TSI Syria Update: April 21, 2017

Takeaway

The US has confirmed that it killed an ISIS operative named Abdurakhmon Uzbeki in an operation near al-Mayadin in southern Deir Ezzor governorate near the Iraqi border. Uzbeki is believed to have been a close associate of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and to have been involved in planning a deadly New Year’s Eve attack on an Istanbul nightclub. US government officials believe that over the past few months, ISIS has moved its de facto capital from Raqqa to al-Mayadin in advance of an expected final assault by the US-backed coalition. The offensive against Raqqa is still expected to move forward.

Military

  • 21 APR: Pro-government warplanes carried out strikes on several locations in Eastern Ghouta, mainly Douma and Shaifuniyeh. The attack on Douma killed four civilians. Jaysh al-Islam reported a failed offensive for government forces in Hazarma in which several soldiers were killed. (SMO-AR, @jaishalislam-AR, Jobar News-AR, all4syria-AR, @SCDrifdimashq)
  • 21 APR: Pro-government forces bombed the Qaboun neighborhood of Damascus as they continued an offensive on the area aiming to gain control of Qaboun. (@HalabTodayTV-AR, Smart News-AR, @dimashq.now-AR) (Analyst note: Qaboun and nearby Barzeh served as a major channel for smuggled supplies for the besieged Eastern Ghouta villages and towns, as they previously received commercial goods under a longstanding truce with the government. The recent pro-government offensive that has ended the truce has cut this supply line.)
  • 21 APR: Pro-government warplanes continued strikes on northern Hama towns after taking control of Taybat al-Imam yesterday. Today’s strikes mainly targeted the town of Helfaya. (@now_damascus-AR, Daily Star, EA Worldview)
  • 21 APR: Today the Israeli Defense Forces announced that in retaliation for mortars fired from Syria, they targeted positions in Syria. The Syrian army confirmed that two missiles fired from Israeli warplanes hit Khan Arnabeh, countryside of Quneitra province causing only material damage. (AFP, SANA, @IDFSpokesperson)
  • 21 APR: Today US Central Command confirmed the death of Abdurakhmon Uzbeki, an Islamic State (ISIS) operative near al-Mayadin. Uzbeki was reportedly a close associate of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and played a role in planning a deadly suicide bombing attack that targeted an Istanbul nightclub on New Year’s Eve. (@CENTCOM, FOX)

Political

  • 21 APR: The first phase of the forced population transfer agreement for the “Four Towns” (Fuaa, Kefraya, Zabadani, and Madaya) concluded today with the arrival of transferees at their designated destinations. The agreement was paused for nearly two days because of a delay in the release of opposition prisoners. Hundreds of opposition prisoners, most of them women, were reportedly released from government detention centers and bused to Idlib. (Reuters, Al-Jazeera, Enab Baladi-AR, All4syria-AR, @HalabTodayTV-AR, @now_damascus-AR)
  • 21 APR: US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis reportedly said the Syrian government dispersed its warplanes after the US strike on the Syrian airbase. He also said the Syrian government retained chemical weapons, which is a violation of UN Security Council resolutions and an  issue that will have be dealt with diplomatically. (LA Times, Reuters)
  • 21 APR: US Defense officials reportedly believe that ISIS has moved the de facto capital of its caliphate from Raqqa to the town of al-Mayadin in Deir Ezzor governorate. They believe that senior leadership and the bureaucracy have moved over the past few months. The offensive against Raqqa is still expected to move forward. (FOX)
  • 21 APR: The Syrian Islamic Council released a Fatwa forbidding all fighting between armed opposition groups (AOGs) and called for the groups to unite through cooperation rather than armed confrontation. The Council also condemned the actions of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS, an iteration of Jabhat al-Nusra, which organized as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham) which seeks influence over other opposition groups. The council considers JFS fighters as aggressors and killers. (Enab Baladi-AR)
  • 21 APR: The UN Security Council held an Arria-formula meeting this morning with the Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Syria today, during which Paulo Pinheiro, chair of the COI briefed the UNSC. France, the UK, and the US organized the meeting, which allowed members to ask Pinheiro and fellow commissioner Karen AbuZayd questions after the brief. It was the seventh Arria-formula meeting with the COI. (What’s In Blue, @UKUN_NewYork)

Humanitarian

  • None

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 20 APR: “Decree 66: The blueprint for al-Assad’s reconstruction of Syria?” – Tom Rollins (IRIN)
  • 21 APR: “Civilian casualties from airstrikes grow in Iraq and Syria. But few are ever investigated” – Molly Hennessy-Fiske and WJ Hennigan (LA Times)
  • 21 APR: “Thinking Strategically About US Policy on Syria” – Frederic C. Hof (News Deeply)
    21 APR: Paulo Pinheiro and Karen Abuzayd (Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic) on the situation in Syria – Security Council Media Stakeout” (WebTV