TSI Syria Update: May 18, 2017

Takeaway

For the first time since US-led Coalition operations started in Syria, coalition warplanes deliberately targeted Assad Coalition forces east of Homs. The strike targeted the pro-government convoy heading toward al-Tanf near the Damascus-Baghdad international highway. The convoy was advancing against a US-backed armed opposition faction. After attempting to warn the convoy, US-led Coalition forces struck the lead portion of the convoy. This action was taken only after apparent Russian attempts to prevent the convoy from advancing toward al-Tanf failed.

Military

  • 18 MAY: The Islamic State (ISIS) attacked several villages northeast of the city of al-Salamiyah today. Around dawn Thursday morning, ISIS fighters assaulted and shelled the village of Aqarib, and later shelled the village of Sabburah. An estimated 52 villagers were killed in the attack and dozens were injured. (Reuters, AP, SOHR, SANA)
  • 18 MAY: Assad Coalition forces bombarded Harasta city in Eastern Ghouta with artillery, killing one civilian and injuring seven others. (Smart News-AR, Qadeldonia-AR, SOHR-AR)
  • 18 MAY: Clashes continued between Assad Coalition and ISIS forces on Thursday around the al-Jirah airbase. Some sources reported 55 Assad Coalition soldiers were killed. Pro-government forces retaliated by bombing the nearby ISIS-held villages. (Smart News-AR, Micro Syria-AR, SPM-AR)
  • 18 MAY: The US-led Coalition carried out an airstrike on an Assad Coalition convoy near al-Tanf along the Damascus – Baghdad highway today. The convoy entered the deconfliction zone near al-Tanf, advancing against US-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces in the area. US-led Coalition forces struck the lead portion of the convoy after trying to warn off the convoy. As noted in a coalition statement, this action was taken only after apparent Russian attempts to prevent the convoy from advancing toward al-Tanf failed. Reports from opposition group Maghawir al-Thowra also suggest the airstrike was in support of them after clashing with the advancing pro-government forces. An estimate of casualties is not yet available, however statements from opposition sources claim the airstrikes destroyed 4 regime tanks, several pickups, and a ZSU-23-4 “Shilka” anti-aircraft system. (CBS News, Reuters, AP, OIR, The Atlantic, @Charles_Lister)

Political

  • 17 MAY: The US House of Representatives passed the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2017 Wednesday evening. The Caesar Bill implements a comprehensive set of sanctions against any entity doing business with or supporting the Syrian government, including intelligence, security, banking, aircraft, telecommunications, and energy. The bill also includes mechanisms to document, track, and potentially prosecute persons who commit war crimes and human rights violations. (Foreign Affairs Committee, LawFare, HR 1677)
  • 18 MAY: UN Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura announced delegations for the Syrian government and opposition agreed to discuss constitutional principles with international law experts during the current round of Geneva talks today. Both delegations confirmed they would attend the meetings. The opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) also delivered a letter to de Mistura from the Barzeh Local Council about their community’s forced displacements. (UNOG, SANA, @SyrianHNC_en, Enab Baladi-AR, Syrian HNC)
  • 18 MAY: Local Head of Defense in Hasakah Rizan Kilo claimed the US-led coalition will provide the Kurdish YPG with anti-aircraft weapons. He added that the YPG already received large shipments of armored vehicles, tanks, missiles and anti-tank missiles. (Smart News-AR, Micro Syria-AR)  
  • 18 MAY: Russia, Turkey, and Iran met in Ankara today for discussions on Syria’s “de-escalation zones.” Most notably, the countries discussed the possible deployment of forces within the zones, ostensibly pending the approval of the UN, although Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu noted no firm decisions have been made. As per the agreement in Astana on 4 May, a joint working group will be formed within two weeks to delineate both the borders of the zones and the security areas, and oversee the implementation of the agreement. Additionally, the guarantors committed to provide maps of the zones no later than 4 June. (Hurriyet)
  • 18 MAY: According to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the operation to retake Raqqa and the involvement of the YPG in it will be on the agenda at the upcoming NATO summit in Brussels 24-25 May. Erdogan said Turkey wants to be a part of the Raqqa operation and that Turkey will be in Syria and Iraq to fight terrorism within or outside its borders, reiterating Turkey’s opposition to the US arming the YPG. Meanwhile, the US has a plan for NATO to be more heavily involved in combatting ISIS, but some NATO members are concerned it  might be a costly operation similar to Afghanistan, or lead to confrontations with Arab nations or possibly Russia. (Hurriyet, Reuters)  

Humanitarian

  • 16 MAY: The Syrian Red Crescent reportedly distributed aid and provided medical services to civilians in Qaboun and Barzeh on Tuesday. (@SYRedCrescent)

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 17 MAY: “Iran and U.S. on Collision Course in Post-Islamic State Syria and Iraq” – Ahmad Majidyar (The Middle East Institute)
  • 17 MAY: “Why Southern Syria Remains Jordan’s Biggest Security Threat” – Osama Al Sharif (Al Monitor)
  • 18 MAY: “Syria: It’s Not a Truce Until Government Tanks Are in the Square” – Hiba Dlewati (Syria Deeply)
  • 18 MAY: “Idlib’s rebel court system in disarray, says former judge” – Mohammad Nour a-Din al-Hameidi (Syria direct)
  • 18 MAY: “No, the United States Isn’t Dropping Syria’s Jihadis From Its Terror List” – Aron Lund (The Century Foundation)
  • 18 MAY: “Statement on behalf of the Special Envoy for Syria” (UNOG)