TSI Syria Update: September 18, 2017

A brief overview of key military, political, and humanitarian news developments in Syria.

Military

  • Early Saturday morning, Russian forces struck a location near Deir Ezzor containing US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and US-led Coalition advisors, reportedly injuring six members of the SDF. According to the US, the strike came after the US denied a Russian request to target the area, but Russia went forward anyway. Russia has denied claims that it hit the SDF. (CENTCOM, Reuters, CNN, RT)
  • On Sunday, Assad Coalition forces announced a new offensive called “al-Fajr 3” to clear ISIS out of the area between Deir Ezzor city and the border town of Albu Kamal. (RT-AR, Alahed-AR)
  • Opposition groups HTS and FAR clashed in the besieged Eastern Ghouta town of Kafr Batna, killing a civilian and injuring several others. (Shaam-AR)
  • Pro-government forces started operating Deir Ezzor airport, after gaining control of the airport’s surroundings over the weekend. Two cargo planes reportedly delivered weapons and ammunition. (SANA, @EuphratesPost, Smart News-AR)
  • Assad Coalition forces crossed to the eastern bank of the Euphrates river in Deir Ezzor governorate, violating the “deconfliction line” previously agreed upon by the US and Russia. (SANA, FT)
  • ISIS reportedly shot down a Syrian government helicopter in the town of Shumaytah, north of Deir Ezzor city.  (Qasioun, DeirEzzor24-AR, @DeirEzzor24)
  • Assad Coalition forces continued their mortar and artillery attacks against besieged communities in Eastern Ghouta over the weekend. Failaq al-Rahman reportedly rebuffed a ground force advance into the besieged Jobar neighborhood. (@SiegeWatch, @AlrahmanCorps-AR)
  • According to pro-opposition media outlets, on Monday morning the US-led Coalition and partner armed opposition group (AOG) Maghawir al-Thawra withdrew from al-Zaqaf base to the nearby al-Tanf base in eastern Homs governorate, reportedly under an agreement with Russia. A spokesperson for Maghawir al-Thawra said they withdrew to secure drinking water for civilians. (Smart News-AR, Qasioun) (Analyst note: This would effectively cede control of the area to Iran-backed Shia militias.)
  • On Monday, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) leader Abo Yaser al-Sham was assassinated in Harem town in northern Idlib. This is the second assassination of an HTS leader in three days. (Enab Baladi-AR)
  • A spokesman for the Turkey-backed Syrian National Army said 4,000 fighters started moving to enter Idlib governorate from Turkey to protect civilians from Iranian and Kurdish militias, and added that the Turkish military will also enter Idlib governorate soon. The Turkish military sent enforcements to its borders with Idlib including 80 tanks and armored vehicles. (Aletihad News-AR, Al-Jazeera, Anadolu Agency)

Political

  • Following the Russian air strike on US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Deir Ezzor, the US and Russia agreed to increase coordination through the “de-confliction line,” so that communications can take place at the highest levels of the military command. (Washington Post)
  • According to state media, the Syrian government will not accept Turkish forces on Syrian soil, effectively contradicting the outcomes of the Astana 6 conference which agreed that all three guarantor states (Russia, Iran, and Turkey) would police an Idlib de-escalation zone. (SANA)
  • On Saturday, the Council of Palmyra and Syrian al-Badiya Tribes stated it rejects all settlements and reconciliation agreements with the Syrian government, and called on the international community to protect displaced communities. (The Tribal Council of Palmyra FB-AR)
  • Head of High Negotiation Committee Riyad Hijab arrived to New York to meet international leaders and officials during UN General Assembly annual meeting. (Shaam-AR)
  • US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly Sunday evening to discuss Syria. (State Department, RT)
  • French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warned that current military solutions to the Syria crisis risks the fragmentation of the country. Le Drian will meet with representatives from Britain, China, Russia, and the US on Thursday to discuss a political solution to the conflict. (Reuters)
  • Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria Paulo Pinheiro addressed the UN Human Rights Council this morning, voicing frustration with UN member states for not holding perpetrators of crimes accountable. He said the Syrian government had used chemical weapons against civilians, including in the 4 April Khan Sheikhoun attack. (VOA, @UNCoISyria)

Humanitarian

  • SARC evacuated a child from the Eastern Ghouta neighborhood of Harasta to Damascus on Saturday. (@SYRedCrescent)
  • The fourth SARC aid convoy to reach Deir Ezzor city reportedly arrived on Saturday. (@SYRedCrescent, @SYRedCrescent)
  • A World Food Programme (WFP) aid convoy reached Deir Ezzor city by land on Sunday for the first time since May 2014. WFP also announced it will discontinue airdrops to Deir Ezzor city now that road deliveries have resumed. (WFP)

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 15 SEP: “The Kurdish struggle in northern Syria,” – Carl Drott (IRIN)
  • 15 SEP: “A Jihadist Breakup in Syria” – Aron Lund (Foreign Affairs)
  • 18 SEP: “How far could the dangerous endgame in eastern Syria go?” – Liz Sly (Washington Post)
  • 18 SEP: “Northern Syria’s anti-Islamic State Coalition has an Arab problem” – Daniel Wilkofsky and Khalid Fatah (War on the Rocks)