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.
Reuters and Enab Baladi
21, 22 July 2019
The Syrian television said on Sunday that air defenses confronted hostile targets in the city of Misyaf in Hama governorate. Explosions were heard in Misyaf from shells fired by opposition groups in the western countryside of Hama.
The Ansar al-Tawhid faction in northern Syria said that it targeted the Russian base in Misyaf, west of Hama, for the first time since battles erupted in Syria. The faction, which is affiliated to the operation room ‘Harredh al-Moumineen’ said on Monday, 22 July, “the missile battalion targeted the Russian base in northwest Misyaf with Grad missiles.” The jihadist faction added that it also targeted government positions in Misyaf with Grad missiles, adding that there were casualties in both targets hit by missiles.
This comes in response to the aerial and missile bombardment by government and Russian forces, which has affected opposition areas in the countryside of Idlib and Hama, in addition to continued ground incursion attempts on several fronts with aerial support.
Crisis of Deporting Refugees… in Turkey
20, 21 July 2019
Yasin Aktay, an advisor to the head of the ruling Justice and Development party in Turkey, said that there were negotiations in Istanbul with “Syrian leadership” to find a solution to the refugee crisis. This came during a speech he delivered in Juzal Yurt in Istanbul on 20 July, which was entitled “the political situation in Turkey and its repercussion on Arabs after the recent municipal elections,” with a number of Arab community attending the event. Aktay stressed the need to stop strict procedures imposed on Syrian refugees, in order to review the issue and find a solution in an objective and realistic manner, and in accordance with the principles of the Turkish state.
The ministry of interior and the directorate of immigration in Istanbul launched a wide campaign on Sunday against foreigners who do not have residency permits in the state of Istanbul, focusing mainly on Syrians. Aktay said that there was negligence in regards to organizing Syrian refugees in Istanbul. “There will be negotiations and consultations with the Syrian leadership in Istanbul to find a solution the refugee crisis,” he said. Aktay added that the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “stressed that he will not give up on the rights of migrants and supporters. This is his original policy in Turkey.”
The refugee issue in Turkey worsened after the municipal elections in June, which ended in the victory of Akram Imam Oglo from the Republican People’s party at the expense of Bin Ali Yaldrim from the Justice and Development party.
“The number of Syrian refugees in Istanbul increased dramatically and they are working arbitrarily. This has become evident to the Turkish people, especially after the increase of unemployment among Turks, which led them to point accusations towards Syrian refugees,” Aktay said.
The European Commission adopted a new set of measures of 1.41 billion euros to ensure EU support for refugees in Turkey, raising the amount of aid for refugees in Turkey to 5.6 billion euros out of six billion agreed upon in the 2016 deal.
Russian Ground Troops
18 July 2019
The RIA news agency said on Thursday that Russia denied allegations by Syrian opposition forces that Russian special forces or ground troops were fighting in the campaign for the opposition-held region of Idlib. “Russia has had no and has no ground forces in Syria,” the defense ministry was cited as saying.
Senior Syrian opposition commanders said Russia has sent special forces in recent days to fight alongside Syrian army troops in northwestern Syria where they have been struggling for more than two months to seize the last opposition bastion.
The rebel commanders said Russian officers and troops had been behind front lines directing the operation, using snipers and firing anti-tank missiles. They said this was the first time Russian ground forces had joined in the battle which began at the end of April
“These special Russian forces are now present in the battlefield,” said Captain Naji Mustafa, spokesman for the Turkey-backed National Liberation Front (NLF) coalition. Russian ground forces had joined in the battle to seize the strategic Humaymat hilltops which fell into rebel hands last week.
More than two months of Russian-backed operations in and around Idlib governorate have yielded little or nothing for Russia and the government.
Rebels said supplies of weapons including guided anti-tank missiles by Turkey had not only made it a costly battle for the Russians and their allies but repelled ground assaults.
21 July 2019
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said air strikes killed at least eighteen people, including seven children, in rebel-held Idlib region in northwestern Syria on Sunday.
The SOHR said Syrian government air strikes killed twelve people, including five children, in the village of Urum al-Jawz in western Idlib governorate. Four more people, including two children, were killed in strikes on Kfarouma in the south of the governorate. The SOHR also said that a Russian air strike killed a civil defense volunteer in the town of Khan Sheikhoun.
The Observatory said the deaths increased the number of civilians killed by Syrian government or Russian bombardments in the northwest to six hundred and eighty-two since late April. It said fifty-three civilians had been killed by rebel attacks on state-held areas in the same period. Some one thousand and five hundred combatants on both sides have been killed in the same period, it said.
The SOHR also said that the Russian-Syrian coalition targeted thirty-one civil defense facilities, thirty-seven medical centers, and eighty-one schools during eleven weeks of ongoing bombardment. The United Nations said that at least three hundred and thirty thousand people had to displace to safe areas near the border with Turkey.
Targeting Water Facilities
UNICEF and Enab Baladi
21 July 2019
UNICEF has documented attacks on eight water facilities in Idlib governorate in northern Syria, putting two hundred and fifty thousand people at risk of having no water. On its official website, UNICEF said in a report on Sunday, 21 July that eight water facilities were attacked in Ma’ert al-Nouman in southern Idlib in the last two months, three of which are supported by the UN organization.
“Of these facilities, there is the main water station in Ma’ert al-Nouman, which sustained major damages, forcing families to resort to water transferred by trucks to meet daily needs,” said the UNICEF. Targeting these facilities cuts water off for nearly two hundred and fifty thousand people in the area, the UNICEF said, adding that “water facilities are not a target. They must be protected at all times.” The main water station in Ma’ert al-Nouman was targeted by aerial bombardment from Russian jet on Friday, 7 July, rendering it non-operable. The station provided water supplies for the eighty to ninety thousands of the city’s inhabitants. There is no other alternative now except for water trucks which do not meet health standards.
“In accordance with international humanitarian law, all parties in the conflict and parties which possess influence must commit to ceasing attacks on basic water facilities and infrastructure all over Syria,” the organization’s report said. UNICEF and the United Nations Humanitarian Financing Fund jointly financed the rehabilitation of the station in 2017 and 2018.
According to UN surveys, seventy percent of Syrians are not able to obtain clean water on a permanent basis, due to water rationing and destruction of basic infrastructure, with fifteen and a half million people in need of water resources and sanitation, including 6.2 million in acute need.
Bombing of a Phosphate Train
21 July 2019
The transportation ministry in the Syrian government said that a cargo train carrying phosphate in the eastern countryside of Homs was subject to what it called a “terrorist” attack carried by unidentified people. The official news agency SANA said on Sunday, 21 July, that a “terrorist” attack targeted a cargo train carrying phosphate in the eastern countryside of Homs, which “derailed the train locomotive, passenger cart, calibration cart, and two tanks of phosphate.” The incident also led to “fire in the locomotive and various injuries of the train’s crew,” SANA added.
This is the third time railways carrying oil and minerals have come under unidentified attacks in recent months in areas under the control of the Syrian government.
Explosion in Sa’sa’
21 July 2019
One person was killedand others were injured after an explosion in a civil car in Sa’sa’ in the countryside of Qunaitera in southern Syria. The official news agency SANA said on Sunday, 21 July, that a missile fell on a civil car in Sa’sa’ in Qunaitera and killed the driver and a child standing near the explosion. The agency said that the incident led to the injury of three women in the area, without specifying the source of the missile.
Qunaitera is under government control and has not witnessed any security issues, except for Israeli bombardment that targets border areas, the most prominent of which was in February, according to SANA.
Opening Bou Kamal Crossing
21 July 2019
The Watan newspaper, which is close to the Syrian government, saidthat the Iraqi and Syrian governments are planning to open the Bou Kamal – Qaem border crossing. Work is underway to open the border crossing and has reached the final stages, the newspaper reported an unnamed official in the Iraqi embassy in Damascus on Sunday. Neither government has issued a formal statement in regards to the border crossing.
In a related context, the Turkish Anatolia news agency on 19 July reported that the opening of Sinjar border crossing would be postponed according to an unnamed local Iraqi official because the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) refused to raise the Syrian government flag on the border crossing as requested by the Iraqi government. The crossing was supposed to be opened this week to facilitate the return of Yazidis refugees from al-Hol Camp and other camps in Syria to Iraqi territory, according to the news agency. Khadida Joki, head of al-Shamal district in Ninawa governorate north of Iraq, said that the opening of a new border crossing between Iraq and Syria in Khaneh Sour in al-Shamal district, near Sinjar, was postponed until further notice after the Iraqi government asked for the Syrian flag to be raised on the other side of the crossing, a matter which the SDF refused.