TSI Syria Update: August 7, 2017

Takeaway

Over the weekend, Assad Coalition forces continued to advance eastward against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Raqqa and Homs governorates. Pro-government forces, supported by Russian and Syrian government warplanes, took control of several towns along the southern shores of the Euphrates river in eastern Raqqa governorate. They also reportedly captured al-Sukhneh, the last major ISIS-held town in Homs governorate and a key waypoint enroute to Deir Ezzor. With these latest advances, pro-Assad forces are now approaching Deir Ezzor city from both the west and northwest.

Military

  • 5-7 AUG: Assad Coalition forces intensified attacks on residential areas in Eastern Ghouta over the weekend and into Monday. The Assad Coalition attacks, which were described by local sources as the heaviest in recent months, targeted the towns of Ein Tarma, Harasta, Zamalka, Madyara, and Kafr Batna, reportedly killing at least three civilians and injuring 20 others. Intense clashes occurred on the ground between pro-government forces and armed opposition group (AOG) Failaq al-Rahman (FAR) on the Jobar and Ein Tarma fronts. Tens of Syrian government Army 4th Brigade soldiers were reportedly killed and injured in an ambush carried out by FAR. Meanwhile, local sources reported that AOG Jaysh al-Islam (JAI) attacked the locations of al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) on Sunday. HTS fighters were reportedly driven out of the town, taking refuge in neighboring farms and villages. (Reuters, Smart News-AR, @Alrahmancorps4-AR, Enab Baladi-AR, Smart News-AR)
  • 5-7 AUG: Assad Coalition forces continued to advance along the southern shores of the Euphrates in Raqqa governorate over the weekend, capturing several Islamic State (ISIS)-held villages and reaching the administrative borders of the governorate. Russian and Syrian government warplanes supported advancing troops on the ground. The Assad Coalition on Monday reportedly encircled the town of Ma’dan, the last major ISIS-held town in eastern Rural Raqqa. (Qasioun-AR, Qasioun-AR, SOHR, al-Masdar)
  • 6 AUG: On Sunday, Assad Coalition forces captured al-Sukhneh, the last major ISIS-held town in Homs governorate. Pro-government forces also captured a number of surrounding villages and locations around the town. The recent gains place the Assad Coalition 110km to the south of Deir-Ezzor city. (Al-Jazeera, AP, SANA, Qasioun-AR)
  • 6-7 AUG: Assad Coalition forces violated the purported northern Homs ceasefire on Sunday. Local sources reported that pro-government forces shelled the besieged towns of Tal Dhahab and Kafr Laha in al-Houleh area. Meanwhile, Russia deployed 40 members of its military police to the area and set up several checkpoints and ceasefire observation points along the contact lines in northern Homs. (Smart News-AR, Enab Baladi-AR)
  • 6 AUG: US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) shelled the residential areas in the town of Mare’, controlled by Turkey-backed opposition groups, in northwestern Syria on Sunday. Local media offices claimed the attacks killed three civilians and injured 9 others. Mare’ and the surrounding areas north of Aleppo has seen clashes between the SDF and Turkey-backed AOGs in recent weeks amid rumors that Turkey might launch an offensive to take over the Kurdish-held areas in Aleppo governorate. (Qasioun-AR, Ara News-AR)
  • 6 AUG: On Sunday, the Lebanese Army reportedly captured several locations from ISIS between the Lebanese towns of Arsal and Ras Baalbek. The Lebanese Army is expected to launch a large-scale operation to drive ISIS from its positions along the Syria/Lebanon border. Sunday’s advances come two days after Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said an offensive on ISIS would begin within a few days. Lebanese military sources have stated there will be no military coordination between the Lebanese Army and the Syrian Arab Army. (Reuters, AP)
  • 6 AUG: The US-backed SDF captured the northwestern district of al-Karim in Raqqa city after intense clashes with ISIS fighters in the area. The SDF said it controls 55% of the city as of Monday. (Ara News-AR, Ara News-AR)

Political

  • 6 AUG: Carla del Ponte, war crimes prosecutor and member of the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, resigned from her position on the panel citing a lack of political will from the UN Security Council. Del Ponte stated “I was expecting to persuade the Security Council to do something for justice. Nothing happened for seven years…I have no power as long as the Security Council does nothing. We are powerless, there is no justice for Syria.” The Commission was established in August of 2011 to investigate human rights violations during the Syrian conflict. In a statement issued on Sunday, the Commission said del Ponte had informed her colleagues of her decision in mid-June, and stated “As the Syrian conflict grinds on, the Commission’s work must continue in order to fulfill its mandate investigating all human rights violations committed in the armed conflict and, wherever possible, to identify alleged perpetrators in order to support efforts to bring those responsible to justice.” (NYTimes, BBC, OHCHR, Reuters)
  • 6 AUG: On Sunday, Saudi Arabia stated it still sees no role for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in any phase of political transition in Syria. The statement came just after several media sources reported Saudi Arabia was considering pursuing a political solution with an initial phase in which Assad would remain in power. The Saudi Foreign Ministry said such reports were false, and that its position remained that any solution to the Syrian conflict should be based on Geneva I Declaration and United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254. (Reuters, Asharq al-Awsat)
  • 6 AUG: On Sunday, the Syrian government dismissed the recent announcement of plans by the Kurdish administration in northern Syria to hold elections as “a joke.” Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad stated “The territorial integrity of Syria will never be under dispute,” and said the government must reassert control over the areas currently controlled by Kurdish groups. Mekdad said that Damascus would never allow any part of Syria to be separated, and that those who seek to move toward any division “know what price they have to pay.” (Reuters)
  • 6 AUG: On Sunday, leaders from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Raqqa Civil Council met with officials from the US-led Coalition to discuss the stabilization of post-ISIS Raqqa, and the threat of pro-Assad military action in the area. The meeting emphasized finding solutions to the challenges Raqqa city will face following its capture from ISIS, including security, governance, and economic issues. Additionally, the SDF accused pro-Assad forces of seeking to disrupt the ongoing offensive on Raqqa by launched military operations in the area, and called on the Coalition to “do what it has to do to deter the Syrian regime.” Also addressed during the meeting was Coalition-SDF relations, and the need to find a common vision for future cooperation. (ARA News)
  • 6 AUG: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met on the sidelines of the ASEAN conference in Manila on Sunday. Lavrov and Tillerson discussed the Syrian conflict, and the need to build on the agreement between Russia, the US, and Jordan, which established a ceasefire in southwestern Syria last month. Both Tillerson and Lavrov also met separately with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. Speaking to reporters, Cavusoglu said among the issues discussed was the ongoing Syrian conflict, and the Astana talks. (Russian Foreign Ministry, US State Department, Hurriyet)
  • 6 AUG: On Sunday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the three guarantors of the Astana agreement – Russia, Turkey, and Iran – will meet in Tehran on August 8-9 to discuss strengthening de-escalation zones in Syria. Lavrov stated that in addition to the zones covering parts of southern Syria, Eastern Ghouta, and northern Homs, work was underway on a zone covering the province of Idlib in northern Syria. (Daily Sabah)

Humanitarian

  • None.

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 3 AUG: “Why One of Syria’s Biggest Rebel Groups Reordered its Leadership” – Hashem Osseiran (Syria Deeply)
  • 4 AUG: “Americans, Need Help in Syria? Call the Czechs” – Emily Tamkin (Foreign Policy)
  • 5 AUG: “New Allegations of Chemical Weapon Attack in Damascus Throughout July” – Eliot Higgins (Bellingcat)
  • 7 AUG: “Pilgrimage through a Syria at war” – Rana Moussaoui (AFP)
  • 7 AUG: “Letter dated 28 July 2017 from the Secretary-General addressed to the President of the Security Council – Progress in the elimination of the Syrian chemical weapons programme (S/2017/658)” – Antonio Guterres (ReliefWeb)
  • 7 AUG: “Thinking About Strategy: Part Four” – Frederic C. Hof (Atlantic Council)