TSI Syria Update: July 14, 2017

Takeaway

The Assad Coalition offensive on opposition-held Eastern Ghouta continued into its 22nd day, with airstrikes on the towns of Jobar, Zamalka, Hazzeh, and Ein Tarma, where an airstrike on a residential building caused it to collapse on the civilians inside. Pro-government forces also reportedly targeted opposition fighters on the outskirts of Ein Tarma with chemical weapons three times within the last 24 hours. Doctors treating injured fighters confirmed they had been exposed to a toxic gas, but could not identify the type. This represents a notable intensification of the fighting in Eastern Ghouta since the pro-government offensive began on 23 June.

Military

  • 13 JUL: The Baath Party’s headquarters in Aleppo city was bombed on Thursday. Pro-government media claimed the explosion was caused by an  ammunitions warehouse combusting due to a heatwave in the region, but armed opposition group Sariyat Abo Ammara for Special Operations claimed responsibility for the incident as an attack targeting government officials’ meeting. The head of Sariyat Abo Ammara said the operation was planned to limit damage to the building and avoid civilian casualties, with three of its fighters planted explosives in the headquarters. The explosives were later detonated remotely. Pro-government media reported only material damage. (Smart News-AR, Orient News-AR, Syrian Official TV Channel on YouTube)
  • 13-14 JUL: Intense fighting between the US-backed Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) and ISIS broke out in Raqqa late Thursday night after the SDF reportedly seized the eastern district of Batani, and launched an assault on al-Rumeilah. Sources on the ground reported ISIS was mounting heavy resistance, and its use of weaponized drones, snipers, and IEDs was making it difficult to maintain control of recently captured areas. (AFP)
  • 14 JUL: Turkish forces and the Kurdish YPG reportedly exchanged fire in northern Syria today. Turkish artillery units in Kilis shelled YPG positions in Syria, after the YPG allegedly opened fire on targets on the Turkish side of the border. Friday’s clashes follow weeks of increased tensions in northern Syria, and the looming possibility of a Turkish offensive to capture Afrin and Tel Rifaat. According to a Afrin-based YPG commander Bahjat Abdo, Russia has said if Kurdish forces allow the Syrian government to enter Afrin, it will stop the Turkish strikes. This statement has not been officially corroborated by Russia, and was rejected by Abdo, who said it would be “impossible” for the YPG to allow the government to return. (Hurriyet, Orient News, Kurdistan24, SOHR)
  • 14 JUL: The current Assad Coalition offensive against Eastern Ghouta continued into its 22nd day with attacks on the towns of Jobar, Ein Tarma, Zamalka, and Hazzeh. Pro-government planes targeted residential areas of Ein Tarma, Hazzeh, and Zamalka, causing a residential building in Ein Tarma to collapse with civilians inside. At least five bodies were been pulled from the rubble along with several living victims, and the rescue operations were continuing into the night. Pro-government forces also reportedly targeted opposition fighters in Ein Tarma with chemical weapons three times within the last 24 hours. Doctors treating injured fighters confirmed that they had been exposed to a toxic gas, but could not identify the type. Armed opposition group (AOG) Failaq al-Rahman clashed with pro-government forces in Arbin as well. (@SiegeWatch, @SiegeWatch, Qasioun, Al-Jazeera-AR, @SyriaCivilDefe, Ghouta Media Center FBAR, Ghouta Media Center FB-AR, SCD in Rural Damascus FB-AR, AP)
  • 14 JUL: Today Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) released a statement accusing al-Wiyat Suqour al-Sham, an AOG operating in Idlib, of assassinating two HTS members in al-Zawiya mountain area. In the statement, HTS demanded Suqour al-Sham hand over the members who were involved in the assassination. (Qasioun-AR)

Political

  • 13 JUL: On Thursday, US special envoy for the international anti-ISIS coalition Brett McGurk said Russia had indicated it was willing to deploy monitors to southwestern Syria to prevent any pro-government violations of the recently implemented ceasefire. It is uncertain whether Russia has actually sent ceasefire monitors to southern Syria. Notably, McGurk said the US has had very constructive military-to-military discussions with Russia, and said “if there’s a way to work with Russia to get the violence down through de-confliction arrangements and ceasefires, we’re obviously very open to that.” (Department of State)
  • 14 JUL: Today AOG Jaysh al-Islam announced their approval of the Military Council of opposition groups in Damascus and Rural Damascus’s initiative suggesting the unification of all armed opposition factions in Eastern Ghouta to end infighting. (@jaishalislam, ElaphAR, SmartAR)
  • 14 JUL: Russia’s legislative State Duma ratified a protocol on the deployment of Russian air forces to Syria on Friday. This agreement between Russia and Syria provides for the long-term deployment of Russian aircraft and personnel to Syria and covers related logistics. The terms of the protocol are valid for 49 years, with the option to extend them for an additional 25 years. Chairman for the State Duma Committee Leonid Slutsky stated, “Considering the situation with terrorist groups in Syria, unfortunately, realize that our military will be there for long. We will always stay at the forefront of the fight against terrorism in Syria, preventing its expansion to Russia and Europe.” (TASS)
  • 14 JUL: The seventh round of the Intra-Syrian Geneva Talks ended today with no apparent progress. Representatives of the opposition’s High Negotiations Council (HNC) accused the Syrian government of refusing to enter into serious negotiations, blaming it for the slow pace of progress. Meanwhile, Syrian government representative Bashar al-Jaafari said that the sessions were useful, and that they focused on terrorism as well as legal/constitutional consultations. (RuptlyTV, @SyrianHNC_en, Etilaf)

Humanitarian

  • None

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 13 JUL: “Horrifying Testimony on ‘Syria’s Human Slaughterhouse,’ Saydnaya Prison” – Hosam al-Jablawi (Atlantic Council)
  • 13 JUL: “Post-Conflict Stabilization: Turkey and the End of the Euphrates Shield” – Aaron Stein, Hossam Abouzahr, and Rao Komar (Atlantic Council)
  • 14 JUL: “The Role of Jihadi Movements in Syrian Local Governance” – Ayman Al Dassouky (Omran Center for Strategic Studies)
  • 14 JUL: “Analysis: Shift in Rhetoric Among Kurdish Politicians in Syria” – Wladimir van Wilgenburg (Syria Deeply)
    14 JUL: “Making Peace With Assad’s State of Barbarism” – Kim Ghattas (Foreign Policy)