TSI Syria Update: July 5, 2017

Takeaway

US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) breached Raqqa’s Old City walls as part of the campaign to capture Raqqa from Islamic State (ISIS). The US-led Coalition airstrikes hit two portions of the wall, allowing the US-backed fighters to advance into the Old city and move closer to the city center. The breach has been called the most important advance in the battle against ISIS in Raqqa so far.

Military

4 JUL: On Tuesday, US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) entered Raqqa’s Old City after US-led Coalition struck two small portions of the Old City historic wall. ISIS fighters deployed a number of drones and suicide bombers against the advancing SDF fighters. ISIS fighters have launched a number of car bomb and mortar shell attacks against the SDF from their positions behind the Old City walls. Brett McGurk, U.S. envoy for the international coalition against the ISIS, praised the breach into the Old City, stating it was a “key milestone” in the offensive to capture Raqqa. (AP, CENTCOM, AFP)

4-5 JUL: On Tuesday, Turkish forces and Turkey-backed opposition groups shelled several SDF-controlled villages in rural Aleppo, to the south of Azaz. The shelling reportedly killed and injured a number of civilians. On Wednesday, thousands of people in the city of Afrin protested the Turkish attacks in the area. The head of the Syrian Kurdish YPG, Sipan Hemo, stated that the Turkish military activities amounted to a “declaration of war.” Several clashes between the SDF and Turkish forces took place in recent days, signaling rising tensions in northwestern Syria. Turkey has deployed large number of troops to the area in recent weeks and is reportedly preparing for for an offensive to capture Kurdish-held areas in northwestern Syria. (Reuters, Rudaw, SOHR)

4-5 JUL: Assad Coalition forces bombarded Douma, Zamalka, and Ein Terma in Eastern Ghouta on Tuesday and Wednesday amid continued clashes with armed opposition group (AOG) Failaq al-Rahman (FAR) around the town of Ein Terma. Clashes also broke out between AOG Jaish al-Islam (JAI) and the Assad Coalition forces in Hazarma. (al-Masdar, Gouta GMC FB-AR, Gouta GMC FB-AR, @alrahmancorps4-AR, @jaishalislam-AR, Gouta GMC FB-AR)

4 JUL: A car bomb exploded near a Quran school in Hefsarjeh town west of Idlib city killing at least 15 civilians, many of them are children and injuring several others on Tuesday. Two of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham leaders have died in the explosion. (Zamanalwsl-AR, Orient News-AR)

5 JUL: Armed opposition groups in the Southern Front have created a new unified operations room called “Al-Saf al-Wahid” and announced the start of new offensive against Jaish Khaled, an ISIS0affiliated group. The new operation aims to retake the towns of Adwan and Talat Ashtar in southwest of Daraa from the group. (Smart News-AR, Enab Baladi-AR, @alsafalwahid) (Analyst Note: the same opposition faction previously launched last month Nazee al-Khanjar operation against Jaish Khaled without any advances).

5 JUL: In a statement released on Wednesday, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced that several TU-95MS long-range strategic bombers conducted airstrikes on ISIS targets near the borders of the Hama and Homs provinces using air-deployed X-101 cruise missiles. The strikes reportedly targeted ISIS positions and storage sites near the village of Uqayribat. (Russia MoD Fb)

Political

3 JUL: On Monday, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres appointed Catherine Marchi-Uhel to lead a legal team that will collect, preserve, and prepare evidence of human rights violations and war crimes in Syria for future use by courts or an international tribunal. This team, formally referred to as the International Impartial and Independent Mechanism, is the result of a General Assembly resolution passed in December after Russia used its veto vote to repeatedly blocked similar resolutions in the UN Security Council. Ms. Marchi-Uhel is a former lawyer, and has extensive international criminal law experience. (NYTimes, HRW)

4 JUL: Several opposition groups boycotted Astana Talks, citing their opposition to the deployment of Iran-backed troops in the “deconfliction zones” and their distrust of Russian and Syrian government motives. The groups also stated that previous Astana talks did not prevent the Syrian Army from attacking opposition-held areas and forcibly displace AOGs from Barzeh, al-Qaboun, and al-Waer.  The opposition groups that announced they are boycotting the talks are: Failaq Al-Rahman (FAR) and Jaish al-Islam in Eastern Ghouta, Jaish al-Izzah and Jaish al-Nasr in Hama, and the Southern Front in Daraa. (Qasioun-AR, @alrahmancorps3-AR, @south_front_sy, 7al-AR, Qasioun-AR)  

5 JUL: At the closing of the latest round of Syria talks in Astana, Russia, Iran, and Turkey issued a joint statement which reiterated their commitment to the agreement and announced that the next meeting of the Joint Working Group overseeing the implementation of the memorandum would be held in Iran on 1-2 August. Additionally, the statement said the next round of Astana talks had been tentatively scheduled for the last week of August. Separately, in a sign of friction between the parties gathered at Astana, the leader of the Syrian government delegation Bashar al-Jaafari criticised Turkey for allegedly obstructing the finalization of the borders of the de-escalation zones, reportedly saying “the Turkish side did everything in its power to hinder reaching positive results that concern the interests of the Syrian people.” (Reuters, SANA)

Humanitarian

None.

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

3 JUL: “A photographer’s journey into the dying center of the Islamic State,” – Alice Martins (Washington Post)

3 JUL: “Israel’s Relations With the Syrian Rebels: an Assessment” – Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi (Rubin Center)

4 JUL: “US Escalation in Syria Strengthens Iran-Russia Partnership” – Hamidreza Azizi (Al-Monitor)

4 JUL: “Summary of Claims Surrounding the Khan Sheikhoun Chemical Attack” – Eliot Higgins (Bellingcat)

4 JUL: “Report of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission in Syria Regarding an Alleged Incident in Khan Sheikhoun, Syrian Arab Republic April 2017” (OPCW)

5 JUL: “Tehran Fears De-Escalation Zones Could Cut Land Path to Lebanon” – (Alsouria Net Via The Syrian Observer)

5 JUL: “Russia Deploys a Potent Weapon in Syria: The Profit Motive” – Andrew Kramer (NYTimes)