TSI Syria Update: July 18, 2017

Takeaway

The southern Syria ceasefire negotiated by Russia, the US, and Jordan entered its ninth day today with fewer violations reported than previous days. There are reports that Assad Coalition forces shelled two towns in southern Syria while a mortar shell fell in the government-held part of Daraa city. Meanwhile, several media outlets circulated rumors that Russian military police have been deployed in areas near the ceasefire line.

Military

  • 17 JUL: During a press briefing on Monday, Pentagon spokesperson Captain Jeff Davis reportedly said the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Assad Coalition agreed to deconflict operations on the ground around Raqqa and Deir Ezzor via the US/Russia line of communication. (Grasswire) (Analyst note: The deconfliction channel was created so that the US and Russia would be able to avoid any accidental conflicts during their separate operations in Syria. This is the first reported instance of this line being used for other purposes.)
  • 18 JUL: On Tuesday, Assad Coalition forces advanced deeper into Islamic State (ISIS)-held areas of southern Raqqa governorate, capturing the Rumailan and Dubaisan oil fields. The gains are part of the Assad Coalition offensive to take over the of al-Sukhneh, a strategic ISIS-held town on the Palmyra-Deir Ezzor highway. (Qasioun, Enab Baladi-AR)
  • 18 JUL: Russian warplanes targeted opposition-held areas in al-Badiya area of Rural Damascus  today amid ongoing clashes between US-backed armed opposition groups (AOGs) and Assad Coalition forces near Um Rumum. Assad Coalition forces advanced in the area in recent weeks in an attempt to curtail the influence of US-backed opposition groups. (Qasioun, Enab Baladi-AR)
  • 18 JUL: Assad Coalition warplanes targeted residential areas in the besieged towns of Ein Tarma and Douma in Eastern Ghouta today. The airstrikes reportedly killed eight civilians and injured many others. Meanwhile, intense clashes continued on the outskirts of Ein Tarma between AOG Failaq al-Rahman (FAR) and Assad Coalition forces. The clashes took place amid unconfirmed reports in Russian media that the US and Russia may be negotiating an extension of the current ceasefire agreement in southwestern Syria to include the contested areas in Eastern Ghouta. (Smart News-AR, Sputnik, Ghouta Media Center FB-AR)
  • 18 JUL: A car bomb targeting a checkpoint near al-Manajir in northwestern al-Hasakeh governorate reportedly killed four people and injured several others. The checkpoint is operated by the Kurdish Asayish internal security force. No group has claimed responsibility. (Reuters, Rudaw-AR)
  • 18 JUL: The southern Syria ceasefire negotiated by Russia, the US, and Jordan entered its ninth day today with fewer violations reported than previous days. Assad Coalition forces shelled the towns of Gharaz, east of Daraa city, and al-Tulul al-Humur, north of al-Quneitra, while a mortar shell fell in the government-held neighborhood of al-Kashef in Daraa city. Meanwhile, Russian military police officers have reportedly been sent to the area in order to be deployed near the ceasefire line. No details of the ceasefire agreement have been made public by any of the parties involved. (SOHR-AR, SOHR-AR, Al-Masdar, Free Horan Media FB-AR)

Political

  • 17 JUL: Russia is rumored to be continuing efforts to negotiate an agreement between Turkey and the Kurdish YPG in northwestern Syria amidst escalating tensions and repeated clashes between the two sides. According to the YPG, Russia is attempting to convince Kurdish forces to allow Syrian government forces to assume control of Afrin as a means of forestalling a Turkish offensive in the area. While Ankara has previously expressed a desire for the removal of the Assad government, preventing Kurdish control of the Afrin region is a greater priority. In return, it is suggested Russia wants Turkey’s assistance combating Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in Idlib. A commander from the YPG-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces stated “Russia is doing to us what Turkey is doing to [HTS] and it is telling us, ‘If you don’t cede control to the regime Turkey will attack you.’ And the Turks are telling [HTS], ‘If you don’t cede control to our allies and us, Russia will attack you.” To date, the YPG has rejected any efforts to negotiate such an agreement, and there is doubt as to whether Turkey actually possesses the necessarily leverage on HTS to ensure its compliance. (Al-Monitor, SOHR)
  • 18 JUL: Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said the Lebanese military would carry out an operation in the Juroud Arsal region on the Syrian border. The announcement comes amid speculation that the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah is preparing for a joint offensive with the Syrian military in the area; this, however, has been denied by Hariri. The Lebanese army has reportedly increased its deployment in the Arsal region within the last 24 hours in preparation for the offensive. The area has previously been used as a base of operations for armed opposition groups, and has been the site of notable spillovers of the Syrian conflict into Lebanon. (Reuters)  
  • 18 JUL: The US announced a new set of sanctions on Iran, saying it “remains deeply concerned about Iran’s malign activities across the Middle East which undermine regional stability, security, and prosperity.” The sanctions were also linked to Iran’s involvement in the ongoing conflict in Syria, stating “Iran has maintained its steadfast support for the Assad regime, despite Assad’s atrocities against his own people.” The sanctions target 18 entities and individuals linked to or believed to be supporting Iran’s military procurement or Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Iran-based transnational criminal organizations and associated persons, and Iran’s ballistic missile program. (State Department, Treasury Department)

Humanitarian

  • None.

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 17 JUL: “Here’s What to Know About The Trump Putin Syria Ceasefire” – Ruth Sherlock (NPR)
  • 17 JUL: “Lebanese Army Accused of Torturing Syrian Refugees” – Lizzie Porter and Kareem Chehayeb (MEE)
  • 18 JUL: “Washington’s Dead End in Syria” – Sam Heller (Foreign Affairs)
  • 18 JUL: “Chechnya Becoming a Major Player in Rebuilding War-Torn Syria” – Nataliya Vasilyeva (AP)
  • 18 JUL: “Debt-Ridden and Broke: The Syrian Regime’s Colossal Reconstruction Challenge” – Tobias Schneider (MEI)
  • 18 JUL: “U.S., Russia and Iran Battle to Build Bases in Syria as ISIS Falls” – Tom O’Connor (Newsweek)