TSI Syria Update: August 28, 2017

Takeaway:

On Sunday and Monday, Assad Coalition forces continued to attack the besieged neighborhood of Ein Tarma in a violation of the ceasefire agreement announced by Russia and opposition group Failaq al-Rahman (FAR) on 18 August. Yesterday pro-government forces and FAR exchanged shellfire in Ein Tarma as pro-government forces tried to advance in the area. Pro-government forces shelled Ein Tarma again today, killing three children and injuring several other civilians.

In the 18 August ceasefire agreement,  Russia and FAR both parties agreed that Russia as a guarantor would stop Assad Coalition attacks on Eastern Ghouta, while FAR would end the presence of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham in Eastern Ghouta.

Military:

  • 26 AUG: On Saturday, Assad Coalition forces shelled the besieged town of  Talbiseh and neighboring areas in northern Homs governorate. The shelling reportedly injured 12 civilians and killed two civilians, including a child. (Smart News-AR, Baladi News-AR, Alwatan Online-AR)
  • 26 AUG: Opposition group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) carried out an attack on pro-government forces in Tulaylat village in southern Aleppo governorate, killing more than ten  pro-government fighters. HTS gained more ammunition and weapons. (Qasioun-AR, Syrians News-AR, Eldorar-AR)
  • 27 AUG: Five armed opposition groups (AOGs) operating in northern Hama and eastern Idlib governorates formed a “Tribes Revolutionary Council.” The new council stated that the objective of the new body is to avoid infighting that is usually caused by tribal differences, to continue the revolution against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and to spread security in their areas of control. (Aldorar, Smart News-AR)
  • 27 AUG: A dozen Islamic State (ISIS) fighters snuck into al-Shadadi area close to a US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) where several US soldiers are located, and clashed with SDF. Some of the ISIS fighters reportedly detonated themselves during the clashes, while the rest were killed in US-led Coalition airstrikes. The SDF said that ISIS attacked their locations in al-Shaddadi with armored vehicles, and killed an SDF fighter, and SDF forces killed the leader of the group. Local sources claimed that three SDF fighters were killed in the clashes, and there were several civilian casualties as well. (SDF Press-AR, All4Syria-AR, Smart News-AR)
  • 27 AUG: Jaysh Ossoud al-Sharqiya attacked Assad Coalition forces as they tried to advance in al-Badiya area in eastern al-Sweida governorate on Sunday. Ossoud al-Sharqiya claimed it destroyed a pro-government tank and pro-government three vehicles. (@Osoudalsharqia-AR, Smart News-AR)
  • 27 – 28 AUG: Assad Coalition forces continued to attack the besieged Eastern Ghouta neighborhood of Ein Tarma on the weekend and into Monday. On Sunday, pro-government forces and AOGs exchanged shellfire. On Monday, Assad Coalition forces shelled residential areas, killing three children and injuring another 13 women and children. This shelling is a violation of the ceasefire agreement between Russia and Failaq al-Rahman that was announced on 18 August. (Shaam-AR, Ghouta Media Center FB-AR, Smart News-AR, All4Syria-AR, @alrahmancorps-AR)
  • 28 AUG: Today AOGs operating in Daraa province resumed their fight against ISIS-affiliate  Jaysh Khaled, which is a group operating in al-Yarmouk basin in southwestern Daraa province. AOGs shelled Jaysh Khaled locations near Taseel town, and reportedly killed two ISIS fighters. (Smart News-AR, Qasioun-AR). (Analyst Note: This is the first major military operation with the use of heavy machines in the southern area since the start of the de-escalation agreement between Assad Coalition forces and armed opposition. The agreement excluded the ISIS-affiliated group Jaysh Khaled).
  • 28 AUG: On Monday, US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) captured al-Mansour neighbourhood in the eastern part of Raqqa city and killed 17 ISIS fighters. Clashes in the campaign to liberate the city continued in al-Morour, al-Nahda, al-Rawda, and al-Dariya neighbourhoods. Raqqa is Being Silently Slaughtered said an estimated 113 US-led Coalition airstrikes hit the city in the past two days alone. US special envoy for Syria Brett McGurk said fighting in Raqqa was “room-to-room” as the SDF fought to expel ISIS from its previous headquarters in Raqqa Children’s Hospital. Today, a ranking SDF commander estimated the battle to force ISIS from its remaining positions in the city will “not take longer than two months.” (Hawar-AR, Smart News-AR, Syria Direct, @brett_mcgurk, @Raqqa_SL, Reuters)
  • 28 AUG: Al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) seized control of water management facilities in Idlib city from the democratically elected Idlib City Council today. The capture comes after the Council rejected a formal request from HTS to turn over control of civil facilities and functions, such as bakeries, water, and transportation. (@JAN_Violations, MEE)
  • 28 AUG: ISIS forces operating on the Lebanese side of Syria-Lebanon borders started evacuating their locations with their families today. Roughly 308 fighters departed for Deir Ezzor governorate after ISIS lost much of its enclave straddling the mountainous border area. This evacuation comes after nearly a week of an operation against ISIS locations by the Lebanese army from Lebanese land and Hezbollah and Syrian army from Syrian land. The evacuation happened after 24 hours of ceasefire and it is a deal between ISIS, Hezbollah, Syrian army and the Lebanese army. This evacuation follows a similar deal with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) that allowed HTS forces to leave with their families to Idlib governorate. (Washington Post, Reuters, The Independent)

Political:

  • 26 AUG: Jordanian State Minister for information and Government Spokesman Mohammed al-Momani said on Saturday that the relations between Jordan and the Syrian government is going in the right direction and this is an important message for everyone. Al-Momani also said that the ceasefire in the south is holding. He added that he hopes that this will consolidate stability in Syria, and if the situation continues like that, it would allow for the reopening of crossing points between Syria and Jordan. (AFP, Elaph-AR).
  • 28 AUG: Thousands of Syrian refugees living in Turkey have returned to Syria to celebrate Eid al-Adha. Turkish authorities in the southern province of Kilis near the Syrian border put in place a program which allows refugees to leave Turkey and return on or before 15 October. Crossings have been allowed since 15 August, and Turkish authorities stated 40,360 Syrians have returned to al-Bab and Jarablus, with 4,000 additional people now crossing every day. (Naharnet)
  • 28 AUG: US Army Colonel Joseph Scrocca rebuffed a call from the UN for a humanitarian halt in the US-led Coalition bombardment of the city of Raqqa. Scrocca stated “If ISIS believes unsubstantiated allegations of civilian casualties will put a halt to Coalition operations, they will increase their use of human shields to delay their inevitable defeat, which will of course put more civilians at risk. This is exactly what ISIS wants.” Scrocca went on to criticize organizations that have recently reported a spike in civilian casualties resulting from Coalition strikes, saying that such organizations do not conduct detailed assessments and often rely on faulty information, while failing to offer any evidence to support this statements.  (Military Times) (Analyst Note: Scrocca’s assessment may accurately reflect the reality that ISIS would likely exploit a cessation of Coalition airstrikes in response to civilian casualties by purposefully putting more civilians in harm’s way to influence Coalition strategy. However, to date, there are no functioning humanitarian corridors facilitating safe passage out of the city, and Coalition jets routinely bomb boats attempting passage across the Euphrates river, a method of escape often employed by civilians.)
  • 28 AUG: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that Iran is constructing missile production sites in Syria and Lebanon, with the intent of using them against Israel in the future. Speaking at the beginning of a meeting in Jerusalem with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Netanyahu stated that Iran was operating in Syria with the goal of turning the country into a, “base of military entrenchment as part of its declared goal to eradicate Israel.” Israel has recently voiced growing concern over Iran’s military buildup in Syria. During a meeting in Moscow last week with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Netanyahu reportedly stated that if Iran continues to expand in Syria, Israel will be forced to act according to counter the threat. Additionally, a senior Israeli official has reportedly stated that if Iran’s military presence increases, Israel will launch strikes on Bashar al-Assad’s Presidential Palace in Damascus. (Reuters, JPost)

Humanitarian

  • 26 AUG: An interagency aid convoy reached the Damascus neighborhood of Barzeh on Saturday, carrying 4,000 food parcels and 4,000 canned food parcels for 20,000 people. (SARC, @ICRC_sy)
  • 27 AUG: A 47-truck interagency aid convoy delivered aid for 107,500 people in the besieged city of Rastan in northern Homs. (@SYRedCrescent, @ICRC_sy, @OCHA_Syria)

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • JUL: “Voices from the Dark” – Lawyers and Doctors for Human Rights (Guernica37)
  • 2 JUL: “350 Diplomatic Flights Carry Weapons for Terrorists” – Dilyana Gaytandzhieva (Trud)
  • 25 AUG: “Deeply Talks: The Battle Against ISIS in Deir Ezzor” – Alessandria Masi, Hashem Osseiran, Kim Bode (Syria Deeply)
  • 25 AUG: “UN Official: Half of Trapped Raqqa Population Are Children”  (NY Times)
  • 26 AUG: “Syria Kurds preparing first vote in ‘federal region’: official” (AFP)
  • 27 AUG: “Missed Opportunities for Prevention?” (US Holocaust Memorial Museum)
  • 28 AUG: “The Syrian Women Saving Lives as Volunteers for the White Helmets” – Alexandra Bradford (Syria Deeply)
  • 28 AUG: “In Syrian skies, U.S. pilots learn how fast air war can morph” – Phil Stewart (Reuters)
  • 28 AUG: “SNC: Assad’s Survival Will Only Spawn More Terrorism” – Syrian National Coalition (Syrian Observer)
  • 28 AUG: “Assad Has Won Says Former US Ambassador to Syria” – Joyce Karam (The National)
  • 28 AUG: “What Hezbollah’s Safe Transfer Deal with ISIS Means for Lebanon, Syria” – Hashem Osseiran (Syria Deeply)