TSI Syria Update: May 17, 2017

Takeaway

The Syrian government and opposition delegations at the intra-Syrian talks in Geneva were reportedly presented with a UN initiative aimed at facilitating the drafting of a new Syrian constitution. Members of the opposition delegation reported that this proposal calls for the construction and implementation of a “consultative team,” said to be made up of Syrian civil society activists and technocrats. The purpose of this group is to prevent a political and legal vacuum while the constitutional transition process is being negotiated. Considering this development, the opposition delegation requested an extension of the current round of talks. Following meetings with de Mistura, the opposition delegation stated that Assad could not possibly lead a democratic Syria. At the same time, clashes continued today between Assad Coalition forces and armed opposition groups in Eastern Ghouta, Aleppo, and Daraa.

Military

  • 17 MAY: The US-led coalition may have conducted a covert operation early Wednesday morning in al-Sayyal village, in Deir-Ezzor province. There was a helicopter landing nearby and the operation lasted about half an hour. The operation killed 8 Islamic State (ISIS) fighters and destroyed two vehicles. Coalition forces also arrested a few members of the organization. (Smart News-AR, Step Agency-AR)
  • 17 MAY: Clashes between Assad Coalition forces and armed opposition groups continued today in the Beit Naim and Hatita al-Jarsh towns of Eastern Ghouta. Assad Coalition forces tried to advance in the area. Jaysh al-Islam claimed it destroyed two tanks and killed 15 Assad Coalition soldiers. (@jaishalislam-AR, Qasioun, all4syria-AR, Smart News-AR)
  • 17 MAY: Assad Coalition (Syrian or Russian) warplanes carried out strikes on the ISIS-held village of Rasm Hammam near Maskaneh in Aleppo province. The strikes reportedly targeted residential areas and killed five civilians, one of them a child. Assad Coalition forces clashed with ISIS on the ground just north of Maskenah near the al-Jirah airbase. ISIS claimed it killed several pro-government soldiers by dropping bombs with drones. (Qasioun, Smart News-AR, 7al-AR)
  • 17 MAY: Assad Coalition forces and ISIS fighters clashed near the Deir Ezzor airbase, while Assad Coalition planes carried out strikes on ISIS held neighborhoods of Deir Ezzor city. (Qasioun, @DeirEzzor24-AR, SOHR-AR)
  • 17 MAY: Assad Coalition forces attacked the al-Manshiya area of Daraa city, during which pro-government planes targeted the area with barrel bombs, artillery, and missiles. (Step Agency-AR, @albonean.almaroso-AR, Smart News-AR)
  • 17 MAY: US Central Command (CENTCOM) announced that a new Marine Corps artillery unit has replaced the previous unit supporting Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the ongoing offensive on the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa. CENTCOM spokesperson Army Maj. Josh T. Jacques did not identify the unit, however, Marine Corps Times noted that it was likely the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, in the region as part of a scheduled deployment with the USS Bataan amphibious ready group. (Marine Corps Times, Task and Purpose)
  • 17 MAY: Islamic State fighters executed eight men in al-Bukamal, east of Deir Ezzor, after accusing them of providing coordinates of targets to the US-led coalition. Most of the victims were Iraqi nationals. (DeirEzzor 24)

Political

  • 16 MAY: The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) concluded that two casualties, both Syrian women, were exposed to sulfur mustard in a chemical weapons attack in Um Housh, Aleppo on 16 September 2016. OPCW investigators were not able to visit the site directly; the investigation was conducted using interviews with victims carried out by Russia’s CBRN team, blood sample analysis, reports from both Russian and Assad regime authorities, and an analysis of an unexploded mortar from the Um Housh site conducted at the Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC) facility in Barzeh. OPCW personnel estimate the mortar contained approximately 1 liter of liquid sulfur mustard. (Reuters, ReliefWeb, UN)
  • 16 MAY: The US Treasury Department extended sanctions on ten Syrian entities and individuals in response to the continued violence against Syrian citizens by the Syrian government. Individuals sanctioned include Ihab and Iyad Makhlouf, two of Bashar al-Assad’s cousins, and the Contracts Director of the Scientific Studies and Research Center, Muhammed Quwaydir. (US Treasury Department, Time, al-Arabiya, The Atlantic)
  • 16 MAY: On Tuesday, Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for the UN Secretary General, stated that although the UN cannot independently verify the presence of a crematorium at Saydnaya Prison, UN entities have regularly documented and reported human rights violations in Syria, including the torture of detainees. Dujarric also noted that the UN believes thousands of Syrians are currently held in government-run detention facilities, and the UN has reason to believe they are systematically subjected to “cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment, including torture and sexual violence.” (UN, 7al-AR)
  • 17 MAY: Jaysh Maghaweer al-Thawra announced it will reportedly soon begin a joint operation with the US-led coalition to retake al-Bukamal from ISIS. Coalition sources have not confirmed this, but Jaysh Maghaweer al-Thawra tweeted an article about the operation.  (Smart News-AR) (Analyst Note: Two days ago Jaysh Maghaweer al-Thawra posted a video of joint attack with US troops on ISIS locations in Tanf area, south of al-Bukamal.)
  • 17 MAY: The US-led coalition denied responsibility for the airstrike on al-Bukamal on Monday that killed at least 40 civilians, including 11 children. The statement came in an email sent to Reuters from U.S. Army spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon. (Reuters, BBC)
  • 17 MAY: At the Geneva intra-Syrian talks today, both the Syrian government and opposition delegations were presented with a new UN initiative aimed at facilitating the drafting of a new Syrian constitution. This initiative reportedly relies on the creation of a consultative team which will “prevent a constitutional or legal vacuum at any point during the political transition process being negotiated.” Opposition sources within the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) reported that this proposed team is made up of civil society activists and technocrats. The HNC’s Munzer Makhos stated that the opposition has reservations regarding the initiative. As a result, the opposition delegation reportedly requested an extension of the current round of talks in Geneva. HNC spokesperson said the opposition wants a Syria governed with the people’s consent, under the rule of law, without fear of violence by the state or any other armed forces, and added that “Assad cannot possibly lead a country with such a constitution.” (Asharq al-Awsat, AP, @SyrianHNC_en)

Humanitarian

  • None

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 16 MAY: “Local Participation Is Important to Post-ISIS Governance in Raqqa” – Haid Haid (Syria Deeply)
  • 16 MAY: “East Ghouta’s rebel infighting spills over to embattled civilians: ‘The factions are sowing hatred’” – Noura Hourani, Waleed Khaled a-Noufal, and Justin Schuster (Syria Direct)
  • 16 MAY: “Treasury Sanctions Additional Individuals and Entities In Response to Continuing Violent Attacks on Syrian Citizens by the Syrian Government” (US Treasury Department)
  • 16 MAY: “Highlights of the Noon Briefing by Stephane Dujarric, Spokesman for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres” (UN)
  • 16 MAY: “Remarks by High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini on the EU Strategy on Syria during the plenary session of the European Parliament” (EEAS)
  • 17 MAY: “Report of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission in Syria regarding the incident of 16 September 2016, as reported in the note verbale of the Syrian Arab Republic, number 113, dated 29 November 2016” (UN)
  • 17 MAY: “Jihad Joris: Dutch Converts Waging Jihad in Syria and Iraq” – Reinier Bergema (Bellingcat)
  • 17 MAY: “Thirst and Drought: Assad’s New Weapon in Northern Homs” (The Syrian Observer)
  • 17 MAY: “Syria From Space” (BBC)