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.
Withdrawal or Return?
4 November 2019
A large US troops convoy of vehicles withdrew from Aleppo countryside and Raqqa in east Syria and headed toward the Syrian-Iraqi border.
“Around one hundred and fifty vehicles for US troops, coming from their bases in Ain Arab and Sarrine in the eastern countryside of Aleppo and Ain Issa in the northern countryside of Raqqa, have left the area and headed toward the city of Qamishli, and from there toward the Syrian-Iraqi border,” a source in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said.
“Syrian government forces have completed their deployment near the Aleppo/Qamishli highway. They were able to achieve the continuity of forces between Raqqa and Hasakeh governorates, securing a supply road for the forces,” a source close to the Syrian government troops told a German news agency.
Linking Lattakia to “Khomeini”
3 November 2019
There are ongoing studies on linking the Iranian port of Khomeini with Lattakia port, a Syrian newspaper said on Sunday.
Al-Watan newspaper cited reports by the Syrian ministry of transportation in regards to ongoing discussions on a project to link the Khomeini port on the Iranian side of the Persian Gulf with Lattakia port on the Mediterranean, in addition to a project to link the Iranian city of Shalmja with the Iraqi city of Basra – thirty-two kilometers – with Iran executing and financing the project. It will be finalized by linking Shalmaja to Khomeini port and Basra with Lattakia port.
The ministry said that the railroad running through Deir Azzor, al-Tabieh, and Bou Kama – 142.8 km long – is under construction according to global and modern technical specifications in regards to speed and infrastructure.
The railroad “was destroyed and sabotaged in most of its parts, therefore, there is a need to rehabilitate what the war destroyed and finish the execution of the remaining works in order to invest it,” the ministry added.
The ministry said that this route is part of the international transportation axis west-east of Syrian ports, running through Aleppo and then to Iraq, Iran, and east Asian countries. It is a strategic transit corridor for Syria and Iraq.
2 November 2019
A US military delegation on Saturday visited positions for Kurdish fighters near Qamishli, northeast of Syria, despite Washington’s announcement of withdrawing troops from the area, according to two AFP reporters.
The reporters said they saw four armored vehicles raising the US flag as they entered a command center for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Qamishli, whose gates were painted with the colors of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), in addition to a YPG center and a position for Kurdish security forces (Asayesh) in Qamishli.
This comes two days after US forces dispatched a patrol from its base in Rmailan in Hasakeh governorate to the town of al-Qahtanieh, accompanied by SDF members.
This is the first patrol since President Donald Trump decided to pull out US forces deployed in northern Syria.
Bombardment of Idlib Once Again
2 November 2019
At least six civilians were killed on Saturday in strikes by Russian war planes in Idlib governorate, north-west of Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
The six civilians, including “at least one child and one woman,” were all from the same family and were killed by “Russian warplanes targeting the village of Jabala in the southern countryside of Idlib,” the SOHR said.
The number of dead is expected to rise because “there are people with severe injuries and people still trapped under rubble,” according to the SOHR.
Tahrir al-Sham (previously Nusra) controls most part of Idlib and its surrounding. There are also less influential Islamic and opposition factions.
Idlib and its surrounding have three million people, half of whom are displaced from other areas; they include tens of thousands of opposition fighters that were evacuated from other governorates after government forces attacks on their strongholds.
1 November 2019
The UN special envoy to Syria Geir Pedersen praised the meeting of the one hundred fifty members of the constitutional committee in the UN headquarters in Geneva despite “deep differences… and lack of trust” between government and opposition delegations.
Pedersen told journalists after the two-day meeting of the expanded constitutional committee that the talks were “very good.”
“We all know that after eight and a half years of conflict there are deep differences and a lot of suspicion and lack of trust,” he said.
“However, the truth is that one hundred and fifty Syrians were sitting together, showing respect for one another, talking to each other, and deliberating according to an agenda we agree on for the future of Syria. I think this impressing,” he added.
The United Nations on Wednesday launched the works of the committee which includes one hundred and fifty members distributed equally between the government, opposition, and civil society. Pedersen previously described its work as a “historic moment,” after eight years of conflict that tore Syria apart.
The UN and international powers hope that the work of the committee, which is commissioned with drafting a constitution, paves the way for a wider settlement of the conflict, although they acknowledge difficulty of the task.
According to its mandate, the committee is tasked with “revising the 2012 constitution… amending the current constitution or drafting a new constitution.” After that, new elections will be held with UN supervision according to the new constitution that must be approved by the people through a referendum.
President Bashar al-Assad told the official Syrian television on Thursday that the elections “would be completely, and from A to Z, under the supervision of the Syrian state.” He also said that the government “is not part” of the ongoing Geneva negotiations and that the Syrian delegation “represents the view point of the government.”
Russian – Turkish
1 November 2019
Turkish and Russian forces on Friday conducted their first joint patrol near the northern border of Syria under an agreement reached after the offensive launched by Turkey against Kurdish fighters, which changed balances on the ground.
After Ankara’s attack on 9 October, which was preceded by a US pull out from various border points, cards were reshuffled in Kurdish-controlled areas in northeast Syria, and government forces and their Russian ally became part of the equation.
It seems that the Americans and Russians divided the border map between them. While Russia is conducting patrols west of the border town of Qamishli, US forces on Thursday patrolled east of the city which is considered the capital of the self-administration declared by the Kurds in 2014.
To East of the Euphrates
31 October 2019
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said, on Thursday, that his country’s ultimate goal is to restore state authority over areas controlled by Kurds in northeast Syria after the sudden withdrawal of US forces, but he said this will happen gradually.
The agreement reached this month between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to oust the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units to a distance of thirty kilometers away from the border in order to establish a “safe zone” along the border. Al-Assad described in an interview with an official TV channel the agreement as a step that helps Damascus to achieve this goal.
Merging with the Army
30 October 2019
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Wednesday refused an invitation by the defense ministry in the Syrian government for its members to join Syrian government forces.
In a statement sent to a German news agency, the SDF said, “we categorically refuse this language directed towards individuals. The Syrian defense minister should have more correctly directed its speech to the general leadership of the Syrian Democratic Forces in order to open the door for a dialogue with an honest intent to unite efforts, and not deny reality in order to evade responsibilities.”
The Syrian defense ministry had called on members of the SDF to join the ranks of the Syrian army in confronting the Turkish army and opposition factions.
Presence near the Oil
29 October 2019
Iran and Russia condemned US President Donald Trump’s decision to keep a military presence near oil fields in northeast Syria. The Russian foreign minister said that any investment of the energy resources would be illegal.
Trump’s suggestion on Sunday for Exxon Mobile or another US oil company to manage Syrian oil fields stirred criticism from legal and energy experts.
US Defense Minister Mark Esper on Sunday said that the United States would boost its army’s presence in Syria by deploying additional assets, including “mechanical forces” to prevent Islamic State remnants or others from capturing the oil fields.