TSI Syria Update: August 14, 2017

Takeaway

Buses carrying about 2,500 people including refugees and opposition fighters left Jaroud Arsal in Lebanon for the opposition-controlled parts Eastern Qalamoun today. The population transfer is part of a deal between Hezbollah and opposition group Saraya Ahl al-Sham following clashes that took place in recent weeks. This follows a similar deal between Hezbollah and the extremist Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) which saw HTS fighters and around 8,000 transferred from Arsal, Lebanon to Idlib. International aid groups have expressed concerns that the population transfers are not voluntary and that there are no guarantees for the safety of the civilians being returned to Syria.

Military

  • 11 AUG: On Friday, a suicide attack carried out by Islamic State (ISIS)-affiliate Jaysh Khaled bin al-Waleed targeted a training camp for the armed opposition group (AOG) Jaysh al-Islam (JAI) in Naseeb, in southern Daraa. The attack reportedly killed at least 20 JAI members and injured many others. (all4syria-AR)
  • 12 AUG: Seven Syrian Civil Defense (SCD – or White Helmets) volunteers were killed in an attack on their office in Sarmin, east of Idlib city. Attackers shot the volunteers in the head, stole equipments and vehicles, and fled. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack yet. (@SyriaCivilDefe-AR, @SyriaCivilDef, AP) (Analyst Note: This is the first ground attack on a White Helmets center to kill volunteers. Several White Helmets volunteers have been killed in pro-government airstrikes targeting SCD offices.)
  • 12 AUG: Assad Coalition forces shelled residential areas and a local market in the besieged Eastern Ghouta town of Douma on Saturday. The shelling injured more than 20 civilians, including children. Pro-government forces also targeted Jobar and Ain Tarma with tens of ground missiles and shelling while pro-government ground forces tried to advance in the area. (Smart News-AR, Ghouta Media Center FB-AR)
  • 12 AUG: Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) attacked Assad Coalition forces in Castello Road area in Aleppo city. Pro-HTS media claimed elite HTS fighters snuck into the area and clashed with pro-government militiamen, killing nine militiamen and injuring several others. (Qasioun-AR, Baladi News-AR)
  • 12 AUG: On Saturday, Itihad Quwat Jabal al-Shiekh (اتحاد قوات جبل الشيخ), a coalition of armed opposition factions (Ahrar al-Sham, HTS, and Jabhat Thuwar Souria) operating in the Mount Hermon area, near the Syria-Lebanon border, announced it had carried out an operation in Tell Syouf, targeting Assad Coalition forces. The group claimed it killed all pro-government fighters in the area and took their weapons and ammunition. (Step News Agency-AR, Smart News-AR)
  • 13 AUG: On Sunday, Failaq al-Rahman (FAR), an AOG operating in Eastern Ghouta, claimed it killed 20 Fourth Brigade fighters (Syrian Army elite brigade), by detonating a tunnel beneath a building controlled by pro-government forces. (AP, @AlrahmanCorps-AR, Smart News-AR)
  • 13 AUG: On Sunday, the negotiation committee representing opposition-controlled areas in northern Homs met with a Russian Major General to continue the discussion about a new de-escalation agreement that started last Tuesday. Both sides agreed on four points: start framing the new de-escalation agreement for northern Homs, commit to the ceasefire in all opposition-controlled areas, give access to aid convoys, and the release of prisoners. (al-Sharq al-Awsat-AR, Ayyam Syria-AR, RT-AR)
  • 14 AUG: AOG Jaysh al-Islam (JAI) accused AOG Failaq al-Rahman (FAR) of killing a JAI military leader and carrying out attacks on their locations in al-Ash’ari, al-Aftarees, and al-Mohammadiya villages in Eastern Ghouta. An FAR spokesman denied JAI’s claims, and considered the false accusation a justification for JAI to conduct future attacks on FAR. (All4Syria-AR, @jaishalislam-AR) (Analyst Note: Infighting between JAI and FAR has erupted several times since April 2017.)
  • 14 AUG: On Monday, forty buses carrying an estimated 2,500 people including displaced civilians, and opposition fighters and their families left Jaroud Arsal for al-Ruhaibeh and Jairoud in Eastern Qalamoun. About 400 fighters from AOG Saraya Ahl al-Sham and their families were part of the convoy. The population transfer is part of a ceasefire agreement between Hezbollah and Saraya Ahl al-Sham following intense clashes that erupted in recent weeks, and follows an even larger transfer deal involving HTS several weeks ago. There are international concerns that the population transfers are not voluntary, and that there are no guarantees for the safety of the civilians being returned to Syria. (Smart News-AR, The Guardian, Syria Direct)

Political

  • 11 AUG: Unconfirmed reports indicate that the Foreign Affairs office for the PYD-affiliated Kurdish Self-Administration in northern Syria agreed to hand over to Indonesia 17 Indonesian nationals who fought with ISIS. The Kurdish Foreign Affairs office and the Indonesian Foreign Ministry negotiated the agreement in Hasakeh. The 17 Indonesian nationals will be given to Indonesian officials in northern Iraq. (Smart News-AR, All4Syria-AR)
  • 12 AUG: On Saturday, the Syrian government released 102 prisoners, including 22 women, as part of the agreement between Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and Hezbollah reached on 27 July.  The released prisoners, some of whom are reportedly members of HTS, headed to Idlib and Hama governorates. (Smart  News-AR, Shaam-AR, Syrian Democratic Union-AR, all4syria-AR)
  • 13 AUG: Carla del Ponte, a member of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria who resigned from her position on 6 August, said the commission has gathered enough evidence to convict Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of war crimes. Del Ponte blamed Russia for blocking any UN Security Council decision that might refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court in the Hague. The Syrian government has denied the claims published by the commission reports. (Reuters)

Humanitarian

  • None

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 13 AUG: “In a Syria Refuge, Extremists Exert Greater Control” – Ben Hubbard (NYT)
  • 13 AUG: “Departure of Syrian rebels and refugees from Lebanon raises specter of forced returns” – Abby Sewell (LA Times)
  • 14 AUG: “Why Syrian Constitutional Debates Are Unlikely to Bring Political Reform” – Lorenzo Trombetta (Syria Deeply)
  • 14 AUG: “The Syrian Regime Has Used Chemical Weapons Five Times After Khan Sheikhoun Incident” – (SNHR)
  • 14 AUG: “Behind the Islamic State’s Raqqa Frontlines: ‘People Are Just Waiting For Their Turn To Die’” – Noura Hourani, Justin Clark (Syria Direct)