The following is a selection by our editors of significant weekly developments in Syria. Depending on events, each issue will include anywhere from four to eight briefs. This series is produced in both Arabic and English in partnership between Salon Syria and Jadaliyya. Suggestions and blurbs may be sent to email@example.com.
Idlib Heats Up
9 and 10 May 2019
Turkey’s defense minister said Syrian government forces need to halt attacks in northwestern Syria, state-owned Anadolu agency reported on Friday.
Syria’s army, backed by Russian air power, launched ground operations this week against the southern flank of an opposition zone consisting of Idlib and parts of adjacent governorates.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said Syrian government forces captured the town of Qalaat al-Madiq in northwest Syria as it pushes into the biggest remaining opposition territory under a massive bombardment.
Qalaat al-Madiq was the rebel area closest to the Russian Hmeimim airbase at Lattakia, which insurgents have previously targeted with rocket fire.
On Thursday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin said the operation was a reaction to terrorists in the area, and was being carried out “in coordination with our Turkish partners,” TASS news agency reported.
The United Nations Security Council was briefed behind closed doors on Friday on the situation in northwest Syria. Afterward, eleven of the fifteen members – including the United States, France and Britain – jointly condemned the killing of civilians and warned of a possible humanitarian catastrophe in Idlib.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says more than one hundred and fifty-two thousand people fled between April 29 and May 5, doubling the number of displaced in the northwest since February. Air strikes have struck twelve health facilities, killed more than eighty civilians and wounded more than three hundred, OCHA said. Shelling, air strikes, and fighting in more than fifty villages have destroyed at least ten schools and teaching is suspended. The UN regional humanitarian coordinator has said the barrel bombing is the worst for at least fifteen months.
Doctors have pulled back into cave shelters to treat the wounded and protect their patients from a government offensive that has hit health centers and hospitals. Medical services suffer from a lack of equipment and resources.
Advance in Lattakia
12 May 2019
Opposition factions repelled attempts by Syrian government forces to advance in the Akrad mountain region in the northern countryside of Lattakia. On Sunday, these forces carried out several attempts to advance towards al-Kabineh, in the Akrad mountain in the opposition-held countryside of Lattakia. This was accompanied by fierce aerial bombardment using explosive barrels, rocket launchers, and heavy artillery, seeking to achieve progress in the area overlooking the western countryside of Idlib. Government forces, backed by aerial power and intense bombardment, are trying to advance in new areas after they managed to advance in the western countryside of Hama and take control the towns of al-Madiq and Kafr Nboudeh and other villages in al-Ghab valley. Sources in Tahrir al-Sham said that they repelled attempts by government forces to advance in al-Kabineh in the northern countryside of Lattakia, and that the latter was not able to advance.
Al-Akrad mountain is controlled by the Turkestan Party and Tahrir al-Sham. It links between the northern countryside of Lattakia and Jisr al-Shoghour in the western countryside of Idlib.
Al-Joulani on the Frontlines!
12 May 2019
The general commander of Tahrir al-sham Abu Mohammed al-Joulani appeared in a photo on the frontlines in Hama countryside, amidst a fierce military escalation. Taher al-Omar, a reporter with close ties to Tahrir al-sham, published on Sunday a photo that shows him with al-Joulani wearing a military uniform and carrying a weapon. This appearance of al-Joulani coincided with the intensification of battles and continued escalation in the countryside of Hama and Idlib, which has seen government forces taking control of several towns west of Hama from opposition factions. Tahrir al-sham is fighting the battles jointly with the National Front for Liberation and al-Izza Army in various areas of Hama countryside.
The “Tahrir al-Sham” Resistance
12 May 2019
The Shura Council in Northern Syria, which was established with sponsorship from the salvation government, announced the formation of “popular resistance brigades,” to allow civilians to take part in the anticipated battles against the Syrian government. This comes in light of military escalation by the Syrian government and its Russian ally towards the countryside of Hama and Idlib, which is accompanied by aerial support and ground advance attempts, in a campaign that is regarded to be the fiercest in the area.
Torture in Prisons
12 May 2019
The New York Times published a report on the situation of detainees in Syrian prisons and their torture by the government forces. The report mentions one hundred and twenty-eight thousand civilians who forcibly disappeared and their whereabouts are unknown. They could have been killed or perhaps they are still detained. The newspaper based its report on data from the Syrian Network for Human Rights, which says that almost fourteen thousand civilians were killed under torture, while five thousand and six hundred and seven people were arbitrarily arrested last year.
The report said that kidnappings and killings by ISIS attracted the West’s attention and not the detention by the Syrian government of nearly ninety per cent of those forcibly disappeared. The Syrian government denies the presence of systematic torture. According to the report, however, government documents show that Syrian officials directly ordered mass detentions.
Kristyan Benedict, an activist in Amnesty International, said that investments in accountability and justice should be dramatically increased.
Protests Against Self-Administration
8 May 2019
Arab inhabitants of Syria’s Deir al-Zor began a third week of protests against Kurdish rule, the largest wave of unrest to sweep the oil-rich region since the US-backed forces took over the territory from ISIS nearly eighteen months ago, residents, witnesses, and tribal figures said.
The protests which erupted weeks ago in several towns and villages from Busayrah to Shuhail have now spread to remaining areas where most of the oil fields are located in the SDF controlled part of Deir al-Zor, east of the Euphrates.
Arab residents under People’s Protection Units’ rule who have been complaining of lack of basic services and discrimination against them in local administrations run by Kurdish officials have been growing restive in recent months.
The protests took a violent turn when angry mobs took to the streets and disrupted the routes of convoys of trucks loaded with oil from nearby fields that cross into government held areas.
The stepping up of oil sales to alleviate a fuel crunch facing Damascus has infuriated the local Arab protesters, with many placards saying they were being robbed of their wealth.
The SDF has not publicly commented on the most serious challenge so far to its rule over tens of thousands of Arabs.
Trump in Golan
12 May 2019
Benjamin Netanyahu has identified the location of a new settlement to be named after US President Donald Trump as an expression of gratitude by the Israeli occupation towards Trump’s decision to acknowledge Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Syrian Golan Heights. “We have started building the settlement,” said Netanyahu.
The idea of building the settlement came on April 23rd when Netanyahu and his family were out on a picnic in the Golan during Passover. From there he pledged to name the settlement Trump in honor of the US president.
On March 25th, President Trump signed a proclamation recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Syrian Golan Heights. Israel occupied the Golan in the 1967 war, which remained under its control in the October war of 1973. In 1982, Tel Aviv unilaterally decided to annex the plateau, which the UN Security Council considered annulled and illegal. Israel has been trying for half a century to capture the Syrian occupied Golan and change the characteristics of this region. It is also trying to impose Israeli ID on the residents and has made demographic changes, as the number of settlement has exceeded dozens.