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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ghouta, Death, and a “New Aleppo”
9-10 March 2018
The UN Security Council Resolution 2401, which calls for a thirty-day truce, has not eased the battle for Ghouta in Damascus, but rather, aerial and artillery bombardment have intensified as the ground offensive of government forces expands, capturing about fifty percent of the area of the besieged Ghouta.
Government forces, with Russian support, were able to split the enclave into two halves after they captured the town of Misraba near the center of Ghouta, effectively surrounding the towns of Douma and Harasta on Saturday. (Reuters)
The “Scorched Earth” policy led to the death of nine hundred and fifty-seven civilians, including one hundred and ninety-nine children and one hundred and thirty-one women, from 18 March up to last Saturday, with rescuers unable to pull bodies out of the rubble. It also led to four thousand and three hundred and twenty civilian casualties, with an acute shortage of food and health care, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
Doctors Without Borders reported the bombardment of fifteen medical facilities out of twenty hospitals and clinics that it provides support for in eastern Ghouta. (AFP) The World Health Organization also said on Friday that some sixty-seven attacks on health facilities and workers in Syria have been verified in the first two months of 2018, equal to half of all those throughout last year, denouncing these attacks as “unacceptable.” (Reuters)
Mortars continued to be fired on Damascus by al-Rahman Corps and Jaish al-Islam, leading to the death and injury of civilians.
Military operations in eastern Ghouta are targeting “terrorist organizations in accordance with international humanitarian laws,” said the Syrian UN Ambassador in Geneva for the UN Human Rights Council on Thursday. In contrast, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a speech on Wednesday that targeting several hundred opposition fighters cannot be a justification for the offensive launched by the Syrian government in eastern Ghouta, which is controlled by the opposition. (Reuters)
Russia called for a safe passage of civilians out of Ghouta. In this context, two passageways were opened up for civilians, amid mutual accusations of targeting these passageways. (Reuters)
On Friday, thirteen fighters from Tahrir al-Sham, along with their families, went out from areas controlled by Jaish al-Islam. This strikes resemblance to the “scenario” in Aleppo, as military pressure continues to force opposition fighters to surrender or be deported to Idlib. Calls for calm will not resonate in the tragic situation of civilians in Ghouta.
The response from international pressure was restricted to allowing the entrance of a humanitarian aid convoy to Douma on Friday, after repeated delays and the exclusion of medical supplies.
Olive Branch Besieging Afrin
6-9 March 2018
Turkish forces and opposition factions have captured several important towns in Afrin, the last of which was the town of Jandires. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Afrin is now surrounded, and entry is imminent. (Reuters)
The Olive Branch operation, which started on 20 January, has led to the death of two hundred and four civilians, including thirty-two children and twenty-six women, up to Friday, as a result of Turkish aerial and artillery bombardment. According to the SOHR, the humanitarian and living conditions have drastically deteriorated.
Four hundred and nine soldiers from Turkish forces and Syrian factions have been killed, whereas three hundred and fifty-nine from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Self-Defense Forces were killed, according to the SOHR.
A number of Arab factions allied with Syrian Democratic Forces decided to join the YPG in Afrin to confront the Turkish aggression.
No real international pressure on Turkey has emerged to stop the Olive Branch operation, as statements were confined to calls to end the offensive. On Tuesday, the French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said, “International focus on Syria was on implementing a UN-backed ceasefire in the rebel-held area of eastern Ghouta, but the situation in Kurdish-held Afrin could also not be ignored.” (Reuters)
A War of Cancellation and a Truce
9 March 2018
Tahrir al-Sham (previously Nusra) and the Syrian Liberation Front, which includes Ahrar al-Sham and Nour Eddin al-Zinki factions, announced that they have reached a ceasefire in preparation for a solution to the problems between the two sides, after bloody fighting in rural Aleppo and Idlib.
Clashes between the two sides have intensified for the last few weeks in areas they control in Aleppo and Idlib, leading to the deaths of civilians and fighters from both sides.
The latest round of clashes occurred in the western countryside of Aleppo, where the two sides used heavy weaponry in most battles. Several towns witnessed demonstrations denouncing the fighting and practices of both factions towards civilians. (Al-Jazeera)
This renewed fighting demonstrates the fragmentation and distrust among factions, in addition to Turkey’s desire for its allied forces to control areas controlled by the opposition as part of the understandings to reduce escalation.
Return of the Refugees
6-7-9 March 2018
Several members of the right-wing Alternative for Germany Party made a visit to Damascus on Tuesday seeking the return of refugees to Syria through an understanding with the government, which was condemned by the German government. This reflects the magnitude of contradiction over the Syrian refugee crisis in Europe. (Reuters)
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said on Friday that it was “too early” to talk about the return of refugees to Syria, because the situation remained unsafe and risky.
A spokesperson for the Turkish Foreign Ministry said Turkey will build camps to accommodate one hundred and seventy thousand Syrian refugees near Idlib.
Russian Transport Plane Crash
6 March 2018
“According to the latest updates, the Antonov An-26 transport aircraft, which crashed in Hmeimim airbase, was carrying thirty-three passengers and six crew members. All of them were members of the Russian Armed Forces,” the Interfax news agency quoted the Defense Ministry as saying. The crew and the passengers were all killed.
A Russian transport aircraft carrying a Russian military orchestra crashed in the Black Sea in December 2016 on a trip for Syria, killing all ninety-two people on board. (Euronews)