TSI Syria Updates

TSI Syria Update: December 22, 2017

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

Military

  • 22 DEC: According to pro-opposition media, more Assad Coalition forces have reportedly arrived in northern Hama from Deir Ezzor, likely in preparation for an offensive on opposition-held Abu al Dhour airbase in southern Idlib governorate. (Enab Baladi-AR)
  • 22 DEC: There are unconfirmed reports from Jaysh al-Islam that Assad Coalition forces used toxic gas, most likely chlorine, against their fighters on the frontlines near the Homs-Damascus highway by the besieged community of Douma in Eastern Ghouta.  (GhoutaGMC FB-AR, @jaishalislam-AR, @TNTranslations)
  • 22 DEC: Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne said Australia will stop conducting airstrikes against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, but maintain refueling and surveillance aircraft in Iraq. (BBC)

Political

  • 21 DEC: While attending peace talks in Astana, Russia’s envoy Alexander Lavrentiev stated that the US should leave Syria, and its reasons for maintaining a military presence in the country after the defeat of ISIS “are just excuses.” Also during the talks, Russia, Iran, and Turkey agreed to hold the Sochi Syrian peace talks 29-30 January 2018, but Turkey reportedly vetoed the involvement of Kurdish groups. (Reuters, AP, Russian FM, Anadolu)
  • 22 DEC: Speaking at negotiations in Astana, UN Syria Envoy Staffan de Mistura announced that the ninth round of peace talks in Geneva would be held in the second half of January. De Mistura also said a working group was created in Astana to discuss the release of detainees, which he views as a positive development. (Reuters, Reuters)
  • 22 DEC: Speaking to British military personnel in Cyprus, Prime Minister Theresa May said ISIS has been crushed in Syria and Iraq. However, May iterated that ISIS would “new ungoverned spaces from which to plot and carry out attack,” and continued British support for a stable Middle East is critical.  (The Guardian)
  • 22 DEC: The opposition Syrian Interim Government (SIG) decided to move the Free Aleppo University – established in 2016 – from Idlib city to western Aleppo governorate after the Syrian Salvation Government reportedly tried to take control of the university by appointing a new president. The Syrian Salvation Government is affiliated with extremist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and has increasingly tried to take control of institutions from the SIG in northwest Syria. (Smart-AR, Enab Baladi-AR, Enab Baladi-AR)
  • 22 DEC: The Pentagon said it believes that Russia is intentionally violating the de-escalation agreement in Syria, where officials have said Russian planes have performed dangerous maneuvers near US aircraft multiple times. A Pentagon spokesperson said they are working to address the issue “at the highest levels.” (CNN)
  • 22 DEC: Syrian opposition news site al-Dorar al-Shamia is rebranding as Nidaa Souryia, after former staff members took over the original site and social media accounts and used them for pro-HTS messaging. (@AbuJamajem, @TNTranslations)
  • 22 DEC: Today, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said 48,000 Russian troops have taken part in its military operations in Syria. (Reuters, Russia MOD) (TSI Analyst Note: This is a significant increase of previous estimated Russian troop levels in Syria, and the accuracy of the number is unclear.)

Humanitarian

  • None.

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 21 DEC: “Dying for a paycheck: the Russian civilians fighting in Syria” – Maria Tsvetkova (Reuters)
  • 21 DEC: “Insurgents Again: The Islamic State Calculated Reversion to Attrition in the Syria-Iraq Border Region and Beyond” – Hassan Hassan (Combating Terrorism Center)
  • 21 DEC: “In Syria, the hard part may be about to begin as Assad, Russia and Iran eye each other warily” – Michael Young (The National)
  • 21 DEC: “TCF World Podcast: Who Cares About A Faraway Siege?” – Thanassis Cambanis with Marcell Shehwaro and James Sadri (TCF)
  • 21 DEC: “On the Surface and Underneath, a Syrian Boy Carries the Scars of War” – Rebecca Collard (NYT)
  • 21 DEC: “Assad Regime Still Reliant on Fractions of the Sunni Bourgeoisie” – Joseph Daher (Syria Untold)
  • 22 DEC: “AP Exclusive: Anger with China drives Uighurs to Syrian War” – Gerry Shih (AP)
  • 22 DEC: “Targeting Civilians in a Public Market in Al Atarib” (Bellingcat)
  • 22 DEC: “Syria/Russia: Airstrikes, Siege Killing Civilians” (HRW)
  • 22 DEC “Syria war winds down but tangled map belies conflict ahead” (AP)
  • 22 DEC: “The Shifting Role of Women in Syria’s Economy” – Daniel Hilton (Syria Deeply)

TSI Syria Update: December 21, 2017

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

Military

  • 20 DEC: An ISIS car bomb targeted a group of civilians near an SDF checkpoint in the town of Shuheil, Deir Ezzor yesterday. At least two people were killed and several were injured. (Deirezzor24-AR)
  • 21 DEC: Syrian Civil Defense center in Morek, Hama is reportedly permanently closed due to suspected Russian airstrikes last week. (Enab Baladi-AR)
  • 21 DEC: Violence continued in Eastern Ghouta today. The armed opposition group (AOG) Faylaq al-Rahman clashed with Assad Coalition forces in Jobar and Harasta. Pro-government forces shelled a number of communities leading to civilian injuries. Additionally, there were reports of a small unmanned drone dropping small bombs on populated areas of Zamalka. (RevoSpring-AR, Zamalka LCC FB-AR)

Political

  • 7 DEC: US Representatives Steve Russell (R-OK) and Seth Moulton (D-MA) sent a letter to the office of the Attorney General Jeff Sessions requesting an investigation into the Syrian government’s support of terrorist groups that crossed into Iraq and resulted in the deaths of US soldiers in 2003 and 2009. (The National, Fox News)
  • 19 DEC: US Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY) introduced the “No Assistance for Assad Act” to the House of Representatives on Tuesday, which would limit financial assistance for areas of Syria under the control of the Syrian government. (govtrack)
  • 20 DEC: Russian media reported the Russian company Stroitransgaz started the Southern Gas Processing Plant in Syria running again, and will have the Northern Gas Processing Plant near al-Raqqa working in 18 months. (TASS) (TSI Analyst Note: this comes on the heels of new reporting on a deal that would give Russian oil company Evro Polis a 25% cut of proceeds from oil and gas fields that Russian contractors secure.)
  • 21 DEC: An official of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), Sihanouk Depo, said the PYD plans to attend the Russian-led Sochi talks whenever they happen. (Reuters)
  • 21 DEC: Switzerland’s Federal Department of Foreign Affairs opened an office in Damascus, reportedly to provide humanitarian aid. (Swiss Government) (TSI Analyst Note: Aid agencies with offices in Damascus must be approved by the Syrian government, which severely limits their ability to get aid to any part of Syria not controlled by the Syrian government.)
  • 21 DEC: The Russian State Duma ratified an agreement with the Syrian government which is meant to expand the lease of Russia’s naval base in Tartous by 49 years. (AP)

Humanitarian

  • None.

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 20 DEC: “Restructuring the State: Possible Power-Sharing Agreements for Syria” – Hashem Osseiran (Syria Deeply)
  • 20 DEC: “A Bureaucracy of Violence in Syria’s Military Intelligence-Run Prisons” – Lizzie Porter (Syria Deeply)
  • 20 DEC: “China Eyes Role Rebuilding Syria While Putin Spars With West” – Ting Shi, Henry Meyer, Dona Abu-Nasr, and Ilya Arkhipov (Bloomberg)
  • 20 DEC: “When it comes to attacks on journalists, military defeat of the Islamic State ‘is not the end of the story’” – Maria Nelson (Syria Direct)
  • 20 DEC: “The Kurdish School Curriculum in Syria: A Step Towards Self-Rule?” – Sardar Mlla Drwish (Atlantic Council)
  • 21 DEC: “In a New Challenge to Israel, Syria’s Assad Sets His Sights on Golan Border Area” – Amos Harel (Haaretz)

21 DEC: “Aleppo city, one year after the final battle” – Maria Nelson, Alaa Nassar, Waleed Khaled a-Noufal (Syria Direct)

TSI Syria Update: December 20, 2017

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

Military

  • 20 DEC: Airstrikes, suspected to be Russian, targeted the town of of Maarshorin in Idlib governorate overnight, killing at least 19 civilians and wounded another 25. Reportedly, 13 members of a single family were killed. Russia denied it conducted the strikes. (AFP, @SyriaCivilDef, @MOAZALSHAMY, Sana)
  • 20 DEC: Fighting continued around the vehicle management building in Harasta, Eastern Ghouta, as opposition group Ahrar al-Sham reportedly blew up a tunnel under Assad Coalition forces, killing a number of soldiers. Two civilians were also reportedly killed in the area due to artillery shelling. (Enab Baladi-AR, Dmc.Press FB-AR)
  • 20 DEC: Local committees in Qalamoun have reportedly formed a unified delegation to negotiate de-escalation agreements with Russian forces. (Enab Baladi-AR, Qasioun)
  • 20 DEC: Pro-government forces reportedly targeted the ISIS-controlled Hajar al-Aswad and Tadamon areas of southern Damascus with missiles and machine gun fire today. (Dmc.Press FB-AR, RevoSpring YouTube-AR)

Political

  • 19 DEC: Syrian government UN representative Munzer Munzer protested the renewal of UNSCR 2165, which allows cross-border humanitarian aid into Syria. Munzer stated the resolution violates Syria’s sovereignty and is unnecessary because of the de-escalation zones. Separately today in an address to the Syrian Parliament, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said that the de-escalation zones cannot continue in their current state moving forward because eventually the goal was to rid the country of all terrorists. (Sana, Sana-AR) (TSI Analyst Note: The Syrian government regularly prohibits the delivery of UN aid, and regularly conducts airstrikes on communities before and after aid deliveries. It has also failed to respect the de-escalation zones and has in some areas escalated military attacks)
  • 19 DEC: The Syrian Salvation Government, affiliated with extremist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), stated it will now allow Russian or Iranian goods to be transported into Idlib through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, after authorities announced it would be open earlier this week. (Zaman al-Wasl)
  • 20 DEC: The Akhtarin Military Council, and other local governing bodies in parts of northern Aleppo province, are banning the return of ISIS members and the wives of ISIS members, with the exception of widows and children under 12 years of age who do not claim money from their deceased ISIS relation. (Enab Baladi-AR, Smart-AR)
  • 20 DEC: The Syrian government delegation and delegations from opposition groups arrived in Astana ahead of the eighth round of peace talks sponsored by Russia, Turkey, and Iran set to begin on Thursday. (Al-Jazeera)

Humanitarian

  • None.

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 19 DEC: “Holocaust Museum tries again on contentious Syria study” – Max Fisher (NYT)
  • 20 DEC: “Concerns Grow For Civilians Caught Up in Anti-ISIS Hunts” – Haid Haid (Chatham House)
  • 20 DEC: “Will new jihadi hotspots emerge across the region in 2018?” – Hassan Hassan (The National)
  • 20 DEC: “Killing The Truth: How Russia is fuelling the disinformation campaign to cover up war crimes in Syria” (The Syria Campaign)

TSI Syria Update: December 19, 2017

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

Military

  • 18 DEC: Extremist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) reportedly stopped civil courts and raided offices affiliated with the opposition’s Syrian Interim Government (SIG) in Saraqeb and Maarat al-Numan, Idlib. Previously, the HTS-affiliated Syrian Salvation Government warned the SIG to cease operations in liberated areas, but rescinded the threat on 15 December.  (@Elizrael, @24Idlib, Al-Dorar Sham-AR)
  • 18 DEC: A number of besieged Eastern Ghouta communities experienced shelling by the Assad Coalition today, with multiple civilian injuries reported. (Qasioun)
  • 19 DEC: In conjunction with the Assad Coalition’s offensive in Idlib, Russian aircraft struck the town al-Tah, killing a child and four civilians. The Assad Coalition also reportedly gained control of the village al-Rowidha in southeastern Idlib. (Smart-AR, Enab Baladi-AR, Smart-AR)
  • 19 DEC: The head of the Hawa Local Council in eastern Hama said an estimated 800 families have been displaced in from villages in their area of Hama province during the past five days due to clashes between pro-government forces and opposition groups as pro-government forces try to advance. (Enab Baladi-AR)
  • 19 DEC: Heavy fighting continued around Maghar al-Mir, as the Assad Coalition attempts to capture the town and split the opposition enclaves of Beit Jinn and Beit Saber in western Damascus. (Revo Spring-AR)

Political

  • 18 DEC: There are rumors that HTS has decided withdraw its force of approximately 200 fighters from Eastern Ghouta under the approval of the Assad Coalition. (RFS Media) (TSI Analyst Note: There have been multiple rumors concerning and HTS withdrawal from Eastern Ghouta, where they have a contentious relationship with rival opposition groups and civilians. See TSI’s 12 and 18 December updates for more.)
  • 19 DEC: The UN Security Council voted to renew Resolution 2165, which allows cross-border humanitarian aid into Syria, for another year. Russia, China, and Bolivia abstained, with all other members voting in favor. (AFP, @mbesheer, UN) (TSI Analyst Note: This comes after weeks of tense behind-the-scenes negotiations. Many in the diplomatic and humanitarian communities feared that Russia would use its veto to block the Resolution’s renewal).
  • 19 DEC: UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura briefed the UN Security Council on the failed eighth round of Geneva negotiations, placing most of the blame on the Syrian government’s delegation. According to de Mistura, the government refused to look past the opposition’s “Riyadh statement” calling for the removal of Assad, which they viewed as an unacceptable precondition to negotiations. De Mistura told the opposition to not emphasize the statement, which they viewed as a position, not a precondition. The government delegation also informed de Mistura that it was not prepared to review questions concerning the constitution until they fully controlled all territory in Syria and terrorism had been completely defeated. De Mistura told the Security Council that it was time for the UN to take the lead in proposing specifics regarding a new Syrian constitution and elections. (UNOG)
  • 19 DEC: The US-led Syrian Democratic Forces responded to yesterday’s condemnation from Bashar al-Assad calling them “traitors,” stating that the Assad regime was the one that “opened Syria’s doors” to terrorism. (Naharnet)
  • 19 DEC: French President Emmanuel Macron responded to Bashar al-Assad’s claim that France “spearheaded support for terrorism” in Syria, stating that Assad’s comments “are unacceptable because if there is someone that has fought and can defeat [ISIS] … it is the international coalition.” (Reuters)
  • 19 DEC: In a briefing with the Pentagon press corps today, spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon said that ISIS fighters trying to flee fighting in Deir Ezzor have been interdicted by US-led Coalition partner forces near al-Tanf. Dillon also stated that there is still heavy fighting against ISIS  near the town of Abu Hamam, which lies between Deir Ezzor city and Albu Kamal. (@OIRSpox, @JackDetsch_ALM, Washington Examiner)

Humanitarian

  • None.

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 18 DEC: “Al-Qaida’s Complex Balancing Act in Syria” – Charles Lister (Perspectives on Terrorism)
  • 18 DEC: “Syria: Resolution on cross-border humanitarian access and political and humanitarian briefings” (What’s in Blue)
  • 18 DEC: “Syrian Humanitarian ‘Lifeline’ Goes to Vote” – Sam Heller (TCF)
  • 19 DEC: “Implementation of Security Council resolutions 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2191 (2014), 2258 (2015) and 2332 (2016)” (UN)
  • 19 DEC: OpEd “In Defense of Nothing” – Jeremy Shapiro and Andrew Miller (War on the Rocks)
  • 19 DEC: “Al-Qaeda divisions may aid Assad as he eyes Syria’s Idlib” (AP)
  • 19 DEC: “ Why is Turkey quiet on Russia’s cooperation with the Syrian Kurds?” – Gonul Tol (War on the Rocks)
  • 19 DEC: “How ISIS Members Fled The Caliphate, Perhaps To Fight Another Day” – Mike Giglio and Munzer al-Awad (Buzzfeed)
  • 19 DEC: Written in blood and rust from a Syrian prison: ‘Don’t forget us’” – Robin Wright (The New Yorker)
  • 19 DEC: “Adopting Resolution 2393 (2017), Security Council Renews Authorization for Cross‑Border, Cross‑Line Humanitarian Access to Syria” (UN)
  • 19 DEC: “Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock: Statement to the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Syria, 19 December 2017” (Relief Web)

TSI Syria Update: December 18, 2017

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

Military

  • 17 DEC: At least ten civilians were killed in Khan Sheikhoun in airstrikes, reportedly from Russian warplanes. Russian aircraft also reportedly conducted airstrikes on the nearby town of al-Lataminah, using incendiary munitions. (@SyriaCivilDef, Enab Baladi-AR, Step News Youtube-AR)
  • 17 DEC: The Assad Coalition continues to push toward the opposition-held Idlib governorate, with heaving fighting reported in northern Hama governorate. (SOHR-AR, Sana, @FSAPlatform)
  • 18 DEC: ISIS’s Amaq news agency claimed a car bomb attack on US-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) near the Tanak oil facility in Deir Ezzor. Multiple casualties were reported, with ISIS claiming they killed 20 fighters. (Smart-AR, Enab Baladi-AR, Qasioun)
  • 18 DEC: Assad Coalition shelling continued in the besieged Eastern Ghouta community of Douma over the weekend, killing three civilians. (@SiegeWatch)

Political

  • 17 DEC: French President Emmanuel Macron stated in an interview that the coalition had won the war in Iraq against ISIS, and that “by the middle to the end of February, we will have won the war in Syria.” (France 24)
  • 18 DEC: Aftering holding talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin claimed Russia will be the only country to help Syria rebuild its energy facilities. (Reuters)
  • 18 DEC: Speaking to reporters Bashar al-Assad referred to groups that work under US command, including Kurdish forces, as “traitors.” (Syrian Presidency Youtube-AR, AFP, Sana) (TSI Analyst Note: Russian forces, Assad’s primary military ally in Syria, have repeatedly claimed to have assisted Kurdish operations against ISIS, and have met with YPG leadership.)
  • 18 DEC: Syrian Minister of Reconciliation, Ali Haidar, said in a media briefing the government is open to allowing extremist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) to evacuate their small enclave in Eastern Ghouta. Reportedly, HTS leadership is deadlocked on the decision about leaving the besieged communities. Both rival opposition factions and civilians in the area want HTS to leave. (Haaretz, Smart-AR)
  • 18 DEC: Russian commercial goods will reportedly be allowed to enter HTS-held areas in Idlib through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing today. The Bab al-Hawa crossing is controlled by the HTS-affiliated “Salvation Government.” (Smart News-AR, Zaman al-Wasl)
  • 18 DEC: Iranian National Security Council Secretary said Iran is prepared to stay in Syria to provide counsel and military support, at the request of the Syrian government. (Enab Baladi-AR, Smart News-AR)
  • 18 DEC: The Trump Administration released its first National Security Strategy (NSS) today. The NSS specifically mentions that despite the “territorial defeat” of ISIS and al-Qaeda in Syria and Iraq, the US will pursue foreign fighters from leaving battlefields that could launch attacks on America. The NSS also warned of the proliferation of WMDs and chemical weapons used by the Syrian government and ISIS, as well as the dangers of Iran proxies such as Hezbollah. The Trump Administration also expressed its wish to foster a political solution in Syria that allows for the return of refugees. (The White House) (TSI Analyst Note: The US is continuing to conduct strikes against ISIS in Syria, and al-Qaeda-affiliated militia HTS is the primary opposition actor in Idlib governorate.)

Humanitarian

  • None.

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 14 DEC: “All the President’s Militias: Assad’s Militiafication of Syria” – Charles Lister and Dominic Nelson (MEI)
  • 14 DEC: “Hardline Idlib authorities require single women, widows to live with male guardian” – Madeline Edwards and Mohammad Abdulssattar Ibrahim (Syria Direct)
  • 15 DEC: “Video Game Teaches Girls To Code in War-Torn Syria” – Anthony Cuthbertson (Newsweek)
  • 15 DEC: “Islamic State’s self-styled capital is in ruins and its population scattered. Who will rebuild Raqqah?” – Alexandra Zavis (LA Times)
  • 15 DEC: “Why Reports of ISIS’ Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated” – Hashem Osseiran (Syria Deeply)
  • 16 DEC: OpEd “An Accounting for the Uncounted” – Robert Malley and Stephen Pomer (The Atlantic)
  • 17 DEC: “Assad agreed to local cease-fires in Syria – but war crimes worsen in Eastern Ghouta.” – Maryam Saleh, Murtaza Hussain, Rajaai Bourhan (The Intercept)
  • 18 DEC: “How Syria’s White Helmets became victims of an online propaganda machine” – Olivia Solon (The Guardian)
  • 18 DEC: “Local brews make a comeback in Syria” – Maher Al Mounes (Times of Israel)
  • 18 DEC: “Syria: Suffering in Eastern Ghouta reaches ‘critical point’” (ICRC)
  • 18 DEC: “Revisiting the Islamic State’s 2011-2014 Reemergence: Lessons for the Future” – Aaron Zelin (WINEP)
  • 18 DEC: OpEd “Trump shouldn’t trust Putin on Syria — or anything else” – Frederick Kagan (Fox News)