TSI Syria Update: June 16, 2017

Takeaway

On Thursday and Friday, the Assad Coalition targeted opposition-held Jobar neighbourhood in the eastern part of Damascus with artillery and airstrikes. This is the first major attack by the Assad Coalition on Jobar since the announcement of four “de-escalation zones” at the Astana talks at the beginning of May. Rumors circulating on pro-government media suggest  preparations for the launch of an offensive to take control of Jobar, one of the last major opposition-controlled neighborhoods in Damascus.

Military

  • 15 – 16 JUN: Assad Coalition forces targeted the opposition-held areas in the Jobar district with artillery and airstrikes on Thursday and Friday. The attacks came after armed opposition groups (AOGs) in Jobar reportedly shelled government-held al-Abbassiyeen district in Damascus. Pro-government media claimed the Syrian Arab Army is preparing for an offensive against Jobar to weaken the AOGs there and force them to surrender. (Jobar News-AR, Erem News-AR, al-Manar-AR, Al-Masdar News)
  • 16 JUN: Clashes between armed opposition and Assad Coalition forces in Daraa continued on Friday. Pro-government planes targeted the Daraa al-Balad neighborhood of Daraa city with airstrikes, in addition to airstrikes against neighboring Tafas. Opposition forces targeted pro-government positions in the city with a barrage of rocket fire early on Friday. Opposition operation room in Daraa city, al-Bunyan al-Marsos (BMOR), claimed to have killed five Assad Coalition fighters in Daraa, including an Iranian military commander. (Qasioun, Smart News-AR, @BMOR)
  • 16 JUN: An attack on Friday reportedly targeted prominent Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) leader Abdulla al-Mohaisini as he left a mosque in Idlib city after prayers. An explosion killed one of al-Mohaisini’s bodyguards and injured other civilians in the area. The source of the explosive attack is unclear, with sources reporting different causes. (Step  Agency-AR, Enab Baladi-AR, all4syria-AR) (Analyst Note: Al-Mohaisini is a Saudi jihadist, and an influential leader in HTS and former Jabhat al-Nusra. He played a major role in building alliances and creating HTS. He is particularly influential among the hardliners within the group. The incident today is the second assassination attempt on al-Mohaisini in a week).
  • 16 JUN: There are unconfirmed reports that several AOGs including Ossoud al-Sharqia and Ahmed al-Abdo Quwat may have targeted the Bili military airport, near northeastern al-Suweyda province, with over one hundred GRAD missiles. The attacks reportedly destroyed six pro-government helicopters and an ammunition warehouse used by Assad Coalition planes to carry out strikes against Daraa province. (Shaam-AR, 7al-AR, Enab Baladi-AR, @DeirEzzor24)
  • 16 JUN: On Friday, Moscow claimed that Islamic State (ISIS) leader Ibrahim Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may have been among those killed in a Russian airstrike that targeted ISIS leaders and fighters in a southern suburb of the city of Raqqa on 28 May 2017. The Russian Ministry of Defense said it was still verifying the claim, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the information had not yet been 100% verified. The US-led Coalition said on Friday it could not confirm the death of Baghdadi. (Russia MOD FB, TASS, BBC, Reuters, @OIRSpox) (Analyst Note: Russia’s claim should be evaluated with caution, and skepticism is well warranted. The assertion that Baghdadi was in Raqqa as recently as the end of last month alone raises questions and inspires doubt. Reports indicate much of ISIS’ senior leadership departed Raqqa months prior to the Russian strike, and the claim that Baghdadi would be in a location which was, even on 28 May, mostly surrounded by US-backed SDF forces preparing for a large-scale offensive seems implausible. Additionally, geospatial analysis by CITeam determined the location of the strike to be roughly 1km west of Raqqa’s Old City, not in a “southern suburb” as claimed by Russian MoD. CITeam also noted at the time of the strike local activists believed the international coalition and/or Kurdish militias were responsible for the strike, rather than Russia.)
  • 16 JUN: Pro-government warplanes reportedly carried out strikes on Hatla and Mrat villages east of Deir-Ezzor, killing at least ten civilians, six of them from one family. (Smart News-AR, @DeirEzzor24-AR, @DeirEzzor24-AR)

Political

  • 15 – 16 JUN: The Russian Ministry of Defense voiced objection to the US deployment of its High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) in southeastern Syria near al-Tanf. The HIMARS launchers were recently moved into Syria from Jordan. The Ministry declared the move illegal, saying, “Placing any kind of foreign weapons in Syria, especially multiple rocket launcher systems, have to be agreed with the government of a sovereign country.” There is concern from Moscow, and presumably Damascus, that the HIMARS will be used against pro-government forces in the area. (Russian MOD, BBC, RT)

Humanitarian

  • 16 JUN: Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) announced today that they resumed their work in Eastern Ghouta after suspending it since the end of April due to the infighting in the area. MSF said that the decision to resume their work comes after local healthcare workers reported signs of increased respect for healthcare facilities and personnel in Eastern Ghouta. (@MSF_Syria)

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 15 JUN: “How Russia Can Secure the De-Escalation Zones in Syria” – Neil Hauer (The Atlantic Council)
  • 15 JUN: “Messy Fight Awaits ISIS’ Next Syrian Capital at Mayadeen” (AP)
  • 15 JUN: “‘Day of the Locusts’ in Syria’s Idlib” – Khaled al-Khateb (Al-Monitor)
  • 15 JUN: “Long Read: Israel’s Quiet Campaign to Gain a Foothold in Southern Syria” – Nour Samaha (Syria Deeply)
  • 16 JUN: “Syria: Expert Analysis Shows US-led Coalition Use of White Phosphorus May Amount to War Crime” (Amnesty International)
  • 16 JUN: “As Arabs Bicker over Qatar, Assad Sees an Angle” – Aron Lund (TCF)
  • 16 JUN: “The Perilous Race for Post-ISIS Syria” – Faysal Itani and Ali Marhoon (Atlantic Council)
  • 16 JUN: “Investigating the Russian Ministry of Defense claim they may have killed ISIS leader” – Ruslan Leviev (CITeam)