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 info@salonsyria.com.

 

Gas Has Returned

15 July 2019

The ministry of oil and mineral resources announced the restoration of a major gas pipeline which connects al-Sha’er field, one of the largest oil fields in the country, to Ibla station, which resumed work at full capacity on Monday after the pipeline was sabotaged earlier.

On its Facebook page, the ministry said “Ibla station resumed work at full capacity” by early Monday morning “after fixing the sabotaged pipeline and operating it.”

The ministry announced the end of maintenance works late Sunday and the start of pumping gas to the station and from it to electric power plants.

The pipeline, which runs through the eastern countryside of Homs, went out of service on Sunday “after a terrorist attack,” according to the official news agency SANA. It carries two and a half million cubic meters of gas to Ibla station, and then the gas is transferred to electric power plants, according to the same source.

SANA did not give any details regarding the attack or how it happened. However, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Rami Abdul Rahman told the AFP that the gas pipeline was targeted with an “explosive device” on Sunday but he could not identify who was behind the attack.

 

Bombardment in Aleppo

14 July 2019

Six civilians were killed and nine others were injured, including one child, as a result of a missile attack carried out by terrorist groups on Aleppo.

The official Syrian news agency SANA said the terrorist groups in the western countryside renewed on Sunday their targeting of al-Jdaidah and Minyah neighborhoods in Aleppo with missiles, leaving six civilians dead and injuring nine others.

SANA had earlier said on Sunday that terrorists entrenched west of Aleppo governorate attacked Aleppo city with a missile that fell near the municipal palace, leaving one child with minor injuries, in addition to material damage.

 

Fire in Damascus

13 July 2019

A huge fire erupted on Sunday in Damascus Tower in al-Bahsa neighborhood in the city center. The fire department and civil defense quickly rushed to the scene but they confronted difficulties in extinguishing the flames as they reignited several times after being put out.

A number of fire trucks were dispatched to the scene to put off the fire which started on the third floor and then spread to others, a source in the fire department in Damascus told SANA.

Firefighters extinguished the fire several times but it reignited several times because of the presence of flammable materials which kept burning, SANA said.

Colonel Assif Habbabeh, head of the civil defense in Damascus, said that the rescue and evacuation teams evacuated civilians in the three floors in the building to ensure their safety. He added that the fire started in a café and spread to other floors. Several people were carried away by ambulances to hospitals to be treated for choking. The cause of the fire has not yet been identified.

 

Delivering Oil

13 July 2019

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif that the oil tanker detained in Gibraltar would be handed over to Iran if it presents guarantees that it will not violate sanctions imposed by the European Union by heading to Syria.

Hunt said that he held talks on Saturday with Zarif regarding the Grace 1 tanker, which was confirmed by a statement from the Iranian foreign ministry.

“I reassured him our concern was destination not origin of the oil on Grace One and that UK would facilitate release if we received guarantees that it would not be going to Syria, following due process in Gibraltar courts,” Hunt said in a tweet.

The Iranian statement said that Hunt affirmed “Iran’s right to export oil” and “hoped that the finding of the judicial inquiry in Gibraltar would lead to the release of the Iranian tanker as soon as possible.”

Hunt also said that the Iranian foreign minister “wants to find a solution to the case and does not seek escalation.”

The Iranian tanker is three hundred and thirty meters long and contains 2.1 million barrels of crude oil, which is its maximum load.

 

Rape in Paris

12 July 2019

A Syrian refugee (32) was arrested on Saturday on the charge of rape and murder of a 24-year-old woman whose body was found on Sunday, a French public prosecutor said.

The Syrian man, who denies the offense, was picked up Thursday in the town of Mont-de-Marsan by judicial police after DNA on the victim’s body lead to him, as he is already held on a national register.

Investigators found some of the victim’s personal belongings including her mobile phone and SIM card during a search of his home.

Prosecutor Olivier Janson said that the Syrian refugee was known to the police due to previous cases of “domestic violence.”

A passer-by discovered the body of Johanna Blanes beneath a railway line in her hometown of Saint-Pierre-du-Mont. Janson said a post-mortem had determined she was strangled after being raped.

Three other men living in the same area were also held in connection to the case, according to Janson. However, there was no evidence indicating that there was more than one person responsible for the assault, therefore, they were not charged.

The three men, a Moroccan, an Algerian, and a Tunisian, are illegally in France and are now in detention awaiting their deportation, according to a judiciary source.

 

An American in East of the Euphrates

11 July 2019

The US special envoy to Syria James Jeffrey held extended meetings with tribal leaders in the countryside of Deir Azzor north-east of Syria two days ago.

Jeffrey arrived in the area along with a delegation from the departments of defense and state. He held talks on the situation in the region with the local council, tribal leaders, and Arab tribes.

A Kurdish news agency affiliated with the self-administration said that Jeffrey arrived on Tuesday and immediately commenced his meetings with local officials.

Jeffrey alongside the US envoy to the international coalition in Syria and Iraq William Robak and the UN military commander in Syria and Iraq visited areas east of the Euphrates. Jeffrey discussed the political and military situation in the self-administration area and the means to find a solution to the Syrian crisis and the need for representatives from the area to participate in the political solution.

Jeffrey’s visit to the area comes at the end of a European and Mediterranean tour he started last week, in which he discussed international efforts to find a political solution to the Syrian crisis.

 

Explosion in Afrin

12 July 2019

Thirteen people, mostly civilians, were killed on Thursday in a car bomb explosion near a checkpoint for Syrian factions allied to Turkey at the outskirts of Afrin in northern Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

Turkey-allied Syrian factions took control of Afrin in Aleppo governorate in March of 2018 after a wide-scale Turkish-led attack in the predominantly Kurdish area, leading to the displacement of tens of thousands of people.

“The car bomb exploded at the outskirts of Afrin city near a checkpoint of one of the factions, where vehicles and car gather up for inspection,” the head of the SOHR Rami Abdul Rahman told the AFP.

The explosion killed eight civilians including two children and four fighters allied to Turkey, in addition to another dead person who could not be identified as civilian or fighter. More than thirty people were also injured, according to the SOHR.

Among the civilians killed, there were five from eastern Ghouta near Damascus who had been transferred to Afrin after their evacuation from their areas according to a deal with the Syrian government, the SOHR said.

The area repeatedly witnesses explosions and assassination of leaders and members of factions loyal to Ankara, with no claim of responsibility.

 

Chemical Investigations

11 July 2019

The Director-General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Fernando Arias said that investigators commissioned with identifying the responsible party for chemical attacks committed in Syria have drawn up a list of the preliminary investigations they will conduct.

In a report to member states, Arias said that the three-year-long investigation would cover nine events. “The team is working in full force right now,” he said.

“A preliminary list of incidents for investigation has been established, and contact with member states and with international, regional, and local actors is being sought,” he added.

Member states in 2018 agreed to give the OPCW new powers to assign blame for attacks, despite opposition from Damascus and Moscow. Investigations were confined to discovering whether or not chemical weapons were used.

Syria has already informed the OPCW of its refusal to grant a visa to the head of the new team. Damascus and Moscow accuse The Hague-based organization of being “politicized”.

The OPCW team aims to carry out three investigations in each of 2019, 2020, and 2021, according to the budget program that Arias presented separately to member states. However, Arias did not give any details in regards to the first incidents that would be investigated.

The team can probe incidents going back to 2014. OPCW teams have identified thirty-nine suspected chemical attacks in Syria since then.

 

Repercussions of the S-400

12 July 2019

Repercussions of the arrival of the Russian S-400 system to Turkey have reached east of the Euphrates, as Washington and Ankara are stepping up negotiations to reach an agreement on the establishment of a “security zone” in north-east Syria.

Ankara said that the Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and the US acting Defense Minister Mark Esper agreed that a US delegation would visit Turkey this week to discuss the Syrian issue. Ankara said the two men discussed developments in Syria and the security zone east of the Euphrates, which the United States proposed in December and which Turkey seeks to unilaterally control.

Informed sources said that Turkish intelligence informed opposition factions to get ready for an “incursion” east of the Euphrates, at a time Washington has cautioned Ankara against any “unilateral action” north-east of Syria, where the US-led international coalition forces are deployed.

 

Targeting of Medical Facilities

11 July 2019

The United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres “strongly” condemned airstrikes that “target civilians in northwest Syria,” and especially “medical facilities and workers.”

“Several of these facilities were bombed on Wednesday, including a large hospital in Maarat al-Numan whose coordinates had been shared with belligerents,” Guterres said in the statement.

The airstrike, which the Syrian government and its Russian ally are accused of carrying out, have been the subject of deliberation in several Security Council sessions in recent months. The strikes have damaged medical facilities and have not ceased despite pressure exercised on Russia by its UN partners.

More than one hundred people from government forces and opposition factions, most prominently Tahrir al-Sham (previously Nusra), have been killed in violent clashes since Wednesday in northwest Syria. At least eight civilians were killed on Thursday as a result of the bombardment.

Idlib and surrounding areas, which host more than three million people, have been subject to an escalation of bombardment for more than two months, which coincided with fierce battles concentrated in the northern countryside of Hama.