TSI Syria Updates

TSI Syria Update: January 4, 2018

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

Military

  • 31 DEC: Seven Russian planes at Hmeimim airbase were reportedly damaged by opposition shelling on Sunday according to Russian media outlet Kommersant. The Russian Defense Ministry then denied the reports, but said that two military personnel were killed by shelling on the base. Initial analysis by investigative OSINT group CITeam has cast doubt on whether the incident took place. (Reuters, RT, Kommersant-RU, CITeam FB) (TSI Analyst Note: In the past, opposition rockets have been intercepted before hitting Hmeimim airbase. If true, this would be the first such attack to inflict substantial damage.)
  • 3 JAN: Continued Assad Coalition strikes on besieged Eastern Ghouta increased the death toll overnight. An estimated 28 civilians were killed. Friday prayers have been canceled due to the bombing.  (AFP, Al-Jazeera, Enab Baladi-AR)
  • 4 JAN: The Assad Coalition continued its offensive in Idlib towards opposition-held Abu al-Dhour air base, reportedly capturing multiple villages near the town of Sinjar. (Smart-AR)
  • 4 JAN: Large explosions were spotted near the Syrian government’s military research facility outside Damascus. It is unclear from initial reports what caused the damage. (Qasioun, GMC-AR)

Political

  • 3 JAN: The Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations released a report detailing 11 attacks targeting hospitals during the holiday season, including al-Salam Maternity Hospital in Maarat al-Numan. Al-Salam Hospital has been targeted three times in the past week. (ReliefWeb)
  • 4 JAN: 120 organizations in the Working Group for Syria urged UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura to not attend the Russia-sponsored Sochi Syria conference this month. (The Guardian, SN4HR)
  • 4 JAN: The US-led Coalition announced it had built a bridge in Raqqa province with Syrian partners in 16 hours on 27 December 2017. According to SOJTF-OIR Commanding General Maj. Gen. James Jarrard, the bridge near Hawi al-Hawa village is meant to increase access for humanitarian assistance and Improvised Explosive Device experts. (CENTCOM)

Humanitarian

  • None.

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 3 JAN: “ Recent Developments in North-western Syria (OCHA)
  • 3 JAN: “Cancer Center in Syria’s Besieged East Ghouta Struggles to Survive” – Firas Al-Abdullah (Global Voices)
  • 3 JAN: “Hama rebels struggle to hold ground as regime, IS attack” –  Shelly Kittleson (Al-Monitor)
  • 4 JAN: “Will Syria see a political solution in 2018?” – Zena Tahhan (Al Jazeera)
  • 4 JAN: “Rivalry Between al-Jabha al-Shamiya and Sultan Murad” – Mohammad Dirani (Atlantic Council)
  • 4 JAN: “Voices from Idlib” (BBC Newsnight)

TSI Syria Update: January 3, 2018

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

Military

  • 2 JAN: Frenchwoman Emilie Koenig was arrested and is being held by Kurdish forces in Syria. Koenig appeared in propaganda videos for ISIS, and is on both the US terror list and the UN’s list of most dangerous fighters. (France24)
  • 2 JAN: According to Turkish state news, two artillery shells fired from Syrian government-held territory hit the Turkish border district of Yayladagi. No casualties were reported. (Reuters)
  • 3 JAN: According to the Ministry of Defense, a Russian helicopter crashed due to a mechanical fault near the Hama airfield, killing two soldiers. (Reuters, TASS-RU) (TSI Analyst Note: Russia claims that only 41 of its soldiers have been killed in Syria since their 2015 intervention, but the number is likely much higher.)
  • 3 JAN: Assad Coalition forces conducted heavy bombing in the besieged Eastern Ghouta communities of Harasta, Ein Tarma, and Misraba, reportedly preparing to break the siege on the vehicle administration building held by opposition forces. 11 civilians were killed in strikes on Misraba. Pro-government forces reportedly clashed with opposition groups on the road between al-Nashabiyeh and Beit Naim. (Reuters, GMC Youtube-AR, Enab Baladi-AR)
  • 3 JAN: Heavy bombing by Assad Coalition forces was reported in Idlib governorate, and a least two civilians were killed in an airstrike on a  hospital  in Marat al-Numan. The airtikes also hit the archaeology museum. (Enab Baladi-AR, Smart-AR, Enab Baladi-AR)
  • 3 JAN: Assad Coalition forces reportedly captured the villages of Zarzur, Sham Hua, and Umm al-Khalakhil, as part of their continuing offensive in Idlib. (Step-AR)

Political

  • 29 DEC: Presidential Envoy for the US-led Coalition Brett McGurk delivered a year-end letter to the Coalition about its counter-ISIS accomplishments in 2017. McGurk highlighted the territorial defeat of ISIS in Syria, US partnership of with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and efforts to support stabilization in Coalition-liberated areas. (State Dept)

Humanitarian

  • None.

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • DEC: “Russian-Speaking Foreign Fighters in Iraq and Syria” (CSIS)
  • 28 DEC: “Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve Monthly Civilian Casualty Report” (CENTCOM)
  • 2 JAN: “Beit Jann: Myths and Realities” – Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi (Aymenn Jawad)
  • 2 JAN: “In Homs, Assad Accused of Using Military for Urban Planning Scheme” – Sarah Najm Aldeen, Syria Untold, Syrian Independent Media Group (Syria Deeply)
  • 3 JAN: “Critical developments in the Syrian conflict bring uncertainties and new dangers” – Hassan Hassan (The National)
  • 3 JAN: “Where Is Assad Getting His Fighters From? (It’s Not Just Lebanon and Iraq)” – Colin P. Clarke and Phillip Smyth (The National Interest)
  • 3 JAN: “The Syrian Doctor Building an Underground Hospital for Women and Girls” – Alexandra Bradford (Syria Deeply)

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)

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)

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)