TSI Syria Update: May 3, 2017

Takeaway

The fourth round of Astana talks started today with stakeholders focused on a new Russian proposal to create four “de-escalation zones” in: Idlib, northern Homs, Eastern Ghouta in Rural Damascus, and in the south of Syria. But the momentum was quickly lost when the Syrian opposition’s military delegation walked out of their first meeting and suspended their participation in the Astana talks in protest of the government’s escalating attacks. UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura expressed condemnation at the reports of fresh attacks and called for immediate measures to stop further attacks. He also encouraged the opposition to return to the talks on Thursday.

Military

  • 3 MAY: A car bomb killed five people in the opposition-held town of Azaz, north of Aleppo. The car exploded in front of the headquarters of the Syrian opposition’s interim government. Although no group claimed responsibility yet, it is suspected that the Islamic State (ISIS) is behind this incident. (Reuters, Washington Post, Al Arabiya-AR, Azaz Media Center-AR)
  • 3 MAY: Islamic State (ISIS) attacked Safsafa, a village held by Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) east of Tabaqa in Raqqa province, SDF announced more than 20 ISIS fighters were killed during the attack. (Qasioun, Hawar News-AR)
  • 3 MAY: Armed opposition groups (AOGs) reportedly clashed with Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) north of Aleppo in the town of Kafr Khasher when the SDF tried sneaking over the AzazMaraanaz front north of Aleppo. The Turkish army shelled  SDF positions in Maranaaz and Ain Daqna as SDF clashed with AOGs. (Qasioun, Madar Daily-AR)
  • 3 MAY: Wednesday morning, armed opposition group Jaysh al-Nasr posted a video and a statement announcing it had targeted pro-government locations in Helfaya, north of Hama city. They claimed to have killed several pro-government soldiers, including a Russian army officer. (@Alnasar_Army)
  • 3 MAY: Clashes between armed opposition groups Failaq al-Rahman (FAR) and Jaysh al-Islam (JAI) continued in Eastern Ghouta today, with battles concentrated in the neighborhood of Zamalka. FAR reportedly gained control of most of Zamalka, and announced the start of a  curfew. JAI announced one of their leaders died during clashes with FAR. (Smart News-AR, @jaishalislam-AR)
  • 3 MAY: Local sources in Raqqa reported that a US-led coalition airstrike targeted residential areas in the city of Tabaqa, and killed 15 civilians. (@Raqqa_SL-AR, Smart News-AR)
  • 3 MAY: A refugee tent camp in Jisr al-Shughour Idlib was bombarded today in an aerial attack. The attacker was unknown, but the Syrian Civil Defense (White Helmets) said that they believed that a UAV drone was responsible. A 9-year old girl was killed and several injured in the attack. (Syrian Civil Defense Idlib FB page)

Political

  • 3 MAY: Russia reportedly introduced a proposal for four de-escalation zones in Syria: Idlib, northern Homs, Eastern Ghouta, and southern Syria. The zones are intended to deconflict these areas, permit humanitarian aid into besieged areas, reconstruct basic infrastructure, allow the safe and voluntary return of displaced persons, and enable local government bodies to function. Russia, Iran, and Turkey are the guarantors of this agreement, which would also form a trilateral working group. The working group would determine de-escalation zones, disarmament boundaries, and other technical aspects of implementation. (UN Report Blogspot, AFP)
  • 3 MAY: The fourth round of Astana talks started today, but the Syrian opposition’s military delegation quickly suspended their participation in protest of escalated air raids and bombings in Syria. Before withdrawing, the delegation had released a list of demands including the withdrawal of the Syrian government from invaded areas, the release of detainees, and allowing humanitarian aid into besieged areas. UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura also called for a halt to the airstrikes and his hope that the opposition will return to the negotiations. (Al-Jazeera, Reuters, FSA Platform, Middle East Eye, UN)
  • 3 MAY: Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met today to discuss the situation in Syria. After the meeting, Erdogan said that Turkey supports the Russian proposal for de-escalation zones and hopes it will be accepted at the Astana talks. Putin mentioned that the tension between both countries after Turkey shot down a Russian jet along the Syrian border in November 2015 has relaxed, returning their relations to “normal cooperation.”  (Kremlin, RT, Reuters, Hurriyet)
  • 3 MAY: Today the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates said the Syrian government supports the Russian plan for de-escalation zones suggested at the Astana negotiations. (SANA)
  • 3 MAY: The US sent Acting Assistant of State for Near Eastern Affairs Stuart Jones to attend the Astana peace negotiations 3-4 May. Jones is the highest ranking US diplomat to attend the Astana talks so far. (Al-Monitor)

Humanitarian

  • None

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 28 APR: Forty-third monthly report of the Director General of the OPCW, “Progress in the elimination of the Syrian chemical weapons programme” submitted to the UNSC pursuant to 2118 (2013) (UN)
  • 3 MAY: “Smearing Syria’s White Helmets – From the Assadists to the Conspiracy Theorists” – Scott Lucas (EA Worldview)
  • 3 MAY: “Out of Danger, One Syrian Family Meets a Stalled Trajectory: ‘No Solution in Sight’” – Futoun Al-Sheikh and Justin Clark (Syria Direct)
  • 3 MAY: “Analysis: The Free Idlib Army’s Role in the U.S. Battle Against Al-Qaida in Syria” – Abdulrahman al-Masri (Syria Deeply)
  • 3 MAY: “Impunity Must End: Attacks on Health in 23 Countries in Conflict in 2016” – Safeguarding Health in Conflict (Safeguarding Health In Conflict)
  • 3 MAY: “Transcript of the Stakeout of the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Mr. Staffan de Mistura Astana, Kazakhstan” (UN)