TSI Syria Update: July 3, 2017

Takeaway

Clashes continued over the weekend in and around Raqqa with the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) gaining ground in the western part of the city and capturing two Islamic State (ISIS)-held villages near the southern shores of the Euphrates, south of Raqqa. The SDF also announced it deployed around 1,000 additional fighters to the front lines as it pushes deeper into Raqqa’s city center where most of the remaining ISIS fighters are thought to be. There are an estimated 2,500 ISIS fighters and 50,000 civilians remaining in the city.  

Military

  • 1 JUL: On Saturday, the Israeli Defense Force launched a strike against pro-government positions near the city of al-Baath in Quneitra in response to two stray artillery shells fired from Syria that landed in the Golan Heights. (MEE, @IDFSpokesperson) (Analyst Note: This is the fifth Israeli strike on pro-government forces in the vicinity of al-Baath city in 7 days.)
  • 1-3 JUL: Assad Coalition forces attacked the Damascus neighborhood of Jobar and surrounding areas of Eastern Ghouta with airstrikes and shelling over the weekend and into Monday. Several clashes took place on Saturday and Sunday between Assad Coalition forces and AOG Failaq al-Rahman (FAR) in Ein Terma and Zamalka. Pro-government forces have reportedly used chlorine gas several times in the clashes over the weekend, injuring a number of FAR fighters. The Syrian General Command of the Army denied the accusation that it used of Chlorine gas in the fighting in Eastern Ghouta.  (Reuters, SANA-AR,  Ghouta GMC FB-AR, all4syria-AR
  • 2 JUL: A car bomb detonated in Damascus in Bab Touma area killing and injuring several civilians. The Syrian government announced that they managed to stop two other car bombs in the same time and day before being detonated. (SANA)
  • 2 JUL: On Sunday, the ISIS-linked Amaq news agency released footage reportedly showing ISIS fighters shooting down a Syrian government Mi-17 transport helicopter with an anti-tank guided missile (ATGM). The attack is believed to have taken place near the al-Assad hospital in one of the western districts of the city of Deir Ezzor as the helicopter was landing to unload. (Luftwaffeas, Al-Masdar, RT-AR)
  • 3 JUL: The Syrian Army announced on Monday suspension of all combat operations in governorates of Daraa, Suweida, and Quneitra in Southern part of Syria until Thursday to support the reconciliation efforts. (Reuters, SANA)
  • 3 JUL: Clashes between armed opposition groups (AOGs) and the ISIS-affiliated Jaish Khaled faction continued over the weekend and on Monday in southwestern Daraa governorate as AOGs try retake three villages controlled by Jaish Khaled. On Friday night, Ahrar al-Sham announced killing at least 35 of Jaish Khaled fighters and destroying several of their armored vehicles. (Syria PC-AR, Smart News-AR, AlFayhaa-AR)
  • 3 JUL: Intense fighting continued in and around Raqqa today as US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) advanced into the western district of al-Yarmouk and captured the villages of Kasret Mohamad and Ratleh to south of Raqqa. There were also reports that the SDF has advanced into Raqqa from the southern front across the Euphrates river for the first time in the battle, capturing al-Hal Market on the northern shores of the river. On Sunday, the SDF deployed around 1,000 additional fighters to the battle frontlines and have reportedly retaken most of the ground lost in an Islamic State (ISIS) counterattack on Friday. According to the US-led coalition, around 2,500 ISIS fighters and 50,000 civilians remain in the city.  (Reuters, Qasioun-AR, Qasioun-AR, NYTimes, The Guardian)

Political

  • 2 JUL: The Syrian Central Bank announced it is introducing a new banknote featuring Bashar al-Assad. The These notes mark the first time Assad’s face will appear on Syrian banknotes since he took office in 2002. (Reuters)
  • 3 JUL: In a private State Department meeting last week, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly told UN Secretary General “What happens to Assad is Russia’s problem, not the US government’s.” Tillerson’s comment marks a departure from statements following the 4 April chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhoun, widely believed to have been carried out by the Assad government, which suggested the US would take an active role in forcing Assad from office. Notably, in the days following the attack, Tillerson stated that an international effort was underway to oust Assad, and that Assad’s reign was “coming to an end.” The State Department has declined to comment on Tillerson’s statement, and insisted the US remains committed to the Geneva process, and a credible political process for Syria, saying “Ultimately, this process, in our view, will lead to a resolution of Assad’s status.” (Foreign Policy) (Analyst Note: If confirmed, Tillerson’s comment would indicate a return to a pre-Khan Sheikhoun policy position for the US, when both Tillerson and Nikki Haley stated the US was no longer interested in forcing Assad from power. It would also indicate the US is willing to cede Russia the primary role in determining not only the fate of Assad, but by extension the outcome of the Syrian conflict.)
  • 3 JUL: Delegations from the Syrian government,armed opposition groups, and sponsor nations arrived to Astana for the fifth round of talks which is scheduled to begin tomorrow. The government’s delegation is led by the Syrian government Envoy to the United Nations Bashar al-Jaafari while the armed opposition groups delegation is led by Mohammed Alloush (SANA, Sputnik)

Humanitarian

  • None.

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 30 JUN: “No Less Than 13,029 Individuals Died Due To Torture, Including 164 Children” (SNHR)
  • 1 JUL: “Analysis: Can IS be ousted from Syria without Assad’s help?” – Zeina Karam and Josh Lederman (AP)
  • 2 July: “Turkey’s Real Target on the Way to Idlib: Kurds” – Fehim Tastekin (Al-Monitor)
  • 2 July: “Is this the Site of a Future Turkish Base in Syria?” – Christiaan Triebert (Bellingcat)
  • 3 JUL: “The Post-Caliphate Gauntlet in Eastern Syria” – Noah Bonsey (War on the Rocks)