TSI Syria Update: January 2, 2018

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

Military

  • 29 DEC: Opposition fighters and civilians began to leave the semi-besieged Beit Jinn enclave near the Golan Heights after surrendering to pro-government forces and submitting to forced population transfers. The deportees are being sent to Idlib and Daraa. (Reuters, AP)
  • 29 DEC: Fighting between opposition and pro-government forces in Idlib province, supported by Russian airstrikes, killed at least 66 people on Friday, including 19 civilians. (AFP)
  • 2 JAN: Two civilians were killed in besieged northern Homs enclave in the past two days. Pro-government shelling on al-Ghantu killed a man today. Yesterday, a fourteen-year-old boy was killed by a sniper in al-Taldu(SNHR, Qasioun)
  • 2 JAN: Assad Coalition planes targeted the besieged Eastern Ghouta towns of Harasta and Arbin with airstrikes today. Pro-government forces and opposition groups also continued clashing on the ground, with shelling targeting Douma in addition to Harasta. Yesterday, the Syrian government reportedly negotiated with opposition group Ahrar al-Sham for the release of its fighters trapped near the Vehicle Management Building in Harasta, which has been a recent focal point of fighting. (RevoSpring-AR, @sams_usa, SNHR, AP, Enab Baladi-AR, Step-AR)
  • 2 JAN: 27 civilians were reportedly wounded in Idlib governorate from Assad Coalition airstrikes, as their forces continued their offensive against remaining opposition-held areas of the province. (Smart-AR, Qasioun)
  • 2 JAN: The US-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) reportedly captured the village of Abu Hammam from ISIS in Deir Ezzor, after taking control of two neighborhoods in December. (Smart-AR)

Political

  • 28 DEC: Reportedly, US and Israeli officials have developed a comprehensive plan to counter Iranian influence in the region. The plan includes measures to counter Hezbollah entrenchment in Syria, including the development and launching of precision missiles, and preparing for escalation and post-war scenarios in Syria. (Axios)
  • 29 DEC: Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law enabling Russia to expand its naval base in Tartus. (RFERL)
  • 29 DEC: During a press briefing, US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis iterated the US’s shifting military tactics against ISIS, as they flee US-held areas to rural Assad Coalition-held territory. (DoD)
  • 29 DEC: US Department of State spokesperson Heather Nauert released a statement welcoming the 29 medical evacuations from besieged Eastern Ghouta. Nauert also condemned the Assad government’s use of siege tactics against civilians, and called upon Russia to pressure the Syrian government to allow more humanitarian access. (State Dept.)
  • 30 DEC: The Defense Ministry for the Syrian Interim Government announced the formation of the Syrian National Army, which will be deployed to the whole of Syria. (Syrian Interim Government FB-AR, TNTranslations FB)
  • 1 JAN: Opposition groups in Idlib governorate reportedly formed a joint operations room in the southern area of the province to combat pro-government forces. The groups allegedly include Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), Ahrar al-Sham, and Nour al-Din al-Zinki. (Enab Baladi via Syrian Observer)
  • 2 JAN: The Syrian government expressed their solidarity with the Iranian government amid protests in Iran. The Syrian Foreign Ministry also condemned US and other Western statements supporting the protestors, claiming the protests were started by a foreign conspiracy. (Sana) (TSI Analyst Note: Iranians started protesting poor economic conditions Thursday last week. The protests have continued, causing unrest across the country for days, and have expanded to include other frustrations such as Iran’s presence in Syria.)
  • 2 JAN: The Syrian opposition delegation visited with the Foreign Minister of Egypt today to discuss a solution to the conflict in Syria. The delegation also met with the Foreign Minister of Jordan recently for similar discussions. (Enab Baladi-AR)
  • 2 JAN: In his first political action of the year, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reshuffled his cabinet, naming Major Gen. Ali Abdullah Ayoub as Minister of Defense, Mohamed Mazen Ali Yousef as Minister of Industry and Imad Abdullah Sara as Minister of Information. (Reuters, Sana-AR, Enab Baladi-AR)
  • 2 JAN: Hardline Palestinian militant leader Bilal Badr released a statement claiming he was in Syria. Badr was known leading militants against mainstream Palestinian groups in the Ain el-Hilweh refugee camp in Lebanon. (Reuters)

Humanitarian

  • 28 DEC: The European Commission gave $22.8 million to the World Food Program to provide food assistance in Syria. (WFP)
  • 29 DEC: 13 more civilians requiring medical care were evacuated from besieged Eastern Ghouta overnight. This group completed the evacuations agreed upon under a prisoner swap deal between the Syrian government and Jaysh al-Islam opposition group. During the three day process a total of 85 civilians including 29 patients were evacuated. (SARC, ICRC, AFP)

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 28 DEC: “Even humanitarian aid for sick children in Syria can make the conflict worse – that’s the sad truth about war” – Mary Dejevsky (Independent)
  • 29 DEC: “For the Russian Military in Syria, Old Habits Die Hard” (War is Boring)
  • 29 DEC: “Displaced Deir el-Zour Residents Reluctant to Return Home, Fear Government Persecution” – Rikar Hussein (VOA)
  • 29 DEC: OpED: “How the Security Council Failed the Syria Chemical Weapons Investigators and Victims” – Edmond Mulet (NYT)
  • 29 DEC: “What 2018 looks like for Russia, US regarding Syria” – Maxim A. Suchkov (Al-Monitor)
  • 1 JAN: “10,204 Civilians Killed in Syria in 2017” (SNHR)
  • 2 JAN: “Islamic State Returns to Guerrilla Warfare in Iraq and Syria” –  Raja Abdulrahim and Isabel Coles (WSJ)
  • 2 JAN: “A Russian Blackwater? Putin’s Secret Soldiers in Ukraine and Syria” – Anna Nemstova (The Daily Beast)
  • 2 JAN: “Protecting Syrian Civilians: The Road Not Taken” – Frederic C. Hof (Atlantic Council)