TSI Syria Update: November 13, 2017

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

Military

  • 10 NOV: Reportedly, Iran has established a military base at a site used by the Syrian government army near the town of al-Kiswah south of Damascus city. (BBC)
  • 10 NOV: Civilians are still trapped on Hawijat Kati’ Island in Deir Ezzor city, as Assad Coalition forces, the US-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and ISIS have repeatedly failed to agree upon evacuation terms. According to local sources, Assad Coalition forces are within 100 meters of the besieged civilians on the island, which they have begun to bomb. (Deir Ezzor24, Deir Ezzor24 Youtube)
  • 12 NOV:  On Saturday, the Israeli military shot down an Assad Coalition drone over the Golan. According to an Israeli official, Israel will continue their use of such airstrikes along the border region to keep rival armed opposition groups from each other, as well as to keep Iranian-backed forces away from Israeli territory. (Reuters)
  • 12 NOV: ISIS militants regained control of the town of Albu Kamal, after reportedly launching a surprise attack on Assad Coalition forces in the city. Additionally, the US-led Coalition announced it conducted strikes against ISIS near Albu Kamal, suggesting militants are still in the area. Last week, the Assad Coalition prematurely announced it had defeated ISIS and retaken their last urban stronghold. (SOHR, Reuters, CJTF-OIR) (TSI Analyst Note: It is possible the Assad Coalition’s early pronouncement of victory in Albu Kamal was an attempt to dissuade the SDF from advancing toward the town.)
  • 13 NOV: Suspected Russian airstrikes targeting a market in al-Atarib today killed at least 30 civilians, including 15 children. The airstrikes were conducted in an area that is supposedly part of a designated de-escalation zone. (Halab TV Today-AR, MEE, @FSAPlatform, Syria Direct)
  • 13 NOV: ISIS forces allegedly attacked an Assad Coalition military airbase in Deir Ezzor with suicide and car bombs, resulting in multiple casualties. According to pro-regime media, an ISIS militant managed to pass through a checkpoint by disguising himself as Russian soldiers. (SMART-AR, Al-Masdar)
  • 13 NOV: The Syrian government closed off a checkpoint in Babila to besieged communities south of Damascus. The area is contested by opposition and ISIS  enclaves, but is surrounded by government forces. The checkpoint’s closure largely cuts off all supplies for the communities.  (Syria Direct, RevoSpring-AR)

Political

  • 11 NOV: While attending an economic conference in Vietnam, US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin released a joint statement on Syria. The leaders affirmed their commitment to a political solution to the conflict, as well the continued use and expansion of de-escalation zones monitored in conjunction with Jordan. The statement noted the goal of such zones are to provide increased humanitarian access and to reduce the number of foreign fighters in Syria. Russia and the US also announced the continued use of open military de-confliction channels in their operations.  (State Dept, Kremlin)
  • 13 NOV: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated Israel’s military forces would continue to prevent Iranian expansion near its borders in Syria, regardless of continued US-Russia de-escalation agreements. Echoing Netanyahu’s remarks, regional cooperation minister Tzachi Hanegbi said “Israel has set red lines and will stand firm on this.” (Reuters)
  • 13 NOV: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Vladimir Putin today in Sochi, Russia to discuss Syria. In comments to reporters, Erdogan indicated a Turkish military offensive against Kurdish forces in Afrin could be imminent, also noting that “if a military solution is out of the question, then those who say this should pull their troops out.” This contradicts the joint statement released by Presidents Putin and Trump on 11 November, which noted there is no military solution to the Syrian conflict. (Bloomberg, Reuters)
  • 13 NOV: Negotiations have stalled to reopen the economically strategic Nasib border crossing between Syria and Jordan, as opposition forces are reluctant to allow an increased Assad government presence at the checkpoint. (Syrian Observer via Iqtissad)
  • 13 NOV: Israel became the latest state to endorse the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) report which found the Syrian government responsible for a chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhoun, and an extension of the JIM’s mandate, . The Russian and Syrian delegations aggressively denied the JIM’s findings, and have proposed a competing resolution after vetoing the original mandate extension. (Times of Israel)
  • 13 NOV: According to a BBC report, the US backed-SDF in conjunction with local authorities allowed 250 ISIS fighters along with 3,500 family members to evacuate Raqqa. Among those on the convoy was a chief ISIS intelligence official who was later captured. The official claimed he was with a group that was making its way to the porous Turkey-Syria border. The US-led Coalition distanced itself from any evacuation deal, and has repeatedly stressed the importance of denying the movement of fighters from Syria and Iraq to other conflict zones, such as Afghanistan. However, many of the evacuees were foreign fighters. The US-led Coalition maintains that only four foreign fighters left the city in the convoy, which allegedly was subject to search by the SDF. Responding to the story via a tweet, US-led Coalition spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon said the “Coalition did not fully agree” with the evacuation and that it was a “local solution to a local issue.” (BBC, @OIRSpox)
  • 13 NOV: Saudi Arabia will reportedly host an “expanded” Syrian opposition conference 22-24 November. The conference is an effort to unify opposition groups before the UN-backed Geneva process continues. (@FSAPlatform, Reuters, SPA)

Humanitarian

  • 12 NOV: Humanitarian aid for 21,500 people reached the besieged Eastern Ghouta community of Douma. The last aid delivery for the community was on 17 August. (AFP, @OCHA_Syria, @SYRedCrescent)

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 11 NOV: “How the Latest OPCW Reports Provide More Connections Between the Syrian Government and August 21st 2013 Damascus Sarin Attacks” – Eliot Higgins (Bellingcat)
  • 12 NOV: OpEd “Putin’s Syria Play” (WSJ)
  • 13 NOV: “Syria: ‘We Leave or We Die’: Forced Displacement Under Syria’s ‘Reconciliation’ Agreements” (Amnesty International)
  • 13 NOV: “Did Russia Accidentally Provide the Best Evidence of the Syrian Government’s Involvement in Sarin Attacks?”  (Bellingcat)
  • 13 NOV: OpEd “ISIS May Soon Be Defeated, but Terror Continues in Deir Ezzor” – Karam Alhamad (Syria Deeply)
  • 13 NOV: “For Raqqa to Heal, Prioritizing Demining” – Kimberly Metcalf (War on the Rocks)