TSI Syria Update: May 12, 2017

Takeaway

Tensions are on the rise between armed groups in Idlib, which has seen a reduction in pro-government airstrikes since the Russian “de-escalation” agreement took effect. Clashes erupted today between Ahrar al-Sham and another armed group known as Tajamu Fastaqim – which is reportedly in the process of merging with Ahrar al-Sham – and a commander from Fastaqim was arrested. Ahrar al-Sham claimed that the dispute escalated when the commander refused an order to handover a headquarters as a condition of the merger. Also today, Imam’s of mosques associated with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS, formerly al-Nusra) railed against Turkish-backed opposition forces and moderate groups that participated in the recent Astana talks.

Military

  • 12 MAY: Approximately 300 people were transferred out of Barzeh today and taken to Idlib. This included around 40 fighters who were supposed to go out in the first transfer on Monday but decided to stay behind and wait to be reunified with their families first. Further displacements out of Barzeh are still on hold pending the release of prisoners by the Syrian government. An additional transfer of fighters affiliated with the armed group Jaysh al-Islam took place today as they surrendered the Tishreen neighborhood after negotiations that were reportedly done in secret overnight. (Qasioun-AR, all4syria-AR, @SiegeWatch, all4syria-AR)
  • 12 MAY: Ahrar al-Sham clashed with opposition group Fastaqim Union, a group previously associated with Ahrar al-Sham. The groups clashed in the Idlib town of Babisqa when Ahrar al-Sham arrested a leader from Tajamu Fastaqim (Fastaqim Union). (Enab Baladi-AR)
  • 12 MAY: Today a commander for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said the battle to retake the Islamic State (ISIS) stronghold of Raqqa will start early this summer. The US promised Turkey that once recaptured, control of Raqqa will go to a local council, and that the Kurdish YPG will leave the area. There is speculation that it will be a local council that is amenable to Assad and that control of Raqqa city will ultimately revert the the government. (AP, Reuters, WSJ, Hurriyet)
  • 12 MAY: Assad Coalition forces and the Islamic State (ISIS) clashed on the Ithriya-Khanaser highway between Hama and Aleppo when ISIS attacked a pro-government convoy. Eight pro-government fighters were reportedly killed, including two officers. (Smart News-AR, all4Syria-AR)
  • 12 MAY: Assad Coalition (Russian or Syrian) warplanes reportedly targeted several areas in the Aleppo countryside with  airstrikes. Strikes on Hamam village wounded several civilians. The strikes also targeted several villages (al-Raddeh, al-Obaidiyh, al-Fakhikha) controlled by ISIS near the city of Maskaneh. (Qasioun, Qasioun-AR)
  • 12 MAY: Pro-government media reported today that Assad Coalition forces took control of a strategic area in the eastern Homs desert near Sabe Byar after battles against armed opposition groups. This area, known as the “Zaza triangle,” allows the pro-government forces to control major roads in the Syrian-Iraqi-Jordanian border triangle area. Pro-opposition Step News described  the important role played by two Iranian-backed Iraqi militias – Abdal Militia and 313 group – in helping the government make progress in this area. (Rasd News-AR, Enab Baladi-AR, Step News-AR)

Political

  • 11 MAY: On Thursday, Ahrar al-Sham announced a merger with armed opposition group Liwaa Fajr al-Umma in Eastern Ghouta. (@AhrarAl_Sham -AR)
  • 12 MAY: In an interview today, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said that the Syrian government supports the Russian de-escalation zones initiative “in principle.” Assad went on to describe the agreement as an opportunity for armed opposition groups to lay down arms reconcile with the government in return for amnesty, which is not a component of the agreement signed by Russia, Turkey and Iran in Astana. (SANA, Reuters)
  • 12 MAY: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that he hopes to start a new beginning in the relations with the US during his upcoming visit to Washington next week, and that the US will reverse its decision to arm Syria Kurdish fighters. (Hurriyet) (Analyst note: this language is notably calmer than what Erdogan and Turkish officials have been saying over the past several days, as they issued escalating threats over the US arming of the Kurds. It is likely that the US cut a deal with Turkey, although clear details are not yet known.)
  • 12 MAY: In Friday prayer sermons today, local imams associated with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS, formerly Nusra) in Idlib city mosques spoke against Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield and armed opposition group Jaysh al-Islam (JAI). (Enab Baladi-AR)

Humanitarian

  • None

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 9 MAY: “At the Astana Table, a Lesson from Cyprus” – Bassam Barabandi and John Arterbury (Atlantic Council)
  • 11 MAY: OpEd: “The Fatal Flaw in Trump’s ISIS Plan” – Robert Ford (The Atlantic)
  • 11 MAY: “Torture under the Assad Regime” – European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR)
  • 11 MAY: “Doctors resort to crowdfunding Syrian hospitals as red tape locks aid money” – Emma Beals (The Guardian)
  • 11 MAY: “Transcript of joint Stakeout by UN Special Envoy for Syria, Mr. Staffan de Mistura and UN Senior Adviser, Mr. Jan Egeland after their meeting with the Humanitarian Task Force” (UNOG)
  • 11 MAY: OpEd: “Once We Beat ISIS, Don’t Abandon Us” – Sinam Mohamad (NYT)
  • 11 MAY: OpEd: “The Right Way to Create Safe Zones in Syria” – Paul R. Williams and J. Trevor Ulbrick (Foreign Affairs)
  • 11 MAY: “Belgian fighters in Syria and Iraq – A Closer Look at the Converts” – Guy Van Vlierden and Pieter Van Ostaeyen (Bellingcat)
  • 12 MAY: “Analysis: Crackdown Continues in Syrian Kurdish Areas” – Kyle Orton (Henry Jackson Society)