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TSI Syria Updates: August 29, 2016

Takeaway

Turkish-backed forces advanced on Manbij today, after Turkish-backed forces clashed with Kurdish militia outside of Jarabulus on Saturday. Turkey launched airstrikes against both Kurdish and Islamic State (ISIS) targets, reportedly killing 41 civilians outside of Jarablus, although Turkey claimed killing 25 Kurdish “terrorists” and denied any civilian deaths. A rocket fired from Kurdish-held territory hit a Turkish tank, killing one soldier and wounding three others. Brett McGurk, special presidential envoy for the coalition to counter ISIS, said the US deemed the clashes “unacceptable and a source of deep concern.” President Tayyip Erdogan said “operations against terrorist organizations will continue until the end.”

Military

  • 28 August 2016: Buses carrying the final citizens of Darayya, including fighters, activists, and their families, safely reached opposition-controlled Idlib on Sunday. Other civilians had been evacuated to government-controlled parts of Western Ghouta the day before. No arrests were reported. Darayya is now empty and under government control. (Siege Watch Tweet, Syria Deeply, The Daily Star)
  • 28 August 2016: Jets assumed to be Syrian planes bombed the besieged neighborhood of Al-Waer, Homs over the weekend with what are believed to be incendiary munitions. Doctors in the area claimed napalm was used. A school for the deaf and mute, a charity facility, and the Al-Bir hospital were all targeted and several civilians were killed. Al-Waer has been targeted by airstrikes since a ceasefire deal with the Syrian government fell through earlier in the years.(Reuters, Siege Watch Tweet1, SW Tweet 2, SW Tweet 3, Syria Deeply)
  • 29 August 2016: Turkish-backed forces advanced on Manbij today, after Turkish-backed forces clashed with Kurdish militia on Saturday. SDF-backed forces said that it was reinforcing Manbij, but not by Kurdish members. On Saturday, Turkey launched airstrikes against both Kurdish and Islamic State (ISIS) targets reportedly killing 41 civilians outside of Jarablus; however, Turkey claimed killing 25 Kurdish “terrorists” and denied any civilian deaths. Turkish security sources said a rocket fired from Kurdish-held territory hit a Turkish tank, killing one soldier and wounding three others. (Reuters)
  • 29 August 2016: In addition to strikes on al-Amarna and Jeb el-Kussa, attacks escalated in the Kobani area as well. On Monday, Brett McGurk, special presidential envoy for the coalition to counter ISIS, said the US deemed the clashes “unacceptable and a source of deep concern,” particularly because ISIS is not in the areas where conflict occurred. On Monday, President Tayyip Erdogan said “operations against terrorist organizations will continue until the end.” Redur Xelil, chief spokesman for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, called the Turkish advances “flimsy pretexts to widen its occupation of Syrian land.” (BBC, Hurriyet, Aljazeera, The Telegraph, @brett_mcgurk)
  • 29 August 2016: Armed opposition groups (AOGS) launched an attack on Hama province Sunday night, to take it from the inhabitants who support the Syrian government. AOGs have taken the villages Al-Zalaqiat, Khirbat Masasinah, Al-Buwaydah, Zileen, and Helfaya. (EA Worldview, Aljazeera-ar, Step News Agency-ar)

Political / Key Statements

  • 27 August 2016: US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced in a joint news conference that Friday’s talks “achieved clarity on the path forward,” but did not reach a final deal. US and Russian military and intelligence experts are working to end the violence, in order to open negotiations for a political transition. Kerry also said the surrender in Darayya was forced, in against the February cessation of hostilities agreement. Lavrov said it was an “example” that should be imitated in other besieged areas. (Reuters, EA Worldview, US Department of State)
  • 27 August 2016: On Saturday, UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura called for warring sides to agree on a 48-hour humanitarian pause in Aleppo by Sunday, 28 August, 2016. De Mistura asked for no military escalations in the surrounding area. De Mistura also noted hesitance to use Castello Road, and asked that it be an accepted route for the first round of deliveries. (Reuters, UNOG)
  • 28 August 2016: French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said he was pressuring members of the UN Security Council to condemn the Syrian government for its use of chemical weapons. Ayrault said the UN/OPCW report detailing investigations of chemical use in Syria was an opportunity to pressure Russia into a resolution condemning the Syrian government and to resume political negotiations. (Reuters, Le Monde)
  • 29 August 2016: Russia submitted to the UN an offer to deploy Russian military personnel in Syria. Russian personnel would support Syrian government troops by manning military checkpoints, surveillance centers and intelligence units on Castello Road at the entrance of Aleppo. Russia wants to control the humanitarian corridors providing aid to both eastern and western Aleppo. (Gulf News)

Humanitarian

Notable Reports/Media/Transcripts

  • 26 August 2016: Remarks With Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a Press Availability (US Department of State)
  • 27 August 2016: Media Statement by the Office of the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, Mr. Staffan de Mistura (UNOG)
  • 27 August 2016: “How Turkey’s offensive into Syria is opening up a hornet’s nest” by Sudarsan Raghavan and Erin Cunningham (The Washington Post)
  • 28 August 2016: “US Revamps Line of Attack in Social-Media Fight Against Islamic State” by Nicole  Hong (The Wall Street Journal)
  • 29 August 2016: “Inside the Head of an ISIS True Believer” by Michael Weiss (The Daily Beast)
  • 29 August 2016: “The Economic Devastation of Syria: Strategic Implications” by Eran Yashiv (Institute for National Security Studies)
  • 29 August 2016: “UN pays tens of millions to Assad regime under Syria aid programme” by Nick Hopkins and Emma Beal (The Guardian)
  • 5 September 2016: “Assad’s War on Aleppo” by Steve Coll (The New Yorker)

TSI Syria Updates: August 26, 2016

Daily Takeaway

The first evacuees left Darayya today after the Syrian government and opposition forces reached an evacuation agreement on Thursday. Civilians and fighters who surrender their weapons will go to Herjellah. Fighters unwilling to surrender will be transferred to Idlib. Women and children are to be separated from the men in the evacuation. Syrian Arab Red Crescent has already begun the evacuation with several buses to lead people out of the besieged town. According to the Darayya local council, the agreement includes UN envoys to guarantee protection of its residents which comes in sharp contrast to UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura’s media statement today stating the UN had not been consulted or involved in this deal. Details have since come out that the Syrian government had no wanted the UN involved but the Darayya residents refused to leave without UN envoys. The UN is expected to arrive on Saturday to mediate the transfer or Darayya residents.

Military

  • 26 August 2016: The first evacuees left Darayya today after the Syrian government and opposition forces reached an evacuation agreement on Thursday. A Syrian Army general said 300 families would leave on Friday and about a total of 700 fighters and 4,000 civilians would leave by Saturday. The general also said any fighter unwilling to make peace with the government would be transferred to Idlib. Darayya’s local council said civilians would initially go to Herjellah in Western Ghouta. UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura said in a media statement that the UN was not a part of the negotiations in Darayya, but that it was “imperative that people of Darayya are protected in any evacuation that takes place, and that this takes place voluntarily.”   (Reuters, BBC, Reuters, UNOG)
  • 26 August 2016: The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) bombed a Turkish police headquarters in the town of Cizre in the southeast, along the Syria-Iraq border. The PKK claimed responsibility for the suicide truck bombing after Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim finished speaking at a news conference, during which he said Turkish forces will remain in Syria until terrorist groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS) Kurdish militias were pushed out of the border area. Yildirim also disputed suggestions made by Western media that Turkey was singling out Kurdish forces rather than focus on ISIS. US Vice President Joe Biden said Turkey was prepared to stay as long as necessary to destroy the Islamic State (ISIS). Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said attacks against Turkey will only make them more determined to push terrorist groups out of the border area. Twenty-three Kurdish parties condemned the Turkish operation “Euphrates Shield” and accused Turkey of occupying Syria. Turkish forces fired on YPG fighters south of Jarabulus on Thursday, which Turkey’s state-run Andalou agency described as warning shots. (Reuters, France24, Hurriyet)
  • 26 August 2016: Government forces dropped barrel bombs on the Bab al-Nayrab neighborhood of Aleppo, killing fifteen civilians, eleven of them children. Bab al-Nayrab is a rebel-held area of the city. The Syrian government has been accused of regularly using barrel bombs on rebel areas, but Bashar al-Assad denied using them. (Alarabiya)

Political / Key Statements

  • 26 August 2016: US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met in Geneva to produce a deal between Russia and the US to combat jihadists in Syria. Senior White House officials from the National Security Council (NSC) were also included in the meeting. US officials could not say whether or not the agreement would be reached today. (Reuters)
  • 26 August 2016: Colonel Ahmad Osman, head of the Sultan Murad group participating in the opposition forces fighting ISIS in Jarabulus, said their next objective is to clear towns of ISIS on their way to Marea. Marea is a frontline against ISIS. He also they were not keen on clashing with the Kurdish forces in a separate campaign, but they would if necessary. (Reuters)
  • 26 August 2016: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke on over the phone about accelerating efforts to deliver aid to Aleppo. Erdogan also updated Putin  on Turkey’s incursion. Erdogan and Putin agreed on the importance of cooperation in combating all terrorist organizations. The two will meet bilaterally during the G20 Summit in China during the first week of September. (Reuters, Daily Star)
  • 26 August 2016: UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin for Russia said Russia and the US “have a joint interest in discouraging” the use of chemical weapons. Churkin spoke with US Ambassador Samantha Power on Wednesday about working together on a response to the UN/OPCW report that found both the Syrian government and ISIS used chemical weapons. (Naharnet)

Humanitarian

  • 26 August 2016: UN humanitarian office (OCHA) announced the two-part delivery to Al-Waer was the only aid convoy completed deliveries to besieged areas this month. OCHA said the “level of access to besieged areas this month is wholly unacceptable.” (Daily Star)

Notable Reports/Media/Transcripts

  • 26 August 2016: “Syria’s Paradox: Why the War Only Ever Seems to Get Worse,” by Max Fisher (NYTimes)
  • 26 August 2016: “Experts Weigh In: How to End the Stalemate in Aleppo,” by Eline Gordts (Syria Deeply)
  • 26 August 2016: “Turkey’s Syria offensive may have been delayed a year by officers who plotted coup,” by Erin Cunningham and Liz Sly (Washington Post)
    26 August 2016: “White Helmets, Omran and fading hope in Syria,” by Mehrnoush Pourziaiee (BBC)

TSI Syria Updates: August 23, 2016

Takeaway:

Tensions are rising over a future conflict in Jarablus. AOGs are gathering in Qarqamis to prepare for a Turkey-backed assault on Jarablus. A Turkish official said their military fired on Syrian Kurdish targets in Manbij on Monday. According to Rami Abdul Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the “Turkish shelling in Syria aimed to prevent the advance of troops backed by Kurds from Manbij towards Jarablus.” Turkey’s military also fired shells into northern Syria, at four Islamic State (ISIS) targets near Jarablus, in response to cross-border fire from ISIS that landed near Qarqamis in Turkey. The shelling likely will not stop soon. Residents of Qarqamis have been offered free transport after mortars landed in the town. A columnist for the Hurriyet daily, said the Turkey-backed offensive “could begin at any moment.”

Military

  • 23 August 2016: On Tuesday Kurdish forces nearly gained full control of Al-Hasakah City, with only a few government officials remaining in government buildings. EA Worldview says clashes in the Al-Liliyah neighborhood are ongoing. A ceasefire was established between the Syrian government and Kurdish forces at 2 pm local time. The ceasefire agreement included the withdrawal of government troops and militias from the city. (Reuters, EA Worldview, map-Newsmap, map-Al-Jazeera, Al-Masdar, SANA)
  • 23 August 2016: Tensions are rising over a future conflict in Jarablus. Jarablus is a strategically important city for the Islamic State (ISIS), Kurdish forces, and Turkey. Its proximity to the Turkish border is desirable for ISIS, giving them access to Turkey and the wider world. It is desirable for the YPG because it would unite Kurdish-controlled areas along the Turkish border. Turkey would prefer control of Jarablus, rather than allow ISIS or Kurdish forces to take it. The potential confrontation between NATO ally Turkey and US-backed Kurdish forces could prove problematic. AOGs are gathering in Qarqamis to prepare for a Turkey-backed assault on Jarablus. A Turkish official said their military fired on Syrian Kurdish targets in Manbij on Monday. According to Rami Abdul Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the “Turkish shelling in Syria aimed to prevent the advance of troops backed by Kurds from Manbij towards Jarablus.” Turkey’s military also fired shells into northern Syria, at four Islamic State (ISIS) targets near Jarablus, in response to cross-border fire from ISIS that landed near Qarqamis in Turkey. The shelling likely will not stop soon. Residents of Qarqamis have been offered free transport after mortars landed in the town. A columnist for the Hurriyet daily, said the Turkey-backed offensive “could begin at any moment.” (Reuters, NYTimes, LA Times, Naharnet, map-Al-Jazeera)

Political / Key Statements

  • 23 August 2016: Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, who recently took command of Baghdad headquarters, spoke with CNN this weekend about Syrian government use of warplanes in northern Syria near where special operation forces were located. Townsend said “We’ve informed the Russians where we’re at…(they) tell us they’ve informed the Syrians, and I’d just say that we will defend ourselves if we feel threatened.” This is a not a no fly zone, which the Syrian community abroad has been vocal about for years. (CNN)
  • 22 August 2016: Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend said he is skeptical of the US and Russia being able to work together against ISIS, but he believes the US-led coalition is capable of retaking Raqqa and Mosul without Russian support. (US News)
  • 23 August 2016: Ali Shamkhani, the top official coordinating security and political affairs between Iran, Russia, and Damascus, told state television that Iran requested assistance from Russia in bombing Aleppo. (Naharnet)
  • 23 August 2016: United Nations Information Service Director Alessandra Vellucci chaired a press briefing attended by Jessy Chahine, a representative for the Office of the Special Envoy for Syria (OSE). Chahine said the UN is working with the co-chairs of ISSG to create operational plans for the ceasefire in Aleppo. The UN is looking at any proposal to alleviate suffering in Aleppo, but all parties on the ground need to agree on the proposal. The proposal also needs to include an adequate time period to allow aid entrance. The Humanitarian Task Force will meet on 25 August in Geneva, with a Special Envoy stakeout afterward. (UNOG)
  • 23 August 2016: The Indian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs M.J. Akbar visited President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus this week. Akbar voiced his support of al-Assad, particularly in combating  terrorist groups. The two states are revisiting development projects, as part of India’s efforts to help Syria rebuild. They are also upgrading security consultation, sharing names of citizens involved in terrorist organizations. India is the second member state of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) to visit Damascus in the past week, trailing China’s visit only days ago. (Gulf News)
  • 22 August 2016: Syria’s ambassador to the UN, Bashar al-Jaafari, said the Syrian government was not responsible for the bombing of Karm al-Qaterji, the neighborhood of Aleppo where Omran Daqneesh was photographed. Chinese state media claimed the photos of Omran were faked or posed as part of a propaganda war. (UN, Telegraph)
  • 22 August 2016: An unnamed aide to Hakan Fidan, chief of Turkish National Intelligence Organization, visited a high-ranking Syrian security official on Sunday. The report from As-Safir does not detail the visit, except for saying the men discussed “developments in Syria.” The alleged visit occurred only a day after Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim announced a more favorable opinion of Bashar al-Assad’s involvement in Syria’s interim government.  (NOW Media, As-Safir)

Humanitarian

Notable Reports/Media/Transcripts

  • 23 August 2016: Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien Statement to the Security Council, New York, 22 August 2016 (OCHA)
  • 22 August 2016: “During Briefing on Syria, Security Council Members Discuss Urgency of Weekly 48-hour Pause in Fighting to Reach Besieged Civilians with Humanitarian Aid” (UN)
  • 22 August 2016: “Bombers over Hasakah: Assad Clashes with the Kurds” by Aron Lund (Carnegie)
  • 21 August 2016: “The Post-Obama Syria Playbook” by Thanassis Cambanis (Foreign Policy)
  • 18 August 2016: “Russia and Iran: Historic mistrust and contemporary partnership” by Dmitri Trenin (Carnegie Moscow Center)