TSI Syria Update: December 28, 2017

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

Military

  • 28 DEC: Russia’s Foreign Ministry claimed opposition forces fired three missiles at Hmeimim airbase, two of which were intercepted while the other missed its target. (TASS)
  • 28 DEC: Assad Coalition forces have reportedly reached the village Abu Dali in Hama, where they are clashing with extremist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) who captured the town in October. (Enab Baladi-AR, Baladi-AR)
  • 28 DEC: Idlib governorate and northwestern Hama continue to be heavily bombed as Assad Coalition forces – including heavy Russian aerial support – continue their scorched earth offensive, resulting in at least 19 civilian casualties. Among those was a member of the Syrian Civil Defense (White Helmets) who was killed in a double tap strike in the town of Badama. (@SyriaCivilDef, Step News-AR, @SyriaCivilDefe-AR, Enab Baladi-AR, Baladi News-AR)

Political

  • 27 DEC: Deputy commander for the anti-ISIS Coalition British Army Major General Felix Gedney said that while Coalition forces will continue to de-conflict with Russia, they will not target ISIS in Syrian government-held areas, calling upon the Assad Coalition to clear ISIS from their territory. Gedney also clarified that the Coalition estimates there are 1,000 ISIS fighters remaining in territory it holds, but it is unclear how many operate in government-held areas, as the Coalition routinely encounters escaping fighters. (Reuters, VOA, CJTF-OIR) (TSI Analyst Note: The Coalition has repeatedly claimed the Syrian government lacks the ability to effectively operate against ISIS, and that terrorists can easily travel through their territory.)
  • 27 DEC: In an op-ed in the New York Times, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated that while the US is wary of Russian aggressions, cooperation in the Geneva process is of mutual interest. Tillerson also reiterated his wish that negotiations would “produce a Syria that is free of Bashar al-Assad and his family.” (NYT) (TSI Analyst Note: The Syrian government refused to participate in the last round of Geneva talks, citing the opposition’s stance of Assad’s ouster as a “precondition.” Russia was unable to pressure the Assad government to negotiate directly with the opposition.)
  • 28 DEC: The surrender of opposition fighters in Beit Jinn, near the Golan Heights, is reportedly postponed until Friday, as they still are negotiating with the Syrian government. The Syrian Arab Red Crescent will reportedly transfer wounded fighters to Idlib, while HTS withdrew from Maghar al-Mir. (Enab Baladi-AR, Step News-AR)
  • 28 DEC: In an interview, UK Aid Minister Alistair Burt said British Parliament’s 2013 vote not to intervene militarily in Syria “was seen as a green light by Assad in killing his people” and “the green light was also seen by other powers, Iran and Russia, who then moved into the space vacated by the United States with consequences which we have seen.” (Huffington Post)

Humanitarian

  • 27 DEC: 12 more patients were evacuated from besieged Eastern Ghouta for medical treatment overnight as part of a deal between opposition group Jaysh al-Islam and the Syrian government, bringing the two day total to 16. The majority of the patients were children. UN humanitarian coordinator Jan Egeland expressed dismay at the idea of exchanging prisoners for medical evacuations, saying “It is a not a good agreement if they exchange sick children for detainees that means children become bargaining chips in some tug of war… They have a right to the evacuation and we have an obligation to evacuate them.” (@ICRC_sy, ICRC Newsroom, BBC)

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 21 DEC: “What Went Wrong in Syria?” Athanasios Dimadis interview with Amb. Robert Ford (Fair Observer)
  • 27 DEC: “A Timeline of the Tightening Siege in Eastern Ghouta” – Aron Lund (Syria Deeply)
  • 27 DEC: OpEd “Rex Tillerson: I Am Proud of Our Diplomacy” – Rex Tillerson (NYT)