TSI Syria Update: July 10, 2017

Takeaway

A ceasefire agreed upon by the US, Russia, and Jordan went into effect at noon on Sunday in southwestern Syria. Initial reports suggest that there have already been several pro-government violations, but that violence had decreased, with several opposition sources claiming the area was experiencing a state of “relative calm.”  Many key details of the agreement have not been made public, including the exact boundaries of the ceasefire zone and the specifics of an enforcement mechanism, raising the likelihood that the deal suffers from the same fatal flaws as prior agreements.

Military

  • 8-9 JUL: Over the weekend, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) conducted a series of raids on suspected Islamic State (ISIS) cells and agents in the province of Idlib. On Saturday, the group released video footage in which it claimed it had dismantled one of the largest ISIS cells in northern Syria. The video showed large quantities of ammunition and IEDs seized in the raid, along with numerous silenced weapons. On Sunday, HTS carried out a large-scale, coordinated raid on ISIS members in the city of Idlib and the surrounding countryside, arresting 123 fighters. Several senior ISIS commanders were reportedly among those captured. (Qasioun, @Charles_Lister, Qasioun, Revospring, Syria Direct)
  • 8-9 JUL: Clashes continued between armed opposition groups (AOGs) and Assad Coalition forces in Eastern Ghouta over the weekend and into Monday. AOG Failaq al-Rahman (FAR) continued to fight advances by pro-government forces in the eastern Damascus neighborhood of Jobar and the town of Ein Tarma. Assad Coalition forces also bombarded several towns in Eastern Ghouta including Douma, Ein Tarma, and Kafr Batna with artillery and airstrikes, resulting in several civilian casualties. Fighting also erupted on the eastern front of Eastern Ghouta near Hosh al-Dawahira between Assad Coalition forces and AOG Jaysh al-Islam (JAI). (Qasioun, Kafr Batna Revolutionary Coordinating Committee FB-AR, Smart News-AR, Ghouta GMC FB-AR)
  • 9 JUL: On Monday, Assad Coalition forces launched on offensive on AOGs in the eastern areas of the al-Suwayda and Damascus provinces. In eastern al-Suwayda, pro-government forces seized villages and terrain near Banat Baeir and Shinwan. In eastern Damascus governorate, pro-government forces reportedly captured a swath of volcanic terrain near Jabal Makhul and Jabal Seis. In response, AOG Usoud al-Sharqiya issued a statement saying the Assad Coalition, backed by Russian airstrikes, had attacked their positions in eastern al-Suwayda and Damascus under the pretext of fighting ISIS. The statement affirmed the area had been under opposition control since 18 March when it was seized from ISIS, and condemned the pro-government assault. (Reuters, Qasioun, @osoudalshrqia, @sayed_ridha) (Analyst Note: This offensive appears to be aimed at cutting off and isolating opposition groups in a pocket in the vicinity of ar-Ruhba. There is reportedly concern within opposition groups that the recent US/Russia/Jordan ceasefire will allow the Syrian Government to advance in al-Badiya region.)
  • 9 JUL: AOGs attacked Assad Coalition forces at a checkpoint in southern Hama governorate and killed at least five pro-government soldiers. Following the attack, pro-government artillery and warplanes targeted the nearby villages of Harbnafseh, Talf, and al-Zara. (Baladi News-AR, Shaam-AR)
  • 9-10 JUL: Clashes between Assad Coalition forces and ISIS continued as part of the pro-government efforts  to advance in eastern Homs governorate. On Sunday, pro-government forces repelled an ISIS attack on their positions in Maksar al-Hussan. Pro-government media claimed that 40 ISIS fighters were killed in the attack. On Monday, Assad Coalition forces captured Tallet al-Allam from ISIS, east of al-Mushayrfa al-Gharbiya village in eastern Homs governorate. ISIS claimed to have killed 20 pro-government militiamen in a car bomb near Jubb al-Jarrah area. (Qasioun-AR, SANA, Enab Baladi-AR)
  • 10 JUL: On Monday, Assad Coalition forces and AOGs exchanged artillery fire in Jabal al-Turkman and Jabal al-Akrad in northern Latakia governorate. During the exchange, a stray mortar originating from government-controlled areas hit a border control center on the Turkish side of the Syria-Turkey border, causing the Turkish military to target pro-government forces with reprisal shellfire. (Qasioun-AR, Step News Agency AR, SANA-AR)
  • 10 JUL: Clashes between Turkish forces and YPG fighters broke out in Afrin region, in northwestern Syria today. Two civilians were reportedly killed and five others were injured as a result of the Turkish forces shelling of the several towns in the area, including Tal Raf’at and Sheikh Issa. (Reuters, ARA News-AR)
  • 10 JUL: Assad Coalition warplanes carried out a number of airstrikes in the opposition-held town of Kafr Laha, in al-Houleh area north of Homs city on Monday. The airstrikes targeted residential areas in the town and left several civilians injured. (Homs SCD FB-AR, AMC-AR)
  • 9-10 JUL: At noon on Sunday, a ceasefire brokered by the US, Russia, and Jordan went into effect in southwestern Syria. Less than a day after the ceasefire started, Assad Coalition forces reportedly targeted several towns and villages in Daraa and Quneitra governorates early on Monday. In Daraa governorate, the towns of Saida, Tafas, and al-Naeema were targeted with mortars and missiles. Additionally, the Daraa al-Balad neighborhood in Daraa city was shelled with missiles and artillery. In Quneitra governorate, pro-government forces targeted Tallet al-Hmeira and the village of Ofania with artillery and mortars. See the entry in the “Political” section below for more details on the agreement and negotiations. (Smart News-AR, 7al-AR, Qasioun-AR, AFP)

Political

  • 9-10 JUL: At noon on Sunday, a ceasefire brokered by the US, Russia, and Jordan went into effect in southwestern Syria. The agreement, announced on Friday after Putin and Trump met at the G-20 summit, was reportedly the result of weeks of discussions between the three countries. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated the ceasefire would cover areas of the Daraa, al-Suwayda, and Quneitra provinces, without specifying exact boundaries. Lavrov added that initial security for the ceasefire would be provided by Russian Military Police; however, this has not been confirmed by the US or Jordan, and no Russian forces are reported to have been deployed in the area as of yet. A monitoring center is currently being set up in Amman, Jordan to oversee the ceasefire. Local sources have reported several minor violations, see the entry above in the “Military” section for more details.  (Reuters, AP, BBC, Russian MFA-RU) (Analyst Note: So far, the US/Russia/Jordan ceasefire agreement appears to potentially suffer from several flaws which have plagued previous ceasefires in Syria: 1) unclear/unannounced boundaries, 2) lack of enforcement mechanisms, and 3) questionable/insufficient leverage on the Assad government from Russia. Whether or not this agreement can prevail despite these shortcomings remains to be seen.)
  • 10 JUL: Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qasemi called for an expansion of the ceasefire agreed upon by the US, Jordan, and Russia in southwestern Syria to include all de-escalation zones discussed in Astana talks. (Reuters, Tasneem)
  • 10 JUL: On Monday, more than 525 individuals previously included in the forced population transfer from al-Waer, Homs reportedly returned to the city from camps near Jarablus, Aleppo. The bad living situations in the refugee camps was cited as the main reason for the return to Assad Coalition controlled areas. (Aldorar-AR, Smart News-AR)
  • 10 JUL: The seventh round of intra-Syrian peace talks opened today in Geneva. The UN-sponsored talks will focus on four key points: drafting a new constitution, combating terrorism, governance and elections. In addition, Syrian opposition groups participating in the talks called for the expansion of the ceasefire agreement that went into effect on Sunday in southwestern Syria to include other areas in Syria. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed hope that the talks will help solidify de-escalation zones that were created in the course of the Astana process. UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura stated that such de-escalation zones can be beneficial, but must be an interim measure and avoid the partition of Syria. (TASS,  Al-Jazeera, @SyrianHNC-AR, Reuters, UN WebTV)

Humanitarian

  • 9 JUL: On Sunday, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) and the United Nations (UN) delivered humanitarian aid to Babbila, Beit Sahm, and Yelda, home to around 35,000 people. The delivery contained 7,000 food parcels, medicine, and other essentials. (@SYRedCrescent, @UNHCRinSyria)

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 9 JUL: “The Coalition’s Partner in Syria: The Syrian Democratic Forces” – Kyle Orton (The Syrian Intifadah Blog)
  • 10 JUL: “Staffan de Mistura, Special Envoy for Syria: Intra-Syrian Talks – Press Conference (Geneva, 10 July 2017)” (UN WebTV)
  • 10 JUL: “How Russia and Turkey are Converging on Idlib” – Neil Hauer (Syria Deeply)
  • 10 JUL: “Is This Ceasefire Different?” – Frederic C. Hof (Atlantic Council)