TSI Syria Update: May 24, 2017

Takeaway

Fighting between Assad Coalition forces and armed opposition groups continued for the second day in Daraa city. Pro-government forces reportedly carried out 12 airstrikes and dropped at least 9 barrel bombs on opposition-held parts of the city, while opposition forces shelled government positions.

Daraa is included in a 4 May memorandum, agreed upon by Russia, Turkey, and Iran, which seeks to establish “de-escalation zones” across Syria. Continued fighting in places like Daraa highlights the apparent lack of enforcement mechanisms, and raises questions about the legitimacy of the agreement. At the same time, Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu praised the de-escalation zones agreement as a milestone occasion in Syria, saying that its implementation will establish a cessation of hostilities within the zones, and “stop the civil war.”

Military

  • 23 MAY: The Syrian government repaired some damaged infrastructure at its Shayrat airbase and has reportedly started returning aircraft and personnel after the US missile strike on 6 April. (NBC News) (Analyst note: Following the 6 April US missile strike on Shayrat, the Syrian government reportedly relocated most of its aircraft to the Russian Khmeimim airbase in Latakia, ostensibly for protection from additional strikes.)
  • 24 MAY: Clashes between Assad Coalition forces and armed opposition groups (AOGs) in Daraa city continued on Wednesday after erupting on Tuesday. Clashes mainly occurred in the neighborhoods of Sejneh and al-Manshiyeh. Pro-government forces targeted opposition with artillery, ground missiles, and aerial bombardment, while AOGs shelled pro-government forces in Sejneh. An estimated 11 pro-government soldiers, at least two of them officers, were killed yesterday. AOGs reportedly gained control of several locations in Sajneh today. (Orient, Washington Post, Smart News-AR, Qasioun-AR, Enab Baladi-AR, BMOR-AR) (Analyst Note: Daraa is included in the 4 May “de-escalation zones” agreement signed by Turkey, Russia, and Iran. Continued airstrikes such as those on Daraa demonstrate there are no enforcement mechanisms to ensure compliance.)
  • 24 MAY: The Islamic State (ISIS) attacked three Assad Coalition checkpoints on the Aleppo international highway (Ethraya-Khanaser highway), reportedly killing 11 pro-government soldiers. (Smart News-AR, all4syria-AR)
  • 24 MAY: Assad Coalition forces gained control of several village east of Aleppo, near Maskaneh city including: Wadi Moweleh, Jamiliyeh, Rasm Hammam Gharbi, Jub Ali, Qatawi, Kherbet al-Mazen. The new advancement brings pro-government forces nearly four miles away from Maskaneh, the last stronghold for ISIS east of Aleppo. (Qasioun-AR, ARA News-AR)
  • 24 MAY: 16 civilians were reportedly killed on Wednesday in a US-led Coalition airstrike on the ISIS-controlled village of al-Barodeh west of Raqqa city. Many of them were children and most of them were displaced from al-Sakhneh area, east of Homs. (@Raqqa_SL, Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently FB-AR, Syrian PC-AR)

Political

  • 24 MAY: On Wednesday, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said claims that the Syrian government used chemical weapons are only backed by staged films. He also described how the de-escalation zones agreement signed on 4 May has been implemented since 6 May, claiming that “its implementation will allow to cease the combat actions of the conflicting parties and, in fact, to stop the civil war.” The next round of Astana talks will be held in early June where participants will endorse maps, checkpoints, and safe corridors according to the de-escalation zones agreement.  They will additionally discuss future steps to counter ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra (now merged with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham – HTS). (TASS, Russian DM FB)
  • 24 MAY: On Wednesday, US CENTCOM Commander Lieutenant General Jeffrey Harrigian said the US has increased its deconfliction cooperation efforts with Russia in Syria. Harrigian noted that although these efforts have increased, the US does not discuss mission specifics with Russia, and only provides the information necessary for the US to carry out its operations. Harrigian said temporary deconfliction zones were established, but nothing has been done to plan for or accept de-escalation zones. (@jseldin, Reuters, NY Times)

Humanitarian

  • None

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 23 MAY: “Inside the Air War Over Syria: a High Altitude ‘Poker Game’” – Michael R. Gordon (New York Times)
  • 24 MAY: “Types of Islamic State Drone Bombs and Where to Find Them” – Nick Waters (Bellingcat)
  • 24 MAY: “Securing Eastern Syria” – Frederic C. Hof (Atlantic Counci)
  • 24 MAY: “The West’s Limited Options to Help Reconstruction in Syria” – Steven Heydemann (Syria Deeply)
  • 24 MAY: “Aleppo After the Fall” – Robert F. Worth (New York Times)
  • 24 MAY: “Thousands of Civilians Already Fleeing IS-Held Raqqa City as US-backed Forces ‘2km’ Away” – (Syria Direct)