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TSI Syria Update: January 11, 2018

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

Military

  • 11 JAN: Opposition fighters in Idlib launched the “Repelling Tyranny” counter-offensive against Assad Coalition forces in Idlib, attempting to slow their advance on Abu al-Duhur airbase. Reportedly, multiple armed opposition groups (AOGs) announced a joint operations room, and received new vehicle and arms shipments from Turkey. Extremist AOG Hayat Tahrir al-Sham are reportedly not part of the coordinated operations. (AP, Reuters, @Charles_Lister, @24Idlib, @TNTranslations)
  • 11 JAN: The Islamic State’s Amaq news released a video of four Assad Coalition prisoners taken near Abu al-Duhur airport, as ISIS continues to launch attacks during increased fighting in Hama and Idlib. (Enab Baladi-AR)
  • 11 JAN: Israeli drones reportedly helped foil an attack on AOGs by the ISIS-affiliated Khalid bin al-Walid Army near Jabiliya and al-Bakar near Daraa. (Enab Baladi)
  • 11 JAN: A Syrian Civil Defense (White Helmets) Center in al-Lataminah, Hama, is reportedly is out of service after heavy shelling and Russian airstrikes targeted the city. (Qasioun)
  • 11 JAN: Pro-government forces have intensified their shelling of besieged communities in northern Homs, killing several people and wounding dozens in the past few days. (SOHR, @SiegeWatch)
  • 11 JAN: Assad Coalition continued attacks against the besieged enclave of Eastern Ghouta. School exams and Friday prayers tomorrow were cancelled due to the intense onslaught. Harasta alone was targeted with at least 36 airstrikes. (RevoSpring-AR, @SiegeWatch, @SiegeWatch)

Political

  • 11 JAN: The Russian Ministry of Defense held a briefing on the recent drone attack against Russian bases in Syria, during which the Ministry claimed the drones were launched from the rebel-held village of Muwazarra in Idlib, and reiterated their previous claims that the technology in the drones used was complex. The Daily Beast reported that drones similar to those recovered from the attack were reportedly being sold on an online black market via Telegram. Both the recovered models and those being sold on Telegram are technologically rudimentary. (The Daily Beast, Russia MOD, WaPo) (TSI Analyst Note: Telegram is used extensively in Syria as means to buy and sell arms. Read more here.)
  • 11 JAN: Acting Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs David Satterfield testified in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today. Satterfield iterated that the US is committed to the UN-backed Geneva process as a counter to Russian attempts to take over Syrian negotiations, and sees no way Assad could win in future elections. Satterfield also testified the US is concerned about foreign troops in Syria, but downplayed the threat of an Iranian “land bridge.” The Department of Defense declined to testify at the hearing. (SFAC)
  • 11 JAN: Russia’s special envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentiev met with Bashar al-Assad today in Syria. According to the Syrian government, the two discussed bilateral conference and the upcoming Sochi conference. (@Presidency_sy-AR)
  • 11 JAN: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke with Russian President Putin on the phone today, where Erdogan called upon Russia to end attacks in Eastern Ghouta and Idlib so the Astana and Sochi negotiations may succeed. Putin also reportedly told Erdogan he knows who was behind the drone attack earlier this month, and does not believe it was Turkey. (Reuters, Daily Sabah, Kremlin)

Humanitarian

  • None.

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 10 JAN: OpEd: “Syria’s war is far from over” – Christopher Phillips (MEE)
  • 11 JAN: “6,900 Syrians in US face risk of deportation if Trump ends protection” – Joyce Karam (The National)
  • 11 JAN: “Coalition Analysis Warns of Potential Islamic State Resurgence” – Rhys Dubin (FP)
  • 11 JAN: “Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock: Statement to the media on first visit to Syria Damascus, 11 January 2018” – (Relief Web)
  • 11 JAN: “QRCS Slams Bombardment of Health Care Facility in Idlib” (Qatar Red Crescent Society)

TSI Syria Update: January 10, 2018

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

Military

  • 10 JAN: Assad Coalition forces have reportedly reached the outskirts of Abu al-Duhur airbase in Idlib as opposition forces continue to withdraw due to the offensive. (AP, SOHR-AR, Step-AR)
  • 10 JAN: There are also local reports that ISIS captured 14 villages along the the border of Idlib and Hama, near Tal al-Halawah, after extremist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham withdrew from them after being surrounded by Assad Coalition forces. (Smart via Syrian Observer)
  • 10 JAN: A suicide attack in Idlib city reportedly killed three people and injured numerous others. According to local reports, the attack targeted a group of HTS fighters.  (@24Idlib, Enab Baladi-AR)
  • 10 JAN: A large explosion was reported at a Syrian government munitions depot near Slinfah, Latakia. It is unclear at this time what caused the incident. (Orient-AR)
  • 10 JAN: Pro-government forces continued their intense attacks on besieged Eastern Ghouta today, with heavy clashes between taking place around the Vehicle Management Building in Harasta. (Step News-AR)

Political

  • 10 JAN: After Turkey summoned the Iranian and Russian ambassadors in protest of the Assad Coalition’s military offensive in Idlib, Russia’s Ministry of Defense asked Turkey to reign in violence in the province, claiming last week’s coordinated drone attack on its military bases originated from Idlib. (Reuters)
  • 10 JAN: Turkey reportedly summoned the US charge d’affairs over reports that the US has begun providing military training for 400 Kurdish YPG troops, which Turkey considers a terrorist organization. (Hurriyet)
  • 10 JAN: The French Foreign Ministry condemned the Assad Coalition offensive in Idlib province that has repeatedly targeted civilians and displaced 100,000 people. France urged the involved parties to uphold the Astana de-escalation agreements. (Reuters)
  • 10 JAN: The Syrian Observatory for Human rights website is once again accessible in Turkey and northern Syria, after being blocked for four days. (SOHR-FB)
  • 10 JAN: UN Human Rights Chief Zeid Ra’ad Hussein said the Syrian government and its allies have killed at least 85 civilians in attacks against besieged Eastern Ghouta since 31 December. (Reuters)
  • 10 JAN: Reportedly, Russia is attempting to pressure opposition councils in Homs and Hama to participate in the upcoming Sochi conference, informing the rebels the de-escalation zone agreement for their zone will expire in mid-February. (Zaman al-Wasl)
  • 10 JAN: Russia’s Ministry of Defense announced its Chief of General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov spoke on the phone today with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford about Syria. (@mod_russia, @rabrowne75)

Humanitarian

  • None.

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 9 JAN: “Syria: In the Hands of Russia and Iran” – Michel Duclos (Atlantic Council)
  • 9 JAN: “Iran eyes major role in Syria’s reconstruction” – Ahmad Majidyar (MEI)
  • 10 JAN: “The Syrian regime had options in Deir Ezzor, but it still chose indiscriminate destruction” – Hassan Hassan (The National)
  • 10 JAN: “Who is attacking Russia’s bases in Syria? A new mystery emerges in the war” – Liz Sly (The Washington Post)
  • 10 JAN: “The Fate of Minorities in Post-ISIS Syria and Iraq” – Yousif Kalian (Syria Deeply)
  • 10 JAN: “A power struggle over education emerges between rival opposition governments in Idlib province” – Waleed Khaled a-Noufal and Maria Nelson (Syria Direct)
  • 10 JAN: “The Tragic Irony of Unlawful Attacks on Civilians in Syria’s De-Escalation Zones” – Sara Kayyali (HRW)

TSI Syria Update: January 9, 2018

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

Military

  • 9 JAN: Syrian state media reported that Israeli air force jets fired missiles from Lebanese airspace near the al-Qutayfah area, where anti-air positions reportedly intercepted the missiles and hit one of the jets. It also said that Israel fired ground-to-ground missiles into Syria but they were intercepted. (Sana, Ynet) (TSI Analyst Note: These reports should be taken with a grain of salt, as there are no reliable independent sources corroborating this event and no images of the attacks, which is unusual.)
  • 9 JAN: Pro-government forces continued to advance in Idlib province. The government announced that its forces took control of the Maarat al-Numan, Abu Duhur road, bringing them within ten kilometers of the Abu al-Duhur airbase. Eight civilians were reportedly killed in airstrikes on the Idlib town of Abu al-Duhur and another four civilians were reportedly killed in strikes al-Jadid village. The offensive has displaced an estimated 100,000 civilians have been displaced in the past week. (@24Idlib, Enab Baladi-AR, Smart-AR, Middle East Eye, Enab Baladi-AR)
  • 9 JAN: Assad Coalition forces continued their attacks on besieged Eastern Ghouta today. Attacks on Saqba killed three people including two children, while shelling on the civilian market in Douma killed five people and injured more than 15 others. A total of 24 civilians were killed. (Smart-AR, @SiegeWatch, @SiegeWatch, @sams_usa)

Political

  • 8 JAN: OIR spokesperson Col Ryan Dillon said the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) continues to clear pockets of ISIS in the mid-Euphrates River valley, where ISIS reportedly still holds the villages of Abu Hassan, al-Shafah, Susah, and al-Baghuz. (@OIRSpokesman, SOHR)
  • 9 JAN: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters that the Syrian government attacking moderate rebel forces in Idlib is undermining the possibility of a peace process, saying “the groups who will come together in Sochi should not do this.” Turkey summoned the Russian and Iranian ambassadors to protest the Assad Coalition’s violation of the de-escalation zone agreements. (Reuters, Daily Sabah)
  • 9 JAN: Russia noted the “strange coincidence” of US surveillance craft operating in the  area when its bases came under attack from drones on 5 January, saying the technology could only  have come from a state actor. The Pentagon denied any involvement, saying the materials could be bought on the open market. (Russia MOD FB, WaPo, @rabrowne75) (TSI Analyst Note: Homemade drones have regularly been used by armed groups, including ISIS, in Syria and other conflicts in the Middle East.)
  • 9 JAN: The Israeli Interior Ministry announced it will hold local elections in the Syrian Golan in October 2018. (MEMO, Enab Baladi-AR)
  • 9 JAN: The opposition’s Syrian Negotiation Commission (SNC) warned that the Syrian peace talks in Sochi risk undermining the Geneva peace process, and urged the international community to pressure the Syrian government to participate in the Geneva process. (@SyrianHNC_en)
  • 9 JAN: UN Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock, arrived in Damascus today for a three-day visit, where he will meet with Syrian government and UN officials. (@UNReliefChief)

Humanitarian

  • 9 JAN: Rukban refugee camp has begun to receive humanitarian aid, after yesterday’s announcement by Jordan that they would drop supplies into the camp across the border with a crane. Reportedly, 3,000 parcels of aid have already been delivered. (Syria Direct)

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 8 JAN: “Putin’s road from Damascus: After the “victory,” what?” – Pavel K. Baev (Brookings)
  • 8 JAN: “Commentary: Cracks in Russia-Iran alliance open options for Trump” – Josh Cohen (Reuters)
  • 8 JAN: “Turan — a new private military company fighting in Syria or an elaborate hoax?” – Ruslan Leviev (CITeam)
  • 8 JAN: “The story of Idlib is being rewritten by the Syrian regime, but facts matter” – Mina Al-Oraibi (The National)
  • 9 JAN: “Jihadist control of northwest Syria ‘not tenable,’ says Sam Heller” – Justin Clark (Syria Direct)
  • 9 JAN: “A Primer on the Merits Issues in ACLU v. Mattis (the U.S. Citizen Enemy Combatant Case)” – Robert Chesney, Steve Vladeck (Lawfare)
  • 9 JAN: “UN Security Council Action Over Syria Chemical Attacks Overdue” – Louis Charbonneau (HRW)
  • 9 JAN: “Trump’s silence on Syria contrasts with his criticism of Iran” – Simon Tisdall (The Guardian)
  • 9 JAN: “Talks with rebels in no-man’s land as Russia eyes post-war role in Syria” – Ellen Francis (Reuters)

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)

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)