TSI Syria Update: May 15, 2017

Takeaway

US Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Stuart Jones spoke today about the Syrian government violating international law in multiple ways, including use of chemical weapons, denying food and humanitarian aid to civilians, sexual violence, and the systematic abduction and torture of civilians in Saydnaya prison. The State Department released newly declassified reports and photos of Sednaya prison, and Jones revealed the US believes the Syrian government installed a crematorium in the prison to dispose of detainees and destroy evidence of its torture and mass murder in the prison. Jones said Russia and Iran “gave unconditional support” to the Syrian government in its brutality, adding that Russia “either aided in or passively looked away” from violations of international law. Jones called on Russia to influence the creation of a political solution and stop violations of international law.

On Sunday, Assad Coalition forces continued their forced displacement strategy by transferring an estimated 2,200 people (including about 1,000 opposition fighters) from the Damascus neighborhood of Qaboun, after capturing a majority of the area on Saturday.

Military

  • 13 MAY: Assad Coalition (Syrian and Iranian) forces reportedly took control of the  al-Jirah airbase today, east of Aleppo city. The airport was under the Islamic State’s (ISIS) control since 2014. (Reuters, Middle East Monitor) (Analyst note: Taking al-Jirah airbase may be a step toward taking control of Maskaneh, the last major city east of Aleppo city that is not controlled by the Syrian government and has been under heavy aerial bombing for the past few  weeks.)
  • 14 MAY: The first round of forced displacements from the Damascus neighborhood of Qaboun started on Sunday. Assad Coalition forces captured a majority of the area on Saturday. The forcibly displaced were taken to the opposition-held province of Idlib. About 2,200 people, including an estimated 1,000 fighters left Qaboun. On route to Idlib, the buses carrying the forcibly displaced to Idlib were attacked and three civilians were killed. A second round of forced displacements are set to occur on Tuesday. (Reuters, Al-Jazeera, AP, Smart News-AR, Qasioun-AR)
  • 14 MAY: On Sunday, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) clashed with Islamic State (ISIS) fighters in the besieged area of Yarmouk, south of Damascus. An ISIS fighter was killed during clashes between. (Smart News-AR, Al-Bayan-AR)
  • 15 MAY: The Deir Ezzor town of al-Bukamal was targeted with airstrikes on Monday. It is unclear whose planes conducted the airstrikes. Some sources claimed the attack was carried out by the US-led coalition, while others said Iraqi warplanes targeted the town. The strikes killed at least 23, and destroyed a mosque and 15 homes. (AP, Reuters, Qasioun)
  • 15 MAY: On Monday, armed opposition sources claimed that Assad Coalition forces are moving to reinforce a strategic area in the eastern Homs desert known as the “Zaza triangle,” which controls the major roads in  the Syrian-Iraqi-Jordanian border triangle area (al-Hamad Desert) (Reuters, Al-Jazeera). (Analyst Note: Assad Coalition forces gained control of the area near Sabe Byar last week- See 12 May TSI Update)
  • 15 MAY: The Islamic State (ISIS) targeted the besieged communities of Jora, Qusour, and Harabesh with attacks today. ISIS used small drones to bomb a bakery in the Jorah and Qusour neighborhoods, and killed several civilians. Later, ISIS targeted Harabesh with mortars, which killed a child and injured five others. (Syria Human Rights -AR, Qasioun, @JFLngo, SARC)
  • 15 MAY: On Monday, US military forces and armed opposition group Jaish Maghaweer al-Thawra reportedly started a joint operation in the al-Tanf area to combat the Islamic State (ISIS). (Smart News-AR, YouTube, Enab Baladi-AR)
  • 15 MAY: Assad Coalition and Islamic State (ISIS) forces clashes north of Palmyra today. Assad Coalition warplanes carried out strikes on ISIS forces to stop their advancement. (Qasioun)

Political

  • 15 MAY: Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said that Jordan considers the presence of Iranian-backed militias on its borders unacceptable. (Reuters, Al-Jazeera)
  • 15 MAY: US Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Stuart Jones briefed the press on the situation in Syria today, including details from newly declassified reports and photos of Saydnaya prison near Damascus. Jones said the US believes the Syrian government installed a crematorium in the prison to dispose of detainees and destroy evidence of its torture and mass murder in the prison. Jones said Russia and Iran “gave unconditional support” to the Syrian government in its brutality, adding that Russia “either aided in or passively looked away” from violations of international law. Jones added that US is skeptical of the Astana “de-escalation zones” agreement based on previous failed ceasefires, and called on Russia to influence the creation of a political solution and stop violations of international law. (State Department, Reuters, Washington Post, DVIDS)
  • 15 MAY: Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia considers the Kurdish forces in Syria the most combat efficient units” in fighting the Islamic State (ISIS) and would continue working with them, but would not arm them. (TASS, Reuters)
  • 15 MAY: Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura briefed the press on the upcoming (16 May) Intra-Syria Talks in Geneva. De Mistura confirmed that the agenda would adhere to the four points, or “baskets”, established in the previous round of talks: accountable governance, a new constitution, UN-supervised elections, and anti-terrorism. In light of the recent Astana agreement establishing four “de-escalation zones” across Syria, de Mistura re-affirmed that de-escalation in Syria cannot be sustained without complementary political process. He also stated that the format for this round of talks would be different from that of previous talks, featuring smaller meetings and more frequent interaction. Additionally, in a notable deviation from previous Geneva talks, the upcoming discussion will not feature media stakeouts. (WebTV)

Humanitarian

  • None

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 12 MAY: “The United States and Turkey Are on a Collision Course in Syria” – Colin Kahl (Foreign Policy)
  • 15 MAY: “Russia Dominates Syria’s Skies” – Charles Lister (The Middle East Institute)
  • 15 MAY: “Discussion with Aaron Stein on the Decision to Arm the YPG” – Aaron Stein (Syria Source)
  • 15 MAY: “State Department Briefing on Syria Graphics” (DVIDS)
  • 15 MAY: “On-the-Record-Briefing: Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Stuart Jones on Syria” (State Department)
  • 15 MAY: “Staffan de Mistura, Special Envoy for Syria: Instra-Syrian Talks – Press Conference” (WebTV)