TSI Syria Update: December 19, 2017

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

Military

  • 18 DEC: Extremist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) reportedly stopped civil courts and raided offices affiliated with the opposition’s Syrian Interim Government (SIG) in Saraqeb and Maarat al-Numan, Idlib. Previously, the HTS-affiliated Syrian Salvation Government warned the SIG to cease operations in liberated areas, but rescinded the threat on 15 December.  (@Elizrael, @24Idlib, Al-Dorar Sham-AR)
  • 18 DEC: A number of besieged Eastern Ghouta communities experienced shelling by the Assad Coalition today, with multiple civilian injuries reported. (Qasioun)
  • 19 DEC: In conjunction with the Assad Coalition’s offensive in Idlib, Russian aircraft struck the town al-Tah, killing a child and four civilians. The Assad Coalition also reportedly gained control of the village al-Rowidha in southeastern Idlib. (Smart-AR, Enab Baladi-AR, Smart-AR)
  • 19 DEC: The head of the Hawa Local Council in eastern Hama said an estimated 800 families have been displaced in from villages in their area of Hama province during the past five days due to clashes between pro-government forces and opposition groups as pro-government forces try to advance. (Enab Baladi-AR)
  • 19 DEC: Heavy fighting continued around Maghar al-Mir, as the Assad Coalition attempts to capture the town and split the opposition enclaves of Beit Jinn and Beit Saber in western Damascus. (Revo Spring-AR)

Political

  • 18 DEC: There are rumors that HTS has decided withdraw its force of approximately 200 fighters from Eastern Ghouta under the approval of the Assad Coalition. (RFS Media) (TSI Analyst Note: There have been multiple rumors concerning and HTS withdrawal from Eastern Ghouta, where they have a contentious relationship with rival opposition groups and civilians. See TSI’s 12 and 18 December updates for more.)
  • 19 DEC: The UN Security Council voted to renew Resolution 2165, which allows cross-border humanitarian aid into Syria, for another year. Russia, China, and Bolivia abstained, with all other members voting in favor. (AFP, @mbesheer, UN) (TSI Analyst Note: This comes after weeks of tense behind-the-scenes negotiations. Many in the diplomatic and humanitarian communities feared that Russia would use its veto to block the Resolution’s renewal).
  • 19 DEC: UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura briefed the UN Security Council on the failed eighth round of Geneva negotiations, placing most of the blame on the Syrian government’s delegation. According to de Mistura, the government refused to look past the opposition’s “Riyadh statement” calling for the removal of Assad, which they viewed as an unacceptable precondition to negotiations. De Mistura told the opposition to not emphasize the statement, which they viewed as a position, not a precondition. The government delegation also informed de Mistura that it was not prepared to review questions concerning the constitution until they fully controlled all territory in Syria and terrorism had been completely defeated. De Mistura told the Security Council that it was time for the UN to take the lead in proposing specifics regarding a new Syrian constitution and elections. (UNOG)
  • 19 DEC: The US-led Syrian Democratic Forces responded to yesterday’s condemnation from Bashar al-Assad calling them “traitors,” stating that the Assad regime was the one that “opened Syria’s doors” to terrorism. (Naharnet)
  • 19 DEC: French President Emmanuel Macron responded to Bashar al-Assad’s claim that France “spearheaded support for terrorism” in Syria, stating that Assad’s comments “are unacceptable because if there is someone that has fought and can defeat [ISIS] … it is the international coalition.” (Reuters)
  • 19 DEC: In a briefing with the Pentagon press corps today, spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon said that ISIS fighters trying to flee fighting in Deir Ezzor have been interdicted by US-led Coalition partner forces near al-Tanf. Dillon also stated that there is still heavy fighting against ISIS  near the town of Abu Hamam, which lies between Deir Ezzor city and Albu Kamal. (@OIRSpox, @JackDetsch_ALM, Washington Examiner)

Humanitarian

  • None.

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 18 DEC: “Al-Qaida’s Complex Balancing Act in Syria” – Charles Lister (Perspectives on Terrorism)
  • 18 DEC: “Syria: Resolution on cross-border humanitarian access and political and humanitarian briefings” (What’s in Blue)
  • 18 DEC: “Syrian Humanitarian ‘Lifeline’ Goes to Vote” – Sam Heller (TCF)
  • 19 DEC: “Implementation of Security Council resolutions 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2191 (2014), 2258 (2015) and 2332 (2016)” (UN)
  • 19 DEC: OpEd “In Defense of Nothing” – Jeremy Shapiro and Andrew Miller (War on the Rocks)
  • 19 DEC: “Al-Qaeda divisions may aid Assad as he eyes Syria’s Idlib” (AP)
  • 19 DEC: “ Why is Turkey quiet on Russia’s cooperation with the Syrian Kurds?” – Gonul Tol (War on the Rocks)
  • 19 DEC: “How ISIS Members Fled The Caliphate, Perhaps To Fight Another Day” – Mike Giglio and Munzer al-Awad (Buzzfeed)
  • 19 DEC: Written in blood and rust from a Syrian prison: ‘Don’t forget us’” – Robin Wright (The New Yorker)
  • 19 DEC: “Adopting Resolution 2393 (2017), Security Council Renews Authorization for Cross‑Border, Cross‑Line Humanitarian Access to Syria” (UN)
  • 19 DEC: “Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock: Statement to the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Syria, 19 December 2017” (Relief Web)