TSI Syria Updates

TSI Syria Update: October 20, 2017

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

Military

  • 19 OCT: Pro-government media is reporting that the US-backed Kurdish forces fighting under the mantle of the SDF have transferred control of the Conoco gas field in Deir Ezzor to Russian forces. (Al Masdar News) (TSI Analyst note: The SDF is in Deir Ezzor with the backing of US forces and airpower, and if confirmed, the handover of critical infrastructure to pro-government forces marks an unprecedented policy shift on the part of the US. The Conoco gas field is the largest in Syria, and the SDF has recently accused Russia of bombing its forces there.)
  • 19 OCT: Russian airstrikes killed at least 16 civilians near Albu Kamal in Deir Ezzor province as they tried to cross the Euphrates river to flee fighting. (MEE, Step News-AR)
  • 20 OCT: ISIS forces attacked a hospital and school in the Yarmouk/Yalda/Tadamon area of the besieged southern Damascus suburbs during Friday prayers, leading to heavy clashes with armed opposition groups (AOGs) in the area. Abu al-Fadl, the leader of the local Jaysh al-Islam unit, was killed in the fighting. The crossing between ISIS-controlled Yarmouk and AOG controlled Yalda remains closed for the third day. (RevoSpring-AR, Revospring-AR, All4syria-AR)
  • 20 OCT: Heavy shelling by pro-government forces killed a 10 year old boy in Kafr Batna, in besieged Eastern Ghouta, and injured dozens. Heavy shelling continued to target Jobar and Ein Tarma, where members of Failaq al-Rahman reportedly ambushed a group of pro-government forces overnight. (@SiegeWatch, @FSAPlatform, GhoutaGMC FB-AR)
  • 20 OCT: The hunger strike in Homs central prison continued today. The detainees allegedly refused to meet with Homs Governor Talal Barazi, but wish to speak with a Russian delegation. (Step News-AR, Enab Baladi-AR)
  • 20 OCT: According to pro-opposition media reports, Russian helicopters landed at the Menagh Military Airport south of Azaz city in territory controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Aleppo province, and a Russian-Turkish delegation toured communities on the frontlines between SDF (YPG) and Turkey-backed AOG control. (Step News-AR, Enab Baladi-AR)

Political

  • 19 OCT: Kurdish YPG fighters who make up the bulk of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) celebrated the liberation of Raqqa city by gathering in al-Naim Square, where they hung a large picture of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan and dedicated the victory to him. When asked about this Ocalan dedication during a press conference, Pentagon Spokesperson Dana White said only that the US would “continue to work by, with and through the SDF to ensure that we defeat ISIS.” (MEE, YPG Rojava, DOD) (TSI Analyst note: The YPG claims it is independent from the PKK, which is recognized by the US as a terrorist organization.)
  • 19 OCT: Brazil has announced that it plans to reopen its embassy in Damascus and reestablish diplomatic ties with the Syrian government. Brazil recalled its diplomatic staff in 2012 in response to the Syrian government’s violent crackdown on civilians. The government of Brazil hopes that reestablishing ties now will help Brazilian firms gain reconstruction contracts. (Bloomberg)
  • 20 OCT: The US-backed SDF released a statement today officially announcing the defeat of ISIS in Raqqa city, and the handover of administrative control to the Raqqa Civil Council. The statement said that the SDF would secure the borders of the governorate as part of a “decentralized federal democracy in which the people of the province manage their own affairs.” (SDF Press) (TSI Analyst note: The democratic federal system referred to is a reference to Rojava, the semi-autonomous Kurdish zone that has been established in three cantons across much of northern Syria.)
  • 20 OCT: Iranian General Mohammad Baqeri reportedly visited a frontline near Aleppo city. (Reuters)

Humanitarian

  • None.

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 20 OCT: Op-Ed: “Syria: The Myth of a Regime Victorious” – Gareth Bayley (Asharq Al-Awsat)
  • 20 OCT: “Salafis at war in Syria” – Thomas Pierret (University of Edinburgh)
  • 20 OCT: “Syrian Reconstruction Spells Juicy Contracts for Russian, Iranian Firms” – Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian (FP)
  • 20 OCT: “Raqqa’s Liberation From ISIS” – Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (State Dept)
  • 20 OCT: “Russia: Don’t Veto Extension of Syria Inquiry” (Human Rights Watch)

TSI Syria Update: October 19, 2017

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

Military

  • 18 OCT: Opposition group Ahrar al-Sham threatened to attack Assad Coalition forces if the Syrian government continued violations against the detainees in Homs central prison. (all4syria-AR)
  • 19 OCT: According to the CJTF-OIR Spokesman, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) controls 98% of Raqqa city but is still clearing small pockets of resistance. SDF spokesperson Talal Silo said the SDF will redeploy to Deir Ezzor province. Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the Kurdish YPG, (the main component of the SDF) said that a majority of their forces had already been moved out of Raqqa and redeployed to other places like Deir Ezzor.  A handover of control from SDF forces to the Raqqa Civil Council could come as soon as Friday. (@OIRSpox, AFP, Reuters) (TSI Analyst note: The Raqqa Civil Council was set up six months ago by the SDF, and is tied to the Kurdish forces.)
  • 19 OCT: Israel struck a Syrian military position in response to a mortar falling in the Israeli Golan Heights. (Haaretz, AP)

Political

  • 18 OCT: Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) released a video Wednesday evening of leader Abu Mohammad al-Jolani speaking, contradicting recent claims by the Russian Defense Ministry that al-Jolani was injured in one of its strikes. (all4syria-AR) (See TSI Update 5 October 2017)
  • 19 OCT: The Kazakh Foreign Ministry announced the next round of Astana talks will be held 30-31 October. (AFP, Kazakh FM-RU)
  • 19 OCT: The French Foreign Ministry criticized Russia for questioning the validity of the work of the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), which is mandated with determining who is responsible for chemical weapons attacks in Syria. (Reuters)
  • 19 OCT: There are rumors that Ali Mamlouk, the head of the Syrian government’s intelligence services, has traveled to Qamishli to meet with Kurdish leaders and negotiate semi-autonomous rule. (SMO-AR)
  • 19 OCT: Saudi newspaper Okaz confirmed that Saudi Minister attended meetings in Ain Issa yesterday about the reconstruction of Raqqa. (all4syria-AR, Qasioun, Okaz-AR)
  • 19 OCT: Iranian General Mohammad Baqeri met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus today. (Reuters)

Humanitarian

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 18 OCT: “‘Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region’ Brussels conference: post-conference financial tracking” (EU)
  • 19 OCT: “YPJ: We dedicate the Raqqa victory to all women of the world” (YPG Rojava)
  • 19 OCT: “Hundreds of families flee south across open desert amid battle for Syria’s oil-rich east” – Bahira al-Zarier, Mohammed Al-Haj Ali, and Madeline Edwards (Syria Direct)
  • 19 OCT: “After Raqqa, ISIS Still Seeks to Govern” – Aaron Y. Zelin (Syria Deeply)
  • 19 OCT: “More than 1,800 civilians killed overall in defeat of ISIS at Raqqa, say monitors” – Samuel Oakford (Airwars)

TSI Syria Update: October 18, 2017

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

Military

  • 18 OCT: A senior Syrian army commander, Brig. Gen. Issam Zahreddine, was killed today by a mine explosion in Deir Ezzor city. Zahreddine has been implicated in several massacres dating back to 2012, and was most recently known for threatening Syrian refugees not to return to the country. (Al-Arabiya, The Daily Star)
  • 18 OCT: US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) started clearing roads and demining in Raqqa city on Wednesday. After demining, the US and Coalition partners plan to help restore basic services to the city. (AP, State Department)
  • 18 OCT: Opposition group Jaysh al-Ababil clashed with ISIS today between Yalda and Yarmouk in the besieged southern suburbs of Damascus. (RevoSpring-AR)
  • 18 OCT: Assad Coalition forces clashed with opposition groups in the Beit Jin area of western rural Damascus today. Pro-government helicopters targeted the area with strikes. (all4syria-AR, Smart News-AR, @LccSy-AR)

Political

  • 17 OCT: US-led Coalition spokesperson Brett McGurk visited Raqqa for several meetings about reconstruction as the US-led Coalition and its SDF partners declared victory over ISIS. The three meetings were reportedly held with the SDF-backed Raqqa Local Council, a reconstruction committee, and local elders. Saudi Minister Thamer al-Sabhan was also in attendance. (@vvanwilgenburg, Smart News-AR, SDF Press-AR)
  • 18 OCT: Turkish authorities reopened the Bab al-Hawa border crossing in Idlib province, allowing Turkish goods to directly enter Idlib. Civilians are not yet allowed to use the crossing. (Syria Direct, all4syria-AR)
  • 18 OCT: During a visit to Damascus, Iranian General Mohammad Baqeri said Israel should not violate the land or airspace of Syria. He also said Iran’s presence in Syria is to confront common enemies “the Zionists and terrorists.” (Reuters, Sana)
  • 18 OCT: Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu allegedly rejected an Israeli request to create a 40 km buffer zone along the Israel-Syria border, but agreed to expand the buffer zone from 5 km to 10-15 km in which Russia would prevent Iranian and Hezbollah forces from approaching the border. (JPost)
  • 18 OCT: US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said she will circulate a draft resolution for the renewal of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Joint Investigative Mechanism (OPCW-JIM) which investigates chemical weapons use in Syria and is set to expire in November. Haley said Russia plans to not support the JIM’s renewal if the upcoming report due next week on the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack blames the Syrian government, laying the stage for a diplomatic showdown. (Reuters, @NabilAbiSaab)
  • 18 OCT: UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura met with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu in Moscow today to discuss stabilizing Syria. (Russian MOD FB)

Humanitarian

  • None.

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 17 OCT: “What next for Raqqa?” – Nadim Houry (Just Security)
  • 17 OCT: “Operation Inherent Resolve Spokesman Briefs Reporters” (Dvidshub)
  • 17 OCT: “A Life of Exile: The Continued Suffering of Syrian IDPs” – Hasan Arfeh (Atlantic Council)
  • 18 OCT: “Raqqa: Only those who are out of touch would say ISIL has been vanquished” – Hassan Hassan (The National)
  • 18 OCT: “International airstrikes and civilian casualty claims in Iraq and Syria – September 2017” – Alex Hopkins and Samuel Oakford (Airwars)
  • 18 OCT: “Syria war: Raqqa free, devastated and empty” – Matt Brown (ABC)
  • 18 OCT: “Save the Children Statement on Recapture of Raqqa” (Save the Children)
  • 18 OCT: “Analysis: The Political Impasse Over Syria’s Disappeared” – Nicola Cutcher (Syria Deeply)
  • 18 OCT: “In the Rubble of Raqqa, Victory Over ISIS, But an Uncertain Future for the City” – Wladimir Van Wilgenburg (The Daily Beast)
  • 18 OCT: “Al-Qaida set to gain as Islamic State disintegrates” – Bassem Mroue and Qassim Abdul-Zara (AP)
  • 18 OCT: “The Islamic State Is Collapsing, but Raqqa Is in Ruins” – Aron Lund (The Century Foundation)
  • 18 OCT: “A trip through horror, confusion and contradictions in Syria” – Molly Hennessy-Fiske (LA Times)
  • 18 OCT: “Hazardous Legacies: An Open-Source Overview of the Destruction of Deir ez-Zor’s Oil Industry” – Wim Zwijnenburg (Bellingcat)

TSI Syria Update: October 17, 2017

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

Military

  • 17 OCT: Raqqa was finally captured by US-backed fighters today. The US-led Coalition said that the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had captured 90% of the city, while SDF representatives told the media that they had captured the entire city. (@OIRSpox, NY Times)
  • 17 OCT: Assad Coalition forces continued shelling besieged Talbiseh in northern Homs today. The shelling killed a woman on Monday, and injured two children today. (Smart News-AR, @SiegeWatch)
  • 17 OCT: Detainees in the Homs central prison sent a distress call and went on hunger strike trying to prevent the government from taking away 550 political detainees to an unknown fate. The local leadership in al-Rastan issued a statement threatening to cut off ceasefire negotiations with Russia and launch attacks on pro-government forces if they attack the prison and harm detainees. (all4syria-AR, Smart News-AR, HMC-AR, @SiegeWatch)
  • 17 OCT: Jaysh al-Islam and ISIS clashed on the outskirts of besieged Yalda today in the southern suburbs of Damascus. One civilian was killed nearby by ISIS sniper fire. (all4syria-AR, RevoSpring-AR)
  • 17 OCT: A senior IRGC commander, Brigadier General Abdollah Khosravi, was killed in Syria on Saturday. (AFP)

Political

  • 17 OCT: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and talked about Iran’s military presence in Syria. Netanyahu reiterated Israel would not allow Iran to establish itself in Syria. (AP, Israeli PMO)
  • 17 OCT: Russian First Deputy Chairman of the Defense Committee Franz Klintsevich said Russia’s military operation in Syria could end before 2018, but said Russia would not withdraw its forces even after the end of its operation. (RT-AR) (TSI Analyst note: The statement was only available on Russia’s RT Arabic language site, suggesting they are trying to frame a narrative for the Arab world.)
  • 17 OCT: According to pro-government media, US Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura will meet with Russian leaders in Moscow tomorrow to discuss the resumption of the Geneva peace talks for Syria. (Sana)
  • 17 OCT: Kazakh Foreign Minister Khairat Abdel Rahmanov reportedly said the date for the upcoming Astana talks will be set soon. (Sana, Smart News-AR)
  • 17 OCT: Today marks the third anniversary of the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR). The US-led international coalition was created to counter ISIS in Syria and Iraq. (CJTF-OIR)

Humanitarian

  • None.

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 15 OCT: “Syrian Architects Challenge ‘Post-War’ Reconstruction with Real-Time Designs” – Sina Zekavat (Global Voices)
  • 16 OCT: “Trump Admin. Makes Gains on ISIS, but Lack of Syria Policy Raises Concerns” – Vivian Salama (NBC)
  • 16 OCT: “What Is Turkey Up to in Syria?” – Jamie Dettmer (VOA)
  • 16 OCT: “With evacuations looming, ‘de-escalation zone’ announced for south Damascus” – Tom Rollins (Al-Monitor)
  • 16 OCT: “16 October 2017: Letter of the women of Idlib to the world” Women Now
  • 17 OCT: “What Russia’s Middle East strategy is really about” – Xander Snyder (Business Insider)
  • 17 OCT: “How Assad’s Enemies Gave Up on the Syrian Opposition” – Aron Lund (TCF)
  • 17 OCT: “Syria’s Women: Policies and Perspectives” (TIMEP)

TSI Syria Update: October 16, 2017

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

Military

  • 15 OCT: There are reports that several hundred ISIS fighters evacuated Raqqa city under a deal with the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Saturday night, and another 300 on Sunday. The US-led Coalition released a statement on Saturday saying that it was not involved in the agreement but “believes it will save innocent lives.” The final push to defeat the remaining ISIS fighters in Raqqa began on Sunday. (@24Raqqa, @24Raqqa, Reuters, Inherent Resolve, YPG, Reuters)
  • 16 OCT: On Monday, Israeli jets struck a Syrian government anti-aircraft battery after it fired at Israeli jets during a reconnaissance mission the Syria-Lebanon border. The Syrian military claimed it hit one of the Israeli jets, but the Israeli military denied their jets had been hit. (Al-Jazeera, Reuters, SANA)
  • 16 OCT: According to pro-government media, Assad Coalition forces took full control of al-Mayadin on Saturday, just nine days after announcing the start of an offensive to take the city from ISIS. (Syria Direct) (TSI Analyst note: The relatively weak resistance in al-Mayadin suggests that ISIS decided to make a strategic withdrawal, potentially for a final stand in Albu Kamal near the Iraqi border.)
  • 16 OCT: Pro-government forces have reportedly deployed on the roof of Homs Central Prison and cut water and power while threatening to storm into the building and kill the prisoners. The prisoners are in control of the inside of the prison and have been resisting demands by pro-government forces to hand over hundreds of political prisoners. (All4syria-AR)
  • 16 OCT: A child and her grandmother were killed in Syrian government airstrikes on the town of al-Hazzeh in besieged Eastern Ghouta.  They were two of a number of civilians killed and injured in pro-government shelling and airstrikes that targeted besieged communities across Eastern Ghouta and Jobar today. (GhoutaGMC FB-AR) (TSI Analyst note: This escalation indicates a failure of the de-escalation agreement negotiated by Russia several months ago.)
  • 16 OCT: Airstrikes and shelling targeted civilian residential areas of Talbiseh today in besieged northern Homs. (Talbisa YouTube-AR) (TSI Analyst note: This escalation indicates a failure of the recent de-escalation agreement negotiated by Russia.)

Political

  • 14 OCT: Supporters of the Syrian opposition organized an international “Day of Rage” on Saturday, which was marked by protests across Syria and in Europe. (Etilaf, SyrianRebels Reddit)
  • 14 OCT: The Syrian government demanded Turkish troops withdraw from Syria, calling their deployment a “blatant aggression” against Syria’s sovereignty. (Reuters, SANA)
  • 16 OCT: The Russian UN representative conducted a briefing on Russia’s views of chemical weapons use in Syria. The briefing calling into question the validity of the work of the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), tasked with identifying the perpetrators of chemical attacks in Syria. (Russian FM) (TSI Analyst note: The briefing appears to be an effort to preemptively de-legitimize the JIM findings in advance of their report on the April Khan Sheikhoun chemical attacks, expected on 26 October.)

Humanitarian

  • 15 OCT: UNHCR delivered aid to the Damascus neighborhood of Qaboun, which was previously depopulated during a government scorched earth campaign and forced population transfer. (@UNHCRinSYRIA) (TSI Analyst note: It is unclear how many people are in Qaboun or where they came from, they are unlikely to be the original inhabitants.)

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 12 SEP: “The Syrian Crisis: A reckoning and a road map” – Itamar Rabinovich (Brookings)
  • 12 OCT: “JCPOA or Assad? Capillary vs Artery” – Frederic C. Hof (Atlantic Council)
  • 13 OCT: “Interpreting the Fall of Islamic State Governance” – Aron Zelin (Washington Institute)
  • 13 OCT: “Deeply Talks: Syria’s Border with Jordan” – Hashem Osseiran, Alessandria Masi, and Kim Bode (Syria Deeply)
  • 13 OCT: “Nearly 370,000 IDPs in Deir Ez-Zour and Raqqa in the wake of the Syrian-Russian Alliance Attacks” (SNHR)
  • 15 OCT: “Factbox – Battle for Raqqa, Islamic State’s Syrian HQ near end” (Reuters)
  • 15 OCT: “Tahrir al-Sham official on Turkey’s intervention to implement Astana: ‘That’s not the reality’” – Sam Heller (Abu al-Jamajem)
  • 16 OCT: “To beat jihadists, anti-IS Syria force goes back to basics” – Maya Gebeily (AFP)