TSI Syria Update: August 22, 2017

Takeaway

On Monday, opposition group Failaq al-Rahman (FAR) released a statement outlining its recent ceasefire agreement with Russia for besieged Eastern Ghouta. The agreement specifically calls for reducing violence and combating the presence of al-Qaeda-affiliate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), in addition to allowing the entrance of aid, reconstruction materials, and other goods. In a move of support for the ceasefire agreement, opposition group Jaysh al-Islam (JAI) said it would cease military operations against FAR, and turn its attention to combating extremist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). Russia also agreed facilitate the release of detainees. Russia will act as a guarantor of the agreement and will station troops along the front lines to monitor the ceasefire.

Military

  • 21 AUG: On Monday, armed opposition group (AOG) Failaq al-Rahman (FAR) released a statement containing details on the recent de-escalation agreement with Russia in Eastern Ghouta. According to the statement, the agreement calls for lifting the siege on Eastern Ghouta, and the immediate cessation of all military operations in the area. It also affirms that FAR is committed to preventing the presence of al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham in any territory under its control. In a move of support for the ceasefire agreement, AOG Jaysh al-Islam (JAI) said on Saturday it would cease military operations against FAR, and turn its attention to combating extremist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). The deal also allows for humanitarian access through two FAR-controlled checkpoints in Ein Tarma and Harasta, and states that fighters and their families are permitted to leave Eastern Ghouta for Idlib if they choose. The agreement establishes Russia as the guarantor of the de-escalation zone, and states that Russian forces will be deployed along the borders of the zone. Additionally, under the terms of the agreement, the zone will be managed by a civilian council, and a committee representing both the opposition and Syrian government  will be formed within one month to facilitate the transfer of detainees. (Smart News-AR, @jaishalislam-AR, @Alrahmancorps4, STEP-AR)
  • 21-22 AUG: The Assad Coalition continued its advance into territory previously controlled by the Islamic State (ISIS) in eastern Homs, capturing the town of al-Tayyibah on Monday, and seizing Wadi Latoum, Dahr Matlaa, al-Kawm, and al-Quwayr on Tuesday. These latest advances put Assad Coalition forces roughly 10km from the town of al-Sukhneh, captured earlier this month. (Qasioun, SOHR)
  • 22 AUG: The Lebanese Army announced that it had launched the third phase of its offensive against ISIS along the Lebanese/Syrian border, shelling ISIS positions near Raas Baalbak. Hezbollah and Syrian Arab Army forces also continued an assault on ISIS positions in western Qalamoun on the Syrian side of the border. (Qasioun, Qasioun)
  • 22 AUG: On Tuesday, Assad Coalition warplanes intensified attacks against the Uqayrbat region in eastern Hama and Homs provinces, reportedly killing at least 50 civilians. The area was allegedly targeted with at least 50 Russian airstrikes on Monday. The area is currently under ISIS control, and is strategically important because it is the westernmost stretch of ISIS-controlled territory in a larger region where pro-government forces have recently taken large swathes of land from ISIS. Its proximity to the Damascus-Aleppo highway also makes it strategically valuable to the Syrian government. The Hama Provincial Council called on the UN and others on Monday, to help Uqayrbat civilians safely evacuate the indiscriminate bombing. (Syria Direct, Rastan Media Center FB-AR, Hama Revolutionary Council FB-AR)
  • 22 AUG: According to observers and local sources, more than 170 civilians have reportedly been killed in the past week by US-led Coalition airstrikes on the city of Raqqa. On Monday, airstrikes on several districts in Raqqa reportedly killed at least 42 civilians, including 19 children and 12 women. Sources within the areas hit say the number of casualties may be higher as bodies are recovered from the rubble. On Tuesday, Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon said at least 250 US-led Coalition airstrikes had targeted Raqqa and the surrounding area in the past week. (Reuters, SOHR, Al-Arabiya)

Political

  • 21 AUG: On Monday, both the US State Department and the White House issued statements on the fourth anniversary of the Syrian government’s deadly chemical weapons attack on Eastern Ghouta in 2013. The White House stated that, as demonstrated on 4 April of this year in Khan Sheikhoun, the Syrian government still possesses the means and will to use chemical weapons against the people of Syria. The statement said “the Syrian regime, and any other actor contemplating the use of chemical weapons, understands that doing so will result in serious consequences.” The State Department referenced the 6 April US cruise missile strike on the Syrian government’s Shayrat airbase in response to the attack on Khan Sheikhoun, and said the US is “prepared to continue to use the necessary means to deter the regime from using such chemical weapons.” The State Department said that failure to comply with international norms and regulations on the use of chemical weapons represented a threat to the international community and would be addressed accordingly. (White House, State Department)
  • 21 AUG: On Monday, US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis met in Jordan with King Abdullah II and the chairman of the Jordanian joint chiefs of staff, Lt. Gen. Mahmoud Freihat, to discuss shared security interests in Jordan, and the ongoing fight against ISIS. US special envoy to the US-led anti-ISIS coalition Brett McGurk joined Mattis and King Abdullah to discuss the ceasefire the US, Jordan, and Russia negotiated in southwestern Syria. The talks are part of a trip to reaffirm US commitment to strategic partners in the Middle East and Europe. Mattis is also scheduled to meet in Ankara with Turkish leaders President Recep Erdogan, Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli, and Foreign Affairs Minister Mevlut Çavusoğlu on 23 August. (DoD)
  • 21 AUG: On Monday, the UN reported that over the past sixth months, two North Korean shipments to the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC) were intercepted. The SSRC has run the Syrian chemical weapons program since the 1970’s. A report submitted to the UN Security Council (UNSC) by a panel of UN experts investigating reports of prohibited chemical, ballistic missile, and conventional arms cooperation between Syria and North Korea stated the shipments had been intercepted by two member countries, but did not say when, where, or what the shipments contained. The shipments are believed to be part of a contract between the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation (KOMID), an organization that was blacklisted by the UNSC in 2009, and considered to be North Korea’s key arms dealer and an exporter of equipment related to ballistic missiles and conventional weapons. The statement went on to say “The consignees were Syrian entities designated by the European Union and the United States as front companies for Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC), a Syrian entity identified by the Panel as cooperating with KOMID in previous prohibited item transfers.” (Reuters)
  • 21-22 AUG: Syrian opposition groups held talks in Riyadh on Monday and Tuesday. The Saudi-backed High Negotiations Committee (HNC) met with delegations from opposition Moscow and Cairo platforms in order to establish a unified front for future peace talks. The talks ended in a stalemate when the delegation from the Moscow platform refused to recognize any demands for Bashar al-Assad’s departure. Qadri Jameel, head of the Moscow delegation, claimed Saudi had shifted its position on a political solution with Bashar al-Assad in power; however, Firas al-Khalidi, head of the Cairo delegation denied this, saying Saudi Arabia had not changed its stance on Assad leaving power. (AFP, Qasioun-AR, Smart News-AR)
  • 22 AUG: The next round of Syria talks in Astana was pushed back from late August to a tentative time frame of mid-September. Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov stated that Russia, Turkey, and Iran would hold a technical meeting before the end of August to determine the dates of the next meeting, and finalize the agenda. Abdrakhmanov noted the change in dates was due to “information from Russia,” but did not offer further information. (Nahar Net, Reuters)
  • 22 AUG: Jordan is reportedly working to establish a civilian council in the Rukban refugee camp near the Jordanian border. Sources familiar with the efforts have said the council will  effectively be under the authority of armed opposition group Jaysh Ahrar al-Ashair. The formation of the council is said to be the result of efforts by Sheikh Rakan Khedeir Abou Badr, head of Jaysh Ahrar al-Ashair, with the sponsorship of Jordan. Other names said to be a part of the council are also linked to the group. These reports have not been confirmed by Jordan. (The Syrian Observer via Enab Baladi)
  • 22 AUG: Local opposition groups in northern Homs and southern Hama announced they had reached an agreement for a de-escalation deal in the area. The factions added that they “do not recognize anyone speaking on their behalf at foreign conferences.” Russian troops were reportedly deployed near the town of Dar al-Kabeer as a part of the agreement. (Smart News-AR)

Humanitarian

  • 19 AUG: An interagency aid convoy with aid for 84,000 people reached the besieged town of Talbiseh in northern Homs on Saturday. The aid is reportedly also for people in the nearby Hama town of Tal Homr, and included food aid, water filtration, a dialysis machine, and other non-food aid items. (@SYRedCrescent, @ICRC_sy, @OCHA_Syria, Rastan Media Center FB-AR)

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 21 AUG: “‘We’re Prisoners’: Syrians Trapped in SDF Camps After Escape From IS” – Zouhir Al-Shimale, Arwa Ibrahim (MEE)
  • 21 AUG: “Russia Hails Progress in Syria Conflict, Ups Bombing Runs” – (Reuters)
  • 21 AUG: “Fourth Anniversary of the Chemical Weapons Attack at Ghouta, Syria” – Heather Nauert (State Dept.)
  • 22 AUG: “Mapping Attacks on Women and Children’s Healthcare in Syria” – Alessandria Masi, Tomás Pfeffer, Ella Pfeffer (Syria Deeply)
  • 22 AUG: “The Battle for Raqqa: A War of Tactics and Caution” – Abdullah al-Ghadawi (Atlantic Coucil)
  • 22 AUG: “The Syrian Crisis is Entering a New and Dangerous Phase” – Charles Lister (Asharq al-Awsat-AR)