TSI Syria Update: July 28, 2017

Takeaway

Fighting has flared up between members of the opposition factions Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and Failaq al-Rahman (FAR) in opposition-controlled Eastern Ghouta.  The infighting that flared on Friday occurred over the death of an HTS fighter, who was reportedly killed by a group of FAR fighters in his home in the town of Hamouriya. An HTS statement today also voiced complaints about FAR regularly harassing HTS fighters and confiscating their weapons. An FAR spokesman has denied the HTS allegations, claiming instead that the HTS fighter attacked FAR fighters first. This discord between the two groups in Ghouta is unusual. Though not ideologically aligned, the groups overlap in areas of control and are known to cooperate militarily. The FSA-affiliated FAR took HTS’ side in April when another armed opposition group – Jaysh al-Islam – launched an offensive against HTS which was largely successful in diminishing the power of the group in Eastern Ghouta. HTS is a hardline coalition led by the former al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra. If this fighting escalates it could spell the end of HTS in Eastern Ghouta, as it lacks other allies in the besieged enclave and there are regular civilian protests against its presence.

Military

  • 27 JUL: US-backed armed opposition group (AOG) Ossoud al-Sharqiya shelled pro-government locations in al-Badiya on Thursday, including a checkpoint in Um Ramam area. The attacks reportedly killed 15 soldiers and destroyed two tanks. (Smart News-AR, @osoudalsharqiya-AR, SMO-AR)
  • 27 – 28 JUL: On Thursday and Friday, the Assad Coalition continued to advance along the Palmyra-Deir Ezzor highway, capturing several locations and hills overlooking the town of al-Sukhneh. The Assad Coalition are now several kilometers away from al-Sukhneh, the last major Islamic State (ISIS)-held town in Homs governorate. (al-Masdar, Reuters, Qasioun-AR)
  • 28 JUL: Assad Coalition forces and Islamic State (ISIS) fighters clashed today south of Deir Ezzor city, near al-Panorama and al-Maqaber areas, while Russian warplanes targeted ISIS  with airstrikes. Fighting reportedly began when pro-government forces started an offensive to take control of the areas from ISIS. ISIS also shelled residential areas of government-controlled Jorah and Qusour in Deir Ezzor city. No advances occurred during the clashes. (Qasioun-AR, SANA)
  • 28 JUL: Today a fighter from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) was killed in a clash with Failaq al-Rahman (FAR) in Hamouriya. After the incident, HTS released a statement in which they accused FAR of attacking and killing the fighter in his home, in addition to regularly harassing  their fighters, confiscating their weapons, and attacking a medical center . In response to the statement, FAR spokesman Wael Elwan told pro-opposition media that the HTS member was killed only after he attacked FAR fighters. Notably, hundreds took to the streets in Eastern Ghouta today to protest HTS presence in the area, calling for their expulsion. (Enab Baladi-AR, All4Syria-AR, SOHR-AR) (Analyst Note: Infighting between AOGs in Eastern Ghouta started in April with Jaysh al-Islam clashing against FAR and HTS. The recent clash between FAR and HTS is a new development that might affect the presence of HTS as the smallest faction operating in Eastern Ghouta).
  • 28 JUL: Assad Coalition warplanes carried out several strikes today, reportedly using cluster bombs on the towns of Autaya, Hosh al-Dawahira, and al-Shaifuniya in Eastern Ghouta. Pro-government forces shelled the towns of Ein Tarma and Jobar while trying to advance in the area. (Qasioun-AR, Ghouta Media Center-AR, SMO-AR, SOHR-AR). (Analyst Note: The de-escalation agreement for Eastern Ghouta was announced on July 22, yet, pro-government violations have been recorded almost every day since then.)
  • 28 JUL: A group of 30 fighters, including a leader from US-backed AOG Maghawir al-Thawra, reportedly defected to the Assad Coalition, taking with them a number of heavy and personal weapons. No statement from pro-government or Maghawir al-Thawra sources has yet been released about the incident. (Qasioun-AR, Smart News-AR)
  • 28 JUL: On Friday, ISIS fighters attacked a US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) training camp near the town in al-Karamah, to the east of Raqqa city, reportedly killing a large number of SDF fighters and abducting a number of them. Inside Raqqa, the SDF operations in Nazlat Shahada district was slowed down by several ISIS car bomb attacks. US-led Coalition spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon stated yesterday that less than 2,000 ISIS fighters remain in the city. (Reuters, Ara News-AR, the Daily Caller)

Political

  • 27 JUL: On Thursday, Al-Marj Local Council released a statement in response to intensive pro-government strikes yesterday. They condemning pro-government violations of the de-escalation agreement, and calling for UN protection from the UN. (Ghouta Media Center-AR)
  • 27 JUL: A large fire consumed part of the Bab al-Jabiya area in old town Damascus near the Umayyad Mosque on Thursday. The fire started in a shoe workshop and quickly spread to nearby shops and houses. Firefighters were delayed at the checkpoint, so they were unable to reach the fire to put it out promptly. (Smart News-AR, All4Syria-AR) (Analyst Note: This is the third massive fire in old town Damascus in a year. The first fire destroyed three major shops in al-Hamidiya, the main market in Damascus. The second  fire consumed more than 50 shops in Asrouniya market. Local sources claimed that fire was arson. Pro-government businessmen, mainly Iranian investors, made offers to buy these properties, but their offers had been rejected.)
  • 27 JUL: HTS released a decree on Thursday banning the formation of any new faction or armed group in northern Syria. The decree also stated that any fighters defecting from a group must leave the group unarmed. (@IbnNabih1-AR) (Analyst Note: HTS took control of a majority of Idlib governorate last week after days of clashes with Ahrar al-Sham. As a result of infighting, several factions and fighters defected from HTS)

Humanitarian

  • None.

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 28 JUL: “Medical Facilities Under Fire” – (Syrian Archive)
  • 27 JUL: “Are We Nearing the Endgame with ISIS?” – Robin Wright (New Yorker)
  • 27 JUL: “The Problem With Syrian Demographics” – Tarek Osman (Foreign Affairs)
  • 28 JUL: “Children Pay High Price in Fight to Take Raqqa from ISIS” – Samuel Oakford (Airwars)