TSI Syria Update: July 25, 2017

Takeaway

The Assad Coalition continued to bombard opposition-held Eastern Ghouta despite Russia’s declaration of a ceasefire in the area. Airstrikes and shelling continued on Tuesday even as Russian military police were reportedly deployed to checkpoints around the area. Russia also announced that it had sent in 10 tonnes of humanitarian aid, which entered the Wafideen checkpoint into Douma on three trucks. As the aid was entering, the Syrian government unleashed a new round of airstrikes on nearby Arbin, killing four civilians and wounding dozens more.  The continued assault on Eastern Ghouta in the face of Russian ceasefire efforts indicates either a significant lack of leverage from Russia on the actions of the Assad government, or a disingenuous attempt at establishing a constructive ceasefire in the area.

Military

  • 24-25 JUL: Hezbollah and the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) continued their offensive on opposition-controlled areas in Jaroud Arsal. Pro-Assad Coalition media mentioned that shelling and airstrikes targeted Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) locations in Wadi Hmayed as  a start for the third and final stage of controlling Jaroud Arsal area. Also fighters from HTS and Saraya Ahl al-Sham reportedly launched a series of ambushes on Hezbollah forces that resulted in multiple casualties, and the destruction of a car and a tank. There were also unconfirmed reports that armed opposition groups (AOGs) in the area had begun discussions with the Lebanese Army and Hezbollah to reach a ceasefire agreement. (Smart News-AR, Step Agency-AR, @JHainesYoung)
  • 24-25 JUL: Assad Coalition warplanes bombarded the besieged town of Arbin in Eastern Ghouta late Monday night, killing eight civilians, including five children and a woman, and injuring at least 45 others. On Tuesday afternoon, civilian residential areas of the town were targeted with another 10 airstrikes which killed at least four people. The flood of injured victims prompted the Arbin medical center to issue an emergency call for blood donations.  Local sources reported that the Assad Coalition also targeted the towns of Ein Tarma, al-Rayhan and Hosh al-Dawahira with airstrikes and artillery. The attacks come two days after Russia announced a ceasefire in Eastern Ghouta. (Ghouta Media Center FB-AR, SOHR, Reuters, @SiegeWatch, @SiegeWatch, GMC FB-AR)
  • 25 JUL: On Tuesday, Assad Coalition forces captured the Islamic State (ISIS)-held town of Huwayjat Shinan on the southern shores of the Euphrates in Raqqa governorate. Assad Coalition forces also clashed with ISIS fighters near Rajm al-Sulaiman and Nuzayzah, west of Raqqa governorate. The Assad Coalition captured large swathes of land from ISIS in recent days, placing it closer to the administrative border of Deir Ezzor governorate. (al-Masdar, SOHR-AR)
  • 25 JUL: The ceasefire in southwestern Syria entered its 17th day with few reported violations. Assad Coalition forces and armed opposition groups exchanged fire in Daraa city and the town of Hadr, north of Quneitra city. Local sources also reported more Russian troops have arrived to Quneitra northern countryside, Daraa city, and the eastern countryside of Daraa governorate. (SOHR-AR, SOHR)
  • 25 JUL: The Kurdish YPG announced that US national David Taylor had been killed during fighting with ISIS near the city of Raqqa on 16 July. Taylor, a former Marine, had been fighting alongside the YPG in Syria since May. (AP, Newsweek, YPG Media Center FB-AR)

Political

  • 24 JUL: The recent expansion of al-Qaeda-linked group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) has resulted in the closure of three critical Turkish border crossings in northwestern Syria, although unconfirmed reports suggest at least one crossing has been partially reopened. One week ago, intense clashes erupted between HTS and Ahrar al-Sham in Idlib governorate. HTS consolidated its control over the governorate and seized multiple locations, including the city of Idlib, and the Bab al-Hawa and Khirbet al-Jouz border crossings. As a result, Turkish authorities shut down both crossings, in addition to the the Yamadiyah border crossing in opposition-held northern Latakia province. The border crossings were used by Turkey-based humanitarian organizations to deliver aid to the governorate, and are considered a humanitarian lifeline for northern Syria. Ahrar and HTS recently agreed to withdraw from the Bab al-Hawa crossing and turn it over to a civil administration. Turkish authorities reportedly stated that if this happens, the crossing will be reopened. (Syria Direct, Qasioun, AP)
  • 25 JUL: Syrian National Reconciliation Minister Ali Haidar voiced the Syrian government’s approval of the recent US decision to end the CIA-funded train and equip program, and said it was “a start” toward ending the Syrian conflict. Haidar asserted that all US attempts to train moderate groups in Syria have failed, as reflected by the dismantled CIA program. Haidar stated that what was really needed was for foreign states to seal of their borders, thus stopping the flow of weapons and fighters to the opposition, saying as long as the borders remained open, there could be no solution. Haidar also stressed the need for additional “reconciliation agreements” with opposition groups in areas under the Russia-backed Astana initiative, which is currently attempting to establish “de-escalation zones” across Syria. (Reuters) (Analyst Note: The Assad Coalition has leveraged its comparative military advantage to force opposition-held areas into accepting what it calls “reconciliation agreements”, deals which effectively amount to forced displacement and demographic engineering.)
  • 22 JUL: Eleven armed opposition groups in southern Syria and Damascus announced they are uniting under the banner of a new political and military group. The new group, named “the National Front for the Liberation of Syria” was created “due to the immense pressure on revolutionary factions and the absence of national leadership” is Syria. The goal of the new body is to lead the Syrian revolution, get rid of the current Syrian government, and ensure the national leadership remains independent of any international pressure that contradict the principles of the revolution. (Syrian Observer via Al-Ghad, All4Syria-AR)

Humanitarian

  • 25 JUL: A Russian convoy delivered 10 tonnes of humanitarian aid to Eastern Ghouta today. A spokesman for Russian center for reconciliation in Syria said the delivery was part of the ceasefire agreement in Eastern Ghouta that announced on Saturday. (TASS, Ghouta Media Center FB-AR, @SiegeWatch)

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 24 JUL: “Cooperation with Russia Becomes     Central to Trump Strategy in Syria” – Karen Deyoung (Washington Post)
  • 24 JUL: “Selling the Kurds, Our New Media Darlings” – John Sjoholm (LimaCharlieNews)
  • 25 JUL: “Russia Looks to UN to Help it Profit from Syria Conquests” – Colum Lynch (Foreign Policy)
  • 25 JUL: “Will Syria’s War Criminals Be Let Off The Hook?” – Imogen Foulkes (BBC)
  • 25 JUL: “Almost as Bad as the Regime’: Inside Syria’s Rebel-Run Prisons” – Loubna Mrie and Ahmad Zaza (Syria Deeply)
  • 25 JUL: “Mission Impossible? Investigating the Khan Sheikhoun Nerve Gas Attack in Syria” – Aron Lund (TCF)