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.
Appeal for Calm in Idlib
18 June 2019
UN chief Antonio Guterres appealed to Russia and Turkey on Tuesday to stabilize northwest Syria “without delay.” UN aid chief Mark Lowcock said that some hospitals were not sharing their locations with the warring parties because that “paints a target on their back.”
Russia and Turkey co-sponsored a de-escalation pact for the area that has been in place since last year. But the deal has faltered in recent months, forcing hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee.
“I am deeply concerned about the escalation of the fighting in Idlib, and the situation is especially dangerous given the involvement of an increased number of actors… even in the war on terrorism, there should be full compliance to international law on human rights and international humanitarian laws,” Guterres told reporters.
Lowcock told the UN Security Council later on Tuesday that since late April the World Health Organization had confirmed twenty-six incidents affecting healthcare facilities in northwest Syria. He said two of the facilities were located in areas controlled by the Syrian government. “Hitting a facility whose coordinates were shared as part of the UN’s deconfliction system is simply intolerable. A number of partners now feel that supplying geographical coordinates to be given to the warring parties effectively paints a target on their backs,” he said.
The UN was reconsidering its deconfliction system and would inform the Security Council next week of its conclusions, Lowcock added.
Avoiding Confrontation with Turkey
18 June 2019
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said that Syria does not want to see fighting with Turkey after the latter said one of its observation posts in Idlib was attacked from an area controlled by the Syrian government forces.
“We hope that our military and the Turkish military do not fight. This is our principled stance,” Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem told reporters in Beijing, standing alongside the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. “What we are fighting is terrorists, especially in Idlib, which is a Syrian territory, and part of our country,” al-Moualem said.
The dominant force in the Idlib region is Tahrir al-Sham, which was previously known as Nusra Front that was part of al Qaeda until 2016. Others, including some with Turkish backing, also have a presence.
“The question now is, what is Turkey doing in Syria? Turkey is occupying part of Syrian soil, and has a military presence in certain parts of Syria,” al-Moualem added. “Are they protecting the Nusra Front? Are they protecting certain terrorist forces including the East Turkestan Islamic Movement?” he added, referring to an extremist group China blames for attacks in far western Xinjiang with operations elsewhere.
“This question needs to be asked of Turkey, what are their actual aims? We are fighting those terrorist groups and organizations. The whole world believes those people we are fighting are terrorists,” he added.
Since April, Syrian government forces have stepped up shelling and bombing of the area, killing scores of people. The opposition says the government action is part of a campaign for an assault that would breach the de-escalation pact. The government and its Russian allies say the action is in response to rebel violations, including the presence of fighters in a demilitarized zone.
China has long urged that a diplomatic resolution to the Syrian civil war be found and has hosted Syrian government and opposition figures. Wang said that China will continue to support Syria to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity and fight against terror, and will help with Syria’s economic reconstruction efforts.
Explosions in the Eastern Countryside of Aleppo
23 June 2019
Three explosions were reported in the opposition-controlled eastern countryside of Aleppo in the last twenty-four hours, killing and injuring civilians and military personnel. An explosive device went off as it was being dismantled in the city of al-Bab in the eastern countryside of Aleppo last night. The explosive device was planted in an SUV for Failaq al-Sham. The explosion killed two members of the engineering and police teams of the National General Security.
This was preceded by a motorcycle bomb on the Raii road in the northern side of al-Bab on Saturday, which injured fifteen civilians including two children. In the city of Jarablus, which is under the control of the ‘National Army’, a motorcycle bomb exploded in the city center on Saturday, injuring a number of civilians and causing material damage. The cities and towns of the northern and eastern countryside of Aleppo have repeatedly witnessed explosions caused by explosive devices and motorcycle bombs, killing civilians and military personnel, in addition to vast material damage. The majority of the explosions occurred near popular markets and civilian gatherings.
Opposition factions accused the People’s Protection Units (YPG) of carrying out these explosions. Whereas the YPG accused opposition factions of smuggling explosive devices into the areas they control.
Law of Military Conscription in the Self-Administration
23 June 2019
The Self-Administration in northeast Syria indorsed a conscription law dubbed the “Self-Defense Law,” which contains thirty-five articles identifying the conditions for service in its military forces. The official website for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the military arm of the Self-Administration, said on Saturday that the general council in the administration “indorsed the law of the Self-Defense duty and the rules of procedure for the defense office.” The new law for military service includes thirty-five provisions that stipulate the terms for the service, postponement, and exemption, in addition to all laws in regard to those subject to conscription in the Self-Administration areas. The council set the period for compulsory service at twelve months. All males between the ages of eighteen and forty are subject to this law.
The Self Defense law obliges individuals in the Self-Administration areas to join the military and security forces to defend areas under its control and the border, just like compulsory service in regular armies. The law stipulates that those subject to compulsory service are the ones who have reached the legal age, resided in that area for more than five years, and hold Syrian citizenship, in addition to foreigners and those who do not possess birth certificates. In regards to women, the new law allowed them to join the duty of self-defense on a voluntary basis, according to the statement.
The new law is part of a series of political and military procedures taken by the Self-Administration in the areas it controls, months after eliminating the influence of the Islamic State in those areas with support from the US-led international coalition.
22, 24 June 2019
United Nations chief Antonio Guterres warned on Sunday that it is essential to avoid “any form of escalation” in the Gulf as tensions continue to rise following the shooting down of an unmanned US drone this week by Iran. “The world cannot afford a major confrontation in the Gulf… Everybody must keep nerves of steel,” Guterres said on the sidelines of a world conference.
Iran said on Saturday it would respond firmly to any US threat amid escalating tension between Tehran and Washington over the shooting down of an unmanned US drone by Tehran. An Iranian missile destroyed a US Global Hawk surveillance drone on Thursday. Tehran said that the drone was shot down over its territory, whereas Washington said the incident happened in international airspace.
US President Donald Trump said on Friday he called off a military strike to retaliate because it could have killed one hundred and fifty people, and signaled he was open to talks with Tehran.
Speaking in Washington on Saturday before heading to the US presidential retreat at Camp David, Trump said the US government was imposing new sanctions on Tehran. “We are putting additional sanctions on Iran,” Trump told reporters. “In some cases we are going slowly, but in other cases we are moving rapidly.”
Military action was “always on the table,” the president added, but he said he was open to reversing the escalation and could quickly reach a deal with Iran that he said would bolster the country’s flagging economy.