TSI Syria Update: July 12, 2017

Takeaway

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and Ahrar al-Sham continued separate campaigns targeting Islamic State (ISIS) sleeper cells in Idlib governorate today with the arrest of 32 ISIS-affiliated individuals in opposition-controlled Idlib city. These arrests come two days after HTS conducted a series of raids on suspected ISIS cells, resulting in the arrest of more than 100 ISIS members in several locations throughout Idlib governorate. For several weeks prior to the arrests, a series of suspected ISIS IED attacks targeting the leadership of HTS and Ahrar took place across Idlib governorate. Additionally, in the opposition-held Babila district south of Damascus, armed opposition groups Jaysh al-Ababil arrested an ISIS sleeper cell consisting of eight members.

Military

  • 11 JUL: Free Idlib Army, an armed opposition group (AOG) has announced a major change in the leadership board of the faction appointing three new members (@Free_Idleb_Army-AR, Eldorar-AR) (Analyst Note: Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) assassinated one leader of the Free Idlib Army a few months ago. The new leadership change may be related to current crackdowns by HTS on other groups in Idlib.)
  • 11 JUL: On Tuesday, the Russian Ministry of Defence announced a Russian military advisor had been killed in the Hama governorate during a mortar strike. The ministry said that the advisor, identified as Captain Nikolai Afanasov, had been stationed in Hama to train pro-government forces. (RFERL, RT, Sputnik)
  • 11 JUL: Jaysh al-Ababeel, an AOG operating in the besieged southern Damascus suburbs, announced it had arrested an Islamic State (ISIS) sleeper cell consisting of eight fighters in the Babila area. (All4syria-AR, Syrian PC-AR, Qasioun-AR)
  • 12 JUL: On Wednesday, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and Ahrar al-Sham separately announced the arrest of more than 32 ISIS members described as sleeper cells in 15 locations throughout Idlib city. The event today comes two days after HTS arrested 125 ISIS members in Idlib during a large-scale coordinated raid targeting one of the group’s largest sleeper cells in the governorate. (Smart News-AR, @AhrarAl_Sham-AR, Eldorar-AR)
  • 12 JUL: The Assad Coalition offensive against ISIS continued today in eastern Homs governorate as pro-government forces took full control of al-Heel oil field area. (SANA, Qasioun, Smart News-AR)
  • 12 JUL: Assad Coalition forces and AOGs continued to clash in northern Latakia today. Pro-government forces shelled opposition-controlled areas in the al-Turkman mountains, reportedly killing ten civilians in the villages of al-Zaytoniya and Jabal Abo Ali. Pro-government forces also struck a vehicle belonging to the AOG al-Firqa al-Thaniya al-Sahiliya with an anti-tank guided missile in the village of al-Yamdiya, and reportedly killed eight opposition fighters. (Zaman Alwsl-AR, Alquds-AR, Alsouria-AR, Latakia Coordination News FB-AR)
  • 12 JUL: On Wednesday, Jaysh al-Islam (JAI) released a statement claiming to have killed at least six Assad Coalition fighters along the Damascus-Homs highway in an ambush. In the statement, JAI also claimed it had killed 19 pro-government forces over the last 24 hours in the nearby Eastern Ghouta town of Hosh al-Dawahira during ongoing clashes with pro-government forces. (Smart-News-AR, Shaam-AR, @jaishalislam-AR)
  • 12 JUL: The Military Council of opposition factions in Damascus and Rural Damascus released a statement asking all AOGs in Eastern Ghouta to respond within 72 hours to an initiative calling on all AOGs in Eastern Ghouta to unite as one body in order to end the infighting. The 72 hours is described as a grace period for those who have not yet responded to the initiative, which was originally released on 5 July. (RSF Media Office, Eldorar-AR, Radio Alkul-AR) (Analyst Note: The main opposition groups in Eastern Ghouta include Jaysh al-Islam, Failaq al-Rahman, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, and Ahrar al-Sham. The four groups started fighting at the end of April, resulting in hundreds of fighters from all sides being killed, arrested, or injured.)
  • 12 JUL: On Wednesday, Assad Coalition forces violated the southern Syria ceasefire deal in Daraa negotiated by Russia, the US, and Jordan. Local sources reported that pro-government forces shelled Daraa al-Balad neighborhood in southern Daraa city. In the northern Daraa al-Mahata neighbourhood in the city, pro-government forces reportedly opened fire on a man and his wife, injuring them. Also, in the northern countryside of Daraa governorate, Assad Coalition forces opened fire with heavy machine guns on al-Gharia al-Gharbiya village from their locations in Kherbet Ghazaleh. (Smart News-AR)
  • 12 JUL: According to US military spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon, US military advisors are on the ground inside of Raqqa city. Dillon said that many of the troops are Special Forces, and they are working in an “advise, assist and accompany” role, supporting US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the battle against ISIS. He noted that though not directly engaging in combat, the Americans are close to the front lines and “are much more exposed to enemy contact than those in Iraq.” (AFP)

Political

  • 12 JUL: On Wednesday, a convoy of Syrian refugees departed the Lebanese town of Arsal heading for the town of Asal al-Ward in Syria in a deal allegedly brokered between Hezbollah and Syrian opposition group Saraya Ahl al-Sham. The convoy was reported to include between 250 and 300 individuals. (Reuters, Al-Masdar)
  • 12 JUL: US President Donald Trump will meet with French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday 14 July to discuss Syria and combating global terrorism. (White House, Reuters)
  • 12 JUL: Beginning at 15:40 UTC on Wednesday and reportedly lasting for approximately four hours, internet service via Syria Telecom was disconnected leading to widespread outages across the country. 181 networks were impacted by this outage, representing 77% of all routed networks in the country. Previous internet outages have reportedly been linked to the government’s attempts to prevent cheating during national school exams, this outage does not appear to be related. (DynResearch, CircleID)

Humanitarian

  • 12 JUL: The World Food Programme announced that it has reached two locations in Raqqa governorate by land for the first time in three years as a result of the rollback of ISIS and the reopening of a road between Aleppo and Hasakeh. (WFP)

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 11 JUL: “Ankara May Be Counting on US-Russian Rivalry in Syria” – Semih Idiz (Al-Monitor)
  • 12 JUL: “How Russia Suckered Trump in Syria, and Iran Comes Out the Big Winner” – Charles Lister (The Daily Beast)
  • 12 JUL: “Syria: Airstrike on School Kills Civilians” – (HRW)
  • 12 JUL: “The Turkish Military is Likely to Target Idlib Next” – Molhem Ekaidi (Atlantic Council)