TSI Syria Update: July 21, 2017

Takeaway

Late Friday evening Ahrar al-Sham and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham reached a ceasefire agreement aimed at ending days of deadly fighting. The terms of the agreement call for a mutual exchange of prisoners, and for both groups to withdraw from Bab al-Hawa on the Turkish border, which will be turned over to a civilian administration. At the time of writing, it is unclear if either group has withdrawn from the area or whether the deal applied to other areas of Idlib governorate.

Military

  • 21 JUL: Assad Coalition warplanes targeted the towns of Ein Tarma, al-Rayhan, and Douma in Eastern Ghouta today, leaving several civilians injured. These attacks are part the Assad Coalition offensive on the besieged areas east of Damascus. Pro-government media reported that Assad Coalition forces captured several locations and streets on the outskirts of Ein Tarma, which the report described as completing the offensive’s first phase. (Qasioun-AR, Ghouta Media Center FB-AR, al-Masdar)
  • 20 JUL: Assad Coalition forces tried to infiltrate armed opposition groups’ (AOGs) fronts on Thursday in opposition-held Beit Sahm town in the besieged southern suburbs of Damascus. Pro-opposition media claimed that armed opposition stopped the pro-government militants. This attack is considered a violation of an ongoing truce agreement between the government and opposition groups that has been in place since 2014. (Beit Sahm Revolution Coordination FB-AR,  Revolution Spring-AR)
  • 21 JUL: US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) continued to advance slowly against Islamic State (ISIS) fighters in Raqqa on Friday amid heavy US-led Coalition airstrikes. The SDF was able to secure parts of Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik district, near the Old City, and advance deeper into Nazlat Shahada district, reportedly freeing hundreds of trapped civilians in the eastern part of the city. (Ara News-AR, RaqqaSL-FB)
  • 21 JUL: The Syrian Arab Army and Hezbollah launched a coordinated cross-border offensive targeting an area near the Lebanese town of Arsal and the Syrian town of Fleita, believed to contain fighters from al-Qaeda-linked militant group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). Pro-Hezbollah media reported shelling and Syrian airstrikes in the area, and claimed the operation had made initial gains. The Lebanese army also deployed additional forces in the area in order to prevent fleeing fighters from moving further into Lebanon. The offensive has raised concern among human rights groups, as the Jaroud Arsal area contains several thousand Syrian refugees. The Lebanese army has said it is facilitating the passage of refugees out of the conflict area with UN supervision. (Reuters, BBC, Al-Jazeera)
  • 21 JUL: On Friday evening, Ahrar al-Sham and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) reached an agreement for a ceasefire in Idlib governorate near Bab al-Hawa border crossing. Under the terms of the agreement, all detainees would be released by both sides, and both factions would evacuate the Bab al-Hawa border crossing in order to turn it over to a civilian administration. Should the agreement hold, it would bring an end to four days of fighting between the two groups. Clashes between HTS and Ahrar had continued earlier in the day, mainly near the Bab al-Hawa crossing point with Turkey. HTS advanced toward the crossing point and took control of several positions in the area, reportedly including the town of Atmeh. Meanwhile, the initiative by Failaq al-Sham and Harakat Nour al-Deen al-Zinki to act as peacekeeping forces failed when Failaq al-Sham reportedly withdrew its forces, allegedly without clarifying its reasons for retreating. (Smart News-AR, Qasioun-AR, Orient News-AR, @Ahrar_SpokesMan, Medium @_alhamra)
  • 21 JUL: Local sources reported today that an estimated 500 Russian troops and military police have recently arrived in Daraa governorate to monitor the de-escalation zone brokered by the US, Russia, and Jordan. The Russian forces are expected to establish a base in the town of Mothbeen, north of Daraa city. Local sources also reported sighting Russian forces in the towns of Sanamayn and Izraa, in northern Daraa governorate. (Qasioun-AR, Souriati-AR- ِAll4Syria-AR)

Political

  • 9 JUL: At the First Trade Fair on Syrian Reconstruction Projects, Qin Yong, Vice President of the China-Arab Exchange Association, announced China plans to invest US$2 billion in Syria to establish industrial parks. Syrian Ambassador to China, Imad Mustafa, stated “China, Russia, and Iran have provided substantial support to Syria during the military conflict. Therefore, it is these three countries that should play a major role in the reconstruction of Syria.” (Chinascope)
  • 20 JUL: Thursday night, the Syrian People’s Assembly (the Syrian Parliament) removed the People’s Assembly Speaker Mrs. Hadiyah Abbas from her position. Pro-government media said the decision was made by majority of member votes after 164 members petitioned to discharge Abbas. A post on the Assembly’s Facebook page said that the related the discharge to disputes during the morning session, when Abbas she cut discussion short on bylaw proposal. In the same statement Abbas’ behaviour was described as “irresponsible and illegal” and causing an “accumulation of a large disorder as a result of non-democratic behavior, which reflected negatively on the Council.” (SANA, Syrian People’s Assembly FB-AR)
  • 20 JUL: On Thursday, the Trump Administration’s Homeland and Counterterrorism advisor Tom Bossert stated the US is seeking a political transition in Syria and would not insist on the removal of Bashar al-Assad, saying “I don’t think it’s important to say Assad must go first.” Bossert noted that the removal of Assad was the eventual desired outcome, but would not be a priority. (Washington Post)

Humanitarian

  • None.

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 20 JUL: “Aaron Stein’s Take on Continued US Military Involvement in Syria, Despite Ending the CIA Program” – (Atlantic Council)
  • 21 JUL: “Open Gun Markets Helping Spread Chaos in Syria’s North”  (The Syrian Observer via  Al-Araby al-Jadeed
  • 21 JUL: “What a Battle on the Lebanese Border Could Mean for Syria” – Kareem Chehayeb (Syria Deeply)
  • 21 JUL: “America Had Already Lost Its Covert War in Syria–Now It’s Official” – Sam Heller (The Century Foundation)