TSI Syria Update: December 27, 2017

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

Military

  • 23 DEC: The US military released a statement that US-led Coalition forces, in conjunction with Vetted Syrian Opposition (VSO) group Maghawir al-Thawra, cleared caves and killed several ISIS fighters in the 55km deconfliction zone around al-Tanf base in southern Syria. (CJTF-OIR)
  • 25-27 DEC: Intensive attacks that started over the weekend continued in Idlib. Today, Assad Coalition aircraft dropped over 30 barrel bombs on the community of Jarjanez, and barrel bombs targeted a camp for displaced people to the east of Maarat al-Numan, Idlib killing one woman and injuring several other civilians. 15 civilians were killed on Monday, and nine – including one White Helmet rescuer – were killed in attacks in Idlib on Tuesday.  (Moaz al-Shamy Youtube-AR, SCD-AR, @SyriaCivilDef, SCD, @24Idlib-AR)
  • 26 DEC: Opposition forces shot down an Assad Coalition jet near Maharada in eastern Hama. Reportedly, the Free Idlib Army recovered the pilot’s body, but is unclear which group conducted the attack. (Independent, Enab Baladi-AR, Qasioun-AR)
  • 26 DEC: Assad Coalition forces, suspected to be Russian, conducted airstrikes on al-Latamneh surgical hospital in Hama, taking it out of service. These come amidst days of intensified pro-government attacks in the northeastern Hama area. (Enab Baladi-AR, SN4HR, Qasioun-AR)
  • 26 DEC: After intense fighting, the Assad Coalition reportedly demanded the surrender of opposition forces in the semi-besieged town of Beit Jinn, which they have surrounded. According to a Free Syrian Army spokesperson, the rebels have 72 hours to surrender and move to Idlib governorate. Opposition councils released a statement calling on rebel groups in Daraa to come to the support of forces in Beit Jinn. Reportedly, government buses arrived in the area to transport rebel fighters, but it is still unclear if they have reached a deal. (Reuters, Enab Baladi-AR, Baladi-AR)
  • 27 DEC: Fighting continued today in besieged Harasta and Jobar, where a senior IRGC leader was reportedly killed. Pro-government forces kept up shelling attacks on other areas of Eastern Ghouta. (Baladi-AR, @MOAZALSHAMY-AR)
  • 27 DEC: The Assad Coalition reportedly seized the village of Haratin in eastern Hama, as they continue their offensive against rebel groups in Idlib. (Baladi-AR, Qasion)

Political

  • 23 DEC: The Idlib provincial council has reportedly condemned attacks by the HTS-affiliated Syrian Salvation Government on its offices, and has requested them to return their stolen property. Additionally, students at the Free Aleppo University are protesting the Salvation Government takeover of the university, while the Salvation Government’s Higher Education Council claimed in a statement that the university will continue to operate independently.  (@AymanDas1, Baladi-AR)
  • 24 DEC: A federal judge ruled that an American citizen captured in Syria, now being held in Iraq, must immediately be given access to legal counsel. During a hearing on 30 November, it was revealed that the man had requested a lawyer when speaking to an FBI agent after being turned over to US custody by opposition forces. (WSJ)
  • 25 DEC: In a statement, over 40 Armed Opposition Groups (AOGs) rejected Russia’s invitation to the Sochi conference, claiming that Russia has not acted in good-faith as a guarantor, refusing to pressure the regime to end war crimes and participate in negotiations. Russia has invited numerous Kurdish groups to the conference, but it is unclear if the opposition YPG, considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, will attend the talks.  (Reuters, Baladi-AR)
  • 26 DEC: US Military spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon told reporters that the Coalition estimates there are only 1,000 remaining ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria, down from 3,000 in an estimate only a week ago. (Military)
  • 26 DEC: As part of the deal to evacuate severe medical cases from besieged Eastern Ghouta, AOG Jaysh al-Islam will release 29 Assad Coalition prisoners captured during fighting in Adra in return for the same number of medical evacuees being allowed out for treatment. (Revospring-AR)
  • 26 DEC: During a conference call with Russian military leadership, Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu reportedly said that Russia has “started to form a permanent presence in Syria.” This comes after President Putin’s statement earlier this month that Russia troops would start to withdraw from the country. Russia’s military Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov also said in an interview that Russia’s Syria operations in 2018 would focus on eliminating Jabhat al-Nusra (HTS). (NBC, TASS)
  • 27 DEC: In a joint news conference with Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi,  Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Bashar al-Assad a terrorist, asking “how can we embrace a future with a Syrian leader who has killed close to a million of his citizens?” A Syrian government official responded to the statement, claiming that Erdogan “bears the primary responsibility for the shedding of Syrian blood,” and accused Turkey’s military intervention of supporting “Takfiri terrorism.” (ABC, Sana-AR) (TSI Analyst note: This is a notable shift in tone for Turkey, which had been softening its stance on Assad.)

Humanitarian

  • 26 DEC: Four critical patients were evacuated from besieged Eastern Ghouta as part of a deal between the Syrian government and Jaysh al-Islam, while another 25 cases will be evacuated in the coming days, including 18 children. There are currently 494 people on the medical evacuation list for Eastern Ghouta. (NYTimes, @ICRC_sy)

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 25 DEC: “Down but not out: ISIL will regroup and rise again” – Hassan Hassan (The National)
  • 26 DEC: “A women’s Team in Ghouta Fights Siege and Malnutrition” (Enab Baladi)
  • 27 DEC: “After defeating ISIL in Syria, the battle for power in the war-ravaged country begins” – Hassan Hassan (The National)
  • 27 DEC: “Foreign jihadists hide in deserts of Syria and Iraq to evade justice” – Anthony Loyd (The Times)
  • 27 DEC: “Medical evacuation comes too late for trapped Syrians” – Mat Nashed, Omar AlKhateeb (DW)
  • DEC: “The Growing Risk of an Israel-Iran Confrontation in Syria” – Michael Herzog (WINEP)