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.
Destroying our Hospitals
6 May 2019
Three hospitals in north-west Syria were bombed by Russian forces, rendering two of them non-operational.
Eight civilians were killed by Syrian-Russian bombardment in various areas of this region, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), which added that one person was killed as a result of Russian airstrikes on the hospitals.
Fighter jets targeted two hospitals on Sunday, one in Kafrnobble and the other an underground hospital in the village of Has. The SOHR attributed the airstrikes to Russian forces. It identifies the party who carried out the attack according to the model of the plane, the place where the strike took place, the flight path, and ammunition used. A third hospital in Kafrzeita north of Hama was also targeted by Russian strikes.
The United Nations said late April that a medical center and two hospitals were rendered non-operational as a result of aerial and artillery bombardment.
Deployment in Tel Rifaat
5 May 2019
Turkish and Russian officials are reviewing deployment of their forces in the Syrian border region of Tel Rifaat, Turkey’s Vice President Fuat Oktay said on Sunday, a day after cross-border fire from the area killed one Turkish soldier.
Two separate attacks on Saturday by Kurdish militants from Tel Rifaat and northern Iraq killed a total of four Turkish soldiers and wounded two others, Turkey’s defense ministry said. The army retaliated in both cases, killing twenty-eight militants, it said.
In an interview with broadcaster Kanal 7, Oktay said Turkey and Russia were discussing developments in the region and that Turkish military operations along the border would continue until all threats had been eliminated.
Tel Rifaat is controlled by Kurdish-led forces and is located some twenty kilometers east of Afrin, which has been under the control of Turkey and its Free Syrian Army allies since an operation last year to drive out the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Turkey, a major backer of opposition groups fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has conducted patrols with Russia, one of Assad’s main allies, in northern areas under agreements reached last year.
In March, the defense ministry said Turkish and Russian forces had carried out the first “independent and coordinated” patrols in Tel Rifaat.
Two Turkish Soldiers Wounded
5 May 2019
The Turkish defense ministry said two Turkish soldiers were slightly wounded on Saturday after mortar fire from areas controlled by Syrian authorities targeted an observation post in northwest Syria.
“Two of our comrades were slightly wounded when shells fired, based on our judgement, from areas controlled by the government hit one of our observation posts south of the de-escalation zone in Idlib,” a statement from the ministry said. The two soldiers were evacuated to Turkey for treatment, according to the same statement.
In recent weeks, the governorate of Idlib and surrounding areas have witnessed bloody bombardment by Syrian and Russian forces, according to the SOHR.
Russia and Turkey signed an agreement to establish a de-escalation zone in Idlib in September 2018. The agreement provided for a “de-militarized zone” that separates areas occupied by jihadist militants from areas controlled by Syrian authorities.
Attack on Kurds
4 May 2019
The ‘National Army,’ which is affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, took control of the town of al-Malkieh and the village of Shwargah in the northern countryside of Aleppo after battles with the Kurdish YPG, amidst artillery bombardment by opposition factions and the Turkish army against areas controlled by the YPG.
The ‘National Army’ took control of the town of al-Malkieh and the villages of Shwargagh and al-Araz, and ousted YPG militias and elements from the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK),” A military commander told a German news agency.
The source added that artillery regiments of the ‘National Army’ and Turkish army continued bombing Kurdish units in Tel Rifaat, Minnegh, Harbel, and Ain Diqneh, after the town of Mraimin, which is controlled by the ‘National Army,’ was targeted.
“The military operation is ongoing to oust YPG militants from villages surrounding the Izzaz-Afrin highway in the northern countryside of Aleppo all the way to Tel Rifaat and areas controlled by the YPG,” the military commander added.
Qatari Aerial Return
4 May 2019
Qatar Airways’ return to flying over Syria is part of its efforts to grapple with a nearly two-year Gulf dispute that has blocked it from using the airspace of many of its neighbors, CEO Akbar al-Baker said on Saturday.
Syrian transport minister Ali Hammoud said last month that his country had approved a request by Qatar Airways to begin using the country’s airspace for routes, one of the first airlines to do so. Qatar did not comment at the time.
Qatar’s state-owned carrier has had to re-route many of its flights since Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt cut diplomatic, transport, and trade ties with the Gulf state in 2017, accusing it of supporting terrorism, which Doha denies.
Damascus Denounces Tribal Summit
4 May 2019
An official Syrian source denounced a tribal summit organized by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Ain Issa, north of Syria, calling it a meeting of treason, according to the Syrian news agency SANA.
Mazloum Abdi, leader of the SDF which is comprised of Kurdish and Arab factions, said during the conference that he refuses the approach of “reconciliation” proposed by Damascus to decide the fate of areas under Kurdish control in north-eastern Syria, and expressed his will to open a dialogue with the Syrian government.
The official source in the Syrian foreign ministry said in a statement to SANA that the conference, which was held in an area “controlled by armed militias affiliated to the United States and other Western states, …was a failure after most original Arab tribes boycotted it.” The sources described the summit as a “meeting of infiltration, treachery, and subordination.”
“Such meetings undoubtedly represent the betrayal of their organizers, regardless of their political, ethnic, or racial affiliation,” the source added.
Abdi affirmed on Friday willingness “to talk with the Syrian government” in order to reach “a comprehensive solution.” He stressed that no “real solution” can be reached without acknowledging the full constitutional rights of the Kurds … and without recognizing the self-administration,” in addition to accepting the role of the SDF in protecting the area under its control in the future.
Bombardment of Hmeimim
2 May 2019
The Russian military base in Hmeimim was targeted with rocket missiles launched by Syrian opposition factions, amidst aerial and artillery bombardment on opposition-held areas.
“Opposition factions bombarded the Russian military base in Hmeimin in response to Russian air jets targeting areas under the control of Syrian opposition in Idlib and Hama countryside, which left dozens of killed and injured and caused vast destruction,” a source in the National Front for Liberation told a German news agency.
A field commander fighting along with government forces said: “The military base in Hmeimin observed rocket missiles launched by opposition factions from al-Madhiq citadel area in the western countryside of Hama.”
Opposition factions previously declared that a number of Russian soldiers were killed or wounded in the bombing of Hmeimim base with Grad missiles.
140 Thousand Displaced
1 May 2019
Around one hundred and forty thousand people in Idlib governorate and surrounding areas have been displaced since February, as Syrian government forces and their Russian ally stepped up their bombardment in the area, which is mostly controlled by jihadist factions, according to the spokesman of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
“Since February, over 138,500 women, children and men have been displaced from northern Hama and southern Idlib,” said David Swanson, adding that between 1 and 28 April, it’s estimated that more than 32,500 individuals have moved to different communities in Aleppo, Idlib, and Hama governorates.
The majority of the al-Qassabiyah village residents displaced to safer areas in southern Idlib after shelling targeted on of its schools.
Damascus is with Maduro
1 May 2019
The Syrian foreign ministry condemned the “failed coup attempt” in Venezuela and accused the United States of undermining stability in the country, according to the state news agency SANA.
“The Syrian Arab Republic strongly condemns the failed coup attempt against the constitutional legitimacy in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela,” state news agency SANA said, quoting a foreign ministry source.
Venezuela was plunged into chaos after the head of the parliament and self-proclaimed leader Juan Guaido, who has been recognized by fifty countries including the United States, said he had the support of troops to oust President Nicolas Maduro.
30 April 2019
UN Envoy to Syria Geir Pedersen told the UN Security Council that an agreement could be soon reached to form a committee tasked with drafting a new constitution for Syria, paving the way for a political solution in a county suffering from civil war since 2011.
“We’re getting close to (reaching) an agreement on the constitutional committee,” Pedersen said.
According to the United Nations, the constitutional committee, which is supposed to lead the process for revising the constitution and elections, should include one hundred and fifty members, fifty of whom would be chosen by the government, fifty chosen by the opposition, and fifty chosen by the UN special envoy, taking into consideration the views of experts and representatives of the civil society.
No agreement has been reached on the third list, which provoked a dispute between Damascus and the United Nations. However, the latter says only six names on this list need to be changed.
The acting US Ambassador in the UN Jonathan Cohen accused Moscow of obstructing efforts to reach an agreement. “Russia, and those who it supports, are obstructing the political process,” he said.
Russian Ambassador to the UN Vasily Nebenzya said that he is “optimistic a solution can be quickly reached” regarding the constitutional committee.
Ending the Escalation
30 April 2019
The United States on Tuesday called on Russia to abide by its commitments and end the “escalation” in the Idlib region northwest of Syria after airstrikes that killed ten people.
“We call on all parties, including Russia and the Syrian regime, to abide by their commitments to avoid large-scale military offensives, return to a de-escalation of violence in the area,” State Department Spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.
29 April 2019
Al Furqan Network, ISIS’s media network, published a video message purporting to come from its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in which he said that the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka were ISIS’s response to losses in its last stronghold in Baghouz in Syria.
The group will seek revenge for jailed and killed members, he said. The man sat of the floor giving an address to members in the group that lasted eighteen minutes. Some aides appeared listening to him but had their faces blurred.
The video would be the first from Baghdadi since he was filmed in the Iraqi city of Mosul in 2014. More recent speeches have been released as audio recordings.