TSI Syria Update: May 19, 2017

Takeaway

This week’s round of intra-Syrian political talks ended in Geneva today with little discernible progress. This latest round of talks suggests a shift in UN-mediated discussions from attempting to directly halt the violence in Syria to facilitating an environment conducive to political discourse and reform. The next round of Geneva talks are supposed to reconvene in June, during Ramadan.

Military

  • 18 MAY: Five children died on Thursday when two mortars hit a public park in the government-held al-Kashef neighbourhood of Daraa city. SANA reported the Islamic State (ISIS) launched the mortars. The armed opposition operation room for Daraa released a statement denying any responsibility for the mortar attack and blamed the government for it. (SANA-AR, @Marsos10-AR)
  • 19 MAY: Russian military police entered parts of al-Waer neighborhood in Homs today during the final rounds  of forced population transfers. These last batches will leave al-Waer for Aleppo and Idlib today and tomorrow. The only group that chose not to go to Aleppo or Idlib left for the northern countryside of Homs yesterday.  The forced displacement of more than 20,000 people from al-Waer will reportedly conclude tomorrow. (SOHR-AR, Smart News-AR, SMC FB-AR)
  • 19 MAY: The Islamic State shelled residential areas of the besieged Deir Ezzor neighborhoods of Harabesh and Qusour. The mortar fire in Harabesh hit a wedding and killed at least 13 civilians, most of them women and children. Three civilians in Qusour were killed as well. (SOHR, DeirEzzor24, Shaam-AR, Step News-AR)

Political

  • 19 MAY: This week’s round of Geneva talks concluded today. UN Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura described the progress during this round as “incremental.” The head of the opposition delegation Nasr al-Hariri reiterated the High Negotiation Committee’s (HNC) demand to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power, and said a political solution is not possible while Iran and its militias present in Syria, but emphasized the success of keeping the “Geneva process alive.” Rumors indicate several armed opposition groups may have withdrawn from participation in the talks due to the lack of decision-making. Bashar al-Jaafari, head of the Syrian government delegation, said this round of talks did not include discussions of the four “baskets.” The next round of Geneva talks are supposed to occur sometime in June during Ramadan. (WebTV, Reuters, @SyrianHNC_en, SANA@Levenkemai)
  • 19 MAY: The Assad Coalition confirmed yesterday’s US-led Coalition strike on pro-government forces near al-Tanf caused material damage and killed several people. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov stated that the strike was an unacceptable breach of Syrian sovereignty. The Syrian government also denounced the strike, saying “the Syrian Arab Army is fighting terrorism on its territory, and no party has the right to determine the course of its operations.” Syrian government negotiator Bashar al-Ja’afari called the strike “government terrorism” and a massacre carried out by the US. (BBC, SANA, Al Jazeera, Reuters)
  • 19 MAY: US Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford, and special envoy Brett McGurk held a joint briefing today. McGurk said once Raqqa is liberated from the Islamic State (ISIS), local civilians will control the city. Mattis said the US-led Coalition is surrounding ISIS positions in order to prevent any ISIS fighter from fleeing. Dunford spoke about working on a proposal with Russia to deconflict the area. He said yesterday’s strike on Assad Coalition forces were a “force protection strike,” but that the US took actions to prevent further similar conflicts. (C-SPAN, Reuters)

Humanitarian

  • None

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 18 MAY: “Al-Qaeda’s Turning Against its Syrian Affiliate” – Charles Lister (The Middle East Institute)
  • 18 MAY: “With latest airstrikes, US signals to Iran: Containment is back” – Hassan Hassan and Michael Weiss (CNN)
  • 19 MAY: “Iran’s Complicated but Resistable Influence in Syria” – Ranj Alaadin (Brookings)
  • 19 MAY: “US Air Strikes in Syria: Why America Really Attacked the Pro-Assad Militia Convoy” – Robert Fisk (Independent)
  • 19 MAY: “To Assuage Russia, Obama Administration Backed Off Syria Chemical Weapons Plan” – Colum Lynch (Foreign Policy)
  • 19 MAY: “How Did the US End Up at the Gates of Raqqa?” – Loubna Mrie (Atlantic Council)