TSI Syria Update: November 14, 2017

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

Military

  • 14 NOV: The Assad Coalition escalated its military campaign on the besieged communities of Eastern Ghouta, including artillery and air strikes resulting in multiple civilian casualties. Armed opposition groups (AOG) launched an offensive on a strategic vehicle depot between Harasta and Madyara, which likely triggered the heavy attacks. School was cancelled in Eastern Ghouta due to the fighting. (Qasioun, STEP-AR, Enab Baladi-AR, @SeigeWatch)
  • 14 NOV: A commander of a Free Syrian Army (FSA) affiliated group was killed in Daraa by a roadside bomb along with two fighters. Within the last month, at least four other opposition leaders have also been assassinated in the area. (Enab Baladi-AR)
  • 14 NOV: Reportedly, fighting between extremist opposition group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and opposition group Nour al-Din al-Zinki resulted in several civilian casualties in the town of al-Atarib in rural Aleppo. Yesterday, a market in the town was bombed by the Assad Coalition, killing dozens of civilians. HTS and al-Zinki allegedly reached a peace deal today. (STEP-AR, @TNTranslations)
  • 14 NOV: Assad Coalition forces reportedly made gains in their offensive against HTS in northern Hama governorate near the border with Idlib, capturing several small villages including Qasr al-Shawi, al-Rabiah, al-Hazem, and al-Kikiyah. (Qasioun-AR, Al Masdar)

Political

  • 13 NOV: The US and Russia remain deadlocked on an extension of the OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM). The Russian UN delegation stated they are still in talks with the US delegation, while a US spokesperson said “Russia has refused to engage on our draft resolution – which the vast majority of council members agree is the most viable text – in spite of our multiple attempts to consider Russian concerns.” (Reuters)
  • 13 NOV: Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis referenced the future of counter-ISIS operations, saying “The enemy hasn’t declared that they’re done with the area yet, so we’ll keep fighting as long as they want to fight.” Mattis also noted US forces will remain in Syria until a political solution is agreed upon, ideally through the UN-backed Geneva process. (Reuters, DOD)
  • 14 NOV: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the de-escalation terms in Syria discussed by Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin did not require Russia to support the withdrawal of Iranian proxies. Reportedly, Lavrov said Iran is a “legitimate presence” in Syria. (Times of Israel, Reuters) (TSI Analyst Note: The reduction of Iranian proxy militias in Syria operating as part of the Assad Coalition is purportedly a key policy objective for the US in their negotiations with Russia. For more background see TSI’s 13 November Update.)
  • 14 NOV: Officials from the White House’s National Security Council flew to Israel today to speak with their Israeli counterparts about Syria. Israel has increasingly been concerned about the presence of Iranian proxy militias near its borders, with President Benjamin Netanyahu stating yesterday Israel would operate outside the US-Russia de-escalation agreement. View a leak of the new de-escalation zone map here. (Times of Israel)
  • 14 NOV: The Russian Ministry of Defense accused the US-led Coalition of colluding with ISIS in Syria near Albu Kamal. However, the published images were actually from a mobile phone video game and an Iraqi military operation in 2016. Subsequently, the Russian MOD blamed the incorrect images on a civilian contractor. (Russia MOD-RU, Bellingcat) (TSI Analyst Note: Russia and the US released a joint statement on 11 November praising their military success against ISIS.)
  • 14 NOV: The Syrian government called upon US forces to leave the country, referring to their presence as an act of aggression and violation of sovereignty. The government also accused the US of sabotaging the peace process, claiming there is “clear and evident collusion” between US forces and ISIS. (Sana)
  • 14 NOV: A bipartisan group of US Representatives wrote a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, urging the State Department to develop a strategy in Syria that counters Iranian influence in the region, blocks arms sales to Hezbollah, and protects key regional allies Jordan and Israel. (Free Beacon)

Humanitarian

  • 14 NOV: Humanitarian aid for 107,500 people was delivered to the besieged Homs community of Rastan today. It was the first aid delivery to the area since 27 August. (UNHCR, SARC)

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 13 NOV: OpEd “A new deal with Russia sounds too good to be true. It probably is.” (Washington Post)
  • 13 NOV: “The Future of HTS with the Turkish Intervention” – Ahmad Abazeid (Atlantic Council)
  • 14 NOV: “Expert Views: After ISIS, Who Controls Syria’s Natural Resources?” – Alessandria Masi, Hashem Osseiran, and Kim Bode (Syria Deeply)
  • 14 NOV: “‘Getting here cost us everything’: Making a new life in Syria’s Kurdish north” – Alaa Nassar and Justin Clark (Syria Direct)