TSI Syria Update: January 8, 2018

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

Military

  • 5 JAN: The Russian Ministry of Defense claimed its forces thwarted a coordinated attack by 13 Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) on its Hmeimim airbase in Latakia and naval base in Tartus on the night of 5 January. (Russia MOD FB, The Drive) (TSI Analyst Note: If accurate, this would be the second attack on Hmeimim in a week.)
  • 6 JAN: On Saturday, the opposition’s Hama Health Directorate reported that the Kafr Zita hospital was out of service due to Russian airstrikes, which targeted the hospital on Friday night. (TNTranslations FB)
  • 7 JAN: A car bomb explosion targeting an opposition headquarters in Idlib city reportedly killed at least 23 civilians, including 8 children. Most of the casualties were opposition fighters.  At this time, it is unclear who was behind the attack. (Qasion, MEE, Reuters, AP)
  • 8 JAN: At least 25 civilian casualties, including children, were reported today due to Assad Coalition shelling and airstrikes in besieged Eastern Ghouta as the latest offensive continued into its second week. Yesterday, Syrian state media reported that government forces broke the opposition siege of the vehicle administration building in Harasta, but pro-opposition social media pages denied these claims, saying the regime was spreading disinformation. (DMC Press FB-AR, @SyriaCivilDef, Reuters, Syria Direct, Sana, Harasta City FB-AR)
  • 8 JAN: Assad Coalition forces have reportedly captured 14 more villages in Idlib, as they push towards opposition-held Abu al Dhour airbase. (AP, Syria Direct, Enab Baladi-AR)

Political

  • 5 JAN: In a press briefing, US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said he does not think there is a land bridge between Iran and Syria through Iraq. (DoD)
  • 6 JAN: An official from the Iran-backed Fatemiyoun Brigade told Iranian media that the group has reportedly suffered 2,100 casualties fighting in Syria. This is the first time the Fatemiyoun Brigade, reportedly the largest Iran proxy in Syria, released information about its numbers. (MEE, AFP)
  • 7 JAN: There are unconfirmed rumors that the US will adopt a form of diplomatic recognition for the Syrian Democratic Forces-held (SDF) region in eastern Syria. (Asharq al-Awsat-AR)
  • 7 JAN: Turkey reportedly blocked access to the website for the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights in Turkey and the north of Syria. (SOHR, @airwars)
  • 8 JAN: The YPG released an interview with Emilie Konig, a recently captured French woman who joined ISIS in Syria. The YPG released the video in response to allegations from the French media Konig is being mistreated and tortured. In the video, Konig said she is being treated fairly, but it is unclear if the statement was coerced or not. (YPG Press)
  • 8 JAN: As opposition forces continue to lose territory to the Assad Coalition in Hama and Idlib, former opposition negotiator Mohammad Alloush, and armed opposition groups (AOGs) Ahrar al-Sham and the Revolutionary Forces of Hama and Idlib accused extremist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) of abandoning villages and ceding territory. HTS denied the allegations, and reportedly held an emergency meeting to discuss military strategy. (Fars News, TNTranslations, TNTranslations) (TSI Analyst Note: Only last week HTS reportedly joined a joint operations room along with opposition groups in southern Idlib to combat encroaching pro-government forces. See 2 January TSI Syria Update.)
  • 8 JAN: Al-Qaeda’s central leadership released a statement encouraging jihadi forces to unify and fight in the Levant, stating “the Mujahideen must not abandon their positions alongside those who cooperate with them amongst the Muslims, whoever and wherever they may be. They must not hesitate guarding the frontiers.” (@p_vanostaeyen) (TSI Analyst Note: This is likely a reference to the AQ-affiliated HTS, who have recently lost considerable territory in Idlib and have a contentious relationship with other rebel groups and civilians.)
  • 8 JAN: The third round of elections to elect the region’s highest body in Kurdish-held northern Syria were postponed with no future date set. (Syria Direct) (TSI Analyst note: While all area residents were allowed to vote in the first two rounds, earlier reports suggested that only ethnic Kurds would be allowed to vote in the final election and all ethnic Arabs would be excluded)
  • 8 JAN: UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock will reportedly visit Syria this week, 9-12 January. He is scheduled to meet with Syrian government officials in Damascus, and visit other locations around the country. (ReliefWeb)

Humanitarian

  • 7 JAN: Jordan’s foreign ministry announced it will allow a one-time aid delivery to be dropped over the border to the Rukban refugee camp via crane at the request of the UN. No specifics were given on the amount and type of aid that will be provided. An estimated 45,000-50,000 civilians are trapped in extremely poor conditions at the remote Rukban camp, to which Jordan has blocked aid for over a year out of security concerns. (AFP)

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 6 JAN: “Wanted Dead or Alive: The Frustrating, Failing Hunt for ISIS Leader Baghdadi” – Anne Speckhard and Ardian Shajkovci (The Daily Beast)
  • 6 JAN: “112 Medical, Civil Defense, and Red Crescent Personnel Killed, and 243 Attacks on Their Vital Facilities in Syria in 2017” (SNHR)
  • 7 JAN: “Syrian Kurds turn to Arab women to cement hold on power” (Financial Times)
  • 8 JAN: “America in Search of an UN-Geneva for Syria” – Sam Heller (War on the Rocks)
  • 8 JAN: “Dancing to Russia’s Tune in Syria” – Colum Lynch (FP)
  • 8 JAN: “Tens of thousands flee as Syrian regime makes Idlib push” – Eyad Kourdi, Gul Tuysuz and Angela Dewan (CNN)
  • 8 JAN: “‘Thinking war is bloodless is a mistake.’ Talking drones and remote war with Air Marshall Bagwell” – Chris Cole (Drone Wars UK)
  • 8 JAN: “Hope for Syria in 2018?” – Frederic C. Hof (Atlantic Council)
  • 8 JAN: “The story of Idlib is being rewritten by the Syrian regime, but facts matter” – Mina Al-Oraibi (The National)