TSI Syria Update: July 20, 2017

Takeaway

Fighting between Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and Ahrar al-Sham continued across Idlib province for the third day, after HTS refused an attempted mediation initiative by a group of Islamic scholars. The fighting has triggered a sorting of the opposition as smaller armed factions have defected on both sides, most notably the group Nour al-Din al-Zenki announced its separation from HTS after it rejected the mediation effort. Fighting is currently ongoing near the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, with reports that Turkey has dispatched a contingent of affiliated opposition fighters to support Ahrar al-Sham against  HTS. The infighting has prompted civilian protests, notably in Saraqeb where relentless anti-HTS demonstrations have reportedly pushed the group to withdraw to checkpoints on the periphery  of the city.  The situation across Idlib was fluid at the time of writing, and all reporting is subject to rapid developments.

Military

  • 19-20 JUL: Fighting between Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS – a coalition led by the former al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra) and Ahrar al-Sham continued for the third day today, after clashes between the two groups erupted Tuesday evening. HTS rejected an attempted mediation effort, reportedly saying it would only accept the full merger of all groups in the area in order to end the fragmentation of the opposition in northern Syria. As a result, fighting continued across the Idlib province, with HTS seizing control of several towns, including Isqat, Sarmada, and Aqrabat. Ahrar reportedly captured Tiermalla and al-Tawba villages, and mobilized its forces near the Bab al-Hawa border crossing. At least 13 civilians were injured by errant fire near camps for displaced persons in northern Idlib. There are also reports that a contingent of around 150 Turkey-backed FSA forces have arrived in Idlib to assist Ahrar al-Sham in the fight against HTS. See the “Political” section below for more details on the related civilian protests and armed opposition group defections.  (Reuters, Medium @_alhamra, @badly_xeroxed, @Worldonalert, @GIIMedia, all4syriaAR)
  • 20 JUL: Assad Coalition forces attacked the besieged Damascus neighborhood of Jobar and surrounding areas of Eastern Ghouta with airstrikes and artillery, killing at least one Syria Civil Defense (SCD) volunteer in the town of Douma. Meanwhile, intense clashes continued on the ground between the Assad Coalition and armed opposition groups (AOGs) in Eastern Ghouta. At least 28 Assad Coalition fighters were killed in fighting following an ambush by AOG Jaysh al-Islam near the town of al-Rayhan. In addition, AOG Failaq al-Rahman (FAR) fighters were reportedly targeted with toxic gas by Assad Coalition forces in the clashes in Ein Terma today. The situation in Jobar and Eastern Ghouta escalated starting mid June, following weeks of relative calm in the area. (Ghouta Media Center FB-AR, Ghouta Media Center FB-AR, Jobar Medical Center FB-AR, Qasioun, AFP, AP, GMC FBAR)
  • 20 JUL: The ceasefire in southwestern Syria entered its twelfth day amid reports of scattered violations. The Assad Coalition bombarded the town of Jenin, to the northeast of Daraa city, while AOGs targeted the government-controlled of Hadar, to the north of Quneitra city. (SOHR-AR)

Political

  • 19 JUL: On Wednesday, Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon denounced the earlier release of information on US bases in northern Syria by Turkey’s state-run news agency. Pahon said: “The release of sensitive military information exposes Coalition forces to unnecessary risk and has the potential to disrupt ongoing operations to defeat ISIS.” Pahon commented that the Pentagon’s concerns have been relayed to Turkey. (Reuters)
  • 19-20 JUL: For the second day in a row, Syrians in Saraqeb went out to the streets to protest, calling for HTS to leave the town. HTS entered Saraqeb just a day after the town held free local council elections, amidst the ongoing clashes with Ahrar al-Sham across Idlib governorate. On Wednesday, HTS fighters opened fire on the demonstrators, killing a well-known media activist. Protesters returned to the streets of Saraqeb on Thursday and were attacked once again, leading to an unknown number of injuries. Unconfirmed reports suggest that following today’s protest, HTS fighters withdrew from the town center. (AlWan FB-AR, SN4HR-AR, @HadiAlabdallah-AR, Naharnet, @salqinAR)
  • 20 JUL: AOG Nour al-Din al-Zenki withdrew from HTS, citing HTS’ refusal of the mediation initiative issued today by several religious scholars. Nour al-Din al-Zenki was the most notable defection of several announced today from both HTS and Ahrar al-Sham as the Idlib infighting continues. See the “Military” section above for more details. (Syria Direct, @hossamalatrash1-AR, @Ahrar_SpokesMan-AR)   
  • 20 JUL: Today several local supreme court councils in opposition-held Syria issued a statement establishing a unified supreme judicial council in Syria. The local supreme councils include judicial councils in Eastern Ghouta, Idlib, Aleppo, and Houran. (Syrian Noor-AR)

Humanitarian

  • 19 JUL: On Wednesday, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) released information on its Syrian humanitarian aid program, called Operation Good Neighbor. Established in June 2016, the program provides medical, infrastructure, and civilian aid to Syrians across the border. According to the IDF, since the start of the program over 4,000 people have been brought to Israel to receive medical treatment. Additionally, 40 tons of flour, 225 tons of food, 12,000 packages of baby formula, 1,800 packages of diapers, 12 tons of shoes, and 55 tons of cold weather clothing have been delivered. (IDF, JPost, Times of Israel)

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 17 JUL “Trump’s secret air force base in Syria” – Julian Ropcke and Michael Weh (translation) (BILD)
  • 19 JUL: “Infighting Among the Syrian Opposition” – Sinan Hatahet (Al-Sharq Forum)
  • 20 JUL: “How Turkey is Governing in Northern Aleppo” – Aaron Stein, Hossam Abouzahr, Rao Komar (Syria Deeply)
  • 20 JUL: “Watching Russia’s Syrian build-up from central Istanbul” – Tim Whewell (BBC)
  • 20 JUL: “Lebanon: Deaths, Alleged Torture of Syrians in Army Custody” – (HRW)