TSI Syria Update: August 25, 2017

Takeaway

The Syrian Army and Jaysh al-Islam (JAI), one of the armed opposition groups operating in Eastern Ghouta, exchanged prisoners on Thursday. JAI released 11 pro-government fighters in-exchange for 34 prisoners from the government’s detention centers. 10 children and 12 women were among those released by the government. This exchange is reportedly the largest of its kind to date in Eastern Ghouta. It comes amidst ongoing talks to fully implement several Russian-led de-escalation negotiations for the besieged area.

Military

  • 24 AUG: On Thursday, the Syrian government and armed opposition group Jaysh al-Islam (JAI) conducted a prisoner exchange in besieged Eastern Ghouta. The Syrian government released 34 prisoners, including 22 women and children, in exchange for 11 pro-government fighters that had been captured by JAI during the clashes in the area. The handover took place at a checkpoint in Douma. JAI reported this exchange is the largest of its kind to date in Eastern Ghouta. (Orient News-AR, Qasioun-AR, Smart News-AR, Ghouta Media Center FB-AR)
  • 25 AUG: A member from the SDF-linked Deir Ezzor Military Council has said the SDF will soon begin an offensive on ISIS-held Deir Ezzor. Ahmed Abu Khawla, head of the council, stated the campaign may begin “in a matter of weeks,” and would operate in parallel to the ongoing offensive on the city of Raqqa. Khawla went on to say forces from the council had already entered the Deir Ezzor governorate and captured several locations. (Reuters)
  • 25 AUG: Assad Coalition forces advanced into territory previously controlled by ISIS in northeastern Homs governorate on Friday and captured al-Dahek mountain, Kherbet al-Tlaa and Abu Kelleh valley. With these advances, the regime now controls more areas on the the southern administrative borders of al-Raqqa governorate. It also completely surrounds a pocket of ISIS forces after recently advancing in eastern Hama, northern Homs and southern al-Raqqa governorates. (Qasioun-AR, Smart News-AR)
  • 25 AUG: Seven battalions from Quwat al-Nukhba, a group of tribal forces aligned with the al-Ghad group led by Ahmad al-Jarba, announced they had split from the group and and directly joined the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). (Hawar News-AR, Orient News-AR)

Political

  • 25 AUG: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Thursday that the coming Astana talks will result an agreement for a fourth de-escalation zone in Idlib governorate. (Russian Foreign Ministry) (Analyst Note: Idlib governorate is mostly controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an armed opposition group classified as a terrorist organization by the UN, US, and Russia. It is unclear how such a de-escalation would be negotiated or enforced, as various parties including the US military and the Syrian government have said at various times that they will continue to target HTS fighters wherever they are located.)
  • 25 AUG: Protesters took to the streets after Friday prayers in several towns in across Idlib governorate. Demonstrators chanted against the targeting of civilians in Eastern Hama by pro-government forces, and against the growing presence of al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in Idlib governorate. The protestors objected to HTS’ increased interference in civil society, and demanded an independent body as a local council for the city. (Smart News-AR, Shaam-AR)
  • 25 AUG: The chief of Russian military’s branch for protection from chemical weapons,  General Igor Kirillov, said the Russian army has dismantled two Syrian chemical weapons facilities in areas which were previously controlled by armed opposition factions without specifying or naming the locations. Kirillov also said the facilities dismantled this month were the last two of 27 sites to be removed according to the 2013 US-Russia deal to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. Kirillow stated that Russia will provide data on the sites to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The OPCW has not yet confirmed Russia’s report. (Washington Post)

Humanitarian

  • 25 AUG: A medical evacuation agreement was reportedly struck between Syrian government and National Committee for Palestinians Relief. The agreement includes 44 out of 189 patients need evacuation and live in besieged area of al-Yarmouk in southern Damascus. Evacuees will leave Yarmouk area for treatment at one of Damascus hospitals and then will return to Yarmouk. The agreement states that 10 to 15 cases will be allowed to cross Babila Beit-Sahem checkpoint every week. (Smart News-AR)

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 24 AUG: “Russia Using Syria to Test its Next Generations of Weapons” – Damien Sharkov (Newsweek)
  • 24 AUG: “As Syria War Tightens, US and Russia Military Hotlines Humming” – Phil Stewart (Reuters)
  • 24 AUG: “OSE Syria – Media Stakeout: Humanitarian Access Task Force Update (Geneva, 24 August 2017)” – (WebTV UN, UN transcript)
  • 25 AUG: “Toxic Connection: North Korea’s Chemical Weapons Link to Syria” – Sam Ball (France 24)
  • 25 AUG: “Cornered in Raqqa: The Last Days of Islamic State” – Raja Abdulrahim (WSJ)
  • 25 AUG: “The Awkward Space for Syria’s Post-Conflict Reconstruction” – Emma Beals (Atlantic Council)