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.

Half the Crossings are Under Control

6 July 2018

Syrian government forces took control of the border strip with Jordan and the vital Nassib crossing, known as Jaber crossing from the Jordanian side, after it had previously been under the control of opposition factions.

Of the nineteen border crossings with neighboring countries, i.e. Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Turkey, the government now controls around half of them, including five with Lebanon and one with Jordan and Iraq each, in addition to two crossings with Turkey, which has closed them from its side.

In mid-2015, the government only had control over the crossings with Lebanon while the remaining crossings were controlled by the opposition, fanatics, or Kurds. The following is a list of crossings that shows by whom they are controlled, according to the AFP:

  • Nassib crossing, south of Daraa Governorate, had always been a vital commercial crossing for Damascus before opposition factions took control of it in April 2015. Syrian authorities are hoping that with its recapture, they will be able to reboot this strategic route and re-stimulate commercial activities with all the economic and financial benefits.
  • Al-Jomrok al-Qadeem crossing, known as al-Ramtha from the Jordanian side. Government forces lost control over this crossing in 2013. It is still under the control of opposition factions, however, they are supposed to withdraw from it in the upcoming period according to an agreement between the factions and the Russians.
  • Kasab crossing, Lattakia Governorate (northeast of Syria), is under the control of government forces but it is closed from the Turkish side after fierce battles in 2014 between government forces and opposition factions who took control of it for a short period of time.
  • Bab al-Hawa crossing, Idlib Governorate (northeast of Syria), is under the control of a civil administration affiliated with Tahrir al-Sham (previously Nusra).
  • Bab al-Salamah, in I’zaz, Aleppo Governorate (north of Syria), is under the control of Syrian opposition factions loyal to Turkey.
  • Jarablus crossing, in Aleppo Governorate (north of Syria), is under the control of Syrian factions loyal to Turkey.
  • Tal Abyadh crossing, in Raqqa Governorate (north of Syria), is under the control of the US-supported Kurdish People’s Protection Units after ISIS was kicked out of it in 2015.
  • Ain al-Arab (Kobani) crossing, in Aleppo Governorate, is under the control of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units.
  • Ra’s al-Ain crossing, in Hasakeh Governorate (northeast of Syria), witnessed fierce battles in the summer of 2013 between ISIS and Kurdish fighters who were able to oust ISIS from the crossing and the city of Ra’s al-Ain.
  • Qamishli-Nssaibin crossing, is the only crossing in Hasakeh Governorate that is still under government control, but it is closed by Turkish authorities.
  • Ain Diwar in Hasakeh is under the control of Kurdish fighters.
  • Al-Ya’robieh or al-Rabi’a from the Iraqi side, in Hasakeh Governorate, is under the control of Kurdish fighters.
  • Al-Boukamal or al-Qaem from the Iraqi side, in Deir Azzor Governorate (north-east of Syria, is under the control of the government and ally fighters from Iran.
  • Al-Tanf or al-Waleed from the Iraqi side, south of Deir Azzor, is under the control of the US-led international coalition along with opposition factions after ousting ISIS from it.
  • Five crossings between Lebanon and Syria, in Homs and Damascus Governorates, are under government control; they are: Jdaidet Yaboos (al-Masna’ from the Lebanese side), al-Daboosieh (al-A’boodieh from the Lebanese side), Josieh (al-Qa’a from the Lebanese side), Tal Kalakh (al-Bqai’a from the Lebanese side), and Tartus (al-A’reidah from the Lebanese side). There are numerous illegal crossings along the Lebanese-Syrian borders most of which are in mountainous areas.

Israel and Syria are officially in a state of war and there are no crossings between the two countries. However, opposition factions control the Qonaiterah border area. Israel has occupied a major part of the Syrian Golan Heights since 1967.

The remaining parts of the Syrian border are open to the Mediterranean and maritime ports are all under government control, in addition to the airports in Damascus, Aleppo, Lattakia, and Qamishli.

 

Daraa Besieged and the Return of Refugees

9 July 2018

On Monday, the Syrian army and allied forces imposed a siege on the opposition enclave in Daraa in southern Syrian and were poised to gain complete control of the city, fighters from the Syrian opposition said.

Daraa is considered the cradle of the uprising against President Bashar al-Asad’s rule. Abu Shaima, a spokesman for the opposition in the southern Syrian city, said that several thousand people were now encircled after the army pushed into a base west of the city without a fight before the formal evacuation of opposition fighters in contravention of a Russian-brokered agreement. He told Reuters that the army and allied fighters have completely encircled Daraa.

Opposition representatives and Russian officers reached an agreement on Friday that the opposition would give up Daraa and other towns in the governorate bordering Jordan, in a new victory for Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies.

The agreement allows fighters not ready to make peace to leave for opposition-controlled areas in northern Syria before the handover of weapons and the return of state sovereignty.

“There is a lot of fear and we do not trust the Russians or the regime,” Abu Shaima said.

In other areas covered by the agreement, fighters from the Free Syrian Army, which previously received Western support, continued to hand over positions bordering Jordan, east of Daraa, that had been under their control since the onset of the conflict.

Two hundred thousand displaced people went back to their towns and villages, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) on Monday. The SOHR added that the vast majority of people who were on the Syrian-Jordanian border went back to their villages and towns, which were widely looted by government forces and allied militants for items that included furniture, cars, cattle, and other property.

This comes after cautious calmness throughout Darra since Sunday and after a series of heavy shelling and more than one hundred and twenty air raids that targeted the town of Um al-Mayathen and the city of Daraa and their surroundings.

The SOHR said that government forces and Russia launched more than two thousand and three hundred air raids and shells on opposition areas to impose a surrender and signing of a deal in Bosra al-Sham.

 

Israel and Iran in Syria

8 July 2018

The “aggression” that targeted a military base in central Syria is an “Israeli” one, said Damascus on Sunday adding that its forces successfully hit one of the attacking planes, according to a military source in the official media.

The Syrian news agency SANA reported an “aggression” on the T4 military airport in central Syria without mentioning the responsible party. It then cited a military source as saying: “Our defense systems have confronted an Israeli aggression and downed a number of missiles that targeted the T4 airport, they successfully hit one of the attacking planes and forced the rest to leave our airspace.”

The SOHR said that “the missile attack targeted the T4 airport and its vicinity near Palmyra in Homs Governorate.” The SOHR added that the bombardment targeted “Iranian fighters in the airport complex,” and confirmed the death of Iranian fighters and others loyal to the Syrian government without specifying numbers.

In addition to the Syrian army, there are Iranian and Hezbollah fighters in the T4 airport, according to the SOHR.

The T4 military base was repeatedly subject to airstrikes, which Damascus accused Israel of carrying out, including an airstrike on 9 April that left fourteen soldiers dead including seven Iranians. Moscow, Tehran, and Damascus blamed Israel for the airstrike.

The airport was also targeted on 10 February in an incident that witnessed the downing of an Israeli military airplane by Syrian forces. Israel at the time said that it hit “Iranian targets.”

“We will violently respond to any Syrian military incursion in the demilitarized zone of the Golan Heights,” said Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he will discuss the Iranian presence in Syria with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Wednesday.

 

Spy’s Watch

5 July 2018

On Thursday, the Israeli Mossad said that it was able to obtain the watch of an Israeli spy that was sentenced to death in Syria in 1965.

The Israeli spy Eli Cohen was put on trial and sentenced to death for espionage in Syria after he succeeded in penetrating the highest levels of the Syrian government.

“The Mossad returned the watch of the late Mossad fighter Eli Cohen to Israel … the watch was returned through a special operation carried out by the Mossad recently,” a statement by the Israeli government said.

The statement went on to say: “After Cohen’s execution on 18 May 1965, his watch remained in an enemy state,” and added “after the watch returned to Israel, intelligence and research operations were carried out that came to the firm conclusion that this indeed is Eli Cohen’s watch.”

Syria, which has not signed a peace agreement with Israel, did not respond to Israeli requests over the years for the return of Cohen’s remains for humanitarian reasons.

In 2004, former Israeli President Moshe Katsav sent a humanitarian call for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad through envoys from France, Germany, and the UN.

The information obtained by Cohen was considered crucial to Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights in the 1967 War.

“This year and as a result of an operation we succeeded in determining the place of Eli Cohen’s watch, which he wore until he was captured, and we brought it back to Israel.” a statement reported the Mossad chief Yosi Cohen saying on Thursday.

“The watch represents a partial picture of Elie Cohen’s operation and part of his fake Arab identity,” he added.

The statement said that the watch will be presented in the Mossad headquarters until the end of the Jewish year in September and will be given to his family afterwards.

In a statement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Cohen and his colleagues in the Mossad. However, Cohen’s widow said that bringing the watch back happened by buying it from an online auction.

 

Chlorine and not Sarine

6 July 2018

A preliminary report by investigators in the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) published on Friday said that traces of chlorine gas were discovered in the Syrian city of Douma, where an attack in April left tens of deaths and injuries.

The report issued by the OPCW did not find any traces of nerve gas and added that the date for publishing the final report is still unclear.

Last month, UN human rights investigators found that “current evidence is largely consistent with the use of chlorine.”

Activists and international powers accused the Syrian government of using chemical weapons against its opponents and civilians, while Syria has repeatedly rejected these claims.

On 7 April, at least forty people were killed in an attack on Douma, which was still under the control of opposition fighters.

The suspected use of chemical weapons prompted the United States, Britain, and France to launch a series of airstrikes on Syria one week after the Douma attack.