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 info@salonsyria.com.

Beyond Khan Sheikhoun

24 August 2019

Syrian government forces have mobilized military reinforcements north of the strategic city of Khan Shikhoun in Idlib governorate in an attempt to continue with their advance in the area, after succeeding in encircling a Turkish observation post, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

Government forces took control on Friday of all towns and villages that were under the control of jihadist and opposition factions in the northern countryside of Hama, after advancing towards Khan Sheikhoun which they completely controlled by Wednesday.

This area has come under intense Syrian and Russian bombarding, leading to the displacement of most of its residents and those who had previously displaced to it, according to the SOHR.

The city of Ma’ret al-Nouman is situated twenty-five kilometres north of Khan Sheikhoun. The Damascus-Aleppo international highway passes through the city. The government forces have regained a part of this highway recently.

 

Tanker Looking for a Port

24 August 2019

The Iranian oil tanker Adriana Darya 1, formerly called Grace 1, changed its destination to the Turkish port of Mersin instead of the Greek port of Kalamta, according to Bloomberg news agency on Friday.

The agency estimated that the Iranian tanker would reach the Turkish port by midday of 31 August.

The tanker was detained off the coasts of the British controlled Gibraltar on 4 July on suspicion of carrying Iranian oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions.

The tanker was released on Sunday after authorities in Gibraltar refused a US request to continue detaining the ship.

The US state department cautioned Greece and other Mediterranean countries that any cooperation with the oil tanker would be considered as supporting terrorism.

 

Turkish Post

23 August 2019

Syrian government forces managed to encircle a Turkish observation post in the town of Morek, south of Idlib governorate, after gaining more ground from jihadist and opposition factions in the area.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that his country does not intend to evacuate from the Morek post, while Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, sponsors of the Sochi agreement, agreed on “intensifying joint efforts” on Syria, in a position ahead of the upcoming summit with their Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani in Ankara weeks later.

On Friday, the Turkish presidency said that the Turkish president would be visiting his Russian counterpart in Moscow on Tuesday, which was confirmed by the Kremlin.

 

War Crime

22 August 2019

German prosecutors have filed a lawsuit against a Syrian man accused of committing a war crime.

The General Prosecutor Jurgen Brower said on Friday that the Syrian man (33) appeared in a photo with a severed head, adding that the refugee joined the armed resistance against the Syrian government forces in 2012.

According to investigations, the accused, at some point between 2012 and September 2014, posed for a picture with the severed head of what is presumably an opposing fighter, mocking the victim’s death.

According to reports, the suspect lived in the German city of Zarbroken after fleeing Syria.

The general prosecutor said there is no evidence the suspect severed the head or participated in the act. “The office of criminal police in the German state of Saarland learned of the crime from other Syrian refugees,” he said. The authorities found this photo in the suspect’s mobile phone.

The man admitted that he was in the picture, but did not reiterate the story he had told other refugees in which he said that the severed head belonged to an opposing fighter, instead, he said that this head was found under some rubble and probably belonged to a civilian.

The suspect is in prison for lesser crimes. The precautionary detention imposed on him rules out any possibility for early release.

If convicted, the suspect faces between one to ten years in prison.

 

Tripartite on Idlib

22 August 2019

Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will host his Russian and Iranian counterparts at a summit in Ankara to discuss the Syrian issue on 16 September, according to the spokesman for the Turkish presidency. Erdogan will meet his Russian counterpart in Moscow to discuss the fate of Idlib.

Iran and Russia – both supporters of the Syrian government – have been working closely with Turkey, which supports the armed opposition, to find a solution to the Syrian crisis.

The announcement for the meeting between Erdogan and the Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani comes after Syrian forces managed to advance in Idlib governorate, the militants’ last stronghold which is situated northwest of Syria.

Kalin said that the three presidents would discuss the situation in Idlib, the formation of the constitutional committee, and how to move forward with the political process.

Idlib was supposed to be protected by a “demilitarized zone” agreement which Moscow and Ankara reached in 2018 but has been only partially implemented.

 

Moscow’s “Victory” in Khan Sheikhoun

21 August 2019

Government forces took control on Wednesday of the strategic town of Khan Sheikhoun, northwest of Syria, and surrounding areas, effectively cutting off a Turkish observation post.

This comes amid escalating tension since Monday between Ankara and Damascus, after the latter prevented a Turkish reinforcement convoy from reaching its destination and then Turkey warning the Syrian government “not to play with fire,” and affirming the need for securing Turkish observation posts in Idlib.

Tahir al-Sham (previously Nusra) controls most of Idlib governorate and adjacent areas, where less influential opposition factions are also deployed.

Twenty-one militants, including eighteen jihadists, were killed in the battles on Wednesday, in addition to ten members of government forces and allied fighters, according to the SOHR.

Since late April, around eight hundred and ninety civilians have been killed as a result of the escalation, according to the observatory.

The United Nations has registered the fleeing of more than four hundred thousand people to more secure areas, especially near the border with Turkey. The UN said that dozens of medical and educational facilities were damaged as a result of the bombardment.

The spokesman for the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs David Swanson told the AFP on Wednesday that the displacement is continuing in northwest Syria.

 

Russia on the Ground

20 August 2019

Members of the Russian army are deployed in the Syrian governorate od Idlib and Moscow is closely monitoring the situation, the Russian Interfax news agency reported Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as saying on Tuesday.

Any attacks by extremist Islamic groups will be forcefully confronted in the de-escalation zone in Idlib, Interfax reported Lavrov as saying.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country supports efforts by the Syrian army to eliminate terrorists in Idlib, alleging that the reason for this is the attempts to attack the Russian air base in Hmeimeim.

 

ISIS Orphans

19 August 2019

The Kurdish self-administration in north-east Syria handed over four children from ISIS family members to representatives of the German government in the first such operation with Berlin, according to an AFP reporter.

Finner Kayet, an official in the foreign relation commission in the self-administration, told the AFP that “three of the children were orphans, whereas the mother of the fourth child is still alive.”

In Berlin, the spokesman for the German foreign ministry confirmed to the AFP that the children have left Syria and have been repatriated. “The children were received at the border by a team from the (German) consulate in Erbil. They will be handed over to their family members” to travel to Germany, he said.

The children, the eldest of whom is ten years old, are made up of three girls, two sisters and an infant whose mother agreed to transfer custody for a critical health situation she suffers from, and one boy, according to Kurdish authorities.

This is the first time Berlin receives family members of German jihadists from the Kurdish self-administration in Syria.

Several countries, especially European ones, refuse to repatriate their citizens, who belonged to ISIS and are detained by the Kurds, and their family members, who are in camps controlled by Kurds in north-east Syria.

These camps, the most prominent of which is al-Hol camp in Hasakeh governorate, host around twelve thousand foreigners, four thousand women and eight thousand children, from family member of foreign jihadists. They reside in special sections which are subject to intense security observation. This number does not include Iraqi nationals.