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.
Tehran After Soleimani
12 January 2020
Media reports said that a high level Syrian government delegation headed by Prime Minister Imad Khamis would visit Tehran on Sunday, one week after the assassination of the commander of the Quds Force Qassem Soleimani.
The delegation includes Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Walid al-Moualem and the Minister of Defense Lieutenant General Ali Abdullah Ayyoub, the Syrian newspaper al-Watan said.
The bilateral talks will definitely touch on the latest developments, the most prominent of which is the assassination of the commander of the Quds Force Qassem Soleimani and the Iranian response, the newspaper quoted diplomatic sources in Damascus as saying.
Truce and Reinforcements
11 January 2020
Eighteen civilians, including six children, were killed on Saturday in bombardment by Syrian military jets in Idlib governorate in north Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). This comes on the eve of a Russian-Turkish truce that puts an end to the new military escalation of government forces. This Idlib truce coincided with reinforcement of government forces in the countryside of Aleppo.
As of Thursday 11:00 GMT, “the cease fire went into effect in the de-escalation zone in Idlib under an agreement with the Turkish side,” the Russian Center for Reconciliation in Syria said in a statement.
Despite the truce that was announced in August, Syrian forces, with support from Russian forces, have intensified their bombardment in recent weeks, leaving a large number of casualties in Idlib – the last stronghold for Islamic and militant factions, some of whom receive support from Ankara – leading to an exodus of refugees toward Turkey.
In December alone, some two hundred and eighty-four thousand people were displaced due to the bombardment and battles, especially in the southern part of Idlib governorate, according to the United Nations.
11 January 2020
Residents of the Syrian governorate of Idlib, home to three million people half of whom are displaced, have cautiously welcomed the UN Security Council’s decision to extend the mechanism to deliver cross-border humanitarian relief; while relief organizations cautioned from the risk of reducing the works of this mechanism.
The Security Council has been annually renewing the mandate of delivering aid through four border crossing to areas not under the control of Syrian government forces since 2014. On 20 December, however, the extension of the mandate was faced by the refusal of Russia and China. After deliberations and a series of concessions between concerned countries, the Security Council on Friday voted in favor of extending the mandate but for six months only provided that the delivery of aid be limited to two border posts with Turkey.
Four million Syrians would benefit from the cross-border aid, including 2.7 million in northwest Syria and 1.3 million in the north, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The Security Council resolution abolishes the delivery of aid through two border crossings, especially al-Yaaroubiah border crossing with Iraq, which was frequently used to deliver aid to areas under the control of Kurdish fighters in the northeast and where several displacement camps are located.
Airstrike Against Iran’s Allies
10 January 2020
At least eight militants in the Iraqi Popular Mobilization were killed in airstrikes carried out by unidentified planes on Thursday night against positions affiliated with a faction allied to Iran in eastern Syria near the Iraqi border, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) on Friday. “Unidentified planes targeted depots and vehicles for the Popular Mobilization in Boukamal” in Deir Azzor governorate, “causing several explosions,” the SOHR said.
The spokesman for the US-led international coalition denied that his forces launched any strikes in the area, according to the AFP. Since Wednesday, at least three villages in the countryside of Boukamal have been targeted by strikes carried out by unidentified drones which left no human casualties, according to the SOHR.
Armed groups allied to Iran are deployed in the countryside of Boukamal. They possess great influence inside the Popular Mobilization and other factions affiliated to it.
Death of Four Turkish Soldiers
8 January 2020
Four Turkish soldiers were killed on Wednesday in a car explosion in northeast Syria, the Turkish defense ministry said. The soldiers were on patrol when the attack occurred in an area under the control of Turkish forces, following the latest operation against Kurdish fighters last year.
The ministry did not give further details regarding the location of the explosion or the party responsible for it.
Turkish soldiers, who have been providing support to opposition Syrian fighters, launched an attack against the US-backed Syrian Kurdish People Protection Units (YPG) in October of 2019.
Ankara says that the YPG are “terrorists” and an offspring of the Kurdish Labor Party (PKK), which has been launching an armed insurgency against Turkey since 1984. Turkey and its western allies have the PKK on their black list.
Turkey has previously launched two military operations in northern Syria, against the Islamic State in 2016 and against the YPG in 2018.
The Tsar in the “Russian Syria”
7 January 2020
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met on Thursday with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Damascus, according to the Syrian Presidency’s account on social media, in an unexpected visit and the first of its kind to the Syrian capital since the onset of the conflict nine years ago.
The presidency’s account said that Putin arrived to “Damascus in a visit in which he met with President al-Assad in the headquarter of Russian forces” in the capital.
It published a photo of al-Assad shaking hands with Putin with Russian officers sitting nearby.
The two presidents “watched a military presentation by the commander of Russian forces working in Syria,” it added.
President al-Assad sent Christmas greetings for Russian officers and soldiers and expressed “his appreciation and that of the Syrian people for the sacrifices they have made along with their peers in the Syrian Arab army.” Putin also sent Christmas greetings to Russian forces working in Syria, according to the same source.
Putin previously visited Syria in December of 2017. However, his visit back then was limited to Hmeimim base on the Syrian coast in the west, which Russia uses as its headquarter.