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.
Truce, Bombardment, and Battles
20 May 2019
A Russian news agency reported the Russian defense ministry on Monday as saying that it repelled a drone and rocket attack on its aerial base in Syria early this week.
The ministry accused the previous Nusra of the attack. The agency also reported the ministry as saying that it downed six rockets fired at Hmeimeim base in Lattakia governorate.
At least ten civilians were killed by Russian airstrikes that targeted northwest Syria at night, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). This bombardment came shortly after Syrian government ally Moscow announced a “unilateral” ceasefire.
Fierce battles broke out early Monday between government forces on the one hand, and Tahrir al-Sham and factions allied to it on the other hand in the northern countryside of Hama, which along with Idlib governorate is subject to a Russian-Turkish truce agreement. The battles coincided with Russian airstrikes and intensive bombardment by government forces on several cities and towns in the area.
The SOHR reported the death of ten civilians including five children and four women by Russian airstrikes on Sunday that targeted Kafrnobble and its surrounding in the southwest countryside of Idlib. One of the strikes targeted the town’s hospital rendering it inoperable, according to the SOHR.
The Russian reconciliation center announced on Sunday that government forces started a unilateral ceasefire starting midnight of 12 May.
The intensity of airstrikes and bombardment has eased off in the last three days, but have not completely halted, according to the SOHR and residents of the southern countryside of Idlib.
During an emergency meeting of the Security Council, the United Nations cautioned against a “humanitarian crisis” in Idlib if the violence continues.
Damascus Airport for Rent?
19 May 2019
The Syrian government denied reports regarding the investment of Damascus international airport or any other airports by Russia.
“There are no negotiations regarding the investment of the airport and other Syrian airports. Damascus International Airport is one of the vital facilities and massive projects which the ministry is working on developing and investing according to the Build-Operate-Turnover (BOT) system, with a vision to build a new hall for passengers,” the Syrian transport ministry said in a statement on its website.
The ministry added that as part of the protocols of the eleventh session of the joint Syrian-Russian committee in December of 2018, the rehabilitation of Damascus and Aleppo airports was discussed in accordance to the technical discussions held in Damascus in November of 2018, and the Russian side proposed to rehabilitate the airports according to the BOT system.
The ministry said that, “Until this moment, there are no negotiations on the investment of Damascus International Airport or other Syrian civil airports by any party. All that has occurred was within the context of discussions and proposals and nothing more… In the event of new developments, they will be presented and announced in a timely manner.”
Israeli Test for Iran
18 May 2019
Rockets launched by Israeli warplanes on Saturday night targeted a post for Syrian government forces in Qunaitera in the south, in a second incident of its kind in as many days, according to the SOHR.
“Israeli planes in the occupied Golan launched three rockets, two of which targeted the headquarters of Brigade Ninety, and the third was shot down by Syrian defense systems,” said the SOHR.
Brigade Ninety is one of the most prominent brigades in the Syrian army, it is commissioned with supervising Qunaitera governorate and has been previously targeted by Israel.
The official Syrian news agency SANA said, “Unidentified objects entered from the occupied territories into the airspace south of the country. Air defense systems engaged with them.” SANA did not mention any further details.
This is the second aggression after Damascus announced on Friday that its air defenses engaged “enemy targets coming from the south.”
The rockets on Friday targeted al-Kisweh, southwest of Damascus, where Iranian and Hezbollah weapon depots are located, which have been repeatedly targeted by Israeli airstrikes.
Israel intensified in recent years its strikes in Syria, targeting position for the Syrian army, in addition to Iranian and Hezbollah targets.
18 May 2019
Al-Tayyib Tizini, a Syrian intellect and researcher who was close to the Syrian opposition, passed away Saturday morning at the age of eighty-five, according to Syrian intellects and opposition members on social media.
Tizini, originally from the city of Homs in the center of Syria, is considered one of the most prominent Syrian intellects. He was the professor of Arab philosophy at Damascus University for decades and has published several intellectual and philosophical books.
Tizini was part of a group of intellects and human rights activists, in addition to dozens of other people who held a sit-in on 16 March 2011 in front of the interior ministry in Damascus, calling for the release of opinion detainees in Syria. He was arrested along with others and were all released two days afterwards.
In contrast to other opposition members, he did not leave his city of Homs during the conflict which started in 2011.
Postponement of Iraqi Flights
18 May 2019
The Syrian transport ministry said on Saturday that it was informed of Baghdad’s decision to postpone two Iraqi Airlines flights to Damascus “until further notice.” Air flights between the two countries were set to be resumed for the first since late 2011.
This comes after the spokesman for the Iraqi Airlines Laith al-Rabii said on Saturday, “The first Iraqi Airlines flight will take off from Baghdad to Damascus” on Saturday. The last direct flight from Baghdad airport arrived in Damascus in December of 2011.
Confrontations in New York
17 May 2019
The United Nations said on Friday at least eighteen health centers have been attacked in the past three weeks in northwestern Syria, prompting a confrontation between western powers and Russia and Syria at the Security Council over who is to blame.
While the area is nominally protected by a Russian-Turkish deal agreed in September to avert a new battle, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces – backed by Russians – have launched an offensive on the last major insurgent stronghold. Some three million civilians are at risk, the United Nations said.
“Since we know that Russia and Syria are the only countries that fly planes in the area, is the answer … the Russian and Syrian air forces?” Britain’s UN Ambassador Karen Pierce said to the fifteen-member council on where the blame lay.
Acting US Ambassador to the United Nations Jonathan Cohen said Russia and Syria were responsible for the attacks on the health centers. He said it was most alarming that several of the centers attacked were on a list created by Russia and the United Nations in an attempt to protect them.
Russian UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the Syrian and Russian forces were not targeting civilians or civilian infrastructure and questioned the sources used by the United Nations to verify attacks on health centers.
Al-Jolani Calls for Opening Fronts
17 May 2019
In a video recording released on Friday, the general commander of Tahrir al-Sham (previously Nusra) Abu Mohammed al-Jolani called for the deployment of Syrian factions loyal to Ankara in order to open battle fronts with government forces. He called on the residents to dig shelters instead of fleeing from government bombardment.
In an interview with reporters and released by Tahrir al-Sham on Telegram, al-Jolani said, “Some factions in the Euphrates Shield and the area over there can alleviate the situation for us by starting action against Aleppo, for example.”
“They have fronts with the government, dispersing the enemy and opening more than one front is in our favor,” he added.
Turkish allied factions known as the Euphrates Shield control the area in the northern countryside of Aleppo, from Jarablus in the northeast to Afrin the northwest of Aleppo countryside.
ISIS Once Again
16 May 2019
Elements from ISIS attacked a Syrian government position west of Palmyra city. The Amaq news agency, which is affiliated with the group, said that its members stormed a military barrack for government forces near al-Sawanah oasis and killed eight soldiers and captured one. It also said that twelve other soldiers were killed and three vehicles burned when forces headed to reinforce the barrack under attack.
The northeastern countryside of Homs and the southeaster countryside of Deir al-Zor, which is under ISIS control, have witnessed repeated attacks on government forces.
Moving Forward, The United States and Russia
14 May 2019
The United States and Russia agreed to pathways to move forward towards a political solution in Syria, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday after talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Russian resort city Sochi.
“We had a very productive conversation on pathways forward in Syria, things we can do together where we have a shared set of interests on how to move the political process forward,” Pompeo told reporters at the airport before flying out.
“There is the political process associated with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 that has been hung up and I think we mutually now can begin to work together in a way to unlock that,” he said.
UN Security Council Resolution 2254, passed unanimously in 2015, called for UN-backed negotiations to reach a political solution for the situation in Syria.
Pompeo said that the Syrian issue, which is one of the major topics of dispute between the United States and Russia, was a major topic of conversation during the talks on Tuesday evening at Putin’s residence in the Black Sea resort.
He said that Washington and Moscow both backed establishing a committee tasked with drafting a new constitution for Syria, a key step that has been bogged down by disagreements over its composition.
Successive UN envoys working to end the war have struggled to make headway on the constitutional committee.