TSI Syria Update: July 6, 2017

Takeaway

On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson released a statement saying that the US was open to closer coordination and cooperation with Russia in Syria. Tillerson stated that despite “unresolved differences on a number of issues,” the US was ready to work with Russia to establish “joint stability mechanisms, including no-fly zones, on-the-ground ceasefire observers, and coordinated humanitarian assistance.” Tillerson’s comments come just prior to the first face-to-face meeting between US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, scheduled to take place Friday on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Germany. Tillerson stated that the current situation in Syria is among the issues the two leaders will discuss.

Military

  • 6 JUL: Assad Coalition forces attacked the Damascus neighborhood of Jobar and the towns of Ein Terma and Harasta with airstrikes and surface-to-surface missiles today amidst ongoing ground clashes between armed opposition group (AOG) Failaq al-Rahman (FAR) and Assad Coalition forces. Two cases of toxic gas exposure were treated in the Jobar Medical Office on Thursday morning after FAR fighters were targeted between Ein Terma and Jobar. The medical office report suggests that the chemical used was likely chlorine. This is the fourth incident where an alleged chlorine gas attack took place in recent weeks in this area. The new chlorine attack comes two days after FAR and Jaysh al-Islam (JAI), the two main AOGs in the area, announced they would boycott Astana peace talks, citing their lack of trust in the Syrian and Russian governments’ motives, and the repeated use of chemical weapons by pro-government forces. (Qasioun-AR, Jobar Medical Office FB-AR, @alrahmancorps3-AR, @SiegeWatch, Ghouta GMC FB-AR)
  • 6 JUL: At least two people died and 11 were injured in a suicide attack that took place in a bus station in government-controlled Hama city today. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. (SANA, All4Syria-AR)

Political

  • 5 JUL: On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson released a statement saying that the US is prepared to discuss joint military efforts with Russia in Syria, including no-fly zones and the use of on-the-ground ceasefire observers should Russia agree. Speaking ahead of the G20 summit in Germany, Tillerson said, “If our two countries work together to establish stability on the ground, it will lay a foundation for progress on the settlement of Syria’s political future.” Tillerson also stated that US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin were scheduled to discuss this issue on Friday. Notably, Tillerson said Russia has a “special responsibility” to ensure the stability of Syria, an obligation to prevent the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government, and a duty to make sure no armed factions “illegitimately re-take or occupy” territory recently reclaimed from ISIS. (US State Department, Al-Jazeera, The Telegraph, Asharq al-Awsat) (Analyst Note: Tillerson’s comments are the latest in an apparent trajectory adjustment for US policy in Syria, which will allow Russia a far greater role in determining the outcome of the Syrian conflict. Most recently in late June, Tillerson stated the future of Bashar al-Assad was “Russia’s issue, not the US government’s.”)
  • 5 JUL: In response to escalating tensions between Turkey and the Kurdish YPG in northwestern Syria, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus rejected the recent statement from the YPG that Turkey was effectively “declaring war” by deploying forces in the area. Kurtulmus stated “This is not a declaration of war. We are making preparations against potential threats.” He added that Turkey would retaliate against any hostile move from the YPG. (ARANews, Hurriyet) (Analyst Note: This comment comes after several weeks of clashes between Turkey, Turkey-backed opposition groups, and the YPG. It also comes amidst rumors of a pending Turkish offensive to recapture Afrin and Tel Rifaat.)
  • 6 JUL: Today Edmond Mulet, head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), met with the Security Council to present the sixth report of the JIM’s investigations into culpability for chemical attacks in Syria. During a press conference after the closed session, Mulet said that the OPCW probe was facing external efforts to influence its findings. The JIM has been tasked with investigating the 4 April chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhoun. Mulet stated the mechanism was currently receiving messages saying “if we don’t do our work according to them… then they will not accept the conclusions of our work.” (AFP, UN WebTV)
  • 6 JUL: Today in Poland, President Donald Trump said the US is urging Russia “to cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere, and its support for hostile regimes — including Syria and Iran.” Trump’s statement comes a day before his first face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sideless of the G20 Summit in Hamburg. (White House, The Guardian)

Humanitarian

  • None.

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 30 JUN: Forty-fifth monthly report of the Director-General of the OPCW: “Progress in the elimination of the Syrian chemical weapons programme” S/2017/564 (UN)
  • 30 JUN: “Beyond Europe: Routes, destinations, and challenges faced by Syrian refugees seeking asylum outside of Europe” – Mixed Migration Platform (ReliefWeb)
  • 30 JUN: “Geneva Peace talks Won’t Solve Syria — So Why Have Them?” – Sam Heller (TCF)
  • 5 JUL: “Transcript of the press conference by the UN Special Envoy for Syria in Astana”  (UN Geneva)
  • 5 JUL: “Statement From Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson on the Current Situation in Syria” (US State Department)
  • 6 JUL: “Inside Syria’s Civil War: Arms and Resistance in Jobar” (Al Jazeera)
  • 6 JUL: Opinion: “Bombs Will Not Defeat ISIS (but Maybe the Internet Will)” – Abdalaziz AlHamza (NY Times)
  • 6 JUL: “Fractures Emerge in Turkey’s Alliances in Northern Syria” – Lars Hauch (Syria Deeply)
  • 6 JUL: “Sixth report of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism” S/2017/552 (UN)
  • 6 JUL: “Edmond Mulet (OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism) on Chemical Weapon Use in Syria – Security Council Media Stakeout (6 July 2017)” (UN WebTV)