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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Idlib Between the Kremlin and the White House
3 June 2019
The Kremlin said on Monday that the Russian army is only targeting “terrorists” in Idlib governorate, whereas US President Donald Trump accused Russia and its ally Damascus of killing “many innocent civilians” in the area.
“Bombardments by terrorists from Idlib are unacceptable and measures are being taken for neutralizing their fire emplacements,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
These announcements come after the US president told Syria and its Russian ally on Monday through Twitter to stop “bombing the hell out of Idlib.”
“Hearing word that Russia, Syria and, to a lesser extent, Iran, are bombing the hell out of Idlib Province in Syria, and indiscriminately killing many innocent civilians. The World is watching this butchery. What is the purpose, what will it get you? STOP!” Trump wrote in a Twitter post.
On Friday, several Syrian NGOs denounced the international community’s lack of action against the escalation by the Syrian government and its ally Russia in Idlib governorate.
Bombardment and Killing
3 June 2019
Syrian government forces and ally Russia continued their fierce bombardment of southern Idlib governorate and surrounding areas, inflicting more civilian deaths.
Syrian and Russian war planes have been targeting the southern countryside of Idlib and surrounding areas since the end of April, accompanied by ground clashes between government forces and jihadist factions.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said on Monday that six civilians were killed by the aerial bombardment, including four in Maaret al-No’man city in the southern countryside of Idlib.
The civilian death toll of the Syrian-Russian bombardment has risen to more than three hundred people including seventy children since the end of April, according to the SOHR. Around nine hundred and fifty people, one third of them civilians, were killed in the month long military escalation in Idlib and surrounding areas, according to the SOHR.
The escalation has also led to the displacement of two hundred and seventy thousand people to safer places, mainly near the border with Turkey, according to the United Nations. The bombardment also targeted twenty-three medical facilities.
The bulk of the displaced people sought refuge in olive fields in northern Idlib, as camps for the displaced are already flooded by tens of thousands of people who fled battles in recent years.
New Israeli Air Strikes
3 June 2019
The Israeli army bombed positions for the Syrian army and allied forces in Syria early morning on Sunday in the south and then again early morning in the center of Syria, killing fifteen members of these forces.
Since 2011, Israel has carried out dozens of strikes against the Syrian army and against Iranian or Hezbollah positions fighting alongside government forces.
Damascus said early Monday that its defense systems repelled an “Israeli aggression” targeting the T4 military airport in the countryside of Homs, which lead to the death of one soldier and injury of two others, in addition to the destruction of a weapons depot and other material damage.
The SOHR said that the Israeli air forces carried out an air raid against the airport “which houses depots and military bases for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.”
It added that the raid left “at least five people dead, including a soldier from government forces and several others were wounded,” and that the “number of deaths may rise as some of the casualties suffered from severe injuries.”
This airstrike is the second of its kind in twenty-four hours, as Israel carried out an airstrike early Sunday morning in south of Syria which left ten people dead, three Syrian soldiers and seven fighters from forces loyal to government forces who are not Syrian, according to the SOHR.
These developments come amid an atmosphere of tensions between the United States and Iran.
Deaths in Izaz and Raqqa
2 June 2019
At least fourteen people were killed in a car bomb in the city of Izaz, northwest of Syria near the border with Turkey, according to the SOHR.
The head of the SOHR Rami Abdul Rahman told the AFP that there were more than twenty injuries in this explosion which targeted the city situated at the heart of Turkish influence in the northern countryside of Aleppo.
“A car bomb exploded as worshipers were leaving the tarawih prayers in the al-Hadadeen Souq near al-Maytam mosque at the center of Izaz. Fourteen civilians were killed including four children,” the SOHR said at a later time.
This explosion comes after a similar attack with a car bomb in Raqqa city, northeast of Syria, which killed ten people and injured twenty others.
The Map of Golan and “Transition” in Syria
1 June 2019
Damascus refused the final statement of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation summit in Mecca because it supports a political solution that seeks to form a transitional governing body according to the Geneva agreement.
The final statement of the fourteenth summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which is comprised of fifty-seven countries, renewed “its support for a political solution to the Syrian crisis based on the Geneva Statement (1),” which provides for the establishment of a “transitional government with complete jurisdictions” through “joint agreement” without clarifying the fate of President Bashar al-Assad.
The concerned parties have disagreed on the interpretation of Geneva (1) principles.
The statement also affirmed support for “UN Security Council resolution 2254 in order to implement a political transition process led by Syria, allowing for the establishment of a new Syrian state based on a pluralistic, democratic, and civil system where the principles of equality towards law, rule of law, and respect of human rights all prevail.”
Iblib Between Putin and Erdogan
30 May 2019
In a telephone call with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on Thursday for the truce in Idlib governorate to be respected, according to a statement from the Turkish presidency office.
The statement stated that Erdogan “said that it was important to immediately implement the ceasefire in Idlib to focus once again on the process seeking to find a political solution” to the Syrian conflict.
Erdogan also affirmed the need “to stop further loss of life in government attacks that mainly target civilians, and to eliminate the increasing threat of a migration influx” into Turkey, according the statement.
This phone conversation, which is the second in fifteen days, comes after the Russian-backed Syrian government stepped up its bombardment of Idlib governorate.
Step by Step
30 May 2019
The US Special Representative for Syrian Affairs James Jeffrey said that the United States and Russia are having talks about a “potential way forward” towards a solution to the Syrian crisis, lifting Syria’s international isolation in case a series of steps are approved, including a ceasefire in Idlib governorate.
Jeffrey told reporters after a closed session of the UN Security Council that Moscow and Washington are exploring “an incremental approach, step-by-step” to end the Syrian conflict that has been ongoing for eight years, but that this would “take hard decisions.”
During the talks that took place this month, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed a plan that would allow a “Syrian government that adheres to (UN Resolution) 2254 to move back into the international community.”
UN Resolution 2254 calls for peace talks, a new constitution, and UN-supervised elections.
The United States, which previously demanded President Bashar al-Assad leave power, stopped calling on him to step down. Jeffrey’s statements, however, indicated that the US is ready to provide incentives to help progress the prospects of a settlement.
Twenty Russian Fighter Jets
29 May 2019
Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexey Krivoruchko said that the Russian Aerospace Forces will receive twenty Su-35 fourth generation fighter jets before the end of next year.
“This institution has carried out all its obligations within the time set. We will receive several planes this year before the time set. According to the provisions of the current contract, we expect to receive another twenty fighter jets from this model during this year and the following year,” the Russia Today website reported Krivoruchko as saying on Wednesday during his visit to the plant which produces these planes in Komsomolsk-on-Amur.
The Russian official said that this plant is continuously working on upgrading the fighter jets, benefitting from the experience obtained during their use in Syria. Because of these upgrades, the Su-35 will be able to carry and deploy all air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles.
28 May 2019
New satellite images show olive and fruit fields and orchards on fire northwest of Syria, where the army is launching an attack on the last major stronghold of opposition forces.
Government air strikes, backed by Russia, have focused on the south of Idlib governorate and nearby parts of Hama, uprooting nearly two hundred and fifty thousand people. The bombing has killed two hundred and twenty-nine civilians and injured seven hundred and twenty-seven others, according to the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM) charity.
“Emirates” Returns to Damascus
27 May 2019
The Dubai-owned Emirates airlines said it was looking forward to resuming its flights to Syria as soon as possible.
“The Syrian market is very important. We are waiting for the decision by the General Establishment of Civil Aviation in the Emirates to resume our flights to Damascus,” the vice president of Emirates airlines Adel Rida told reporters in Dubai on Monday.
“The General Establishment of Civil Aviation and concerned parties continue to evaluate the safety of Syrian airspace in order to allow the national carrier to resume work, in addition to using Syrian airspace in transit for flights heading to various countries,” Rida added.