TSI Syria Update: May 9, 2017

Takeaway

The US Defense Department announced today that President Trump authorized them to directly arm the Syrian Kurdish fighters that they are preparing for a battle to retake Raqqa from ISIS. This offensive has reportedly been delayed due to objections from Turkey, which sees the Kurdish forces as presenting a growing threat on their southern border. The Turkish government’s reaction to the new US announcement is not yet clear, although Turkish officials are in Washington for high-level meetings in advance of a meeting between Trump and Erdogan scheduled for next week.

Military

  • 7 MAY: The de-escalation plan signed in Astana last week was breached several times in the de-escalation zones during the last four days. Assad Coalition (Syrian and Russian) warplanes and artillery fire targeted the northern Homs town of Taldu, Eastern Ghouta, several neighborhoods  of Damascus, and rural Hama. Clashes mainly concentrated in northern Hama where Assad Coalition forces took control of al-Zalakiyat village on Sunday and bombarded Latamneh and Kafr Zita. (SOHR, 9 News, Reuters, Step News-AR, @SiegeWatch)
  • 7 MAY: The besieged neighborhood of Barzeh surrendered Sunday night after months of bombardment, agreeing to a forced population transfer of fighters and their families. The first round of transfers from Barzeh started the next morning, taking hundreds of opposition fighters and their families in 40 buses to Idlib province. The second round is planned to occur on Wednesday 10 May. Report have also mentioned the start of negotiations for a similar deal in the adjacent Qaboun neighborhood which remains under heavy attack. (Al-Jazeera, SOHR, AFP, @SiegeWatch, Smart News-AR)
  • 8 MAY: Around 20 wounded Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS – formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) fighters and their families were evacuated from Yarmouk Camp on Monday.  In return, a similar number of people were evacuated from Fuaa & Kefraya. These evacuations were the second stage of the multi-step Four Towns Agreement which saw forced transfers from Fuaa, Kefraya, Madaya, and Zabadani begin last month. (Mokhim al-Yarmouk Biqilubna FB-AR, Smart News-AR, @SiegeWatch)
  • 8 MAY: On Monday, armed opposition group Jaish al-Islam (JAI) announced the resumption of the offensive to eradicate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) from Eastern Ghouta, after suspending its previous attacks last week. The same day, al-Wiyat al-Majd, an armed Islamic faction in Eastern Ghouta (previously Liwaa Abu Mousa al-Ashaari) announced it was rejoining Failaq al-Rahman (FAR) due to the infighting in Eastern Ghouta. (Smart News-AR, Enab Baladi-AR) (Analyst Note: Though not the stated target of JAI’s attacks, some parts of FAR cooperate with HTS fighters and appear to have been targeted by JAI last week. The Liwa Abu Mousa al-Ashaari faction was part of FAR until a year ago, when it broke off and formed al-Wiyat al-Majd as a result of armed opposition group infighting in Eastern Ghouta.)

Political:

  • 7 MAY: The Syrian National Coalition (Etilaf) elected Riad Seif as its new president on Sunday. Sief is a well-known dissident and a former Syrian parliament member. Seif beat out former coalition leader Khaled Khoja in a close race. (Syrian Observer, @SyrCoalition)
  • 8 MAY: Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said yesterday that the Syrian government supports Russia’s “de-escalation zone” agreement, but rejects the UN as a monitor on the ground. Al-Muallem said they would accept Russian military police instead. (SANA, AFP, SANA)
  • 8 MAY:  On Monday, UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura announced a new round of Geneva talks would reconvene on May 16th. (UN)
  • 8 MAY: The US State Department announced on Monday that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington on Wednesday to discuss the de-escalation zones agreement signed last week. They spoke over the phone about it on Friday. (State Department, State Department, Russian FM)
  • 9 MAY: The Islamic State (ISIS) released a video of the alleged execution of a Russian intelligence officer who claimed to be captured in Syria. The Russian Defence Ministry denied the allegations saying that all Russian servicemen are safe and sound. It called the story “fake news.” (Mirror, TASS)
  • 9 MAY: The Department of Defense announced that President Donald Trump approved  a plan to supply the Kurdish YPG fighters in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) with heavy arms to help retake al-Raqqa, ISIS stronghold. The announcement comes as Turkish officials are in Washington for high-level meetings in preparation for a meeting between Presidents Erdogan and Trump next week. Turkey has been pushing hard for Washington to end its support to the Kurds. Several US officials spoke with Turkish counterparts today to explain the decision but it is not yet clear how Turkey will react. (Washington Post, Hurriyet, CNN)

Humanitarian

  • None

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 6 MAY: “Memorandum on the creation of de-escalation areas in the Syrian Arab Republic” (Russian FM)
  • 7 MAY: “Could you open a pharmacy in Islamic State territory?” – Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi (Aymenn Jawad)
  • 8 MAY: “Islamists on Islamism today: An interview with Ali al-Bayanouni, former General Guide of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood” – Shadi Hamid and William McCants (Brookings)
  • 8 MAY: “Media Availability with Secretary Mattis en route to Copenhagen, Denmark” (DOD)
  • 9 MAY: “Syria’s new opposition chief talks to Anadolu Agency” (Anadolu)