TSI Syria Update: April 28, 2017

Takeaway

Deadly cross-border clashes between Turkish forces and the Kurdish YPG continued for the third day in a row, accompanied by rhetoric by both sides that points to the potential for continued escalation. Turkish President Erdogan said today that Turkey would continue to take necessary action to prevent a “terror corridor” from forming along the border. In response, the YPG released a statement that “no attack of the Turkish state will go unanswered and all attacks will be responded strongly.” Meanwhile, US forces have reportedly deployed along several contested portions of the border in an effort to physically restrain further cross-border fighting between the Turks and the YPG.

Military

  • 27 APR: Assad Coalition (either Russian or Syrian) warplanes carried out airstrikes on a material hospital supported by Save the Children in Kafr Takharem, Idlib overnight. Save the Children confirmed that strikes damaged the building, and said there were no casualties. (Save the Children, Middle East Eye)
  • 28 APR: A wave of Assad Coalition airstrikes (most are reported by local media to be Russian planes) targeted towns and villages across northwestern Syria today. One strike destroyed the Abu Obeida Mosque in the town of Kafr Zeita in northern Hama. The mosque was adjacent to a hospital that was bombed and destroyed last month. Khan al-Assal, Orem al-Kubra, and Kafr Naya in western Aleppo were all bombed, with civilian casualties reported and serious material damage. Aerial and land missile attacks injured civilians in Sarmin, Idlib, where medical centers have been struggling to cope with three straight days of attacks . (Revolutionary Council of Kafr Zeita FB – AR, Baladi News – AR, Qasioun YouTube – AR)
  • 28 APR: Pro-government forces reportedly retook control of al-Shaer gas field, east of Homs city, from the Islamic State (ISIS) today. Clashes between government forces and ISIS continued in nearby areas, mainly around the Tayfour airbase. (Al-Masdar News, TASS, Aletihad Press-AR)
  • 28 APR: Clashes erupted today between armed groups in several Eastern Ghouta towns including Arbin, Hazzeh, and Kafr Batna. There are conflicting claims as to the details of who is involved. Jaysh al-Islam (JAI) reportedly went on the offensive against Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS – formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) after claiming that HTS had arrested JAI fighters on their way to the battlefront in Qaboun. There are also reports that JAI attacked fighters and headquarters of the FSA-affiliated Failaq al-Rahman (al-Rahman Corps) group, and not just HTS. JAI has denied that it has attacked any group other than HTS, but Failaq al-Rahman put out a statement that JAI is lying and did indeed attack its forces. Dozens of fighters have been killed in the fighting, along with a number of civilians. Other armed groups have condemned the fighting, stating that disputes should be mediated in local Sharia court. Civilians in several towns came out to protest against the infighting. (SOHR, Jaish al-Islam-AR, al-Rahman Corps-AR, Ghouta Media Center YouTube – AR, Kafr Batna area Coordinating Committee FB -AR)
  • 28 APR: Pro-government forces reportedly gained control of new areas in Qaboun neighborhood of Damascus today. A representative of the armed opposition group Jaysh al-Islam denied the claims. (Step Agency-AR, @HA_alshami05-AR)
  • 28 APR: The Turkish military and Kurdish YPG exchanged cross-border fire for the third consecutive day on Friday. The Turkish army claimed it fired on the YPG in Syria in retaliation for a rocket attack, and reportedly killed 11 YPG fighters. (AFP, Reuters, HAWAR-AR)
  • 28 APR: US troops have moved into the border between Turkey and the Kurdish autonomous zone in northern Syria. Reports and photos from local journalists indicate the deployment of US military presence in three locations along the border, leading to speculation that the US is using its presence to prevent further confrontation between Turkey and the YPG. (@MHJournalist, @MHJournalist, @vvanwilgenburg, AP)

Political

  • 28 APR:  The Kurdish-led Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (DFNS) called on the US-led coalition to enforce a no-fly zone over areas under DFNS control. Residents of eastern Aleppo reportedly demonstrated against the Turkish strikes and in favor of a no-fly zone in northeastern Syria. (KOM News) (Analyst Note: The “Democratic Federation of Northern Syria” (DFNS) is the self-declared democratic federal governing system in northern Syria. Previously referred to as the “Federation of Northern Syria–Rojava,” after the Kurds declared an autonomous region in March 2016, it was renamed to DFNS in December 2016.)
  • 28 APR: OPCW Director General Ahmet Uzumcu said the OPCW recorded 45 allegations of the use of chemical weapons in Syria since mid-2016, including the recent attack on Khan Sheikhoun. He added that a fact-finding team is prepared to go to Syria to investigate the Khan Sheikhoun attack, but the investigation is waiting on agreements with armed groups to secure safety for the team. The Syrian government reportedly invited the fact-finding team to Damascus, though the mandate to visit the Shayrat airbase is still absent. (AFP, AP)
  • 28 APR: Today Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would “take any measures” to prevent a “terror corridor” from forming along the border between Turkey and Syria. The YPG has put out its own statement on the fighting, threatening that “From now on, no attack of the Turkish state will go unanswered and all attacks will be responded strongly.” Erdogan noted that during his visit with US President Donald Trump later in May, he would speak with Trump about depending more on the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces to retake the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa, rather than depend on the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is a majority Kurdish YPG fighting group. (Reuters, Reuters, ANF English) (Analyst Note: Turkey views the Kurdish YPG as a terrorist group, and is frustrated by US support for the YPG-dominated SDF)

Humanitarian 

  • None

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 27 APR: “Syrian Kurds Call for No-Fly Zone After 20 die in Turkish Air Strike” – Wladimir van Wilgenburg (Syria Deeply)
  • 27 APR: “Reconciliations: The Case of al-Sanamayn in North Deraa” (Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi)
  • 28 APR: “Fighting ISIS: The Road to and beyond Raqqa” (International Crisis Group)
  • 28 APR: “In the Same Bucket, or Not? The White House has recently hosted two very different views about how to deal with Islamism” – Marc Lynch (Carnegie)
  • 28 APR: “Professor Theodore A. Postol of MIT vs. The Concept of Time” – Eliot Higgins (Bellingcat)
  • 28 APR: Oped: “We’re America’s best friend in Syria. Turkey bombed us anyway” – Ilham Ahmed, co-president of the Democratic Council of Syria. (Washington Post)