TSI Syria Update: October 23, 2017

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

Military

  • 20 OCT: Five projectiles from Syria entered the Israeli Golan Heights on Friday. The Israeli military retaliated by targeting three Syrian artillery guns. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson said the IDF “will intensify its response” to any future fire from Syria. (Reuters, @IDFSpokesperson)
  • 22 OCT: There are unconfirmed reports that toxic gas was used by ISIS during fighting with FSA-affiliated armed opposition groups on the outskirts of Yalda, in the besieged southern suburbs of Damascus. Around 10 fighters were treated at a field hospital for symptoms including shortness of breath, bronchospasms, and mucus secretion that are affiliated with choking agents such as chlorine. The fighting, which started with an ISIS attack to try and take control of the strategically located “Japanese Hospital” building, has continued into Monday. (Revo Spring-AR, Syria Direct)
  • 23 OCT: According to SOHR, ISIS executed at least 128 people in al-Qaraytayn in the desert of southeastern Homs governorate during the month of October before the town was retaken by pro-government forces. The victims were reportedly killed due to accusations of cooperating with the Syrian government. (SOHR, AP)
  • 22 OCT: The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) took control of the Al-Omar oil fields from ISIS on Sunday. Al-Omar is Syria’s largest oil field. (CBS, @OIRSpox)

Political

  • 21 OCT: US President Donald Trump made an announcement about the recapture of Raqqa city by US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). In his statement, the President iterated a shift in strategy to “a new phase in which [the US] will support local security forces, de-escalate violence across Syria, and advance the conditions for lasting peace.” (The White House)
  • 22 OCT: The Russian Ministry of Defense compared the destruction of Raqqa city to that of Dresden in 1945, implying the US-led Coalition wiped the city “off the face of the earth.” It also criticized the US, UK, France, and Germany for sending aid only to Raqqa (rather than to the rest of Syria), suggesting the Coalition is attempting to “cover tracks of barbaric bombardments that buried thousands of civilians in Raqqa’s ruins.” (Russian MOD FB) (TSI Analyst Note: Russian forces contributed to the destruction of various areas of Syria through intensive airstrikes, while trying to persuade various nations to provide humanitarian aid to those very areas it destroyed, such as Eastern Aleppo.)
  • 22 OCT: The Kurdish YPG, who make up the bulk of the US-backed SDF, released a video crediting Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan for the liberation of Raqqa city. The video was released in response to recent US criticism of Ocalan, whose image was controversially displayed in Raqqa’s al-Naim Square by YPG fighters after they captured the area from ISIS. See TSI’s 20 OCT Update for more. (Reuters, YPG Press Office, @USEmbassyTurkey-TR) (TSI Analyst note: The YPG claims it is independent from the PKK, which is recognized by the US as a terrorist organization.)
  • 23 OCT: Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) released a statement via Telegram emphasizing the importance of a “free and independent” press in Idlib, calling on citizens and local government authorities to cooperate with reporters. This announcement comes a day after HTS dropped its policy of requiring journalists to have official work permits to operate in the province. (Syria Direct)
  • 23 OCT: Opposition activists have launched a new campaign to draw attention to the plight of besieged Eastern Ghouta using the hashtag #AssadBesiegesGhouta. As part of the campaign, demonstrations were held today in several besieged and opposition-held communities. (@GhoutaGMC-AR, Google site)

Humanitarian

  • 22 OCT: Two infants in besieged Eastern Ghouta died over the weekend. Sahar died Sunday from an intestinal infection and acute malnutrition. Obeida died Saturday, but the details are still unknown. UNICEF estimates that there are 1,114 suffering from malnutrition in Eastern Ghouta, including 232 severe acute cases. (Al-Jazeera, @SiegeWatch, @SiegeWatch, AFP)

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 21 OCT: “Statement by President Donald J. Trump on the Defeat of ISIS in Raqqah” (White House)
  • 21 OCT: “Rise and fall of ISIS: its dream of a caliphate is over, so what now?” – Jason Burke (The Guardian)
  • 22 OCT: OpEd: “Trump faces a reckoning with Syria” – Frederik Kagan (The Hill)
  • 23 OCT: “Hostility Toward Militants Grows in Idlib as Turkey Deploys Troops” – Wissam Frangieh (Syria Deeply)