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.

 

Kurdish Bridges with Damascus

16 July 2018

The Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), the political wing of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), said that it is considering establishing a platform that represents people living in areas under its control in northern Syria in preparation for potential negotiations with the Syrian government.

The SDF is a coalition that is comprised of Kurds and Arabs and receives considerable support from the United States.

On Monday, the SDC held a two-day conference in Tabaqa city in northern Syria. Two hundred and forty people attended the conference, including officials from Kurdish-controlled areas, as well as representatives from the “internal” opposition, the activities of which are overlooked by the Syrian government.

“One of the goals of this conference is the establishment of a platform to negotiate with the Syrian government,” said member of the presidential body Hikmat Habib, adding that this platform “will represent all self-ruled areas and areas controlled by the SDF. It will also include Raqqa, Deir Azzor, and Manbij.”

“We started to open doors for negotiations because Syrians make up most of these forces … If this does not happen, we will resort to liberating these areas by force because we do not have any other options, whether the Americans are present or not,” said al-Assad in a press interview late May regarding the SDF controlled area.

The SDC then announced its willingness and readiness to enter into “unconditional talks” with the government.

 

Reverse Displacement

20 July 2018

The issue of the towns of Kafriya and al-Fu’ah was completely closed at midnight Friday upon the implementation of the agreement between Syrian government forces and armed opposition with Russian and Turkish guarantees.

A security source told a German news agency that government authorities received the last batch of the two towns’ residents and captives from the village of Ishtabraq in Idlib countryside, while the armed opposition received the remaining detainees released by the Syrian government.

The source said that the exchange was thoroughly carried out at the Tallet al-I’ss crossing, twenty kilometers southwest of Aleppo, and the curtains were finally closed after a sixteen-hour-delay caused by the armed opposition.

The exchange process began Thursday morning and took place in several batches, as one hundred and twenty-two buses left the scene carrying around seven thousand people from the two towns’ residents and militants from Hezbollah and Iran.

 

The Humanitarian Issue Precedes the Political Issue

20 July 2018

Russia proposed cooperation with the United States to ensure the return of refugees to Syria, said the Russian Ministry of Defense (MOD) on Friday, days after the summit between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.

“Specific proposals on how work could be organized to ensure that refugees can return home have been sent to the American side,” said a senior official in the MOD Mikhail Mizintsev in a statement. The proposals “take into account the agreements between the Russian and US presidents during their meeting in Helsinki” on Monday, he said.

Mizintsev said that Russia proposed the establishment of a joint plan regarding the return of Syrian refugees to areas they lived in prior to the conflict, especially those who fled to Lebanon and Jordan.

Moscow proposed the establishment of a working group that includes Russia, the United States, and Jordan based on the Russian-Jordanian coordination center in Amman, and the establishment of a similar group in Lebanon.

In New York, US State of Secretary Mike Pompeo said in a response to a question on this topic that presidents Putin and Trump in the Helsinki summit discussed “the resolution of the conflict in Syria and how we might get the refugees back,” especially those in Lebanon and Jordan. “It is important that at the right time, through voluntary mechanism, the refugees are able to return to their home country,” he said.

Russia, which has intervened in Syria since September 2015 in support of government forces, proposed to the United States the establishment of a joint group to finance the reconstruction of Syrian infrastructure, according to General Mizintsev. He added that “the American side is studying the Russian proposals.”

 

French Relief with Russian Wings

21 July 2018

On Friday, France and Russia provided humanitarian aid to eastern Ghouta, which was recaptured by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government, for the first time since the onset of the conflict in Syria in 2011.

A Russian Antonov 124 military cargo plane carrying fifty tons of medical and other supplies provided by France landed in Hmeimeim Base in western Syria coming from Chateauroux airport in France, according to a statement from the Russian Ministry of Defense.

This is the first joint humanitarian operation between a Western country and Russia, which has militarily supported the Syrian president since 2015.

On Saturday, French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin stressed the importance of “the humanitarian aspects in resolving the Syrian conflict, including the implementation of the French-Russian initiative,” according to a telephone call mentioned by the Kremlin.

Paris said that it received “guarantees” from Moscow that the Syrian government will not hamper the delivery of the aid, as it does with UN convoys, and that the aid and its distribution will not be used for political objectives.

 

The Last Displacement from the South

21 July 2018

Hundreds of militants and civilians arrived to areas controlled by opposition factions in northwestern Syria, after they were evacuated from al-Qonaiterah governorate in southern Syria.

The evacuation of militants from al-Qonaiterah governorate, which includes the Golan Heights occupied by Israel, came under an agreement brokered by Russia, an ally of the Syrian government, with opposition factions in the area.

The agreement, which followed a large-scale military offensive by government forces, effectively provides for the surrender of the factions, handing over light and medium weapons, the return of official institutions to al-Qonaiterah, and the evacuation of militants who refuse this agreement to northern Syria.

Official media said that the agreement provides for “the return of the Syrian Arab Army to positions it held prior to 2011,” which is when the Syrian conflict erupted in this area that is considered to be sensitive because of proximity to Israel.

The media also said that the militants were carrying individual machine guns and eating food provided to them before everyone, including women and children, boarded buses hired by a local non-governmental organization to take them to temporary camps in the governorates of Idlib (north-east) and Aleppo (north).

Syrian forces launched a large-scale offensive on 19 June to take back areas controlled by factions in southern Syria. They were able to take back more than ninety percent of Daraa governorate before they launched their offensive on al-Qonaiterah governorate.