TSI Syria Update: June 12, 2017

Takeaway

Clashes between the Assad Coalition and armed opposition groups (AOGs) continued in Daraa city over the weekend. The Assad Coalition forces intensified the bombardment on opposition-held areas in the city of Daraa on Monday with more than 80 strike and missiles reported. This escalation in airstrikes comes in conjunction with reports of a build-up of pro-government forces near Daraa over the past week, potentially in advance of  a larger pro-government offensive to recapture opposition-held parts of the city. Despite the fact that Daraa is ostensibly included in the Astana agreement establishing “de-escalation zones” across Syria, it is currently witnessing some of the heaviest clashes between opposition and pro-government forces.

Military

  • 11 JUN: Armed opposition groups in the city of al-Bab in northern Aleppo governorate clashed on Sunday, although it remains unclear what sparked the violence. Fights reportedly erupted between al-Fawj al-Awl and Failaq al-Sham in one area of the city while the armed opposition group al-Hamzeh attacked al-Fawj al-Awl in support of Failaq al-Sham in another area. Ahrar al-Sham reportedly intervened to restore peace, claiming that al-Fawj al-Awl was attacked for wanting to join them. Fighters from all four groups involved were injured and killed. (al-Bab Coordination FB-AR, Syria Direct, All4syria-AR, Smart News-AR, Reuters)
  • 12 JUN: Clashes continued in Daraa city over the weekend and into Monday. On Saturday, armed opposition’s Al-Bunyan al-Marsos Operation Room (BMOR) announced it had repelled an Assad Coalition assault on the al-Mokhayam neighborhood–previously captured from pro-government forces. Notably, BMOR claimed to have killed an Iraqi commander, which would indicate the presence of pro-government Iran-backed Iraqi militias in Daraa. On Monday, after days of clashes mostly on the ground, the Assad Coalition reportedly stepped up its bombardment of Daraa city, where over 80 air and missile strikes were said to have targeted opposition-held positions. There were also reports of incendiary munitions use, including a napalm-like substance. (SOHR, Reuters, Washington Post, BMOR-AR, all4syria-AR) (Analyst note: The escalation in airstrikes comes in conjunction with reports of a build-up of pro-government forces on the ground, suggesting this increase in strikes may precede a larger offensive to recapture opposition-held Daraa, critical for achieving the Syrian government’s objective of securing Syria’s border with Jordan.)
  • 12 JUN: On Monday, tension from arrests conducted by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in Maaret al-Numan, south of Idlib city, continued in spite of an agreement to withdraw from the city and resolve its conflict with the two groups it attacked on Friday (13th Division and Failaq al-Sham). The agreement was reportedly reached on Saturday when Ahrar al-Sham entered the city to stop the conflict. HTS continued to arrest residents who participated in anti-HTS demonstrations on Friday, spurring more demonstrations on Sunday. In return, HTS arrested some of the Sunday demonstrators, and issued several court summons on Monday.  (Syria Direct, Smart News-AR, Shaam-AR, Syrian Mirror-AR)
  • 12 JUN: On Monday, US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) captured the western al-Romaniya district of Raqqa city, making it the third district to fall under the control of the SDF since the beginning of the offensive to capture Raqqa from the Islamic State (ISIS). Several ISIS fighters were reportedly killed in the fight over al-Romaniya, while ISIS shelling and drone attacks killed at least six SDF fighters on Saturday. (AP, Smart News-AR)
  • 12 JUN: Assad Coalition forces reportedly advanced along the Palmyra-Deir-Ezzor highway, capturing more ground from ISIS forces. The gains are 4 kilometers away from the Tal Arak gas field, west of Palmyra. This is part of an ongoing offensive by the Assad Coalition forces to take over ISIS-held al-Sukhneh, the major city on the highway between Palmyra and Deir-Ezzor. (SANA, Qasioun-AR)

Political

  • 10 JUN: On Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that it was “unacceptable” for the US to target pro-government forces in Syria. Speaking via phone with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Lavrov called for the adoption of “concrete measures to prevent such incidents in the future.” His statements come after two US-led Coalition airstrikes against Assad Coalition forces last week near al-Tanf, and the downing of a drone, believed to be Iranian in origin, which attempted to strike an outpost where US forces were reportedly training Syrian opposition fighters. (Reuters, Russian MFA-RU)
  • 11 JUN: A meeting was held in Harasta, eastern Ghouta, by representatives from Local Councils of eastern Ghouta towns and villages, community leaders, in addition to the vice prime minister of interim government. A statement from the civil society leaders released after the meeting asked all armed opposition factions to end infighting in eastern Ghouta, remove berms, open routes between towns and villages, and release all prisoners. (Smart News-AR, Jobar News-AR) (Analyst note: The infighting between Jaish al-Islam and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham erupted end of April in eastern Ghouta resulting hundreds of civilians and fighters killed, injured, displaced or imprisoned)
  • 12 JUN: Head of the al-Bakara tribe, Nawaf al-Basheer, formed a new pro-government militia in Qamishli which is reportedly fund by the Assad Coalition, primarily Iran. The militia is made up by Arab tribesmen from Hasakeh and Deir-Ezzor and expected to be used in the battle of Deir-Ezzor against ISIS. There were reports about trainings already started in Qamishli by Iranian and Iraqi military commanders. (Qasioun-AR, Shaam-AR, Enab Baladi-AR) (Analyst note: Al-Bagara tribe is one of the biggest and most widespread Arab tribes in Syria, and its leader Nawaf al-Basheer was a prominent opponent to Syrian government. Al-Basheer recently returned to government-controlled areas and pledged loyalty to the government. Qamishli also happens to be a stronghold for the Kurdish YPG.)

Humanitarian

  • None

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 9 JUN: “Civilians Face Conflicting Instructions as Coalition and SDF Assault Raqqa” – Samuel Oakford (Airwars)
  • 9 JUN: “How Russia Can Secure the De-Escalation Zones in Syria” – Neil Hauer (Syria Deeply)
  • 9 JUN: “Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham is Evolving Into a ‘Neo-Qaeda’” – Mona Alami (Atlantic Council)
  • 10 JUN: “Beyond Raqqa, An Even Bigger Battle to Defeat ISIS and Control Syria Looms” – Anne Barnard (New York Times)
  • 12 JUN: “The Trouble with Tanf: Tactics Driving Strategy in Syria” – Aaron Stein (War on Rocks)
  • 12 JUN: “As thousands flee airstrikes on Daraa city, one resident explains why he is staying: ‘We’d rather die with dignity’” – Bahira al-Zaier, Rahaf Abazaid, Madeline Edwards (Syria Direct)