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.
20 October 2019
US forces withdrew on Sunday from Sarrien airport – largest US military base in northeast Syria – following Washington’s recent decision to withdraw a thousand troops from the area, according to an AFP correspondent and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
The AFP correspondent saw more than seventy military armored vehicles raising the US flag passing the city of Tal Tamr in al-Hasakeh governorate, as helicopters flying nearby accompanied them.
The SOHR chief Rami Abdul Rahman told the AFP that the convey evacuated from Sarrien airport, which US forces had used as a base – thirty kilometers south of Kobani (Ain Arab). The base is situated on the outskirts of a buffer zone that Ankara is trying to establish in northeast Syria, where it has launched, along with allied Syrian factions, an attack against Kurdish fighters since 9 October. Turkey was able to take control of a one hundred and twenty kilometer border strip.
US forces withdrew from three other bases last week, including a base in the city of Manbej and another near Kobani.
Besiege of Ras al-Ain
19 October 2019
The Syrian National Army – allied to the Turkish army – cut off the road between Ras al-Ain and Tal Tamr in the northwest countryside of al-Hasakeh governorate, effectively enforcing a total besiege of Ras al-Ain.
A source close to the Syrian army told a German news agency that armed groups attacked Syrian army posts in al-Ahras village – fifteen kilometers northwest of Tal Tamr. The Syrian army was able to repel the attack, and members of the armed groups returned to the area they came from.
Repatriation of ISIS Fighters
19 October 2019
The investigative judge David Douba –coordinator of the anti-terrorism division of the Paris court, warned in an interview with the AFP that failure to repatriate detained French jihadists in Syria “constitutes a danger on the general security” in France.
“The political instability and the ease of breaching the remaining Kurdish camps raise two concerns: a disorderly immigration of jihadists to Europe with the risk of attacks by radical ideologists on the one hand, and the reformation of militant terrorist groups which are highly trained and determined on the other hand,” Douba said in an unprecedented statement, at a time French authorities refuse the return of these jihadists.
France has around two hundred people and three hundred children in camps and prisons under Kurdish control in Syria. It refuses to repatriate them, like many other countries, because of public discontent and wants them to be prosecuted close to where they committed their crimes.
However, after Turkey launched on 9 October its offensive against Kurdish fighter in northern Syria, Western countries fear that twelve thousand jihadists detained by the Kurds in Syria, including 2,500 to 3,000 foreigners, may flee.
18 October 2019
Hours after Washington declared a ceasefire, Turkish war planes launched an airstrike that killed a number of civilians in Kurdish-controlled areas in northeast Syria as sporadic clashes continued in a border town, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
Kurdish fighters on Sunday said they do not intend to withdraw from all of the north-east border of Syria – which is exactly what the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expects to happen according to a ceasefire deal brokered by the United States on Thursday.
Bloomberg news agency said that the conflicting interpretations denote the fragility of the five-day ceasefire.
Drawing a Ceasefire
17 October 2019
Turkey agreed on Thursday to pause its offensive in northeast Syria and halt it all together if Kurdish fighters withdrew from the area in five days, according to a deal drawn by US Vice President Mike Pence in Ankara.
In order for Kurdish forces to withdraw “within one hundred twenty hours, all military operations of the Peace Spring operation will be paused, and they will be completely halted once this withdrawal is finalized,” Pence told reporters after talks with Erdogan that lasted for more than four hours.
Kurdish forces have to withdraw some thirty-two kilometers away from the border and the area would eventually turn into a “safe zone” – which Turkey has been seeking for months.
17 October 2019
ISIS said on Thursday that it “liberated” a number of women detained by Kurdish fighters, after an attack on one of their headquarters in the governorate of Raqqa in northern Syria, according to a statement posted on jihadists’ accounts on Telegram.
This follows a series of incidents after Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) left their positions to repel an attack by Ankara and allied Syrian factions against areas under SDF control, in which around eight hundred people of ISIS family members fled the camp for displaced people and jihadists fled from prisons, in addition to riots in other detention centers.
17 October 2019
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad vowed to respond to the attack launched by Turkey on 9 October in northeast Syria “by all legitimate means,” according to the Syrian official news agency SANA.
Al-Assad said in a meeting with an Iraqi official that the Turkish attack is “a blatant invasion and an evident aggression,” adding that Syria “will respond and confront it in all of its forms on all Syrian territory and by all available legitimate means,” after government forces deployed in numerous areas near the border with Turkey under an agreement with the Kurds.
16 October 2019
The Kurdish self-administration called upon the international community to intervene and open a “humanitarian corridor” to evacuate civilians and wounded people who are “besieged” in the border town of Ras al-Ain after Turkish forces and allied Syrian factions encircled it and fierce clashes erupted.
Since 9 October, Turkey has launched an attack in northeast Syria, displacing more than three hundred thousand civilians. It was able to control vast border areas, but not Ras al-Ain where the battles are concentrated.
16 October 2019
The repercussion of the Turkish attack on the humanitarian situation in Syria in numbers:
– Three million people reside in northeast Syria.
– Seventy-two civilians were killed by the Turkish army and allied factions.
– Twenty civilians were killed on the Turkish side of the border.
– One million and eight hundred thousand people are in need of aid.
– Three hundred thousand people fled their homes in border areas.
– Eighty-three thousand newly displaced people received aid.
– Forty schools were turned into shelters.
– Around one thousand civilians fled from the Kurdish self-administration to Kurdistan in Iraq.
– Four hundred thousand people in the city of al-Hasakeh and its surrounding face water shortages.
– Sixty-eight thousand displaced people reside in al-Hol Camp for displaced people.
– Thirty-two international non-governmental organizations suspended their activities and withdrew international staff in areas under the control of the self-administration.
– Three million and six hundred thousand Syrian refugees have fled to Turkey since the onset of the conflict in 2011. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan plans to repatriate a large portion of them to the buffer zone he wants to establish near the border.
– Ninety percent of Syria’s total cereal crop is produced in northeast Syria.
The House and Trump
16 October 2019
The US House of Representatives on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly (354 votes to 60 votes) to condemn President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of US forces from northern Syria, in an official embodiment of the stark position of both the Democratic and Republican parties against the controversial foreign policy of the Trump administration.
This joint resolution is the first condemnation by Congress of Trump’s decision, which was considered by opponents as a green light for Turkish forces to invade northern Syria and attack Kurdish forces.
Kobani and Damascus
15 October 2019
Syrian government forces entered the city of Kobani (Ain Arab) in northern Syria under an agreement with the Kurdish self-administration to confront the ongoing Turkish attack against areas under Kurdish control, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Kobani possesses a special symbolism as it was witness in 2015 to the first prominent battles in which Kurdish fighters, with support from the US-led international coalition, defeated the Islamic State.
Since then, the People’s Protection Units (YPG) have become the spearhead in the fight against the radical group. The YPG’s relation with Washington strengthened as the latter continued to provide support after the YPG joined the Syrian Democratic Forces coalition.
After an attack by Turkey and allied Syrian faction on 9 October and in face of Washington’s determination to withdraw its troops from areas under Kurdish control, the Kurds had no solution but to resort to Damascus and its ally Moscow.
The outcome unfolded on Sunday, as the Kurdish self-administration announced a deal with Damascus that provides for the deployment of Syrian government forces along the border with Turkey to support the Syrian Democratic Forces in confronting the Turkish attack.
Under the deal and in the last two days, government forces deployed in the city of Manbej (northeast of Aleppo), the town of Tal Tamr (northwest of al-Hasakeh), and the surrounding area of Ain Issa (north of Raqqa).