TSI Syria Update: June 26, 2017

Takeaway

Intense fighting erupted in Quneitra over the weekend between Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and Assad Coalition forces. On Saturday, HTS and affiliated groups launched an offensive on pro-government positions in the city of al-Baath. Thus far, no significant gains have been made by either side, although heavy shelling has been reported from both HTS and pro-government forces. Fighting in the area is ongoing.

During the fighting stray munitions, believed to be from Syrian government artillery, have landed  in the Golan Heights, prompting multiple Israeli reprisal strikes on pro-government forces in Syria over the last few days. On Sunday, Israeli PM Netanyahu reaffirmed that Israel remains committed to preventing any spillover into Israeli-controlled territory. The Syrian government warned Israel against any further cross-border attacks, stating that it should prepare for repercussions from any further strikes.

Military

  • 24 JUN: A car exploded in the local market in opposition-held town of al-Dana north of Idlib province and killed at least seven civilians and injured more than 30 other. No group claimed responsibility of the attack. (Smart News-AR, Reuters) (Analyst Note: this is the second explosion in Idlib province in less than a week. The province has witnessed an increased number of cars explosions, most of which was targeting leaders in armed opposition groups)
  • 24 – 25 JUN: Over the weekend the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) launched airstrikes on Syrian government military positions in Quneitra in response to “errant” projectiles fired into the Golan Heights. On Saturday, over 10 munitions fell into the Golan Heights, prompting the IDF to launch airstrikes that destroyed two Syrian tanks. On Sunday, for the second day in a row, the IDF conducted airstrikes on two Syrian government artillery positions and an ammunition truck in response to a similar incident. Israel has taken a hard stance on preventing the spread of the conflict in Syria. Speaking on the incidents, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu affirmed “Our policy is clear: We will not tolerate any spillover or trickle whatsoever — neither mortars nor rockets, from any front.” The Israeli strikes prompted a threatening response from the Syrian government, which stated Israel will have to face repercussions for any further strikes. (Reuters, Reuters, Washington Post, Al-Jazeera, Jerusalem Post)
  • 24 – 26 JUN: On Saturday, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) launched a surprise offensive to capture the Syrian government-held city of al-Baath in Quneitra province. Fighting persisted throughout the weekend, and reportedly intensified on Monday, with neither side making significant gains, although local activists reported HTS broke through pro-government force’s initial defenses. Heavy shelling prompted multiple reprisal strikes from Israel against pro-government forces when some of these shells landed in the Golan Heights. (Orient News, Al-Jazeera)
  • 25 JUN: Clashes erupted on Saturday and Sunday between armed opposition groups (AOGs) and the ISIS-affiliated Jaish Khaled faction in the northwestern countryside of Daraa province. On Saturday, Jaish Khaled cut access to the opposition-held village of Hayt when they took control of the last road leading to the village. On Sunday the faction launched an offensive to capture the city from AOGs, but failed to make additional advances. (Aksalser-AR, Alhayat-AR,  All4syria-AR)
  • 25 JUN: On Sunday, US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) captured al-Qadisiya district in the eastern part of Raqqa after days of heavy clashes with ISIS fighters. There were also reports of two ISIS suicide bombers that targeted SDF positions in al-Nahda district in the eastern part of Raqqa. (Qasioun-AR, ARA News-AR)
  • 26 JUN: Assad Coalition forces targeted the Damascus neighborhood of Jobar and the town of Ein Terma in Eastern Ghouta with airstrikes and artillery over the weekend and into Monday while Armed opposition groups (AOGs) in Jobar and Ein Terma have reportedly shelled government-held neighborhoods of al-Mazzeh and al-Abbasiyeen on Monday. Intense clashes continued on the ground in both Jobar and Ein Terma between AOGs and Assad Coalition forces over the weekend. (Smart News-AR, SANA-AR, Ghouta GMC FB-AR)
  • 26 JUN: Fighting continued on Monday between Assad Coalition forces and US-backed AOGs Ossoud al-Sharqiya and Quwat Ahmad al-Abdo near Bir al-Qassab area in al-Badiya, south east of Damascus. Both sides claimed they took control of Rajm al-Suraikhi hills, south of Bir Qassab, on Monday. (al-Masdar News, Qasioun-AR, SANA-AR) (Analyst: There are unconfirmed rumors that Russia may be setting up a new outpost in the Bir al-Qassab area)
  • 26 JUN: Assad Coalition forces advanced in Hmeima area in al-Badiya south of Deir-Ezzor province. In the advance pro-government forces reportedly took control of the Dulai’eat area from ISIS fighters. (Qasioun, RT Arabic)

Political

  • 24 JUN: Syrian government released 672 prisoners from government-run detentions, 91 of them were women. The release comes before the Eid at the end of Ramadan month. Justice Minister Hisham Mohammad al-Shaar said that this comes under a local conciliation plan. (SANA, DW)
  • 25 JUN: Cairo platform opposition figure Jihad Makdisi announced stepping away from political life in a statement posted on his Facebook page. Makdisi was the Syrian Foreign Ministry Spokesman until he resigned in 2012 and later came to play a role in the independent Cairo platform group at the UN-sponsored Geneva talks. He cited  family reasons for his decision to leave political life, which comes two weeks before the next round of Geneva talks is scheduled to take place.  (Jihad Makdissi FB)

Humanitarian

  • 22 JUN: On Thursday, United Nations World Food Program (WFP) delivered humanitarian aid to Qamishli by road for the first time in two years. The WFP has been delivering aid to the area using airlift operations. The WFP stated it will gradually phase out of its current airlift operation once safe land access to the besieged areas in al-Hasakeh governorate is established. (Reuters, ARA News)

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 24 JUN: “US plays a dangerous game in southern Syria” – Michael Cruickshank (Middle East Eye)
  • 25 JUN: “Commando Raids on ISIS Yield Data in Shadowy War” – Eric Schmitt (New York Times)
  • 26 JUN: “Trump Is Tripping Over Iran and Russia’s Red Lines in Syria” – Jonathan Spyer (Foreign Policy)
  • 26 JUN: “Russia is at a dead-end in Syria” – Leonid Issaev (Aljazeera)
  • 26 JUN: “How the Gulf Crisis Could Spill Over Into Rebel Rivalry In Syria” – Haid Haid (Middle East Eye)
  • 26 JUN: “Will Get Fooled Again- Seymour Hersh, Welt, and the Khan Sheikhoun Chemical Attack” – Eliot Higgins (Bellingcat)