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.
Incursion and a Tour
5 August 2019
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country is planning to launch a military operation in northern Syria, east of the Euphrates River to expel the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara considers a terrorist organization. This comes on the eve of negotiations with the United States on Monday regarding a “safe zone” north of Syria.
“We have entered Afrin, Jarablus, and al-Bab. We will later go east of the Euphrates,” Erdogan said, referring to areas controlled by US-backed Syrian insurgents.
“We said this to Russia and the United States. As long as we are being harassed, we will not be able to remain silent,” the Turkish president added during a televised speech in Bursa, northwest of Turkey.
Erdogan threatened for months last year that he would launch an attack against the YPG east of the Euphrates. However, the Turkish president did not follow through after Washington proposed the establishment of a “buffer zone” to safeguard its Kurdish allies from Turkish threats.
Ankara complained in June about its forces coming under fire from the YPG in northern Syria.
Erdogan’s statement comes on the eve of the arrival of a US military delegation to Ankara to discuss the “buffer zone” with Turkish authorities.
Resignation After Setbacks
4 July 2019
The head of the Syrian Soccer Union and members of the board of directors have all presented their resignation on Sunday, after what the union described as a “series of failures” for the first team, especially after the loss with Lebanon in the current West Asia Championship.
“The head and members of the board of Directors in the Syrian Arab Soccer Union have presented their resignation to the General Director of the Sports Union on Sunday after repeated failures of the first national team and the unsatisfactory results achieved,” the Syrian union said in a statement.
The Syrian team started off their tour in the West Asia Championship in Iraq by losing to Lebanon 2-1 on Friday, and will face Yemen on Monday.
The team was also a disappointment in the FIFA Asia cup that was held early this year in the Emirates, as it left the tournament tailing its group after failing to achieve any win in the three games it played, although it was favored to win the championship.
Syria is getting ready to participate in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers in a group that includes China, the Philippines, Guam, and the Maldives in September.
Truce in Idlib is Welcomed
3 August 2019
The United States cautiously welcomed on Sunday the ceasefire in Idlib northwest of Syria, stressing the need to end “attacks on civilians.”
“What really matters is that attacks on civilians and infrastructure need to stop. We would appreciate efforts to achieve this important objective,” State Department spokesman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement on the sidelines of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Australia.
Ortagus added, “we applaud the efforts of Turkey and Russia who worked to re-impose the ceasefire,” reached in September, extending his thanks to the US General Secretary Antonio Guterres for his personal efforts in the Idlib issue.
Washington reiterated that there can be “no military solution for the Syrian conflict and only a political solution can ensure a stable and secure future for all Syrians.”
Al-Golani and Idlib
3 August 2019
The General Commander of Tahrir al-Sham (previously Nusra) Abu Mohammad al-Golani said on Saturday that his faction would not withdraw from the demilitarized zone in northwest of Syria, two days after a truce announced by Damascus on the condition of establishing this area and the withdrawal of jihadists from it.
Golani’s statements came during a press conference organized by Tahrir al-Sham in the Idlib region. Reporters were not allowed to take photographs.
“What the regime could not take militarily and by force, it will not get through peace by negotiations and politics… We will never withdraw from the area,” Golani said.
“We do not deploy according to what our friends or enemies say,” he said, stressing his faction’s refusal for the entry of Russian forces to monitor the buffer zone as stipulated in the agreement.
Golani said that government forces were “worn down” during the military operations.
Tahrir al-Sham cautioned in a statement on Sunday that any bombardment on areas it controls would lead to its non-compliance with the ceasefire.
Asmaa Without Cancer
3 August 2019
First Lady of Syria Asmaa al-Assad said in a TV interview on Saturday that she had recovered from cancer, one year after she was diagnosed with a malignant tumor in the breast.
“My journey has ended… I finished thanks to God. I completely defeated cancer,” al-Assad said in the interview broadcast on Saturday night.
Al-Assad appeared in the interview wearing a white dress and her short hair was stylized and visible for the first time since receiving treatment, as she used to cover her head with a scarf in previous sightings.
In August of 2018, the Syrian presidency said that Asmaa al-Assad began receiving treatment after being diagnosed with a malignant tumor in the breast, which was discovered in its early stages.
“Cancer treatment is filled with fatigue, pain, and exhaustion of the body, but this does not mean that you should not be positive in your life,” said al-Assad, who received the treatment in a military hospital. She praised her family who stood with her.
In regards to her husband, the Syrian president, she said, “He is my lifetime partner. Cancer was a journey in my life. For sure he was with me.”
In the first picture after she was diagnosed with cancer, Mr. al-Assad was seen sitting next to his wife exchanging smiles.
Asmaa al-Assad, 44, is a mother of three children, two boys and a girl. Her father, Fawaz al-Akhras, is a renowned cardiologist in Britain, and her mother, Sahar Otri is a retired Syrian diplomat. Her family is originally from Homs (middle Syria) and she carries a bachelor degree from King’s College in London.
Explosion and Deaths
2 August 2019
The toll of militants allied to the Syrian government who died in an explosion at a weapons depot in a military airport in middle Syria has risen to thirty-one deaths, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), which previously put the number at twelve.
The chief of the SOHR Rami Abdul Rahman told the AFP that the toll for the explosions, “the causes of which are not yet clear,” which took place on Saturday in al-Shoairat military airport in the northeastern countryside of Homs, “has risen to thirty-one people from government forces and allied militias.”
The official Syrian news agency SANA said earlier that explosion resulted from “a technical error during the transport of expired ordnance,” adding that a “number of martyrs fell,” without specifying the number.
“The cause of the explosion is still not known. It could have been fabricated, a result from a targeted attack, or a result from a technical error,” said Abdul Rahman.
Al-Shoairat airport is one of the most important airports in Syria. Pro-government Iranian forces used to deploy there.
It was targeted by a US missile strike in April of 2017 in response to an attack with sarine gas on the city of Khan Sheikhon (northwest), which Washington accused Damascus of carrying out and left more than eighty civilians dead.
Aleppo Scenario in Idlib
1 August 2019
The United Nations will investigate airstrikes which targeted a number of facilities supported by the UN and civil positions in the city of Idlib, northwest of Syria, according to the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday. This means implementing the “Aleppo scenario,” when the UN investigated the targeting of a UN humanitarian aid convoy if the fall of 2016.
“The investigation will cover destruction of, or damage to facilities on the deconfliction list and UN-supported facilities in the area,” said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for Guterres.
Guterres urges “all parties concerned to cooperate” with the investigators, Dujarric said.
The Deputy Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Dmitry Polyanski criticized the investigation, denouncing claims regarding the Syrian government and Russia’s responsibility for the destruction and calling these allegations “fake news.”
He said that this investigation “seeks to accuse Syria and Russia of things they did not do.”
Tripartite on Syria
1 August 2019
The three guarantors of the Astana talks on Syria (Russia, Turkey, and Iran) agreed to hold a summit in September, a source close to the negotiations hosted in the Khazakh capital Nur Sultan said on Thursday.
TASS news agency cited the source as saying that delegations from the three countries agreed to hold the summit on 11 September, however, the Kremlin has not announced a date for the summit, yet.
The formation of the “Syrian Constitutional Committee” will be announced in the upcoming summit. “Work is underway to form the committee,” the source told TASS.
Participants in the talks, which started in Nur Sultan and continue until tomorrow, have reached an understanding on the candidates for the constitutional committee, the source added.
New Israeli Bombardment
31 July 2019
Damascus accused Israel on Thursday of launching a missile attack that targeted Qunaitera governorate, south of Syria, and left no casualties, according to the Syrian official news agency SANA.
“Israeli aggression with a missile on Braiqa hill in Rasm al-Sad in the western countryside of Qunaitera. Material damage only,” SANA said in breaking news.
A spokeswoman for the Israeli army refused to comment, “we do not comment of foreign reports,” she told the AFP.
This comes one week after Damascus accused Israel of launching strikes that targeted areas in the governorates of Qunaitera and Daraa in the south.
The strikes killed nine fighters allied to government forces, three Syrians and six Iranians, according to the SOHR.
31 July 2019
The SOHR said that July has been the bloodiest month for civilians in Syria since the beginning of this year.
According to data collected by the SOHR, one thousand and one hundred and twenty-five people were killed in July, including more than five hundred civilians; the highest toll of civilian deaths since the beginning of the year.
The SOHR said that the number of those killed included five hundred and seven civilians, with one hundred and ninety children below the age of nineteen and sixty women.