Syria Direct, The Washington Post, @SiegeWatch)

Political

  • 12 APR: People in the towns of Yelda, Babbila, and Beit Sahm in besieged southern Damascus came out to protest yesterday against attempts to include them in the “Four Towns” surrender deal. The relevant clauses of the agreement called for a nine-month ceasefire in the southern suburbs and the deportation of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham fighters from Yarmouk. The protesters rejected the imposition of an agreement without the buy-in of the local political committee and called for an end to forced population displacements. (Syria Direct)
  • 13 APR: The British delegation to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed that the samples taken from the chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun last week were positive for the nerve agent Sarin. (Middle East Eye, Reuters, CNN)
  • 13 APR: The Syrian government launched unsupported accusations that a US-led coalition airstrike bombed chemical gas supplies belonging to the Islamic State (ISIS) in Hatleh, Deir Ezzor which they claim killed hundreds of people. The coalition denied the accusation, saying it was intentional disinformation. (Reuters, @OIRSpox, @CJTFOIR, Sana, Enab Baladi-AR) (Analyst note: The Syrian government’s claim of this attack is suspect for several reasons, including the lack of supporting photos or videos and the fact that only pro-government sites known to spread propaganda have reported it. It is most likely a false claim designed to shift media attention away from the deadly Idlib sarin attack and create a competing narrative.)
  • 13 APR: The US military and intelligence community reportedly intercepted communications between the Syrian military and chemical experts talking about their preparation for the sarin attack on Khan Sheikhoun. (CNN, Independent)
  • 13 APR: Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly claimed in an interview with a Russian TV that half of the foreign fighters in Syria are from the former Soviet Union, and that of these, half are Russians. He added that they are a serious threat to the security of Russia. (Qasioun-AR, Bloomberg)
  • 13 APR: Both Syrian and Russian Ministers of Foreign Affairs Walid al-Muallem said from Moscow that the American strike on the Syrian air base aims to disrupt the ceasefire and stall the peace process in Astana and Geneva. Muallem continued saying that the US minor role in Astana talks shows the unwillingness to be involved in the peace process. He also thanked Russia for the use of veto power in the UN Security Council meeting yesterday, which he described as a “theatrical event” (TASS)

Humanitarian

  • 13 APR: The International Red Cross, Syrian Red Crescent, and UN entered al-Houleh area with trucks carrying humanitarian aid reportedly sufficient for 89,000 people. (@ICRC_sy, @Step_Agency-AR, @SARC_Homs)

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 7 APR: “Syria’s Chemical Weapons Kill Chain” – Gregory Koblentz (Foreign Policy)
  • 12 APR: “Eastern Aleppo Under al-Assad” – Aron Lund (IRIN News)
  • 12 APR: “The Syrian-Russian Alliance’s Violates after the American Strike” (SNHR)
  • 12 APR: “Myths, militias, and the future of Syria” – Aymenn Al-Tamimi (AymennJawad.org)
  • 13 APR: “Anatomy of a Sarin Bomb Explosion (Part I)” – Dan Kaszetta (Bellingcat)