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.
Russia is There to Stay
16 May 2018
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on 16 May that Russian Military vessels equipped with Kaliber cruise missiles will be on permanent standby in the Mediterranean to confront what he described as the “terrorist threat” in Syria.
This rocket deployment demonstrates how Russia has been strengthening its military presence in the Middle East since its intervention in Syria in 2015, tipping the balance in favor of its ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Putin said that only military warships armed with Kaliber missiles will be on permanent standby and not the submarines.
Putin declared the deployment of the warships armed with rockets in a speech to the supreme military leadership during a meeting in Sochi city on the Black Sea, stating that this deployment was a result of “the ongoing terrorist threat in Syria.”
Russia possesses a permanent naval base in Tartus on the Syrian coast and an air force base in Hameimim.
Shrapnel of the Syrian “Explosion”
16 May 2018
The Special UN Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura warned that tensions in the country are still high due to “international confrontations” on the ground.
During a briefing to the UN Security Council on Syria, Staffan de Mistura warned that the tensions in the relationship between Israel and Iran demonstrate “a troubled trajectory of ever more frequent and intense international confrontations.”
Israel and Iran exchanged rocket strikes in the Golan Heights last week, raising concerns of a wider conflict erupting in Syria.
De Mistura said that he feels encouraged about the ninth round of talks in Astana that was held on Monday with delegates from Iran, Russia, and Turkey, the three countries sponsoring the so-called Astana process.
He added that “careful but preemptive diplomacy” is necessary to revive the political process and reduce escalation of fighting.
Turkey finished its deployment of twelve surveillance posts in Idlib, between Aleppo, Lattakia, and Hama in north-western Syria in accordance to the Astana process.
17 May 2018
Forces loyal to the Syrian army withdrew from their posts in al-Hadher town, south of Aleppo, on Thursday.
“A military convoy of around twenty-five vehicles flying the Lebanese Hezbollah flag including tank carriers withdrew from al-Hadher, twenty-two kilometers south of Aleppo, on Thursday and headed towards sites in Mount Azzan, which is controlled by the Iranian Republican Guard,” a source in the Syrian opposition told a German news agency.
“The withdrawal of Hezbollah fighters and government soldiers came after pressure from Russian forces, which want to establish a surveillance post in the area, and after the Turkish army deployed surveillance posts in Tallet al-I’es in the southern countryside of Aleppo,” the source confirmed.
Iranian forces in Mount Azzan came under a missile attack believed to be from a coalition of Israeli planes near the end of last month.
Putin and Al-Assad
17 May 2018
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in a special meeting on Thursday in Russia that it is time to speed up the political transition process to reconstruct Syria and withdraw foreign forces involved in this country.
This was the first meeting between the Russian president and his Syrian counterpart since their brief meeting in December at the Russian base in Hmeimim, Syria, after which Putin declared the partial withdrawal of Russian military units in the country.
The two presidents also met in November in a Black Sea coastal city, south-east of Russia, where the Russian president owns a house.
As was the case in November, the Thursday meeting was held secretly. Russian television broadcasted snippets of the meeting between the two men who emphasized the military success of the Syrian government, which is receiving support from the Russian army.
This meeting strengthens al-Assad’s position, ahead of Putin’s meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macaron next week.
Putin congratulated the Syrian president on the “successes of the Syrian government army in combatting terrorist groups,” which paved the way to “create new conditions to resume the political process on a large scale,” according to a statement from the Kremlin.
The Russian military intervention, which began in September 2015, allowed the Syrian army to recapture most of the territories.
The Russian president went on to say that “with the start of the active phase of the political process, foreign armed forces will withdraw from Syrian territories,” without defining who these forces were. Putin added that “the next mission is to revive the economy and provide humanitarian assistance.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Russian forces are present in Syria at the request of the legitimate government and would remain there as long as necessary.”
Mysterious Explosions in Hama
18 May 2018
Unexplained huge explosions rocked the Hama military airport according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
The SOHR Director Rami Abdul Rahman said the explosions occurred in “weapon and fuel depots of government forces in the airport” near Hama city. The SOHR said that it did not receive any information about the cause of the explosions, adding that it “left plumes of smoke near the city of Hama.”
The Syrian news agency SANA reported “sounds of explosions in the outskirts of Hama airport” without any additional details.
During the past few weeks, Israel repeatedly targeted several military positions in Syria, the last of which was on the night of 9-10 May when Israel bombed dozens of “Iranian” targets in response to a rocket attack on the occupied Golan, which it claimed to be “Iranian” as well.
Since 2011, Israel has repeatedly bombed targets belonging to the Syrian army or Hezbollah, however, this recent bombing targeted positions occupied by Iranians.
18 May 2018
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that her government sees that Russia should use its influence to prevent the confiscation of refugees’ rights in Syria.
In a one-hour meeting on Friday in Sochi on the Black Sea, the German Chancellor discussed with Russian President Vladimir Putin the so-called Decree Number 10 issued by the Syrian government.
The decree states that Syrians who do not register themselves within a period of several weeks in their hometowns will lose their property inside Syrian territories. Merkel said that this decree “would be a major obstacle for going back,” in reference to Syrian refugees in Germany.
The Free Democratic Party (FDP) called on Merkel’s government not to yield to Putin’s blackmail regarding the issue of Syrian refugees and reconstruction of Syria.
The Foreign Affairs Official in the FDP told the German newspaper Bild that Germany should not participate in the reconstruction of Syria until violence ceases and a permanent peace agreement for its future is reached.
Bijan Djir-Sarai cautioned the German government saying that “Germany should not submit to Putin’s dictates and blackmail on how to shape the reconstruction of Syria after the war,” stressing that Germany “cannot unconditionally rebuild Syrian cities destroyed by Russia.”
Syria… The Worst in History
18 May 2018
The humanitarian crisis in Syria is worse this year than ever before in the country’s seven-year-old war, a UN official said.
“We see in 2018 the humanitarian situation inside Syria being the worst we have seen since the war started: a very dramatic deterioration, massive displacement, disrespect of protection of civilians and people’s lives still being turned upside down,” Panos Moumtzis, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria crisis, said in Beirut.
In modern history, Syria is the worst country in terms of attacks on healthcare workers and facilities, accounting for seventy percent of all such attacks worldwide, he said.
The coordinator said that UN data shows eighty-nine healthcare workers died in ninety-two confirmed military attacks on healthcare facilities between 1 Jan and 4 May, compared to seventy-three killed in one hundred and twelve attacks in the whole of 2017.
Between the Government and ISIS
20 May 2018
The SOHR reported that a group of ISIS fighters were evacuated from the last opposition enclave near Damascus on Sunday, in a withdrawal that will restore the government’s control over the area.
Official Syrian media did not mention anything about an agreement that allows for the fanatics to leave the enclave that is located near the Yarmouk Camp for Palestinian refugees.
Official media reported on Saturday that a Syrian military source denied reaching an agreement.
By restoring the Yarmouk enclave, the Syrian government has crushed the last besieged opposition enclave in western Syria, although some sectors near the borders with Turkey, Iraq, and Jordan are still outside its control.
The SOHR said the buses entered the enclave after midnight to transport the fighters and their families. The buses left for al-Badiah (the desert), which is low in population and situated east of the capital.