TSI Syria Update: August 17, 2017

Takeaway

Intense clashes continued in Eastern Ghouta today between pro-government forces and armed opposition group Failaq al-Rahman amid reports of heavy casualties among the Assad Coalition forces throughout this week. The attacks are part of a military operation by the Syrian government to capture the besieged towns of Eastern Ghouta and weaken the armed opposition groups in the area. Despite a ceasefire agreement announced by Russia in 22 July, the Assad Coalition attacks on opposition-held areas have continued. Tensions between Failaq al-Rahman and Jaysh al-Islam in Eastern Ghouta also continued today as the two groups exchanged fire and accusations on social media.

Military

  • 16-17 AUG: The Turkish army and Turkey-backed AOGs continued to clash with the Kurdish YPG, amid reports that the Turkish army is sending reinforcement to al-Bab, a city controlled by Turkey-backed opposition groups. Kurdish media sources said the Turkish army attacked several locations near Afrin city, where intense clashes between the YPG and the Turkey-backed AOGs were taking place. The Turkish attacks also reached the Rubar IDP camp, which prompted many of the families taking shelter there to flee to neighboring towns. The YPG claimed it killed 17 opposition fighters, destroyed two bulldozers and downed a Turkish drone. Ahl al-Diyar operation room, a coalition of Turkey-backed AOGs, said it responded to YPG attacks by targeting YPG locations near the town of Tal Raf’at, to the north of Aleppo city.    Opposition media reported that the towns of al-Tuwaiheneh and Tal Maled were shelled by the YPG, killing three civilians and injuring others. (Ara News-AR, 7al-AR, SMO-AR, Enab Baladi-AR, @Charles_Lister)
  • 17 AUG: US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) SDF spokesman Talal Silo said the SDF took control of 60% of Raqqa as of Thursday. Local sources stated that the SDF continued to clash with the Islamic State (ISIS) in several districts today, amid reports of heavy losses among ISIS fighters. The SDF advances in Raqqa has slowed down in recent weeks. The offensive to capture Raqqa, the de facto capital of ISIS, started on 6 June. (Ara News)
  • 17 AUG: Armed opposition group (AOG) Failaq al-Rahman (FAR) said it killed five Syrian government Army 4th Brigade soldiers in an ambush in the Eastern Ghouta town of Ein Tarma today. This is the third ambush carried out by FAR in the town since Monday, inflicting heavy losses on Assad Coalition forces. Meanwhile, the Assad Coalition bombarded Jobar and the towns of Ein Tarma, and al-Nashabiyah in Eastern Ghouta. (@alrahmandcorps4-AR, SOHR-AR, @SiegeWatch)
  • 17 AUG: AOGs FAR and Jaysh al-Islam clashed near the towns of al-Aftarees and al-Muhammadiyeh in Eastern Ghouta today. JAI claimed it was responding to an attack initiated by FAR and its “ally,” al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). FAR spokesman, Wael Alian, accused JAI of attacking FAR’s locations in Eastern Ghouta, arresting 40 FAR fighters, and igniting a media war between the two groups. Last Sunday, FAR and JAI denied they reached a ceasefire agreement, after rumors surfaced that the groups reached a truce on 3 August.  (Smart News-AR, Smart News-AR, Jobar Revolutionary Council FB-AR)
  • 17 AUG: The Assad Coalition advanced in Hama governorate today, capturing several ISIS-held areas and fully encircling ISIS fighters in the town of Uqairbat and surrounding villages. The advances took place amid reports that the Assad Coalition halted its operations in eastern Raqqa governorate to focus on securing the ISIS-held areas in Hama governorate. (SOHR-AR, Al-Masdar)

Political

  • 17 AUG: On Thursday, UN special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura stated the declaration of de-escalation zones in Syria has been “positive” so far, and welcomed the continuation of de-escalation efforts from Russian and the other Astana guarantors. He also credited Thursday’s aid delivery to the besieged Eastern Ghouta neighborhood of Douma in part to Russian efforts, saying the delivery resulted from a letter from Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu which promised to establish Russian military “observation points” to better facilitate humanitarian movements within Syria. De Mistura said that “short” intra Syrian talks were possible next month, with more significant talks possible during October. De Mistura also noted the Syrian opposition had yet to present a unified delegation for the talks, and as a result the schedule would be adjusted accordingly. (UN WebTV, Washington Post, Reuters)
  • 17 AUG: The Syrian government opened the first International Trade Fair since the start of the conflict in Damascus on Thursday. Twenty-three countries – including Russia, Iran, and China – will be directly participating, in addition to twenty others that will be represented by corporations. The Syrian state-run SANA news agency reported that firms from Germany, France, and the UK will be among the latter. Syrian Prime Minister Imad Khamis stated the fair was “a declaration of economic victory and represents a real and clear readiness to launch the process of reconstruction.” The intervention of Russia and Iran in the Syrian conflict has served to prop up the Assad government, and has introduced an element of stability that some countries, such as neighboring Lebanon, appear eager to capitalize on. (Bloomberg, AP)
  • 17 AUG: US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) spokesman Talal Silo said the US has a “strategic interest” in maintaining a long-term military presence in northern Syria after the defeat of ISIS. Silo stated “They have a strategy policy for decades to come. There will be military, economic and political agreements in the long term between the leadership of the northern areas (of Syria) … and the U.S. administration.” US officials have declined to comment on Silo’s statement, saying only that there will be a lot of military work to be done in the area, even after ISIS has been removed. US Colonel Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the US-led Coalition against ISIS stated “Our mission … is to defeat ISIS in designated areas of Iraq and Syria and to set conditions for follow-on operations to increase regional stability.” (Reuters)

Humanitarian

  • 17 AUG: A 48-truck interagency humanitarian aid convoy reached the besieged Eastern Ghouta city of Douma today. The convoy delivered food, medical supplies, and other essentials to 35,000 people. This is the third aid convoy to reach Douma since Russia announced a ceasefire agreement in Eastern Ghouta on 22 July. Notably, local sources mentioned the aid will be distributed to Hosh al-Dawahira and al-Shifouniyeh in addition to Douma, all controlled by armed opposition group Jaysh al-Islam (JAI). (@SYRedCrescent, @OCHA_Syria, SMO FB-AR)

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 16 AUG: “Iran and Turkey Discuss Ways to Cooperate in Syria and Iraq” – Ahmad Majidyar (MEI)
  • 16 AUG: “Kurds Plan Ahead For Shifting Status In Syria” – Fehim Tastekin (Al-Monitor)
  • 17 AUG: “OSE Syria – Media Stakeout: Humanitarian Access Task Force Update (Geneva, 17 August 2017 (UN WebTV)
  • 17 AUG: “Assad’s march east compounds West’s Syria dilemma” Tom Perry, Suleiman Al-Khalidi – (Reuters)
  • 17 AUG: “Special Report: How Syria Continued to Gas its People as the World Looked On” – Anthony Deutsch (Reuters)
  • 17 AUG: “The Forgotten Fighters: The PKK in Syria” – Kyle Orton (The Henry Jackson Society)
  • 17 AUG: “Too poor to flee, residents are left behind in frontline east Damascus suburb: ‘No one hears our cries'” – Alaa Nassar and Madeline Edwards (Syria Direct)