TSI Syria Update: December 22, 2017

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

Military

  • 22 DEC: According to pro-opposition media, more Assad Coalition forces have reportedly arrived in northern Hama from Deir Ezzor, likely in preparation for an offensive on opposition-held Abu al Dhour airbase in southern Idlib governorate. (Enab Baladi-AR)
  • 22 DEC: There are unconfirmed reports from Jaysh al-Islam that Assad Coalition forces used toxic gas, most likely chlorine, against their fighters on the frontlines near the Homs-Damascus highway by the besieged community of Douma in Eastern Ghouta.  (GhoutaGMC FB-AR, @jaishalislam-AR, @TNTranslations)
  • 22 DEC: Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne said Australia will stop conducting airstrikes against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, but maintain refueling and surveillance aircraft in Iraq. (BBC)

Political

  • 21 DEC: While attending peace talks in Astana, Russia’s envoy Alexander Lavrentiev stated that the US should leave Syria, and its reasons for maintaining a military presence in the country after the defeat of ISIS “are just excuses.” Also during the talks, Russia, Iran, and Turkey agreed to hold the Sochi Syrian peace talks 29-30 January 2018, but Turkey reportedly vetoed the involvement of Kurdish groups. (Reuters, AP, Russian FM, Anadolu)
  • 22 DEC: Speaking at negotiations in Astana, UN Syria Envoy Staffan de Mistura announced that the ninth round of peace talks in Geneva would be held in the second half of January. De Mistura also said a working group was created in Astana to discuss the release of detainees, which he views as a positive development. (Reuters, Reuters)
  • 22 DEC: Speaking to British military personnel in Cyprus, Prime Minister Theresa May said ISIS has been crushed in Syria and Iraq. However, May iterated that ISIS would “new ungoverned spaces from which to plot and carry out attack,” and continued British support for a stable Middle East is critical.  (The Guardian)
  • 22 DEC: The opposition Syrian Interim Government (SIG) decided to move the Free Aleppo University – established in 2016 – from Idlib city to western Aleppo governorate after the Syrian Salvation Government reportedly tried to take control of the university by appointing a new president. The Syrian Salvation Government is affiliated with extremist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and has increasingly tried to take control of institutions from the SIG in northwest Syria. (Smart-AR, Enab Baladi-AR, Enab Baladi-AR)
  • 22 DEC: The Pentagon said it believes that Russia is intentionally violating the de-escalation agreement in Syria, where officials have said Russian planes have performed dangerous maneuvers near US aircraft multiple times. A Pentagon spokesperson said they are working to address the issue “at the highest levels.” (CNN)
  • 22 DEC: Syrian opposition news site al-Dorar al-Shamia is rebranding as Nidaa Souryia, after former staff members took over the original site and social media accounts and used them for pro-HTS messaging. (@AbuJamajem, @TNTranslations)
  • 22 DEC: Today, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said 48,000 Russian troops have taken part in its military operations in Syria. (Reuters, Russia MOD) (TSI Analyst Note: This is a significant increase of previous estimated Russian troop levels in Syria, and the accuracy of the number is unclear.)

Humanitarian

  • None.

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 21 DEC: “Dying for a paycheck: the Russian civilians fighting in Syria” – Maria Tsvetkova (Reuters)
  • 21 DEC: “Insurgents Again: The Islamic State Calculated Reversion to Attrition in the Syria-Iraq Border Region and Beyond” – Hassan Hassan (Combating Terrorism Center)
  • 21 DEC: “In Syria, the hard part may be about to begin as Assad, Russia and Iran eye each other warily” – Michael Young (The National)
  • 21 DEC: “TCF World Podcast: Who Cares About A Faraway Siege?” – Thanassis Cambanis with Marcell Shehwaro and James Sadri (TCF)
  • 21 DEC: “On the Surface and Underneath, a Syrian Boy Carries the Scars of War” – Rebecca Collard (NYT)
  • 21 DEC: “Assad Regime Still Reliant on Fractions of the Sunni Bourgeoisie” – Joseph Daher (Syria Untold)
  • 22 DEC: “AP Exclusive: Anger with China drives Uighurs to Syrian War” – Gerry Shih (AP)
  • 22 DEC: “Targeting Civilians in a Public Market in Al Atarib” (Bellingcat)
  • 22 DEC: “Syria/Russia: Airstrikes, Siege Killing Civilians” (HRW)
  • 22 DEC “Syria war winds down but tangled map belies conflict ahead” (AP)
  • 22 DEC: “The Shifting Role of Women in Syria’s Economy” – Daniel Hilton (Syria Deeply)