TSI Syria Update: August 8, 2017

Takeaway

The Turkish army and Kurdish YPG forces exchanged fire near Kobani, Afrin, and Azaz in northern Syria today. The fighting took place as a Turkish government official warned that Turkey will respond to any acts of aggression coming from Kurdish-held areas and amidst growing concerns that Turkey is preparing to launch a new offensive in the Kurdish-held areas in northern Aleppo.

Military

  • 8 AUG: The Assad Coalition attacked the eastern Damascus neighborhood of Jobar and the surrounding towns of Eastern Ghouta with ground-to-ground missiles and airstrikes on Tuesday. At least one civilian was killed and seven others were injured. The attacks are part of an offensive by pro-government forces to capture besieged areas near Damascus and weaken the armed opposition groups (AOGs) there. Despite the ceasefire Russia announced on 22 July the Assad Coalition’s bombardment of Jobar and Eastern Ghouta has intensified, killing many civilians. (Ghouta Media Center FB-AR, SOHR-AR)
  • 8 AUG: Tension between the Kurdish YPG and the Turkish army continued to flare as the two sides exchanged fire on Tuesday. Kurdish sources reported that the Turkish army attacked YPG forces in Buban, west of Kobani, prompting the YPG to respond. The YPG also shelled the town of Kaljibrin, held by Turkey-backed AOGs, in northern rural Aleppo. Additionally, Turkish army forces stationed in opposition-held areas in Syria targeted the city of Tal Abyad and the town of Jalbara, near the city of Afrin, with heavy shelling. (SOHR-AR, Ara News-AR, Hawar-AR, ARA News)
  • 8 AUG: On Tuesday, the Assad Coalition captured a number of opposition-held locations in the eastern parts of al-Suwayda governorate, including Tal Assad and Riyahi, after AOG Jaysh Ahrar al-Ashaer fighters reportedly withdrew from the area into Jordan. (Qasioun-AR, SANA-AR, Enab Baladi-AR)
  • 8 AUG: A weapons storage depot belonging to AOGs in the city of Daraa exploded today, resulting in multiple casualties and injuries. The blast reportedly occurred near the Air Defense Base close to Daraa al-Balad, and was large enough that it was felt across the border in Jordan. (SOHR, Qasioun, Al-Masdar)

Political

  • 7 AUG: On Monday, the Syrian Interim Government reportedly announced that as of the beginning of August, it had ceased to pay the salaries of its employees. From this point, all work for the interim government is considered voluntary. (All4SyriaAR)
  • 7 AUG: On Monday, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag stated Turkey would immediately respond to any act of aggression emanating from the Kurdish-held Afrin area, and that it would not hesitate to protect its national security whenever necessary. Bozdag’s comments come days after Turkish President Recep Erdogan hinted at the possibility of a new Turkish operation in Syria similar to that of Euphrates Shield, which was launched in 2016. Turkey recently deployed additional artillery units to the Turkish border town of Kilis. (Asharq al-Awsat, Daily Sabah)
  • 8 AUG: Representatives from Russia, Iran, and Turkey began talks in Tehran today, ostensibly in an effort to strengthen the Syrian de-escalation zones agreed upon during the Astana talks in May. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov previously stated discussions between the three Astana guarantor powers will emphasize establishing a de-escalation zone to cover opposition-controlled Idlib. Iranian media reported the guarantor states will also set the agenda for the next round of Syria talks in Astana. (Hurriyet, Tasnim News, SANA) (Analyst Note: Despite Russian efforts to frame existing ceasefires in Syria as part of the Russia/Iran/Turkey Astana process, the reality on the ground is more complex. Although it shares a similar area with one of the de-escalation zones envisioned in the Astana talks, the ceasefire in southwestern Syria is in fact the product of months of negotiations between the US, Russia, and Jordan, and not a product of the Astana talks. Similarly, the ceasefire agreements in Eastern Ghouta and northern Homs were brokered in coordination with al-Ghad, a Cairo-based Syrian opposition group led by Ahmad Jarba. In each case, the common denominator is Russia, not Astana.)

Humanitarian

  • None.

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 6 AUG: “The US is Far More Deeply Involved in Syria Than You Know” – Borzou Daragahi (BuzzFeed)
  • 7 AUG: “Rebel Groups Weigh Options in Syria’s East” – Shelly Kittleson (Al-Monitor)
  • 8 AUG: “Inside Syria’s Safe Zones, Russia and Assad Hold the Cards” – Frederik Pleitgen (CNN)