TSI Syria Update: July 31, 2017

Takeaway

On Friday, the PYD-affiliated Kurdish Local Administration in northern Syria voted to reorganize the self-administration in Hasakeh, al-Raqqa, and Aleppo governorates. The newly announced system will organize the areas into three federal cantons: al-Furat, al-Jazeera, and Afrin. The Kurdish Local Administration also announced upcoming election dates for the self-administration areas in September, November, and January. The announcements were criticised by both the central government in Damascus and groups affiliated with the Etilaf opposition coalition, all of whom consider the efforts to be illegitimate power grabs by the PYD/YPG.

Military

  • 29 JUL: Armed opposition group (AOG) al-Firqa al-Oula al-Shahiliya targeted an Assad coalition position in al-Turkman mount with a TOW missile. Several pro-government fighters were killed in the attack. (Alfirqa Al-Oula al-Shahiliya FB-AR, Aletihad Press-AR, Qasioun-AR)
  • 29 JUL: Kurdish Militia (YPG) and Turkey-backed AOGs exchanged artillery shelling north of Aleppo governorate on Saturday early morning. YPG targeted Marea city while AOGs responded with targeting YPG locations in Tal Rifaat, Qatma and Kafar Janneh villages. (Smart News-AR, Baladi News-AR)
  • 29-31 JUL: Assad Coalition forces bombarded the eastern Damascus neighborhood of Jobar and the Eastern Ghouta towns of Ein Tarma, Hazzeh, al-Ash’ari and Kafr Batna with airstrikes and artillery over the weekend. Meanwhile, AOG Failaq al-Rahman (FAR) clashed with the Assad Coalition near Jobar and Ein Tarma on Sunday. Additionally, there were reports that a group of about 50 fighters from Ahrar al-Sham defected to FAR on Monday. (Ghouta Media Center FB-AR, SOHR)   
  • 29-31 JUL: Fighting continued between the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Islamic State (ISIS) in the city of Raqqa over the weekend. On Saturday, local sources reported that 15 civilians were killed, including a number of children, in a US-led Coalition airstrike that targeted the residential areas in Raqqa. The SDF continued its operations in the al-Bareed and Nazlat Shahada districts, and is reportedly in control of most of the latter after capturing several new points in the district on Sunday. During clashes on Monday, ISIS detonated a vehicle rigged with explosives, reportedly killing several members of the SDF in addition to multiple civilians. The SDF offensive on the city has slowed in recent weeks as ISIS mounts heavy resistance and counter-offensives. In what is likely a response to this decrease in momentum, the US-led Coalition has reportedly increased its military support for the SDF. A spokesman for the SDF reported that over 100 vehicles carrying military equipment from the Coalition arrived in Hasakeh governorate over the last few days, and local sources stated approximately 180 US military vehicles have entered the area in the past week.  (ARANews, SOHR, Raqa_SL, Smart News-AR) (Analyst Note: Monday’s casualties exemplify both the nature of the fight in Raqqa, with violent clashes taking place in civilian populated areas, and the dangerous dilemma many civilians in Raqqa now face: many are trapped in conflict zones and are caught between ISIS on the one hand, and the relentless US-led Coalition airstrikes and shelling on the other. Attempting to flee the city also presents risks, as much of the area has been heavily mined by ISIS.)
  • 29-31 JUL: The Assad Coalition continued its advance into ISIS-held territory in eastern Syria over the weekend. In southeastern Raqqa governorate and western Deir Ezzor governorate, Assad Coalition forces reportedly captured several locations, including Ghanem al-Ali, Jabilah, and Wadi al-Kharayij amid reports of heavy clashes with ISIS. These advances corresponded with a renewed offensive on the strategic ISIS-held town of al-Sukhneh. (Al-Masdar, Qasioun, Qasioun)
  • 30 JUL: The bodies of dead fighters from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and Hezbollah were exchanged on Sunday as part of a ceasefire between the two groups in Jaroud Arsal near the Lebanon-Syria border. Meanwhile, a reported 8,000 civilians have registered to leave Jaroud Arsal for the opposition-controlled Idlib governorate in northwestern Syria. The ceasefire deal, which was reached on 27 July after intense clashes between HTS and Hezbollah, requires HTS fighters to leave the area for Idlib governorate. (Reuters)
  • 30 JUL: A suicide bomb killed four people in a meeting between HTS and Ahrar al-Sham in al-Najjar village, southern Aleppo governorate. The suicide bomb targeted a meeting of the two factions with community leaders from the village to enforce a truce between them. (Smart News-AR, Eldorar-AR)
  • 31 JUL: Assad Coalition forces and AOGs clashed in al-Aziziya town, western Hama province, when pro-government forces tried to advance in the area. Pro-opposition media reported nine pro-government fighters died, and  no advances were made. This attack is considered a violation of the de-escalation zone agreement announced in Hama. (Qasioun-AR, @alaza_army-AR)

Political

  • 28 JUL: On Friday, the Kurdish Local Administration ruled by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) announced a reorganization of cantons (areas) north and northeast of Syria into three federal cantons in the areas controlled by the Kurdish YPG and run by the Kurdish Local Administration. The new cantons are al-Furat, al-Jazeera, and Afrin. The first includes Hasakah province, the second is made up of Tel Abyad city (northern Raqqa province) and Kobani (Ein Arab) town (northern Aleppo province), while the third holds Afrin and nearby villages under YPG control. The cantons were determined during a constitutive meeting in Rumelan on Friday. The Kurdish Local Administration also announced upcoming elections on September, November and January. The Syrian government says that the elections are illegal and will not be recognized by the central government. Groups affiliated with the primary opposition coalition Etilaf – including the Raqqa provincial council and the Kurdish National Council – also rejected the move. (Smart News-AR, Shaam-AR, Sputnik-AR, Rudaw-AR, Etilaf)
  • 29 JUL: On Saturday, representatives from several armed opposition groups (AOGs) met with political opposition members from the Higher Negotiations Council (HNC) in Istanbul for a three-day talk. The AOGs in attendance included: Jaysh al-Islam, Failaq al-Rahman, Ahrar al-Sham, Turkey-backed AOGs, and the Southern Front. The parties met to discuss recent developments and to coordinate efforts, particularly after disputes among the opposition delegation in last round of Geneva talks. (Rouria-AR, Alwan Radio-AR, Micro Syria-AR, Smart News-AR)
  • 29 JUL: The National Front for the Liberation of Syria announced that ten small factions from Damascus and Daraa have joined the group. The group, which was created in July 22, aims to preserve the spirit of the Syrian revolution and ensure the national leadership of the revolution remains independent of international pressure. This addition brings the total number of factions in the group to 21. (Qasioun)
  • 30 JUL: Russia held its first military parade in Tartous on Sunday, in celebration of the Russian holiday Navy Day. Russia typically celebrates Navy Day with parades globally. Several warships and a submarine reportedly participated in the Tartous celebration. (NYT, Independent)
  • 31 JUL: Unconfirmed reports indicated that the Ahrar al-Sham leadership board elected Hassan Sofan as the new leader of the group. Sofan was released from Saidnaya prison in July 2016 as part of an exchange deal with the Syrian government after spending 12 years in prison. (Zaman Alwsl-AR, Enab Baladi-AR)

Humanitarian

  • JUL 30: On Sunday, an interagency humanitarian aid convoy delivered food, medical supplies, and other essentials to the town of al-Nashabiye, home to 7,200 people, in Eastern Ghouta. This was the first aid convoy to enter the town in five years. Meanwhile, AOG Failaq al-Rahman issued a statement welcoming any effort to deliver humanitarian aid to Eastern Ghouta. (@alrahmancorps6,  al-Monitor, @SiegeWatch, @SYRedCrescent)

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 28 JUL: “Khan Sheikhoun, or How Seymour Hersh “Learned to Just Write What I Know, And Move On” – Eliot Higgins (Bellingcat)
  • 28 JUL: “How Syria’s War Economy Propels the Conflict” – Lina Sinjab (Syria Deeply)
  • 30 JUL: Turkey Might Have to Do its Own Dirty Work in Idlib” – Fehim Tastekin (Al-Monitor)
  • 30 JUL: “Putin’s Advances in Syria” – Editorial Board (WSJ)