TSI Syria Update: October 30, 2017

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

Military

  • 27 OCT: Turkish armed forces established a second observation post in Idlib governorate on 23 October, according to a statement released by the military. According to Turkish media, the post is part of Turkey’s tripartite de-escalation zone agreement between itself, Russia, and Iran. Russian Special Envoy to Syria Alexander Lavrentyev said there is a “high level of tension” in Idlib, and hopes Turkey can stabilize the situation. Reportedly, Turkey will establish 14 observation posts in Idlib to monitor de-escalation activity. (Hurriyet, Reuters)
  • 28 OCT: US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) reportedly handed over control of Menagh airbase in northern Aleppo to Russian forces over the weekend. The move may be meant to deter an expected Turkey-backed offensive in the area. (Asharq al-Awsat, @QASIOUN_NEWS)
  • 28 OCT: Clashes between ISIS and Assad Coalition forces intensified over the weekend in Deir Ezzor, as the jihadist group is further surrounded in the city. Reportedly, 50 ISIS fighters were killed in skirmishes, along with 23 Assad Coalition casualties. Fighting is mostly centered around the neighborhoods of al-Hamidiyah, al-Rashidiyah, al-Jabilah, and al-Hwiqa.  (AFP, SOHR, @DeirEzzor24)
  • 29 OCT: At least 11 people were killed by pro-government artillery shelling in the Kafr Batna, Saqba, and Hamouriyah communities of besieged Eastern Ghouta. A market and a kindergarten were among the civilian sites targeted in the attacks. (AP, GMC FB-AR, GMC FB-AR)
  • 29 OCT: ISIS forces and leadership are consolidating on the Syria-Iraq border towns of Abu Kamal and al-Qaim, according to US Coalition spokesman Ryan Dillon. Abu Kamal was cited by Dillon as a possible military target in Syria, but that it is up to the US-backed SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) to make a decision on an assault. (Reuters)

Political

  • 27 OCT: US State Department spokeswoman Heath Nauert reiterated US condemnation of the Assad government’s use of chemical weapons in Khan Sheikhoun, per the findings of the OPCW-UN JIM (Joint Investigative Mechanism) report. Nauert urged the UN Security Council to send a clear message regarding Syria’s violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, as well as Russia’s attempts to undermine and deny the JIM. For more on the JIM report of Khan Sheikhoun, read TSI’s 27 October update HERE. (US Embassy Syria)
  • 29 OCT: US officials have reportedly asked UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura to include Kurds in upcoming political negotiations hosted in Geneva. These claims run contradictory to the objectives of Turkish negotiators, who wish to keep the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) out of the talks. (Asharq al-Awsat) (TSI Analyst Note: If confirmed, this would be a significant policy shift, as the US has never previously called for the inclusion of the Kurds in Geneva talks.)
  • 30 OCT: The seventh round of Astana talks opened Monday, the first of such negotiations after the expulsion of ISIS from its capital of Raqqa. Attending delegations included the Assad government and coalition partners Russia and Iran, as well as Turkey and Syrian opposition groups. Representatives from the US, UN, and Jordan will also attend as observers. Topics will include strengthening the de-escalation zone mechanisms as well as political and military detainees. (AFP, Kazakhstan MFA, Asharq al-Awsat)
  • 30 OCT: Russian state news reported that a Moscow-backed meeting of a Syrian ethnic congress may take place this November in Sochi, Russia. The congress, which would include all of Syria’s ethnic groups, reportedly has support from within the UN “in principle”. (Reuters)
  • 30 OCT: Sihanok Dibo, an advisor to the Kurdish PYD, denied reports of negotiations with the Syrian government in Qamishli. Dibo also denied the Syrian government proposed an autonomous Kurdish region in northern Syria in exchange for a withdrawal of the majority-Kurdish and US-backed SDF from Arab territory. (The Region, Xendan-AR)

Humanitarian

  • 30 OCT: A coalition of 36 Syrian NGOs released a statement urging the de-escalation zone guarantors Iran, Russia, and Turkey to improve humanitarian conditions in the besieged area of Eastern Ghouta. The statement asked the guarantors to open and maintain humanitarian and commercial crossings and implored the international community to provide direct funding for NGOs working in the rural Damascus area. (SNA)
  • 30 OCT: In cooperation with the UN, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) delivered 49 trucks of humanitarian aid to the besieged communities of Kafr Batna and Saqba in Eastern Ghouta. (@SYRedCrescent, AFP)

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 27 OCT: “What the OPCW-UN JIM’s Leaked Report on Khan Sheikhoun Tells Us About Russia’s Denials and Syria’s Sarin” – Eliot Higgins (Bellingcat)
  • 27 OCT: “Islamic State guerrilla attacks point to its future strategy” – Angus McDowall, Tom Perry (Reuters)
  • 27 OCT: “Inside Rukban Camp, One of Syria’s Most Desperate Settlements” – Yasser Allawi (News Deeply)
  • 28 OCT: “Why Israel Is Giving Syrians Free Spaghetti (And Health Care)” – Neri Zilber (Politico)
  • 28 OCT: “Where are Syria’s Disappeared, Detained, and Kidnapped?” – Sara Kayyali (HRW)
  • 29 OCT: “IS’s last stand in Syria: The crisis in Deir al-Zour” – Feras Kilani (BBC-EN)
  • 30 OCT: “Syrian war: All you need to know about the Astana talks” (Al Jazeera)
  • 30 OCT: “Dark Victory in Raqqa” – Luke Mogelson (The New Yorker)