TSI Syria Update: August 16, 2017

Takeaway

Today the armed opposition group Failaq al-Rahman (FAR) claimed it killed 15 pro-government fighters in an ambush in Jobar, Eastern Ghouta. FAR detonated explosives in a building where Fourth Brigade fighters gathered during an attempt to advance in the area. The ambush is the second of its kind since Monday. If FAR’s claim is true, this would be a significant military success for the armed group since the Fourth Brigade is considered to be part of the Syrian government’s elite forces. After the ambush, FAR claimed that pro-government forces used chlorine gas in Ein Tarma, and several cases of nonfatal suffocation were reported among FAR fighters. Assad Coalition forces also shelled residential areas in several Eastern Ghouta towns, killing at least one civilian and injuring several others.

Military

  • 15 AUG: Six armed opposition groups (AOGs) announced the formation of a new coalition called Jaysh Hama, and pledged alliance to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). All factions in the new coalition body are operating in northern Hama governorate, and four of them were defected from Ahrar al-Sham. This comes after reports about HTS  preparing to push  Ahrar al-Sham out of northern Hama governorate, after Ahrar lost their territory to HTS in Idlib. (Qasioun, Orient News-AR, Shaam-AR)
  • 16 AUG: Today Failaq al-Rahman (FAR), an AOG fighting the Assad Coalition  in the Eastern Ghouta towns of Jobar and Ein Tarma, announced it had killed 15 of the Syrian Arab Army’s (SAA) Fourth Brigade fighters, purportedly an elite brigade within the SAA. Fighters from FAR detonated explosives in a building where pro-government forces gathered near the clashes front in Jobar. This is the second ambush FAR has carried out against the Fourth Brigade in two days. A similar ambush occurred on Monday, 14 August, when FAR killed 20 pro-government fighters by detonating a tunnel under a building held by the Fourth Brigade near Ein Tarma. After the attack today, FAR claimed that pro-government forces used chlorine gas against their fighters in Ein Tarma front. (Alrahman Corps-AR, @Alrahmancorps4-AR, @Alrahmancorps-AR, Smart News-AR, Qasioun)
  • 16 AUG: Assad Coalition artillery continued to target residential areas in Jisreen, Hosh al-Salhiya, Ein Tarma, and Kafr Batna towns in Eastern Ghouta. The shelling killed one civilian and injured several others. (Smart News-AR, Ghouta Media Center FB-AR, Ghouta Media Center FB-AR,Ghouta Media Center FB-AR)
  • 16 AUG: Local sources reported that US-led Coalition airstrikes on Raqqa killed at least 14 civilians and injured more than 70 others today. The US-led Coalition provides aerial support for the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which launched an assault to capture Raqqa from ISIS on 6 June. (SOHR-AR, @24Raqqa-AR)
  • 16 AUG: Two AOGs operating in southern Syria, Jaysh al-Ababeel and al-Firqa al-Oula Moshat (part of Jabhat Thuwar Souria) announced the formation of a new coalition named “The South Coalition.”  In their announcement, the two groups said they did not join the coalition formed in the south last month because of the geographical distance, but  decided to form their own coalition as they operate in the same region. The new coalition will be operating mainly in Quneitra and northwestern part of Daraa province, also called al-Jedour area, which includes the major cities of Inkhel, Jasem, al-Harra, al-Sanamayn, Mahajeh, Nawa, and surrounding villages. (SMO YouTube, Qasioun, Smart News-AR) (Analyst Note: More than 20 armed opposition factions joined the National Front for Syria Liberation, a coalition formed in the last week of July 2017 with the objective of liaising positions related to the de-escalation agreement in southern Syria.)

Political

  • 12 AUG: A delegation from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) is scheduled to arrive in Damascus on 22 August. The JIM has been tasked with investigating the use of chemical weapons in Syria, specifically the 4 April sarin attack on Khan Sheikhoun. An earlier report from the JIM concluded with certainty that sarin had been used in Khan Sheikhoun, but stopped short of attributing blame for the incident. This visit will allow the JIM to gather evidence in order to identify those responsible. (Washington Post)
  • 15 AUG: Ahrar al-Sham leadership announced new changes to its leadership on Tuesday, after the first and second deputies for the new general leader Hassan Sofan resigned. Sofan appointed Alaa Fahham as his first deputy,  a new military leader, a new president of the political branch, and a new secretary. This most recent shake-up in leadership is reportedly an effort to enhance and/or repair both Ahrar’s foreign relationships, as well as those among the opposition. (Qasioun-AR, All4Syria-AR, Al-Dorar-AR, @aronlund, @Charles_Lister)
  • 15 AUG: On Tuesday, a member of the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) Yehya al-Aridi said that the HNC meeting planned to be held in Riyadh did not take place because major components of the HNC, Moscow, and Cairo Fronts refused to attend. The Kurdish National Council also announced they intend to attend Riyadh meetings as an independent body, after disputes with other members in the opposition coalition and HNC during the last rounds of Geneva talks. (Smart News-AR, All4Syria-AR)

Humanitarian

  • None.

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • AUG: “Turkey’s Role in Syria” – Kyle Orton (Dayan)
  • 15 AUG: “Who’s in Charge?” – Frederic C. Hoff (Atlantic Council)
  • 15 AUG: “Reaching Agreement on al-Qaeda: An Option for the US and Turkey” – Aaron Stein (Atlantic Council)
  • 16 AUG: “Arab fighters struggle to assert role in Raqqa assault”- John Davidson (Reuters)
  • 16 AUG: “For Many Syrian Women, Healthcare is a Matter of Geography” – Florence Massena, Youmna al-Dimashqi (Syria Deeply)