TSI Syria Update: July 24, 2017

Takeaway

The Russian Ministry of Defence announced a ceasefire agreement in Eastern Ghouta on Saturday. The details of the ceasefire remain unclear, while the Assad Coalition continued to target Eastern Ghouta with airstrikes and shelling over the weekend into Monday. Armed opposition group Failaq al-Rahman stated it was not informed officially about the agreement. Russia said that its military police were deployed at several points around Eastern Ghouta to monitor the purported ceasefire.

Military

  • 22-24 JUL: Assad Coalition forces attacked a number of towns in Eastern Ghouta over the weekend and into Monday. Government warplanes carried out several airstrikes in Douma, Ein Tarma, Hazarma, Nashabiya, and al-Rayhan, while the towns of Harasta and Irbin were targeted by Assad Coalition tanks and mortar fire. These attacks took place despite reports of a new ceasefire agreement announced by Russia on Saturday. See the entry below in the “Political” section for more details. (Qasioun, Ghouta Media Center FB-AR, Al-Jazeera, Baladi news-AR, @SiegeWatch)
  • 22-24 JUL: On Sunday, Al-Qaeda-linked group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) took control of the city of Idlib in northern Syria, following the withdrawal of opposition group Ahrar al-Sham. Local sources reported Ahrar withdrew its forces to the southern countryside of Idlib province. The handover comes after intense clashes between the two groups erupted nearly a week ago. On Friday, the groups announced they had reached a ceasefire agreement which provided for a mutual exchange of prisoners, and the transfer of the Bab al-Hawa border crossing to a civilian council. Despite this agreement, HTS continued to consolidate its control in Idlib province over the weekend, reportedly clashing with Ahrar near Za’iniya, and seizing the Khirbet al-Joz border crossing. On Sunday, HTS and Ahrar signed an agreement which reaffirmed the terms of Friday’s ceasefire, called for an end to arrests, stated that any territory seized after Friday should be returned within five days, and said that any faction which had joined HTS under coercion should be allowed to withdraw from the group. (Al-Jazeera, Reuters, @Morasul_Ahrar-AR, All4Syria-AR, SOHR)
  • 22-24 JUL: The Assad Coalition captured large swathes of land from the Islamic State (ISIS) in the southern and eastern parts of Raqqa governorate over the weekend. ISIS forces reportedly withdrew from these areas without resistance. On Monday, Assad Coalition forces continued its offensive in eastern Raqqa governorate and captured the ISIS-held town of Dalhah, on the southern shores of the Euphrates. These recent gains place the Assad Coalition forces 10 km outside of the administrative borders of Deir Ezzor governorate. (Qasioun-AR, Reuters)
  • 22-24 JUL: The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and Hezbollah continued their joint cross-border offensive against fighters believed to be a part of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in the Jaroud Arsal area over the weekend. On Sunday, Syrian state news agency SANA reported the SAA and Hezbollah had secured the area around the Syrian town of Fleita. On Monday, Hezbollah announced it had captured the Wadi al-Kheil valley in Jaroud Arsal, an advance that gave Hezbollah control over what it considered to be the most important HTS base in the area. The next phase of the operation will reportedly target Islamic State-held territory in the surrounding area. (Reuters, Al-Jazeera-AR, SANA)
  • 24 JUL: According to local eyewitnesses, Russian military police took over Syrian Army checkpoints in al-Sanamayn and other smaller towns in northern Daraa governorate. Local sources also reported sighting Russian forces in the town of Barad in the southwestern part of al-Suwayda governorate. Russian military police have reportedly been deployed to different parts of southern Syria to monitor the ceasefire that has been in place since 9 July.   (all4Syria-AR, Baladi News-AR)
  • 24 JUL: Fighting continued in the city of Raqqa today as US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) made several gains against Islamic State (ISIS) forces. The SDF reported it had advanced in the Nazlat Shehada district, and that fighting was ongoing. The SDF also stated ISIS was mounting heavy resistance, and had launched a series of counterattacks on three separate axes across the city. It is estimated that the SDF currently controls roughly 40% of Raqqa. (Enab Baladi-AR, Ara News, SDF Press, SOHR, @rabrowne75)

Political

  • 22 JUL: On Saturday, the Russian Ministry of Defence said it signed an agreement with AOGs in Eastern Ghouta, although the details and level of buy-in from opposition forces remains unclear. The agreement, which was mediated by the Egyptian government and was signed in Cairo, reportedly established a ceasefire in Eastern Ghouta and defined the borders of the de-escalation zone in the area. The agreement also created “routes for delivery of humanitarian aid and for free movement of the civilians” in Eastern Ghouta. AOG Failaq al-Rahman (FAR) welcomed the agreement, but the group stated it was not invited to be part of the negotiation in Cairo. Media reports indicate that Mohammad Aloush, the leader of Jaysh al-Islam (JAI), said the ceasefire agreement extends to all opposition-held Eastern Ghouta, including areas held by FAR. The Syrian military said that a cessation of hostilities would begin at noon on Saturday in several areas of Eastern Ghouta. On Monday, Russian chief of staff Sergei Rudskoy stated that Russia has deployed military police to monitor the ceasefire, setting up two checkpoints and four monitoring posts in the region. Despite the purported ceasefire, government forces attacked several towns in Eastern Ghouta over the weekend and into Monday. See the entry above in the “Military” section for more details. (TASS, BBC, AP, Baladi News, SANAAR)
  • 24 JUL: Deputy Commander of the international anti-ISIS coalition Rupert Jones met with members of the Raqqa Civil Council in Ain Issa to discuss the ongoing offensives against ISIS, and post-ISIS reconstruction efforts in Raqqa city. Among the issues addressed during the meeting was the importance of restoring Raqqa’s educational system after the capture of the city, and the need to provide Raqqa’s displaced population with assistance. During his visit, Jones stated the international coalition has “a great deal more to do” in Syria, and affirmed the coalition’s commitment to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), saying the coalition would continue to work with the SDF to complete the defeat of ISIS. (YPG Rojava, Al-Monitor)

Humanitarian

  • None.

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 22 JUL: “The End of American Support for Syrian Rebels Was Inevitable” – Faysal Itani (Defense One)
  • 23 JUL: “From some rifles to an army: The history of the YPG” – Hivda Hebun (ANF News)
  • 23 JUL: “As Syria Crumbles, Only Iran is a Sure Winner” – Tobin Harshaw (Bloomburg)
  • 23 JUL: “Trump’s Syria Muddle” – The Editorial Board (WSJ)
  • 24 JUL: “Whats Next in Idlib?” – Sam Heller (Carnegie Middle East Center)
  • 24 JUL: “Idlib Waits for Liberation from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham” – Saleem al-Omar (Atlantic Council)
  • 24 JUL: “Briefing of Main Operational Directorate Chief Colonel General Sergei Rudskoy” – (Russia MoD YT)