Media Anthology: July 23 – July 29, 2019


ALEXANDRINA

Media Anthology

July 23 to 29, 2019

linklanguagesourceDateCategory
Did the Russian-backed groups target Al-Qatirji group in AleppoArabicAl modonJuly 23, 2019Conflict and Military
As the uprising step up in Daraa, Assad regime release ISIS members in the regionEnglishNedaa SyriaJuly 25, 2019Conflict and Military
Israeli rockets hit military locations in south SyriaArabicAsharq Al AwsatJuly 24, 2019Conflict and Military
Air strikes kill 12 civilians in northwest Syria: monitorEnglishThe Arab Weekly July 27, 2019Conflict and Military
Four simultaneous explosions hit cities in north rural Aleppo ArabicEnab BaladiJuly 27, 2019Conflict and Military
Five assassinations in Dar'a governorate in only 24 hoursArabicHoran Free LeagueJuly 26, 2019Conflict and Military
After hundreds of air and ground strikes…the regime forces regain the control of Al-Jabin village few hours after restoring the strategic village of Tal Melh north-west of HamaEnglishSyrian Observatory For Human RightsJuly 29, 2019Conflict and Military
Syria’s Assad puts pressure on business eliteEnglishFinancial TimesJuly 25, 2019Economic
The sons of Hani Musawi, the new Hezbollah's instruments to sabotage the Syrian economyArabicEqtsadJuly 27, 2019Economic
For Syrians in Istanbul, fears rise as deportations beginEnglishThe New HumanitarianJuly 23, 2019Governance and Service Management
Unregistered Syrians sent back to camps in Turkey: Interior ministerEnglishHurriyet Daily NewsJuly 24, 2019Governance and Service Management
Investors in Idleb are supporting small-scale service projectsArabicEnab BaladiJuly 21, 2019Governance and Service Management
Kurdish-Arab power struggle in Northeastern SyriaEnglishCarnegie Endowment for International PeaceJuly 24, 2019Social Dynamics
Russia exchanged Christian IDPs with Bedouins in As-SweidaArabicAl modonJuly 23, 2019Social Dynamics
Children without pedigree in Eastern GhoutaArabicDamascus VoiceJuly 23, 2019Social Dynamics
The United States won’t feed 30,000 starving Syrians living under its protectionEnglishThe Washington Post0/24/2019Humanitarian & Development
Turkey forcibly returning Syrians to dangerEnglishHuman Rights WatchJuly 26, 2019Humanitarian & Development
How the UN failed to save Syria’s hospitalsEnglishAl JumhuriyaJuly 24, 2019Humanitarian & Development
American Analysts: Washington is close to convincing SDF of the safe zoneArabicNorth Press AgencyJuly 24, 2019International Intervention
The Syrian regime responds to the American-Turkish agreements on the safe zoneArabicAl SouriaJuly 26, 2019International Intervention
Turkey suspends deal with the EU on migrant readmissionArabicSyria TVJuly 24, 2019Other
Not even loyalist journalists safe in Assad’s SyriaEnglishArab NewsJuly 24, 2019Other
How Raqqa became the capital of ISISEnglihNew AmericaJuly 25, 2019Other

Syria Update: July 25 – July 31, 2019

Syria Update

July 25 to July 31, 2019

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The Syria Update is divided into two sections.  The first section provides an in-depth analysis of key issues and dynamics related to wartime and post-conflict Syria.   The second section provides a comprehensive whole of Syria review, detailing events and incidents, and analysis of their respective significance.

The following is a brief synopsis of the in-depth analysis section this week:

As of July 30, the Syrian government and Russia have embarked on a new phase in the campaign of airstrikes and shelling in northwest Syria, consistently striking markets, schools, hospitals, and civilian infrastructure; as a result, numerous villages and towns in southern Idleb and northern Hama have been nearly entirely depopulated, and sizeable communities located on frontlines—and increasingly, those located deeper inside Idleb Governorate—have been regularly targeted. According to the latest figures released by OCHA, by mid-July more than 450,000 people had been displaced and approximately 700 had been killed in the offensive; notably, the actual number of those killed and displaced is certain to be significantly higher, as the aerial attacks have dramatically intensified in the past week. Notably, several factors complicate the humanitarian response to the substantial displacement brought on by the latest, ongoing offensive. Most importantly, international support has been channeled primarily to the handful of communities that have resisted complete takeover by Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham and the Salvation Government. These communities are now among the most heavily serviced in northwest Syria, yet they have also been targeted by intensifying bombardment in recent weeks. There is a distinct risk that considerable portions of these communities’ resident populations have already fled or will be forced to flee, and IDP beneficiaries residing in these communities are highly likely to be displaced yet again. To a large extent, the ramped-up offensive will set the tone for upcoming negotiations between the three guarantors of northwest Syria’s ‘de-escalation zone’—Russia, Turkey, and Iran—to be convened at Nur-Sultan (formerly Astana) on August 1 and 2. The Astana powers may yet manage to negotiate a workable de-escalation roadmap for the northwest. However, the implementation of such an agreement would be far from guaranteed. More concerning is the possibility that no agreement will be reached; in the event talks fail, there is little reason to hope the bombardment that has become a daily occurence in many communities in northwest Syria will come to an end anytime soon.

The following is a brief synopsis of the Whole of Syria Review:
  1. The Government of Syria Ministry of Interior has reshuffled at least 400 generals across the country. The initiative is likely part of a broader Government of Syria effort to regain  command and control within military and security institutions. 
  2. An unprecedented suicide attack targeted a Government of Syria checkpoint in Malihet El Attash in western rural Dar‘a Governorate, amid continued security incidents in the governorate. Although the actor responsible for the attack remains unknown, these security incidents are indicative of the restive security situation in the area; however, it remains premature to see the suicide attack, though worrying in its own right, as an indication of a renewed ISIS presence. 
  3. A prominent leader of the Kurdish PYD party announced his party’s acceptance of a 5 km ‘safe zone’ in northern Syria. Nonetheless, considerable disagreement over the ‘safe zone’ remains; Turkish-American negotiations on the issue have proven intractable; and a definitive conclusion to the matter, which both Turkey and Kurdish parties view in an existential light, are unlikely in the near term.
  4. Israeli missiles targeted several areas in Dar‘a and Quneitra Governorates. The  attacks reportedly targeted positions linked to Iranian forces. Israeli missile strikes in Syrian territory are relatively commonplace, and they are expected to continue unabated in spite of efforts by the governments of Syria and Russia to diminish Iranian influence in southern Syria. 
  5. The commander of the Iranian Al-Quds Brigade, Qasem Suleimani, visited Abu Kamal city in southern rural Deir-ez-Zor Governorate, reportedly to establish a new Iran-affiliated militia to protect local Shia religious sites. The visit speaks to Iran’s deepening efforts to build local popular support to complement its extensive military presence.
  6. A series of assassination attempts in northeast Syria targeted prominent Arab figures noted for their opposition to the SDF; the attacks followed a meeting between Deir-ez-Zor Military Council and representatives of the U.S.-led coalition. The instability within the Deir-ez-Zor Military Council reflects the wider fissures opening along tribal, ethnic, and political lines in northeast Syria. The degree to which the international coalition is able to contain these pressures will be crucial to the stability of the northeast in the long term. 
  7. The Government of Syria Ministry of Trade reportedly approved the establishment of a new Russian-Syrian contracting company to deal in construction machinery and materials, in addition to directly working on the rehabilitation and installation of industrial, commercial, and service facilities. Similar joint economic projects can be expected, especially as Russian and Iranian business interests seek to capitalize on incentives provided by the Government of Syria amid the continuing lock-out of Western competition due to sanctions and restrictive measures. 
  8. On July 30, the governor of Istanbul reportedly agreed to a slate of new procedures that would allow Syrians to acquire ‘temporary protection’ status in Turkey, albeit outside Istanbul. The easing of restrictions on Syrians in Turkey is likely a temporary reprieve; an August 20 deadline for Syrians registered outside Istanbul to leave the city remains in force, and it is unclear in which Turkish regions unregistered Syrians will be allowed to normalize their status.

Northwest Syria Offensive Intensifies

In Depth Analysis

Destruction in the Ma’aret An Nu’man market. Image Courtesy of Idleb Media Center.

As of July 30, a step-change in Syrian government and Russian aerial bombardment has displaced significant portions of the civilian populations of several large communities in northwest Syria. On July 26, OCHA reported that in the period from early May (when the bombardment started) to July 14, more than 450,000 people had been displaced; notably, many in this group are likely to have been serially displaced, including opposition-linked and irreconcilable individuals evacuated to Idleb under local reconciliation agreements. More than 700 people have been reported killed during the offensive; however, the actual number of those killed and displaced is certain to be significantly higher, as the aerial attacks have dramatically intensified in the past week. The OCHA statement noted that airstrikes and shelling have consistently targeted medical facilities, markets, schools, and civilian infrastructure; as a result, numerous villages and towns in southern Idleb and northern Hama have been nearly entirely depopulated, and sizeable communities located on frontlines—and, increasingly, those located deeper inside Idleb Governorate—have been consistently targeted. Most notably, on July 19 the Jisr Ash Shughur civil council stated that 35,000 residents—almost the entire civilian population—had fled the community.

To a large extent, the ramped-up bombardment will set the tone for upcoming negotiations between the three guarantors of the northwest Syria ‘de-escalation zone’—Russia, Turkey, and Iran—to be convened at Nur-Sultan (formerly Astana) on August 1 and 2. The increasingly tenuous status of agreements to de-escalate tensions in northwest Syria is likely to dominate the negotiations. In May, the Government of Syria—backed by Russian airstrikes—launched the ‘Idleb Dawn’ offensive to recapture northwest Syria from armed opposition groups backed by Turkey. However, in the three months since, Government of Syria forces have made only modest territorial advances. While numerous factors have contributed to the frozen frontlines in northwest Syria, the clearest impediment to further Government of Syria advance is the uncompromising position of Turkey. Turkey continues to provide significant support to armed opposition groups resisting the attempts of Government forces to infiltrate opposition-held territory in southern Idleb and northwestern Hama. Turkey maintains that the few communities that Government of Syria forces captured during the opening stages of the offensive must revert to pre-offensive opposition control. For its part, Russia maintains that Turkey, as the chief implementer of the September 17 demilitarized zone agreement, has failed to carry out key terms, specifically, the opening of the M5 corridor to commercial traffic and the disarming of radical groups in the demilitarized zone. The increased bombardment now taking place in the northwest is largely a manifestation of Russian frustration with these divergent interests.

Several factors complicate the humanitarian response to the substantial displacement brought on by the latest, ongoing offensive. First and foremost, Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham and the Salvation Government remain in effective military and administrative control over nearly every community in northwest Syria. As a result, INGOs and development actors have, justifiably, resorted to highly sensitive risk-aversion strategies. In practice, however, risk aversion and compliance concerns have significantly restricted programming and channeled it primarily to the handful of communities that have resisted complete takeover by Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham and the Salvation Government. Consequently, among the most heavily serviced communities are Ma‘aret An-Nu‘man, Ariha, and Saraqab, which have all negotiated a certain degree of independence from the Salvation Government; worryingly, each has been targeted by intensifying Government of Syria and Russian bombardment in recent weeks. There is now a distinct risk that considerable portions of the communities’ resident populations have already fled or will be forced to flee, and IDP beneficiaries residing in these communities are highly likely to be displaced yet again. Additionally concerning is the deliberate targeting of medical infrastructure in the northwest, which is now severely overstretched. According to OCHA, at least 37 separate incidents in the ongoing offensive and aerial bombing campaign have involved the targeting of medical facilities and personnel.

To a significant degree, the trajectory of the northwest campaign now being waged by the Syrian government and Russia hinges on the outcome of the negotiations at Nur-Sultan. Nearly every round of pervious Nur-Sultan/Astana talks has yielded considerable progress on at least one point of contention among the three powers. However, the status of northwest Syria is not the only topic that will be under discussion in Nur-Sultan. Indeed, since early July, the Turkish and Russian foreign ministries have reiterated statements that an agreement on the composition of the committee to draft a new Syrian constitution is close, and these discussions are likely to be a significant feature of the upcoming trilateral negotiations. Moreover, although past Iranian-Russian-Turkish summits have yielded numerous broad agreements, the implementation of critical details has proven far more challenging. The Astana powers may yet come to terms for a workable de-escalation roadmap in the northwest; however, should such an agreement be reached, implementation would be far from guaranteed. More concerning is the possibility that no accord will be reached. If Nur-Sultan ends without a new agreement, there is little reason to hope the bombardment that has become a daily occurence in northwest Syria will come to an end.

Whole of Syria Review

Weekly Report July 25 - July 31-map

1. GOS Reshuffles Ministry of Interior

Damascus, Syria: On July 27, local media reported that the Government of Syria’s Minister of Interior, Mohamad Rahmoun, issued at least 400 directives to transfer generals working in his ministry. According to the report, the transfer is unprecedented in the ministry, and at least 100 of the generals affected were high-ranking. Effectively, the directives reassign the officers to new posts elsewhere in Syria; notably, many Syrian military officials are still nominally assigned to opposition or SDF controlled areas, although in many cases they are instead deployed to the nearest area under Government control. 

Analysis: The Ministry of Interior decision to reshuffle an unprecedented number of high-ranking officials across the country is likely part of broader efforts to regain command and control in Government military and security structures. It is likely (although there is no direct evidence to establish it beyond doubt) that the reshuffle in the Ministry of Interior is part of a Russian initiative to restructure the Syrian military and intelligence services. The decision comes shortly after the Government reshuffling in early July of the highest levels of the Syrian security-intelligence apparatus, which was largely understood to be a product of Russia’s efforts to reshape Syria’s military and security services. The Ministry of Interior reshuffling is likely to be primarily aimed at disrupting client and patronage networks, reducing infighting, and improving discipline among security forces. Nonetheless, it is important to note that its impact in the short to medium term is hard to predict; the Government of Syria faces numerous challenges in effectively coordinating and controlling its various military and security branches, including access challenges exemplified by nominal postings to opposition- or SDF-held areas, and it is unlikely to attain sufficient capacity to do so in the foreseeable future.

2. South Security Update

Malihet El Attash, Dar‘a Governorate:  On July 27, media sources reported that a suicide attack targeted a Government of Syria checkpoint in the vicinity of the Malihet El Attash, in eastern rural Dar‘a Governorate, reportedly killing at least six soldiers. However, local sources indicated that the explosion took place following a clash between the Government of Syria–affiliated 5th Corps and ISIS members during a raid in the area. Relatedly, on July 25 and 26, local sources reported a total of five assasination attempts in Dar‘a Governorate; the attacks targeted members of the Government of Syria’s Air Force Intelligence and 4th Armored Division, as well as former members of armed opposition groups, in Ash-Sharjra, Nahteh, As-Sanamayn, Yadoudah, and Tasil.

Analysis: Although security incidents, including IEDs, VBIEDs, shootings, and kidnappings, are not uncommon in increasngly restive Dar‘a Governorate, the recent suicide attack is unprecedented in the period since the Government of Sytria established control over southern Syria, in July 2018. The actor behind the suicide attack remains unknown. Although the event is significant in its own right, especially under the prevailing security paradigm of the south, it cannot be said to mark a phase change from the assassinations and blasts that have proliferated in the south since the beginning of 2019. As such, speculation as to the presence of ISIS and other extremist groups in the south remains, for now, premature.

3. Northeast Syria ‘Safe Zone’

Al-Hasakeh and Ar-Raqqa Governorates: On July 29, media sources reported that prominent Kurdish politician Aldar Khalil expressed the Democratic Union Party’s acceptance of a  5 km ‘safe zone’ in northern Syria. Khalil insisted on further negotiations about several factors that are critical to the establishment of any border ‘safe zone’, specifically: the composition of the forces to be deployed in the proposed ‘safe zone’; the status of the predominantly Kurdish Afrin region; and “demographic change.” Khalil’s statement coincides with numerous local reports of increased mobilization by Turkish troops and Syrian Democratic Forces on opposite sides of the Syria-Turkey border. Meanwhile U.S.-Turkish negotiations on the creation of a ‘safe zone’ have yet to deliver any substantive progress. Earlier, on July 22, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu stated that Turkey was ready to launch a military offensive in northern Syria against YPG/J, ahead of a visit to Ankara by the U.S. special envoy to Syria, James Jeffrey.

Analysis: As the political wing of the YPG and the leading faction within the pan-Kurdish TEV-DEM political platform, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) has considerable sway over the trajectory of political decisions in northeast Syria, and it is, in some sense, a barometer of political inclinations at the highest level of the Syrian Kurdish political establishment. Nonetheless, the explicit acceptance of a border ‘safe zone’ in principle does not imply that meaningful progress has been made on the outstanding concerns that continue to impede U.S.-Turkey negotiations over northeast Syria. Indeed, both Turkey and the Kurdish Self-Administration view the proposed border zone as an existential issue, and definitive progress to bridge the remaining divide appears unlikely in the near term. Turkey has repeatedly threatened to establish by force a ‘safe zone’ extending 30 km or more into Syria. Nonetheless, Turkey’s readiness (and, more importantly, its willingness) to undertake a direct military offensive in northeast Syria is in doubt. Turkey is capable of deploying considerable leverage in northern Syria via its established links with key tribal leaders and armed groups across much of the Syria-Turkey border. Moreover, an all-out military offensive will come at a high cost, materially and politically, which Turkey is likely to avoid so long as it can achieve its proximate objectives through less costly means. Nonetheless, Turkey’s military operations in Syria have been highly unpredictable, and its actions vis-a-vis the proposed ‘safe zone’ in northeastern Syria remain linked to broader regional and international dynamics. 

4. Israeli Missiles Strike Southern Syria

Quneitra and Dar‘a Governorates: On July 24, local and media sources reported that Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) had launched a series of missile attacks on positions held by Government of Syria forces and Government-aligned and Iran-linked militias in southern Syria. Local sources confirmed that the strikes targeted Tal Hara, in western rural Dar’a Governorate, as well as Quneitra Governorate’s Nab’ El Sakher, Tal Ahmar, and Hadar.

Analysis: The fact that Israeli strikes in southern Syria—and, on limited occasions, as far north as Aleppo—have remained a regular occurrence throughout the past year serves as a clear indication that ongoing efforts by the Syrian government and Russia to reduce Iran’s influence in Syria are unlikely to prevent Israel’s unilateral efforts to that end. The most significant indication of a regional détente over efforts to contain Iran came on June 30, when military and intelligence officials from Russia, Israel, and Syria reportedly met in the Golan Heights to entertain an Israeli proposal for a coordinated effort to counter Iranian influence; however, no tangible changes have since been announced on this issue (see Syria Update July 4–10). As such, Iran-backed militias retain a presence in southern Syria and—despite the most recent downsizing and remobilization of Hezbollah forces, mainly in Rural Damascus—there have been no unambiguous indicators that they will reduce their presence in border areas along the Golan Heights. To the contrary, local sources and media reports indicate that Iranian militias retain a strong presence in southern Syria. To a degree, both Russia and the Government of Syria have been amenable to containing Iran’s influence within Syrian state institutions (see point 1 above). However, the likelihood that these efforts will deter future Israeli airstrikes remains in doubt, and Iran-linked positions in southern Syria—as well as in other parts of Syria—remain a likely target for Israeli strikes in the foreseeable future.

5. Qasem Suleimani Visits Abu Kamal

Abu Kamal, Deir-ez-Zor Governorate: On July 23, media sources reported that the commander of the Iranian Al-Quds Brigade, Qasem Suleimani, had visited Abu Kamal in southern rural Deir-ez-Zor Governorate. As per the reports, Suleimani visited the area to lay the groundwork for a new militia to be established under the name Liwaa’ Hurras Al-Maqamat (Guardians of Sacred Places Brigade), whose primary function will be to protect Shia religious sites in the area. Suleimani also reportedly met various armed-group commanders, including the heads of the Fatimiyoun Brigade and the Security Committee of Mayadin. Local sources indicated that militias affiliated with Iran are also constructing new bases north of Abu Kamal, while Government of Syria–affiliated militias will reportedly retain their presence inside the city. Relatedly, on July 25 Israeli media reported that progress has been made in the construction of a new border crossing to replace the former Abu Kamal-Al-Qaim crossing; unlike the existing crossing, which passed through the city, new satellite imagery reportedly reveals that the new crossing is several kilometers outside the city. 

Analysis: Perhaps nowhere have efforts to solidify Iranian influence in Syria been more successful than in Abu Kamal; Suleimani’s visit affirms not only that Iran is resolute on cementing its military presence, but also that it intends to secure strong popular support in southern rural Deir-ez-Zor. Its efforts in this regard are wide-ranging: service provision, rehabilitation, considerable economic investment, and increasingly, religious outreach. Primarily, however, a strong presence at the Abu Kamal-Al-Qaim border crossing will also be seen as part and parcel of Iran’s regional economic vision, particularly its efforts to secure access to the Mediterranian. However, it is also important to note that such interventions carry a risk; by increasing the local salience (and material importance) of religious identity, they risk triggering future sectarian strife. In general, sectarian affiliation has not played a large role in shaping inter-community dynamics in rural Deir-ez-Zor, where political affiliation and tribal identity have traditionally been far more relevant dynamics. However, ongoing Iranian intervention—and increasingly overt outreach by Saudi Arabia in communities elsewhere in Deir-ez-Zor—threatens to embed sectarian identities more deeply into local economic and social hierarchies. 

6. U.S. Seeks Arab Alliance in Deir-ez-Zor

Deir-ez-Zor Governorate: On July 25, local and media sources reported the assassination of Yasser Fayyad (aka Yasser Dhaleh), an Arab defector from the SDF. Dahleh’s killing is the latest in a series of assassination attempts in northern Deir-ez-Zor, which took place between July 19 and 23, targeting Arab figures known for their resistance to the SDF. These figures included Abu Bakr Qadsiyeh, reportedly a public proponent of recent clashes between the local population and the SDF in Basira; as well as the secretary to the head of Deir-ez-Zor Military Council. Local rumors implicate the SDF in these assassination attempts; however, Deir-ez-Zor Military Council member Khalil Al-Wahsh was also targeted for assassination, allegedly by community members mistrustful of his relationship with Kurdish forces. As per local sources, the incidents followed the latest meeting between the U.S.-led coalition and Arab notables; reportedly, both Arab and Kurdish supporters of the SDF were excluded from these meetings. The principal demands raised during the meetings were reported to concern the Deir-ez-Zor Military Council’s financial and military independence from SDF and its direct cooperation with the U.S.-led international coalition; the release of former FSA members detained by the SDF; and the release from Al-Hol and Areesha camps of Deir-ez-Zor locals who were detained on the grounds of connection to ISIS. 

Analysis: The SDF’s inability to amass popular support in predominantly Arab communities, especially in Deir-ez-Zor Governorate, has aggravated existing ethnic tensions and culminated in frequent confrontations with local populations, and, to some extent, within the SDF itself. Tensions between the SDF and the Deir-ez-Zor Military Council point to the growing fractures within the SDF and the increasing fragility of the Self-Administration as a whole. Indeed, the recent U.S. rapprochement with Arab tribes is likely aimed at containing these internal disputes, or bypassing them in order to preserve the Self-Administration’s nominal control over strategically vital oil and gas fields on the east bank of the Euphrates River. The efforts are also, presumably, intended to ward off outreach by the Government of Syria in strategically vital tribal Arab communities. However, a greater Arab role within the SDF, or parallel to it, is unlikely to ameliorate concerns in predominantly Arab communities unless it is accompanied by greater political and administrative autonomy, more comprehensive service provision, and equitable resource distribution. 

7. New Russian and Lebanese Companies

Damascus: The Government of Syria Ministry of Trade reportedly approved the establishment of a new Russian-Syrian contracting company, the New Company for Development and Construction, to be based in Rural Damascus. The company will reportedly contract and sell construction machinery and materials, in addition to directly working on the rehabilitation and installation of industrial, commercial, and service facilities. The company is 60 percent owned by the Syrian Development and Construction for Trading and Contracting Company (DCTC) and 40 percent owned by Russian company PetroStroy. Additionally, Atomstroyexport, a Russian nuclear power and equipment-service exporter, reportedly announced that it would establish a new company in Syria, Stroyexport Middle East. Atomstroyexport will reportedly own 50 percent of Stroyexport Middle East, while 50 percent will be owned by two Lebanese businessmen and one Syrian businessman (none of whom have been named publicly). Stroyexport Middle East will reportedly be based in Damascus city and will engage in contracting and construction transactions.  

Analysis:  The Government of Russia is likely to continue incentivising Russian private sector investment in Syria, as a means of increasing its future role in the Syrian economy. A large number of Russian investments have been undertaken via Government of Syria contractual agreements with Russian companies; these investments are generally focused on natural resource extraction, including oil, gas, and phosphates, as well as infrastructure. So long as EU restrictive measures and U.S. sanctions remain in effect (thus preventing western companies from engaging in Syria), the Government of Syria’s major allies—namely, Russia and Iran—are likely to attempt to secure a quasi-monopoly over opportunities for economic investment in Syria. Joint economic projects and companies, such as these most recent examples, are expected to continue to empower the business class in Syria, although it remains unclear to what degree Russian and Iranian investment will improve the livelihoods of Syria’s population or prevent Syria’s economic deterioration. 

8. Restrictions On Syrians In Istanbul

Turkey: On July 30, local media reported that the Governor of Istanbul had agreed to a slate of new bureaucratic procedures that would allow Syrians to acquire ‘temporary protection’ status in Turkey, albeit in communities outside Istanbul, while sweeping deportations to Syria will remain on pause. Following a July 29 meeting with the Governor of Istanbul and the head of the Immigration Directorate, the head of the Forum of Syrian Societies in Turkey, Mehdi Dadoud, said that official circulars pertaining to the decisions would be issued in the coming days. Syrians will reportedly be exempt from previously announced restrictions on travel in Istanbul. Moreover, the sweeping crackdown on unlicensed Syrian workers and those residing in the city without official registration status will reportedly remain on hold. However, an August 20 deadline for Syrians not holding ‘temporary protection’ status in Istanbul to leave the city will reportedly remain in effect. To that end, Turkish authorities will reportedly transfer individuals registered outside of Istanbul to the areas where they possess registration, while unregistered individuals will reportedly be moved to camps, where they will be allowed to apply for registration in other communities.

Analysis: The easing of restrictions on Syrians living in Istanbul without formal registration follows a week of intense crackdown, including sweeping arrests and deportations that have forced many Syrians living in Istanbul to avoid going out in public or using public transportation. However, the reprieve promised by the new procedures will be temporary and limited in scope. Indeed, a wider Turkish policy toward Syrians is taking shape; although deportations to Syria are now on hold, it is now clear that the Government of Turkey will take steps to respond to widespread public calls to reduce the number of unregistered foreign nationals living and working in Istanbul—Syrians, in particular. The August 20 deadline for unregistered Syrians to leave Istanbul is thus likely to be a signature policy going forward. Where, exactly, and under what terms Syrians who currently lack legal status in Turkey will be allowed to register remains an open question.

The Wartime and Post-Conflict Syria project (WPCS) is funded by the European Union and implemented through a partnership between the European University Institute (Middle East Directions Programme) and the Center for Operational Analysis and Research (COAR). WPCS will provide operational and strategic analysis to policymakers and programmers concerning prospects, challenges, trends, and policy options with respect to a conflict and post-conflict Syria. WPCS also aims to stimulate new approaches and policy responses to the Syrian conflict through a regular dialogue between researchers, policymakers and donors, and implementers, as well as to build a new network of Syrian researchers that will contribute to research informing international policy and practice related to their country.

The content compiled and presented by COAR is by no means exhaustive and does not reflect COAR’s formal position, political or otherwise, on the aforementioned topics. The information, assessments, and analysis provided by COAR are only to inform humanitarian and development programs and policy. While this publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union, its contents are the sole responsibility of COAR Global LTD, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.

Syria Update: July 18 – July 24, 2019

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Syria Update

18 July to 24 July, 2019

The Syria Update is divided into two sections.  The first section provides an in-depth analysis of key issues and dynamics related to wartime and post-conflict Syria.   The second section provides a comprehensive whole of Syria review, detailing events and incidents, and analysis of their respective significance.

The following is a brief synopsis of the in-depth analysis section this week:

On July 22, the governor of Istanbul ordered Syrians residing in Istanbul without official authorization from the Ministry of Interior to leave the city by August 20; those who fail to do so “will be relocated” to the province where they were registered for “temporary protection” status, while unregistered Syrians will face detention, relocation to other provinces, or possible deportation. The order follows the suspension, on July 8, of the registration of Syrians in Istanbul; in the weeks following the decision, Turkish authorities engaged in a widespread crackdown on Syrians in Istanbul. On July 20, the Istanbul Immigration Directorate halted the sweeping arrest campaign; nonetheless, many refugees detained by Turkish authorities were reportedly pressured to sign documents stating their willingness to ‘voluntarily’ return to Syria, and activists indicate that as many as several hundred Syrians refugees were returned to northwest Syria through the Bab Al-Hawa border crossing under the auspices of the campaign. No single trigger for the crackdown is apparent, but the campaign signals a general fatigue in Turkey, especially Istanbul, over the Syrian refugee issue, and it mirrors the trajectory of refugee affairs in Lebanon. Most worryingly, the punitive policies enforced in host communities in both countries have few evident ramifications for domestic political actors; on the contrary, harsh anti-Syrian refugee policies are no longer a niche concern but a matter of increasingly universal political consensus, and political actors across the Lebanese and Turkish political spectrums now view increased enforcement of labor and immigration laws as a virtual necessity for their own domestic political survival.

The following is a brief synopsis of the Whole of Syria Review:
  1. On July 22, at least 23 civilians were reportedly killed in a massive air raid on the Maaret An Nu’man market; meanwhile, on July 19, ground and aerial bombardments by the Governments of Syria and Russia reportedly displaced 35,000 individuals from Jisr Ash Shugur. Despite massive destruction, the protracted offensive in northwestern Syria is unlikely to end without a breakthrough in Russian-Turkish negotiations.
  2. All crossings between SDF- and Government-held areas in Syria have been closed to commercial traffic, reportedly as a result of a disagreement over cross-line commercial trade. The SDF is now faced with conflicting priorities: to meet its own commercial needs, or to bow to American-led efforts to economically isolate the Government of Syria.
  3. The upcoming Nur-Sultan (formerly Astana) summit will convene on August 1 and 2. The inclusion, for the first time, of Lebanon and Iraq as observer states reflects a broader effort to supplant the Geneva negotiations track. Progress on a Syrian constitutional committee is expected.
  4. Prominent fuel trader Hossam Qaterji has created a militia to protect oil shipments in rural Deir-ez-Zor Governorate. The fuel trade is increasingly lucrative and entails significant security risk; the formation of the militia reflects both the increasingly lawless nature of Deir-ez-Zor as well as the outsize role of private individuals in ostensibly state functions.
  5. The Government of Iraq has frozen the opening of a border crossing between Iraq and Syria in the Sinjar Mountain area. The decision reportedly came as a result of the SDF’s refusal to raise the Government of Syria’s national flag at the crossing site, calling attention to Iraq’s inability to jeopardize its relationship with Damascus. 
  6. On July 18, media sources reported that Hezbollah had closed its main Damascus office; the closure is likely the latest initiative in a wider Hezbollah push to reshuffle its forces in Syria. 
  7. On July 21, a spokesperson for the Ahmad Abdo Brigade, an armed opposition group in the Rukban camp, publicly denied reports that negotiations were underway for the en masse reconciliation of Rukban residents. For now, the wholesale reconciliation of Rukban remains unlikely, as many camp residents are ideologically and logistically incapable of reconciling with the Government. 
  8. During the reporting period, a campaign targeting ‘illegal’ labor in Lebanon led to widespread unrest in Palestinian camps, demonstrations, and significant public outcry. Although the Ministry of Labor has scaled back the harshest measures, the Government of Lebanon will almost certainly revisit measures designed to pressure Syrian laborers.

Istanbul Syrian Refugee Deportations

In Depth Analysis

Syrian workers in Turkey. Image Courtsey of Brookings.edu.

On July 22, the governor of Istanbul ordered Syrians who are not registered with the Interior Ministry in Istanbul to leave the city by August 20; those who fail to do so “will be relocated” to the province in which they are registered for “temporary protection” status, while unregistered Syrians will face detention, relocation to other provinces, or possible deportation. The order follows the suspension, on July 8, of the registration of Syrians in Istanbul, at which time Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu stated that apart from “exceptional cases” the city is “now closed to Syrians.” In the weeks following the order, local media reported widespread police raids targeting Syrians in Istanbul, forcing many Syrians to avoid public spaces or risk detention and deportation. Refugees detained by Turkish authorities were reportedly pressured to sign documents stating their willingness to ‘voluntarily’ return to Syria. On July 20, the Istanbul Immigration Directorate halted the sweeping arrests; it is impossible to verify the exact number of Syrians removed from Istanbul under the auspices of the campaign, but Syrian activists claim that in recent weeks Turkish authorities bussed several hundred, and as many as six thousand Syrian refugees to northwest Syria, primarily through the Bab Al-Hawa border crossing. Local sources indicate that upon arrival in Syria, returnees have been allowed to choose between remaining in Idleb Governorate or proceeding onward to Euphrates Shield areas in northern Aleppo.

Policies singling out Syrian refugees in Turkey, especially Istanbul, are now pervasive and largely transcend party politics. Several factors have contributed to Turkey’s advance toward the systematic targeting of Syrian refugees. During local elections in March, President Erdogan’s AKP was widely criticized as being lenient toward Syrian refugees; it is now clear that the victories of political challengers to AKP in several key provinces, and in Istanbul city itself, signaled an inflection point in the escalation of anti-refugee rhetoric. Moreover, many working- and middle-class Turks increasingly view Syrians as low-wage competitors in the local labor market. Istanbul, in particular, is a destination for large numbers of Syrians precisely because it offers greater economic prospects than the outlying provinces in which many Syrians are officially registered for official “temporary protection” status with the Turkish Interior Ministry. In this context, the dramatic devaluation of the Turkish Lira since mid-2018 has markedly compounded the effects of perceived economic competition with Syrian refugees.

In early July, as a result of these pressures, President Erdogan announced that the Turkish government was undertaking a three-pronged approach to reduce the number of refugees— particularly Syrian refugees—in Turkey. On July 13, Erdogan stated: “We are going to encourage them to return to their countries. We are going to deport those who have committed crimes. Furthermore, we foresee a contribution payment from them in exchange for the health services provided to them.” It is important to note that the European Commission agreed, on July 19, to release 1.41 billion euros in support of health, socio-economic, and protection programming for Syrian refugees, and to provide municipal support for host communities in Turkey. However, the country’s current campaign to ‘encourage’ refugees to return to Syria is not only economic; rather, it reflects the fatigue that many Turkish citizens feel toward the refugee crisis and the Syrian conflict more widely. It is not clear financial support alone can address these concerns.

The recent trajectory of Turkish policy on Syrian refugees bears worrying similarities to dynamics in Lebanon. Both legal systems increasingly present structural impediments that make it difficult, if not impossible, for many Syrians to find employment, housing, and legal status in the long term. As a result, many Syrian refugees are caught in a legal cul-de-sac, and are vulnerable to detention and deportation because of legal systems that are increasingly designed to prevent them from residing or working legally. Worryingly, the punitive policies enforced by host governments have few clear ramifications for domestic political actors in either Lebanon or Turkey; on the contrary, harsh anti-Syrian refugee policies are no longer a niche concern but a universal political priority. Political actors across the Lebanese and Turkish political spectrums now view increased enforcement of labor and immigration laws as a virtual necessity for their own domestic political survival. The consequences of these policies for Syrian refugees are clear: host communities are increasingly hostile, and Syrian refugees are left with few ways to navigate labor and legal systems that are restrictive by design.

Whole of Syria Review

Weekly Report July 18 - July 24 - correct-map

1. Northwestern Syria Update

Idleb and Hama governorates: On July 22, media sources reported that at least 23 civilians were killed as a result of a massive air raid on the Maaret An Nu’man market. The attack marked this reporting period’s most deadly incident in the heightened aerial bombardment by the Government of Syria and Russian forces on communities across southern rural Idleb and northern rural Hama governorates. Moreover, the Jisr Ash Shugur local council stated that 35,000 individuals had been displaced from the area by the ground and aerial attacks launched by Russia and the Government of Syria on July 19. In response, on July 22, the Turkish-backed National Liberation Front (NLF) reportedly shelled several military bases and outposts held by Government of Syria and Russian forces in Hama Governorate; a member of the NLF reportedly indicated that the group’s response would expand to other governorates. Also on July 22, media sources reported that Ansar Al-Tawheed had shelled a Russian S-300 air defense base in Masyaf, western rural Hama. Nonetheless, frontlines in the northwest remain static, with limited direct clashes and no changes in zones of control. Media reports quoting NLF commanders indicated that Russia had deployed ground forces to these frontlines; Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu quickly denied that claim.

Analysis: The ongoing offensive on northwestern Syria has thus far inflicted massive damage on civil infrastructure and services, and it has resulted in considerable displacement. With the ongoing intensification of aerial attacks, the humanitarian situation in the area is expected to further deteriorate; the fate of the many displaced from Jisr Ash Shughur is particularly troubling. The protracted offensive in northwestern Syria is unlikely to end before a resolution is reached in Russian-Turkish negotiations, and any breakthrough in these negotiations will likely occur only as part of the upcoming summit in Nur-Sultan, on August 1 and 2 (See point 3, below). Until that time, it is likely that frontlines in northwestern Syria will remain static (albeit with heavy conflict), aerial attacks will continue and expand throughout northwestern Syria, and displacement will continue.

2. Closure of SDF-GOS Crossings

Al-Tabqa, Ar-Raqqa Governorate: On July 20, local sources reported that the Al-Tabqa commercial crossing linking SDF and Government of Syria–controlled areas in Ar-Raqqa Governorate was closed to commercial goods, including wheat and fuel. All trade through the crossing is now frozen and only civilian movement is permitted. Shortly after the closure of the Al-Tabqa crossing, local sources reported that all crossings between SDF- and Government-held areas throughout Syria (in Deir-ez-Zor, Aleppo, and Ar-Raqqa governorates) had also been closed to commercial goods. Local sources could not confirm which party first closed the Al-Tabqa crossing, and media sources also remain noncommittal on this point. The official cause of the crossing closures is also unclear; some media sources suggested that the Government of Syria closed its crossings in Deir-ez-Zor due to several recent explosions in Al Bougailia, in the vicinity of Deir-ez-Zor city; however, local sources speculated that the Government of Syria and SDF were disputing the terms of commercial agreements governing the trade of fuel and wheat.

Analysis: The SDF and the Government of Syria have generally maintained a cooperative  relationship, especially with respect to economic ties—in particular, the cross-line trade of fuel and wheat. However, it is important to note that this long-standing cooperation is subject to the ebbs and flows of both parties’ political relationships, which are in turn shackled to the broader geopolitical dynamics of the Jazeera region. The SDF is to some degree dependent on trade with the Government of Syria, as this exchange is a major source of revenue in the northeast. However, the SDF is also heavily dependent on the U.S.-led coalition’s support at a time when the coalition is increasingly fixated on economically isolating the governments of Iran and Syria.  It is important to note that the closure of the crossings between SDF and Government territory was concurrent with an unprecedented statement made by the head of the SDF-linked Deir-ez-Zor military council, Abou Khawla Al-Khabil, in which he called Iranian militias “hostile forces”, as well as with a recent incident in which U.S.-led coalition forces shelled Iranian militias in Abu Kamal, in southeast Deir-ez-Zor Governorate. The SDF is now faced with conflicting priorities: to respond to growing U.S. pressure against the governments of Iran and Syria, on the one hand, and to ensure economic stability through cooperation with the Government of Syria, on the other. Considering that the wheat and fuel trade between the Government of Syria and the SDF is critical for both parties, their economic cooperation is expected to resume in the near term; however, this trade will likely be subject to future challenges given the broader geopolitical political landscape.

3. Upcoming Nur-Sultan Summit

Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan: On July 19, the Kazakh Foreign Ministry stated that the next round of talks in Nur-Sultan (previously known as Astana) will convene on August 1 and 2. Notably, both Lebanon and Iraq will participate for the first time as observer states, alongside delegations from the governments of Russia, Turkey, Iran, and Syria, and representatives of the Syrian opposition. Media sources suggested that Russian diplomats are looking forward to the finalization of the Syrian constitutional committee during this round of talks. The same reports cited sources closely affiliated to the Government of Syria who allegedly expressed the Government’s willingness to abide by the Turkish-Russian agreement on northern Syria struck at Sochi earlier this year.

Analysis: The inclusion of Lebanon and Iraq as observer states in the upcoming meeting in Nur-Sultan is a further indication of efforts made by the ‘guarantor states’ (namely, Russia, Turkey, and Iran) to make the Nur-Sultan/Astana process the primary platform for international negotiations on Syria. Naturally, this comes at the expense of the UN-led Geneva process. As previously noted, this round of the Nur-Sultan talks will focus on the finalization of the constitutional committee, as well as on the Turkish-Russian agreement on northwestern Syria. Recent developments and primary sources indicate that the announcement of the members of the constitutional committee is expected in the near future (see Syria Update July 11–17); however, the fate of the Russian-Turkish agreement on northwestern Syria is difficult to predict, as Turkey remains adamant that the Government of Syria must withdraw from the areas it has captured in Syria over the past three months. However, considering that the Government of Syria has made only limited progress in northwestern Syria (largely due to significant pressure from the Government of Turkey), there is some likelihood that Russia and the Government of Syria will acquiesce to Turkish demands (for more information, see point 1, above).

4. Hussam Qaterji Militia in Deir-ez-Zor

Abu Kamal, Deir-ez-Zor Governorate: On July 19, media sources indicated that prominent Government of Syria–affiliated businessman Hossam Qaterji had formed a militia in Al-Abbas, a village in the vicinity of Abu Kamal, eastern Deir-ez-Zor Governorate. This militia is reportedly under the direct supervision of the Government of Syria Military Security Branch and exists exclusively to protect Qaterji’s investments in the fuel trade across the Euphrates River. Local sources indicate that the militia was established on July 11 and note that the Qaterji Group has also resorted to using plastic pipelines to transport fuel, as opposed to trucks or boats, in order to avoid being targeted by U.S.-led coalition forces. Notably, SDF officials and the Qaterji Group reportedly brokered a fuel transportation agreement in April 2019; this agreement has naturally been affected by the closure of crossings between SDF- and Government-held territories (see point 2, above).

Analysis: Hossam Qaterji, through the Qaterji Group, has maintained an effective monopoly on the northeastern Syria fuel trade thanks to his role in facilitating cross-line fuel trade between the SDF and the Government of Syria. The formation of a Qaterji-linked militia is an indication of the increasing importance of this fuel trade and the serious risks it entails. Cross-line commercial trade is increasingly politically sensitive, and fuel traders and smugglers have reportedly been attacked by U.S.-led coalition forces in the past in an effort to economically isolate the Government of Syria. Additionally, Deir-ez-Zor is an increasingly lawless region; robbery and sabotage are common, and fuel is an increasingly lucrative commercial good, given Syria’s fuel shortages. Qaterji’s new militia is likely an attempt to mitigate these security risks. However, the creation of this militia also reflects the intertwined relationship between economic and military actors in the Syrian conflict; Government-linked businessmen regularly form militias with the tacit approval of the Syrian state, and these economic actors, including Qaterji, are likely to remain key political and military stakeholders in post-war Syria. This will naturally create structural challenges that will impinge on Syria’s future economic development.

5. Opening of New Iraq-Syria Border Crossing ‘Frozen’

Sinjar, Iraq: On July 19, media sources reported that the governor of Iraq’s Nineveh Province, Khdeeda Joki, stated that Iraq had frozen the opening of a border crossing between Iraq and Syria in the Sinjar Mountain area. The Iraqi government reportedly halted the planned opening because the SDF refused to accede to Iraq’s request that the Government of Syria’s flag be raised over the new crossing. According to the reports, the crossing is intended to facilitate the evacuation of Iraqi Yazidis from the Al-Hol camp (as well as other camps in Syria) to Iraq; however, Joki said that the border crossing was also expected to improve trade between Syria and Iraq and that the delay would have negative economic consequences. On July 20, media reports indicated that Kurdish officials were negotiating possibly opening the crossing under the supervision of the U.S-led coalition and the UN.

Analysis: Iraq’s request that Syria’s national flag be raised at the border crossing is largely symbolic, but it calls attention to a pragmatic reality: the Government of Iraq cannot jeopardize its relationship with the Government of Syria, even for the sake of its own immediate economic or political interests in border areas under the control of the SDF. Indeed, the governments of Syria and Iraq have engaged in multiple cross-border economic projects, at times in cooperation with the Government of Iran, mostly centered on restoring regional trade, transportation infrastructure, and railroads. Given the high degree of regional cooperation, the Government of Iraq remains unlikely to engage in northeast Syria in ways that might threaten its far more consequential economic and political relations with Damascus. In several consequential aspects, northeast Syria remains isolated despite redoubled Western military and political support for the SDF. 

6. Hezbollah Closes Damascus Office

Damascus: On July 18, media sources reported that Hezbollah had closed its main Damascus office, located on the airport road south of Damascus city. According to the reports, the closure came in response to a Russian request that Hezbollah reduce its presence in Syria, particularly in the vicinity of Damascus city. Hezbollah’s decision to close its Damascus office has also been linked to the increased threat of Israeli airstrikes.

Analysis: Hezbollah is in the midst of a significant reorganization of its military forces in Syria. The most recent public remarks by Hezbollah Secretary General Hasan Nasrallah explained the reshuffle as a natural result of the group’s dramatically reduced military and operational needs in Syria. Nonetheless, as indicated in Syria Update July 11–17, the drawdown of Hezbollah forces is most likely a reflection of the toll of international sanctions on Iran, the group’s primary financial backer, as well as the changing dynamics of the Syria conflict. Notably, the closure of Hezbollah’s Damascus office testifies to the Government of Syria’s willingness to countenance Russian-led measures to contain Iran’s influence in Syria. However, it is important to note that despite recent military and administrative measures to reduce Iran’s influence in Syrian military and intelligence services, Iran and its affiliated militias, including Hezbollah, are expected to remain essential actors in Syria for the foreseeable future. The influence wielded by these groups takes economic, religious, and social forms that are not dependent on a direct military presence. Ultimately, given the likely durability of this influence, it is doubtful that Hezbollah’s nominal drawdown will be sufficient to deter future Israeli airstrikes on Syria, or to fully satisfy Russian aspirations to contain Iran.

7. Status of Rukban Camp

Rukban, Badiya, Homs Governorate:  On  July 21, a spokesperson for the Ahmad Abdo Brigade, an armed opposition group in the Rukban camp, reportedly denied the group’s intention to reconcile with the Government of Syria. Rumors of the willingness of armed opposition groups to reconcile with the Government of Syria have increased following a recent meeting reportedly held in Jordan. However, the Ahmed Abdo spokesman claimed that the meeting only included the Rukban camp’s civil administration and representatives of various organizations working in the camp, and pertained only to the humanitarian situation of the camp’s residents. On July 10, media sources reported that approximately 500 residents of Rukban had been evacuated to Homs city; according to UNOCHA, a total of 16,624 individuals evacuated the camp between March 24 and July 10. Upon their arrival in shelters in Homs, individuals are reportedly reconciled and then allowed to either remain in shelters or leave shelters to return to their areas of origin or other Government-held areas.

Analysis: The status of the individuals in the Rukban camp, and their willingness to reconcile, is a complex issue. The Rukban residents come from areas across Syria and include individuals who fled from the Government of Syria, the armed opposition, the YPG, and ISIS. For that reason, the reconciliation of Rukban camp has been an extremely contentious issue; many individuals in the camp are reported to be adamantly opposed to reconciliation, while others are reportedly open to reconciliation and return. These dynamics are compounded by the dire humanitarian conditions in the camp, which certainly encourage camp residents to consider reconciling despite their misgivings about doing so. However, the prominent armed opposition groups in Rukban, including Ahmed Abdo and Ousoud Sharqiya, are reported to be against reconciliation. This is partly due to the fact that large portions of the camp population are unlikely to be allowed to reconcile by the Government of Syria. More fundamentally, these armed groups derive considerable power from their control over the camp and its residents. Thus, while individuals in Rukban will likely to continue to reconcile in small numbers, the camp’s wholesale evacuation is a distant prospect.

8. Lebanese Ministry of Labor Campaign

Beirut, Lebanon: Throughout the reporting period, a Lebanese Ministry of Labor campaign against ‘illegal’ labor fueled massive demonstrations and upheaval in Palestenian camps across Lebanon. The campaign went into effect on July 10, when the Ministry of Labor began to close down shops, issue fines against businesses employing ‘illegal’ foreign workers, and detain workers without work permits. The campaign is widely understood to be targeting Syrian refugees working in Lebanon; however, due to the blanket enforcement of Labense labor law and the precarious legal status of Palestinians in Lebanon, numerous Palestinians were also detained and many Palestinian businesses were closed. In retaliation for the capaign, starting on July 17, Palestinian refugees in Sidon’s Ain El Helwe camp, Tyre’s Mieh Mieh and Rashidieh camps, and Beirut’s Burj El Barajneh and Mar Elias camps conducted demonstrations, burned tires, held strikes, and closed down the entrances of the camps. In response to the Palestinian protests, various Lebanese officials from across Lebanon’s political spectrum called for a revision of the Ministry of Labor campaign to ensure that it takes into consideration the specific conditions of Palestinian laborers in Lebanon. To that end, the speaker of Parliament and leader of the Amal Movement, Nabih Berri, stated that the recent measures taken against Palestinian labor in Lebanon had effecitvely been rescinded and would not be reimplemented. Prime Minister Saad Hariri reportedly relayed a similar message to a delegation from Hamas, on July 23, asserting that the matter would be discussed in the first meeting of the Lebanese cabinet. Hariri reportedly blamed the excesses of the campaign on Minister of Labor Kamil Abou Sleiman, whom he referred to as “inexperienced.” 

Analysis: The Government of Lebanon, in particular the Ministry of Labor, is expected to temporarily walk back—if not altogether halt—its campaign, in a bid to contain the widespread Palestinian backlash. In marked contrast to the Syrian refugee community in Lebanon, the Palestinian community in Lebanon is highly organized; Palestinians maintain both a military and political presence in  camps across Lebanon, as per the terms of the 1969 Cairo Accord. The accord stipulates that the Palestinian camps are effectively beyond the jurisdiction of the Lebanese Army and remain under the nominal control of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Due to the organized nature of the Palestinian presence in Lebanon, the recent mobilizations threatened grave political consequences that the Government of Lebanon would likely be incapable of effectively managing. The security threat raised by the recent unrest is likely to dominate the political rhetoric and decelerate the ongoing campaign. If a temporary reprieve is given, other informal workers, namely Syria refugees, will likely benefit from the greater leeway—at least in the short term. However, in the long term the Government of Lebanon will almost certainly pursue measures designed to pressure Syrian refugees, who remain the primary target of its initiatives. Ultimately, the growing sentiment against Syrian refugees across the Lebanese political spectrum is unlikely to abate. 

The Wartime and Post-Conflict Syria project (WPCS) is funded by the European Union and implemented through a partnership between the European University Institute (Middle East Directions Programme) and the Center for Operational Analysis and Research (COAR). WPCS will provide operational and strategic analysis to policymakers and programmers concerning prospects, challenges, trends, and policy options with respect to a conflict and post-conflict Syria. WPCS also aims to stimulate new approaches and policy responses to the Syrian conflict through a regular dialogue between researchers, policymakers and donors, and implementers, as well as to build a new network of Syrian researchers that will contribute to research informing international policy and practice related to their country.

The content compiled and presented by COAR is by no means exhaustive and does not reflect COAR’s formal position, political or otherwise, on the aforementioned topics. The information, assessments, and analysis provided by COAR are only to inform humanitarian and development programs and policy. While this publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union, its contents are the sole responsibility of COAR Global LTD, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.

Media Anthology: July 16 – July 22, 2019


ALEXANDRINA

Media Anthology

July 16 to 22, 2019

linklanguagesourceDateCategory
A report documents targeting 91 schools during the Russian campaign on IdlebArabicEnab BaladiJuly 17, 2019Conflict and Military
Deaths and injuries in blasting a bus for the Fourth Division in west rural Dar'aArabicHoran Free LeagueJuly 18, 2019Conflict and Military
Security branches of the regime raids, loot, and takes the ownership of 70 homes of displaced people in the Eastern GhoutaEnglishSyrian Observatory For Human RightsJuly 17, 2019Conflict and Military
The lion and the eagle: The Syrian Arab Army’s destruction and rebirthEnglishMiddle East InstituteJuly 18, 2019Conflict and Military
Special report: 300 Troops of the Assad regime recently defectedEnglishNedaa SyriaJuly 16, 2019Conflict and Military
Idleb: The regime burns Khan Shaykun, and Jisr-Ash-Shugur is a new axisArabicAl modonJuly 20, 2019Conflict and Military
With a production capacity reaches 45 tons per day, opening a mill in north AleppoArabicBaladi NewsJuly 17, 2019Economic
How has war affected Syria's oil and gas sector?EnglishThe Arab WeeklyJuly 18, 2019Economic
Syria: Suspects’ families assets seizedEnglishHuman Rights WatchJuly 16, 2019Governance and Service Management
Confiscating hundreds of cars and hold their owners, in a Turkish campaign in the 'liberated' areas to restore 15 thousand stolen carsArabicJesr PressJuly 19, 2019Governance and Service Management
Ar-Raqqa: Three years without electricity; patience and Amperes are the only solutionsArabicRozanaJuly 20, 2019Governance and Service Management
Istanbul municipality gives the illegal Syrians a month to settle their status ArabicAl ArabyJuly 22, 2019Governance and Service Management
The sociology of Kurds post – the 12th of March uprising in 2004EnglishAl- Furat Center for StudiesJuly 17, 2019Social Dynamics
From Berlin to the barracks: a Syrian rebel returns homeEnglishZaman Alwsl July 20, 2019Social Dynamics
Between regime and rebels: A survey of Syria’s Alawi sectEnglishThe New York Review of BooksJuly 22, 2019Social Dynamics
The Syrian refugees issue in LebanonArabicJusoor for studiesJuly 17, 2019Humanitarian & Development
Why did GIZ suspend its funding to health directorates in IdlebArabicAl modonJuly 21, 2019Humanitarian & Development
A Turkish organization opens a new camp for IDPs in rural IdlebArabicNedaa SyriaJuly 22, 2019Humanitarian & Development
US wants Kurdish groups to reconcile in eastern SyriaEnglishAl-MonitorJuly 17, 2019International Intervention
The war of militias: A new chapter in the Russian-Iranian strifeArabicStrategy WatchJuly 18, 2019International Intervention
Distancing to protect: the US role in preserving the Syrian regimeEnglishOpen Democracy July 22, 2019International Intervention
Moscow accuses Washington of attempting to lift Al-Nusra from the terrorism listArabicGeiroonJuly 18, 2019Other
The oil credit line: An Iranian extortion; the regime compliesArabicAl modonJuly 20, 2019Other
Syria: attempts by Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey to co-opt Arab tribes will deepen the country’s divisionsEnglishThe ConversationJuly 17, 2019Other
Al-Assad’s Nuremberg moment: Page by page, an NGO and its Canadian founder build a case for Syrian war crimesEnglishThe Globe and MailJuly 22, 2019Other

Media Anthology: July 09 – July 15, 2019


ALEXANDRINA

Media Anthology

July 09 to 15, 2018

linklanguagesourceDateCategory
A pro-Turkey Islamic corps carries out a campaign of raids and arrests in Maabatli Township in the countryside of Afrin cityEnglishSyrian Observatory For Human RightsJuly 8, 2019Conflict and Military
The spoiled Tiger of Russia -Suhail al-Hasan- fails in Idlib battle completely and causes the loss of more than 750 members of the regime forces in 70 daysEnglishSyrian Observatory For Human RightsJuly 8, 2019Conflict and Military
A new security branch to "protect state institutions" through the Russian-backed amendment undertaken by AssadArabicAsharq Al AwsatJuly 11, 2019Conflict and Military
Fuel truck explosion causes dozens of casualties in Afrin ArabicAl modonJuly 11, 2019Conflict and Military
A bombed car exploded inside the regime security square in Quamishli ArabicEnab BaladiJuly 11, 2019Conflict and Military
Situation Report 7: Recent Developments in Northwestern Syria as of 12 July 2019EnglishUnited Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian AffairsJuly 12, 2019Conflict and Military
The regime government gains around 197 million Syrian Pound through "anti-smuggling" measures in one weekArabicAl-7alJuly 11, 2019Economic
The war of propertiesEnglishAl JumhuriyaJuly 11, 2019Governance and Service Management
Deir-ez-Zor might witness a dispute between Arab tribes and the Protection Forces because of the head of Deir-ez-Zor civilian councilArabicNedaa SyriaJuly 14, 2019Governance and Service Management
After one year of displacement, the Assad regime allowed Yarmouk camp residents to return homeArabicStep News AgencyJuly 8, 2019Social Dynamics
After security vetting, the regime allows 2% of Al-Qusayr displaced people to return homeArabicSyria TVJuly 12, 2019Social Dynamics
European organizations cease funding for health directorates in north SyriaArabicEnab BaladiJuly 13, 2019Humanitarian & Development
Additional massacres by the shelling of the regime and Russia on Idleb. A human rights network documented the death of 600 civilians during eleven weeks ArabicAl SouriaJuly 12, 2019Humanitarian & Development
Syria: US coalition should address civilian harmEnglishHuman Rights WatchJuly 9, 2019Humanitarian & Development
Russian airstrikes destroy main water plant in Syria’s Maarat al-Numan as refugees suffer ‘tragic’ conditionsEnglishAl ArabyJuly 14, 2019Humanitarian & Development
Top Oman diplomat meets Assad in rare Syria visitEnglishNahar NetJuly 7, 2019International Intervention
Putin’s Not-So-Secret Mercenaries: Patronage, Geopolitics, and the Wagner GroupEnglishCarnegie Endowment for International PeaceJuly 8, 2019International Intervention
A return to American restraint begins in SyriaEnglishThe Century FoundationJuly 10, 2019International Intervention
The map of the Iranian influence in SyriaArabicAl JumhuriyaJuly 15, 2019International Intervention
Afrin: Incidents of desecration and destruction Of cultural sitesEnglishBellingcatJuly 12, 2019Other
Less than a month after the latest meeting…a US senior delegation meets with commanders of the “Civil Council” and Sheikhs and tribe dignitaries in Al-Omar OilfieldEnglishSyrian Observatory For Human RightsJuly 10, 2019Other

Syria Update: July 11 – July 17, 2019

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Syria Update

11 July to 17 July, 2019

The Syria Update is divided into two sections.  The first section provides an in-depth analysis of key issues and dynamics related to wartime and post-conflict Syria.   The second section provides a comprehensive whole of Syria review, detailing events and incidents, and analysis of their respective significance.

The following is a brief synopsis of the in-depth analysis section this week:

On July 13, the Response Coordination Group issued a statement declaring that “donors announced that their support for the Health Directorates of Idleb, Hama, and Aleppo will be discontinued.” More than 160 hospitals and other medical facilities will reportedly cease operation, forcing an estimated 4.7 million people to rely exclusively on volunteer medical centers. The timing of this withdrawal is particularly impactful. The governments of Syria and Russia are in the midst of an intense campaign of aerial bombardment in northwest Syria. More than 550 people have been killed in airstrikes there since late April, and hundreds of thousands have been internally displaced. Most worryingly, medical infrastructure has been a frequent target of this bombardment. By far the entity most significantly impacted by the withdrawal of funding is the Idleb Health Directorate, which is the central coordinating body for health services across northwestern Syria; in many communities, it administers the only functional medical facilities. In effect, the withdrawal of external funding for the health sector in northwest Syria is the culmination of donor risk-mitigation strategies, which (justifiably) became increasingly restrictive when, in January 2019, Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham asserted military dominance over northern Hama, Idleb, and western Aleppo Governorates, making the HTS-affiliated Salvation Government the primary administrative and governance body in every community across opposition-controlled northwestern Syria. Nonetheless, according to local sources, interference by Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham or the Salvation Government in the Idleb Health Directorate has been generally limited, carried out primarily by local actors in opposition to the general practices of the Salvation Government, and almost always resolved in favor of the Idleb Health Directorate. In an important sense, the withdrawal of funding may prove counterproductive. The Salvation Government has thus far been reluctant to interfere in the Idleb Health Directorate due to fears that doing so would prompt the withdrawal of external funding. The removal of that funding may actually compel the Salvation Government to take a much greater role in the health sector in order to meet the extreme health needs in northwestern Syria.

The following is a brief synopsis of the Whole of Syria Review:
  1. A large number of imams in Dar‘a Governorate were fired by the Regliious Endowments Ministry; the firing of the imams reflects the Government of Syria’s increased influence over religious discourse, as well as its inability to politically stabilize reconciled communities in southern Syria. 
  2. A Russian Military Police patrol was targeted by an IED in Dar‘a, and local rumors attribute the attack to Iran-backed armed groups; geopolitical tensions will only further complicate the already deteriorating security situation in southern Syria.
  3. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs touted “considerable progress” on the formation of a constitutional committee, following a visit by UN Special Envoy to Syria Geir Pederson to Damascus. A break in the deadlock on the constitutional committee is possible in the near term; however, the parties remain at odds on the exact role of the prospective committee.
  4. A string of bombings was reported in northeast Syria, including several targeting both Christian and government-linked sites. Although responsibility and motivation for the attacks is difficult to ascertain, they come during a period of worryingly high tensions in the northeast, involving nearly all actors on the ground.
  5. An IED blast killed 11 civilians in Afrin and injured 12 others. Notably, the most significant factor driving instability in Afrin is the lasting displacement of Kurdish residents as a result of Operation Olive Branch.  
  6. The Government of Syria Military Conscription Division has circulated a list of 750 individuals wanted for military service in Eastern Ghouta. It is unclear if the list signals a new nationwide conscription campaign, but its composition suggests a significant lack of coordination among government and security agencies. 
  7. Russia will invest in tourist resorts in Lattakia and Tartous governorates. Investments in tourism diverge markedly from the pattern of Russian investment in Syria, yet are unlikely to augur a wider investment in the productive sectors of Syria’s economy. 
  8. On July 10, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah made a major televised address in which he acknowledged Hezbollah’s partial withdrawal from Syria. The speech coincided with new U.S. Treasury sanctions against three prominent Hezbollah members in Lebanon, and it clarified that, although Hezbollah’s regional position is in flux, its fundamental priorities remain largely unchanged.

Suspension of Health Directorate Support in Northwest Syria

In Depth Analysis

A group of northwestern Syria stakeholders announce the General Conference of the Syrian Revolution on February 3rd. Image courtesy of Eldorar.

On July 13, the Response Coordination Group issued a statement declaring that “donors announced that their support for the Health Directorates of Idleb, Hama, and Aleppo will be discontinued.” According to the statement, in the absence of external support, more than 160 hospitals, clinics, blood banks, and other medical facilities will cease operation, forcing the reported 4.7 million people in northwestern Syria to rely exclusively on volunteer medical centers. The independent health directorates affected by the funding freeze are the primary providers of health services in northwest Syria; by far the most significant of these is the Idleb Health Directorate, which is the central coordinating body for healthcare across northwestern Syria—in many communities, it administers the only functional medical facilities. While the withdrawal of funding for the health sector in northwest Syria would entail significant consequences under any circumstances, the timing of this withdrawal makes it particularly impactful. The governments of Syria and Russia are in the midst of an intensifying campaign of aerial bombardment in northwest Syria. More than 550 people have been killed in airstrikes there since late April, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human RIghts, and hundreds of thousands of individuals have been internally displaced within northwestern Syria. Most worryingly, medical infrastructure has been a frequent target of these attacks. On July 10 alone, three medical facilities in Jisr Ash-Shughur and Saraqeb were targeted, as was the Ma’arrat An Nu’man hospital, one of the largest in northwest Syria and a hub for regional referrals.

In effect, the withdrawal of external funding for the health sector in northwest Syria is the culmination of donor risk-mitigation strategies, which (justifiably) became increasingly restrictive when, in January 2019, Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham asserted military dominance over Idleb Governorate and neighboring areas of northern Hama and western Aleppo, making the HTS-affiliated Salvation Government the primary administrative and governance body in every community across opposition-controlled northwestern Syria. In the period since this consolidation, avoiding programming which could be construed as directly or indirectly benefiting Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham and the Salvation Government has been a defining dynamic of the humanitarian response in northwest Syria.

In terms of the health sector, the most pressing concerns relate to the potential influence of the Salvation Government Ministry of Health over the Idleb Health Directorate. In mid-January, European donors temporarily suspended funding for health directorates in northwest Syria in response to the Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham takeover. At that time, the health directorates withheld salaries and retained employees on a voluntary basis; however, the suspension was eventually reversed. In practice, the Salvation Government and the Idleb Health Directorate are relatively disaggregated, intentionally so. The Salvation Government Ministry of Health is poorly resourced, reportedly ineffective, and conducts little programming. Although the Idleb Health Directorate operates in areas that are now under the military and administrative control of Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham and the Salvation Government, it is nominally affiliated with the Syrian Interim Government and provides life-saving health services to civilian populations; in many communities no other healthcare provider exists. According to local sources, interference by Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham or the Salvation Government in the Idleb Health Directorate has been generally limited; reportedly, what interference does take place is usually related to local actors pressuring the directorate to hire specific staff members (a common occurrence across Syria), and complaints of interference are frequently resolved in favor of the Idleb Health Directorate.

Withdrawing support for the health sector will have serious consequences. External funding streams are absolutely essential to supporting health directorates serving the civilian population of the northwest. Additionally, the contingent nature of this funding has likely been the most effective deterrent against interference by the Salvation Government or Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham; essentially, the Salvation Government has been reluctant to interfere in the Idleb Health Directorate for fear of prompting the withdrawal of external funding. The withdrawal of support removes this deterrent and may actually compel the Salvation Government to take a much greater role in the health sector, in order to meet the extreme health needs in northwestern Syria. Moreover, the halt in funding may establish a potentially counterproductive precedent. In effect, it suggests that the Salvation Government’s attempts to maintain the independence of the Idleb Health Directorate were insufficient to prevent the cut; there is thus no reason for Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham to refrain from interference in the future. It is unclear if this decision will further alienate Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham and the Salvation Government; however, it is certain to have immediate consequences for the civilian population.

Whole of Syria Review

Weekly Report July 11-July 17-map

1. Imams Fired in Southern Syria

Dar‘a Governorate: On July 12, media sources reported that the Government of Syria Religious Endowments Ministry (Wizarat Al-Awqaf) had fired at least 34 imams in Dar‘a Governorate. These firings occurred gradually over the past two months in numerous communities in Dar’a Governorate. Local sources reported that the Religious Endowments Ministry took action because the imams had not attended a training in Damascus city, as per the Ministry’s request; the imams had also reportedly refrained from openly supporting the Government of Syria in Dar’a and had not urged young men to join the Syrian military. Reportedly, all of the imams who were fired have now effectively stopped working, with the exception of two, one in Dar’a city and another Tafas. While media sources attributed the exceptional case of the imams in Dar’a city and Tafas to the Russian military presence in those communities, local sources clarified that the imams in these two communities had not been receiving government salaries, and thus did not stop working at their respective mosques. 

Analysis: The Religious Endowments Ministry’s decision to end the service of almost all imams in Dar’a Governorate reflects two major trends: first, the Government of Syria’s increasing intervention in religious affairs; and second, the persistent political deadlock and growing instability throughout southern Syria. The Government of Syria has made it clear that it intends to exert much greater influence over Sunni religious matters throughout Syria; the most notable development in that direction took place on May 21, when President Bashar Assad anounced the establishment of DIICCTE (Damascus International Islamic Center for Countering Terrorism and Extremism) and issued Edict 16, both of which grant considerable power to the Religious Endowments Ministry to dictate Sunni religious rhetoric and hiring decisions. However, the Government of Syria’s inability to contain growing anti-government sentiment in southern Syria is certainly a contributing factor to the crackdown on imams in Dar‘a. The Ministry of Religious Endowment’s decision is yet another means by which the Government of Syria is attempting to exercise greater control over southern Syria. As mentioned in previous Syria Update reports, the Government of Syria is using military, governance, economic, and religious mechanisms to attempt to quell unrest in southern Syria; ultimately, these efforts to exert greater control over southern Syria will likely remain unsuccessful unless the government is willing to grant concessions to southern Syria’s local notables—for instance, by postponing conscription and addressing the status of southern Syria’s detainees.

2. Attack on Russian Military Police

Sahwa, Dar‘a Governorate: On July 13, media sources reported that a VBIED had targeted a Russian patrol in Sahwa, in eastern rural Dar‘a Governorate. No actor has yet claimed responsibility for the attack. In a statement on the incident, the head of the Russian Reconciliation Center, Major General Alexei Bakin, stated that no members of the Russian Military Police patrol were wounded, nor were any vehicles damaged. Bakin called the attack an “act of sabotage and terror,” and said the perpetrators had been “members of illegal armed groups that operate separately in south Syria with the aim to escalate the situation in that region.” Meanwhile, systematic attacks on Government of Syria checkpoints continued throughout southern Syria. For example, on July 12 and 13, local sources reported at least three IED attacks targeting Government of Syria forces and checkpoints in the vicinity of Bisr Elharir, which killed several individuals.

Analysis: While the actor responsible for the attacks on the Russian Military Police patrol remains unknown, locally, the event has largely been attributed to Iran-affiliated militias in southern Syria. The attacks are likely to further exacerbate existing tensions between local armed groups affiliated with Russia and Iran in southern Syria. Indeed, Russian-Iranian dynamics—both on the ground and within the Government of Syria itself—have become increasingly tense, most visibly in the reshuffling of top intelligence officers on July 7 and 8 (See Syria Update July 4 to July 10, 2019). Thus far, Russia’s capacity to unilaterally erode the on-the-ground influence of Iran and Iran-backed armed groups remains in doubt; to that end, other actors, including the Israeli government, are also fixated on reducing Iran’s influence in southern Syria. For example, a tripartite meeting between Russian, Syrian, and Israeli military and intelligence services was held on June 30 regarding a proposal to force Iran-backed armed groups to withdraw from much of southern Syria. The localized security situation in southern Syria, especially in Dar‘a Governorate, is likely to further deteriorate as it becomes increasingly entangled with broader regional geopolitical dynamics.

3. Constitutional Committee Progress

Damascus: On July 10, the Government of Syria’s Ministry of Foregin Affairs released a statement declaring that “considerable progress” had been made in the formation of the constitutional committee. The statement followed a meeting between UN Special Envoy to Syria Geir Pederson and Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Walid Mu’allem, in Damascus. Pederson’s visit to Damascus follows his meeting with Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergie Lavrov on July 5, during which he declared his optimism that the deadlock over the list of civil society representatives to the constitutional committee would be resolved in the near term. Additionally, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu stated in a recent television interview that an agreement had been reached regarding the civil society representatives on the committee.

Analysis: The convergence of statements by the Syrian, Russian, and Turkish foreign ministries suggests that an agreement on the constitutional committee’s civil society list is possible in the near future—perhaps as early as the upcoming meeting between Russia, Turkey, and Iran, to be held in Turkey. Nonetheless, new points of divergence and deadlock are likely. One candidate for membership to the committee indicated that the current dispute centers on the means of decision-making within the constitutional committee; this source claimed that supporters of the Government of Syria demand a threshold of 50 percent of the vote as a condition for adopting the terms of the new constitution, whereas members affiliated with the opposition advocate for a 75 percent threshold. More fundamentally, the parties remain at odds over the extent of the committee’s mandate to bring wholesale change to the Syrian constitution. Notably, although the present deadlock concerns the authority to select members to six remaining civil society seats, the most consequential dimension of the civil list is not its members’ affiliations, but their technical expertise in legal and constitutional affairs. Ultimately, while the committee may be composed in the near term, the actual approval of a new Syrian constitution remains a decidedly long-term process.

4. VBIED Attacks in Al-Hasakeh and Quamishli

Al-Hasakeh Governorate: On July 11, media and local sources reported a VBIED attack on the Government of Syria–controlled ‘security square’ in Quamishli city. The attack took place near Al-Adhra’ Church, in Al-Wosta neighborhood, and reportedly injured 15 people. Local sources also reported three VBIED attacks in Al-Hasakeh city, two of which occurred in Salhiyeh neighborhood, targeting sites associated with the SDF. The third attack struck the nearby community of Tal Hajar, reportedly in the vicinity of Sotoro forces, a Kurdish Self Administration security agency specifically formed to provide security to Christian communities in Al-Hasakeh Governorate. Another VBIED killed six SDF combatants in Ghazawi, Shadadeh Subdistrict, in southern rural Al-Hasakeh Governorate. 

Analysis: Attacks targeting SDF-affiliated forces in the southern stretches of the Kurdish Self-Administration are common; however, the attacks targeting Christian and Government of Syria–linked locations further north in Al-Hasakeh and Quamishli cities are a new and potentially significant development. Since the defeat of the final ISIS enclave in Baghouz in March, attacks against the SDF, Asayish, and notable local figures affiliated with the Kurdish Self Administration have been most frequently witnessed in Ar-Raqqa Governorate and in rural, predominantly Arab tribal communities along the Euphrates River in Deir-ez-Zor. With the exception of the attack in Ghazawi, all of the incidents in the recent string of attacks break this pattern. ISIS has claimed responsibility for these attacks; although this claim may be an attempt on the part of the group to inflate its apparent reach and relevance, its involvement cannot be discounted. It is premature to forecast the possibility of widening violence in the northeast, but this string of attacks comes at a critical moment. Tensions involving virtually all actors present on the ground in northeast Syria are notably high. Indeed, Kurdish authorities recently arrested several Government of Syria security agents; the SDF has been forced to make significant concessions to placate Arab tribes alienated by Kurdish Self Administration policies, conscription practices, and service shortfalls; and ISIS continues to claim attacks across the northeast. Given the tinder-box conditions, the likelihood that any individual action will further inflame tensions between the myriad actors in northeastern Syria is worryingly high. 

5. Major VBIED in Afrin

Afrin City, Aleppo Governorate: On July 11, media sources reported on a major VBIED attack in Afrin city. The explosion reportedly occurred in the Tarif Al-Basouta neighborhood, killing 11 civilians and wounding at least 12. UNICEF issued a statement condemning the attack, claiming that several children had been killed. Shortly after the incident, media reports indicated that Turkey-supported armed groups had conducted various campaigns in the area, and had reportedly detained 10 individuals.

Analysis: In general, the security situation in Afrin is likely to remain compromised for the foreseeable future. Although Turkey-supported armed groups have limited capacity to contain security threats in Afrin, the single most important destabilizing factor in Afrin is the ethnic dimension of the Turkish influence there. Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch resulted in massive displacement of the predominantly Kurdish population of Afrin, the impact of which is likely to continue to mar the security situation in the area. Sleeper cells, IEDs, and other security threats are likely to remain a concern in Afrin.

6. Conscription Lists in Eastern Ghouta

Eastern Ghouta, Rural Damascus Governorate: On July 11, media reports indicated that the Government of Syria’s Military Conscription Division had circulated a list of 750 names of individuals wanted for military service in Eastern Ghouta, amidst increased security measures and restrictions throughout the area. According to one of these sources, the list of names was communicated to mukhtars in Kafr Batna, Hammoura, Arbin, and Jebrein, as well as to the Kafr Batna Police Station, which informed the individuals named on these lists. Government of Syria police forces and Republican Guards have established several new checkpoints in various communities in Eastern Ghouta, in search of military conscripts. Notably, as with conscription lists circulated in other parts of the country, the list included the names of deceased individuals, as well as individuals known to be imprisoned by the Government of Syria.

Analysis: The circulation of the new conscription lists in Eastern Ghouta is likely part of a broader national-scale administrative process, as it comes shortly after the circulation of a conscription list in Dar‘a Governorate. As in the list recently circulated in Dar‘a, the conscription register includes the names of individuals already detained by the Government of Syria, and others who died earlier in the conflict, emphasizing a serious lack of coordination between various Government of Syria administrative institutions and security branches. Military conscription remains among the primary concerns of the population in reconciled areas, as the terms of reconciliation agreements and their associated guarantees have either expired or been flagrantly revoked. Considering the obvious lack of coordination between different Government of Syria institutions, it is important to question the degree to which conscription policies in reconciled areas are aimed at containing local dissent, are part of a broader policy aimed at increasing manpower, or are entirely arbitrary.

7. Russian Investment in Syrian Tourism

Lattakia and Tartous Cities: On July 12, the Government of Syria’s minister of tourism, Mohamad Martini, announced two Russian touristic projects in Lattakia and Tartous governorates. In Lattakia, Martini announced a contract between the Government  of Syria and the Olympic Tour Service Company to build a four-star tourist resort. The project in Tartous Governorate concerns the restoration and redevelopment of the existing Al-Manara Al-Siyahiya resort.

Analysis: Investment in tourism is a notable departure from the pattern of Russian economic interests in Syria. Thus far, Russian investment in Syria has been primarily concentrated in natural resource extraction, including oil, gas, and phosphates, as well as hard infrastructure. Investments in non-extractive sectors, such as tourism, have been fairly uncommon. Indeed, a common denominator of Russia’s investment portfolio in Syria is the limited positive impact these investments will have for the productive capacity of the Syrian economy or the Syrian labor force. Syria’s national economy has suffered major setbacks during the conflict, due, among other factors, to the large-scale destruction of economic institutions and infrastructure, and to the diminished economic opportunities for Syrian workers. Additionally, the economic and legal frameworks adopted during the presidency of Bashar Al-Assad have laid the groundwork for the deprioritization of productive economic sectors in favor of real estate and services. However, while Russian involvement in the tourism sector is certainly a noteworthy development, it does not necessarily signal wider interest on the part of Russia to rehabilitate the Syrian economy.

8. U.S. Sanctions Hezbollah Members

Beirut, Lebanon: On July 10, the U.S. Treasury announced new sanctions on three members of Hezbollah, including members of Lebanese parliament Mohamad Raad and Amin Sharri, as well as Hezbollah security chief Wafik Safa. Lebanese officials of various parties, including President Michel Aoun, Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, and Prime Minister Saad Hariri condemned the sanctions. Hezbollah Secretary General Hasan Nasrallah stated in a televised speech on July 10 that the party had decreased its forces in Syria; Nasrallah asserted that the drawdown was a result of “practical necessities” and had nothing to do with austerity measures or sanctions. Notably, Nasrallah stated that the Russian government is seeking a regional posture that would avoid a direct confrontation with Israel. Nonetheless, in the context of an increasingly likely limited confrontation between the U.S. and Iran, Nasrallah said that any military escalation would necessarily involve Israel, and that Hezbollah remains prepared for such a confrontation. Finally, Nasrallah indicated that the U.S. is seeking to open “channels of communication” with the party.

Analysis: In effect, Nasrallah’s speech comes as a direct response to multiple recent developments regarding Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian conflict, the party’s relationship with Iran, and its broader future as a Lebanese political movement. On June 30, the Russian government facilitated a tripartite meeting with Israel and the Government of Syria in a bid to strike an unlikely agreement to contain Iran’s influence in southern Syria (see Syria Update July 4 to July 10, 2019). As per Nasrallah’s speech, such an agreement is unlikely to happen, and the capacity of Israel or Russia to limit Hezbollah’s direct influence on the ground in Syria is limited. Nasrallah’s assertion that Hezbollah’s drawdown in Syria is a consequence of logistical and strategic priorities rather than sanctions or international pressure is thus likely to be largely true. Although Hezbollah does face serious financial constraints, at least in part due to sanctions targeting its leadership and operations, as well as Iran, its forces are no longer essential to ensuring the Government of Syria’s ability to control large portions of Syrian territory. Hezbollah forces have therefore been free to remobilize in areas according to their own strategic priorities—namely, the Qalamoun mountains and the Lebanese border. Finally, it is unsurprising that Nasrallah cautioned against the drawdown being seen as acquiescence to American or Israeli demands. Hezbollah’s direct affiliation with Iran is likely to ensure it will remain a target of U.S. sanctions, regardless of the group’s operations in Syria or potential lines of communication with the U.S.

The Wartime and Post-Conflict Syria project (WPCS) is funded by the European Union and implemented through a partnership between the European University Institute (Middle East Directions Programme) and the Center for Operational Analysis and Research (COAR). WPCS will provide operational and strategic analysis to policymakers and programmers concerning prospects, challenges, trends, and policy options with respect to a conflict and post-conflict Syria. WPCS also aims to stimulate new approaches and policy responses to the Syrian conflict through a regular dialogue between researchers, policymakers and donors, and implementers, as well as to build a new network of Syrian researchers that will contribute to research informing international policy and practice related to their country.

The content compiled and presented by COAR is by no means exhaustive and does not reflect COAR’s formal position, political or otherwise, on the aforementioned topics. The information, assessments, and analysis provided by COAR are only to inform humanitarian and development programs and policy. While this publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union, its contents are the sole responsibility of COAR Global LTD, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.

Syria Update: July 04 – July 10, 2019

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Syria Update

04 July to 10 July, 2019

The Syria Update is divided into two sections.  The first section provides an in-depth analysis of key issues and dynamics related to wartime and post-conflict Syria.   The second section provides a comprehensive whole of Syria review, detailing events and incidents, and analysis of their respective significance.

The following is a brief synopsis of the in-depth analysis section this week:

As of July 8 the Government of Syria has completely reshuffled the highest levels of the Syrian security-intelligence apparatus. In by far the most significant change, Director of the National Security Office Ali Mamlouk has been moved to the mostly ceremonial office of vice president for security affairs. However, Mamlouk was not the only high-profile official to be reshuffled; the heads of four other Syrian security agencies were also replaced on July 7. Most notably, Jamil Al-Hassan, the long standing head of Air Force Intelligence, was ‘retired’, as were the heads of the Criminal Security Branch, the Political Security Branch, and the General Intelligence Branch. To a large extent, the security-intelligence apparatus is the central pillar of the Syrian state, and the replacement of the heads of these agencies marks a major transition in the highest levels of the Government of Syria. This reshuffling is likely a product of Russia’s coordinated efforts to reshape Syria’s military-security apparatus by disrupting client networks, reducing infighting, and increasing sectarian and regional diversity. Intelligence services are an important mechanism of direct Russian influence in Syria, and bringing greater order to their operations is a clear Russian priority. Additionally, the reshuffling is likely calculated to reduce the Alawi hold on the intelligence services, and, consequently, Iran’s lever of direct influence. It remains too early to know what impact these changes will have on the operation of state security services. However, a major change in Syrian security and intelligence practices is unlikely.

The following is a brief synopsis of the Whole of Syria Review:
  1. Russia reportedly convened a meeting between Syrian Air Force Intelligence, the 5th Corps, and Israeli intelligence to discuss a tripartite plan to expel Iran-backed armed groups from southern Syria. The proposal is unprecedented; however, it is unlikely to be agreed to and almost certainly impossible to implement.
  2. Private Iranian charitable groups have reportedly settled 50 Shia IDP families from Foua and Kefraya in eastern Aleppo city. The resettlement of these IDPs overtly challenges the administrative prerogative of the Government of Syria and is likely to stoke sectarian tensions.
  3. The Government of Syria launched a new offensive to break a three-week stalemate in the northwest. The inability of government forces to advance into southern Idleb Governorate has many causes; however, the most important impediment is a breakdown in Russian-Turkish negotiations over northwest Syria.
  4. One thousand IDPs have been permitted to return to Al-Qusayr city. Though notable, the event is unlikely to herald a wider return to the city, as the returnees were all public sector employees without ties to the opposition, and the area remains under significant Hezbollah influence.
  5. The heads of Iranian, Iraqi, and Syrian railway authorities met in Tehran to discuss rail links between the countries. Restoring rail connectivity would reduce Syria’s economic isolation, but for Iran the initiative is also key to securing the export of its own oil through the Mediterranean seaport of Lattakia.
  6. British Royal Marines at Gibraltar impounded an oil tanker reportedly shipping Iranian oil to Syria. The seizure is a major escalation that will likely deepen the Syrian fuel crisis and may prompt an Iranian response.
  7. A letter written from the Syrian minister of local administration and environment to the governor of Homs, which was leaked by media sources, granted 193 IDPs from Taldu (Houla) permission to return, while 119 IDPs were rejected. Significant uncertainty surrounds conditions for return, but the letter highlights the clear facilitating role played by local intermediaries.
  8. The Turkish Ministry of Interior has ordered that all retail store signage in Turkey be printed in Turkish, with Arabic permitted only in small typeface. The order is the latest in a series of events highlighting the increasing politicization of the Syrian refugee issue in Turkey, as well as the increasingly systematic response of the Turkish state.

Reshuffling of Syrian Intelligence Services

In Depth Analysis

Ali Mamlouk (left) and Jamil Al-Hassan (right). Images courtesy of SANA and Enab Baladi.

As of July 8 the Government of Syria has completely reshuffled the highest levels of the Syrian security-intelligence apparatus. By far the most significant change is the removal of Ali Mamlouk as Director of the National Security Office, the overarching agency which coordinates all of Syria’s intelligence services. Mamlouk has been a fixture of Syrian state security services for two decades, and has been re-appointed to the mostly ceremonial office of vice president for security affairs. Muhamad Dib Zeitoun has been appointed to take Mamlouk’s place as Director of the National Security Office. However, Mamlouk was not the only high-profile official to be reshuffled; the heads of four other Syrian security agencies were also replaced on July 7. Most notably, Jamil Al-Hassan, the long standing head of Air Force Intelligence, was ‘retired’, as were the heads of the Criminal Security Branch, the Political Security Branch, and the General Intelligence Branch.

The significance of the coordinated restructuring of Syria’s five most prominent intelligence agencies cannot be overstated. To a large extent, the security-intelligence apparatus is the central pillar of the Syrian state, and the chiefs now being ousted have long-standing military, sectarian, and personal ties to the upper echelons of the Syrian regime. That said, this is also true of their replacements; ultimately, no one is considered for a role at the highest levels of the security apparatus without having demonstrated loyalty to the Syrian regime itself. The reshuffling of the heads of these agencies nevertheless marks a major transition in the highest levels of the Government of Syria.

The direct cause of the reshuffling is disputed. Some analysts have pointed to the fact that in recent weeks both Al-Hassan and Mamlouk had conducted highly contentious meetings with local reconciliation officials regarding the status of detainees, stoking tensions in communities in which the government is already deeply unpopular. Jamil Al-Hassan’s seriously compromised health and reported hospitalization has also been cited as an impetus for his resignation. However, while these factors may have affected the timing of the reshuffling, neither adequately accounts for the far-reaching and unprecedented initiative now being implemented.

In fact, the reshuffling of intelligence heads is likely the latest in a series of coordinated efforts by the Government of Russia to restructure the existing Syrian military-security apparatus. Over the past six months Russia has undertaken clear efforts to systematically restructure the Syrian military and replace its leadership with individuals who are closely coordinating with Russian representatives. The most notable manifestation of this policy is the creation of the Syrian Arab Army Office of Human Resources, which was formed earlier this year through a merger between the Office of Officer Affairs and the Office of Human Security. The head of the office was reportedly personally selected by Russian representatives at the Hmeimim Airbase and has a direct connection to Russian military representatives. Through the office, numerous Syrian military officers have been forced into retirement, transferred to marginal military positions, and, in some cases, detained. Additionally, the Government of Russia has increasingly attempted to merge or formalize paramilitary pro–Syrian government armed groups; for example, on May 1, reportedly at the behest of the Government of Russia, the Government of Syria’s Ministry of Defense dissolved 14 pro–Government of Syria militia groups and subsequently incorporated their combatants and commanders into the Syrian Arab Army. 

To a large extent, the Government of Syria has depended on paramilitary groups to overcome deficiencies in manpower and funding. However, as the conflict winds down, the Government of Syria’s combat needs are now significantly diminished. As a result, the infighting and frequent clashes among nominally government-affiliated military units, security branches, and militias is an impediment to effective command and control. Friction among these groups has hampered Russia’s ability to effectively implement a coherent strategy in Syria, and to de-escalate tensions in communities in which the Government of Syria exercises nominal control, but remains incapable of administering services or security.

Effectively, the reshuffling of the intelligence services is likely a second front in Russia’s coordinated efforts to reshape Syria’s military-security apparatus by disrupting client networks, reducing infighting, and increasing sectarian and regional diversity. Intelligence services are an important mechanism of direct Russian influence in Syria, and bringing greater order to their operations is a clear Russian priority. Additionally, Russia has emphasized initiatives to solidify its influence within the security apparatus, both to implement its own policies more effectively and to limit Iranian influence, which pervades the lower ranks. To that end, the reshuffling has a sectarian and geographic dimension. Syria’s intelligence apparatus is historically reliant on leadership drawn from the Syrian coast and the Alawi sect, with only a modest number of Sunnis (the majority of the population) rising to the higher ranks. Indeed, several of the heads appointed in the latest reshuffling are from areas outside the predominantly Alawi coastal areas, or are Sunnis. This is likely calculated to reduce the Alawi hold on the intelligence services, and, consequently, Iran’s lever of direct influence.

It remains too early to know what impact these changes will have on the operation of state security services. Intelligence heads are understood to have some measure of independence in setting procedures and mechanisms within their respective agencies. However, a major change in Syrian security and intelligence practices is unlikely. As noted, all of the reshuffled intelligence officials are close to the Syrian regime, and the newly appointed heads of Air Force Intelligence and General Intelligence, Ghassan Ismail and Hussam Luqa, are already under EU restrictive measures for repressing political opponents of the Syrian regime and torturing detainees, respectively. What is clear is that Russian initiatives to reshape the most important pillar of the Syrian state to meet Russia’s own long-term objectives may be well underway. 

Whole of Syria Review

1. Russia-Israel-Syria Border Meeting

Quneitra Governorate, Syria: On June 30, local rumors and media sources indicated that Russia had facilitated a meeting between Israeli intelligence officers, Government of Syria Air Force Intelligence, and commanders of the 5th Corps. The meeting was reportedly convened at a Russian observation point along the border of the Golan Heights. Israeli officers reportedly presented Syrian Air Force Intelligence with an offer for unprecedented military and security cooperation in southern Syria. The offer reportedly stipulated: the withdrawal of Iranian militias from areas within 55 km of the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights; the formal incorporation of the 5th Corps within Government of Syria forces; and Israeli funding for a Russia-supported operation to drive out Iran-backed militias unwilling to withdraw from the area voluntarily.  Relatedly, rumors and media sources have indicated that Hezbollah forces have withdrawn from the vicinity of Damascus city to Qalamoun and Az-Zabadani. Reportedly, the repositioning comes as a part of a broader plan on the part of Hezbollah to reduce its presence inside Syria. 

Analysis: The proposal of direct coordination between the governments of Russia, Israel, and Syria to counter Iranian influence in Syria is significant and unprecedented. More importantly, however, an agreement to drive Iran-backed groups from southern Syria will almost certainly be impossible to implement. Notably, Russian coordination with Israel vis-a-vis Iran’s military influence in Syria is not new. Indeed, in its substance, the tripartite meeting merely reprises the guarantees to limit Iran’s military reach in southern Syria that Russia made during the southern offensive in June 2018. Despite strong Russian antipathy toward Iran’s presence inside Syria, however, those guarantees have been impossible to enforce. In reality, it is not clear that the Government of Russia has the capacity to drive Iran-backed forces from southern Syria. For its part, the Government of Syria has little incentive to alienate, let alone expel, the Iran-backed forces whose military support has enabled it to weather the conflict. Finally, any line defining the areas where Iran-backed armed groups can and cannot operate inside Syria is inherently arbitrary and subject to challenge. To proscribe Iran-backed armed groups from an area stretching 55 km from the border at the Golan Heights will only legitimize their presence immediately beyond that line.

2. Foah and Kefraya IDPs Resettled in Aleppo

Aleppo city, Aleppo Governorate, Syria: On July 7, media sources reported that Iran-affiliated militias Liwa Al-Baqir and Faylaq Al-Mudaf‘in ‘An Halab had resettled 50 IDP families from Foua and Kefraya in the Al-Marjeh neighborhood in eastern Aleppo city. The families were reportedly resettled in houses rehabilitated by private Iranian charitable organizations that have been engaged in a campaign to rehabilitate homes damaged by the Government of Syria’s 2016 aerial bombardment. According to one source, Liwaa Al-Baqir and the Faylaq Al-Mudaf‘in ‘An Halab maintain firm control over services and housing in parts of eastern Aleppo, and they have been settling Foua and Kefraya IDPs in eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo city since July 2018.  

Analysis: Iran-supported militias exercise strong influence in Aleppo city despite efforts by the governments of Syria and Russia to bring these groups under greater Syrian state control and to lessen their independent influence. The resettlement of IDPs by externally supported armed groups overtly challenges Government of Syria administrative bodies. Indeed, the resettlement reportedly circumvented the wishes of the governor of Aleppo and is likely to exacerbate the significant hurdles to the city’s rehabilitation. Of greatest concern is the effect on housing, land, and property issues and the possibility that the former residents of these areas (as well as the IDPs from Foah and Kefraya) will find return to their homes impossible. Additionally, the settlement of IDPs from the predominantly Shia communities of Foua and Kefraya is expected to fuel the increasing sectarian tensions in Aleppo. Above all, the resettlements highlight the Government of Syria’s limited capacity to control the activities of partially independent militias, and they demonstrate the practical limitations of Russian initiatives to curb the influence of pro-government armed groups and initiatives backed by Iran.  

3. Northwest Syria Stalemate

Idleb and Hama governorates: On July 8, heavy clashes were reported on the frontlines of Tal Meleh and Jebin, in northwestern rural Hama Governorate, as Government of Syria forces launched a new offensive to establish control over Tal-Meleh and Al-Jabin and break the three-week impasse in northwestern Syria. However, as of July 10, frontlines in northwestern Syria remain unchanged. Government of Syria forces also clashed with armed opposition elements in Qaasabiyeh, in southern rural Idleb Governorate. Meanwhile, throughout the reporting period, the Government of Syria launched intense airstrikes and continued its aerial bombardment of numerous communities throughout northern Hama Governorate and southern rural Idleb Governorate.

Analysis: Despite the intense airstrike campaign, the Government of Syria’s offensive in the northwest has ground to a halt over the past three weeks, and it has yet to yield any significant changes in zones of control during that period. The reasons for this impasse are manifold. In part, the inability of Government of Syria forces to make substantive advances in northwestern Syria reflects a lack of sufficient manpower and poor command and control between different Syrian government military units. However, more importantly, the frozen frontlines reflect the breakdown in Russian-Turkish negotiations on northwest Syria. Since the offensive began, Turkey has regularly stated its opposition to the campaign and has demanded a return to pre-offensive front lines; Turkey has allowed National Army groups to deploy into northwestern Syria and has increased its support for armed opposition groups there, and Turkish military forces have directly shelled Government of Syria military positions. Indeed, direct military confrontation between the governments of Syria and Turkey led to the death of a Turkish soldier, on June 27; this incident in particular seems to have instigated a new round of negotiations. To that end, the ultimate trajectory of northwestern Syria is now closely linked to the outcome of the upcoming trilateral summit between Russian, Turkey, and Iran, reportedly to be held in Istanbul in August.

4. Returns to Al-Qusayr

Al-Qusayr, western Homs Governorate, Syria: On July 8, media sources reported that 1,000 IDPs had returned to Al-Qusayr city after receiving official return approvals from the Government of Syria’s Military Security Branch. The returnees are reported to be public sector employees and their families, and none have had previous connections to opposition groups. The returnees reportedly fled to nearby communities in rural Homs Governorate—primarily Hasyaa, Shenshar, and Jandar—as well as to Homs city when Hezbollah took control of Al-Qusayr, in 2013.

Analysis: This approval by the Government of Syria and Hezbollah for the return of 1,000 IDPs to Al-Qusayr is unlikely to mark the start of a broader wave of returns to the area. Despite reports that Hezbollah is reducing its military role in the conflict, a reduction in forces does not signal the group’s disengagement from Syria altogether. As such, Hezbollah’s continuing presence can be expected in areas that it has prioritized, including western Qalamoun, the Syrian-Lebanese border, and Al-Qusayr. Indeed, on July 8 Hezbollah reportedly deployed reinforcements to several new locations in the western Qalamoun and along the Syrian-Lebanese border. Given Hezbollah’s strategic interest in maintaining control over these areas, the return of the majority of Al-Qusayr’s displaced residents remains unlikely in the near term. Thus far, only a small number of residents, primarily IDPs, have been allowed to return to Al-Qusayr. For the large numbers of Al-Qusayr residents who sought refuge in Lebanon’s Wadi Khaled and Akkar, securing approvals for return remains effectively impossible.

5. Iran-Iraq-Syria Railroad

Tehran, Iran: On July 7, the head of the Syrian Directorate of Railroads met his Iraqi and Iranian counterparts in Tehran. They reportedly discussed tripartite cooperation on the construction of a railroad network running from Shalamcheh, Iran, through Iraq to the port of Lattakia. Iranian Director of Railroads Said Rasouli reportedly stated that the first stage of the project, linking Shalamcheh, in western Iran, to Basra, would begin within three months, with a second stage, linking Basra to the Lattakia port, to follow at an undisclosed time. Also on July 7, Kiwan Kashfi, a member of the Iranian Chamber of Commerce, stated that Iran would deploy an economic team to study Syria’s infrastructural needs to facilitate Iranian reconstruction efforts. Notably, Kashfi stated that land routes would be vital for the movement of building material needed for the rehabilitation of Syria’s infrastructure.

Analysis: Major railways and roads have been a key target of Government of Syria military campaigns throughout the Syria conflict. As the conflict winds down, the wholesale destruction of much of Syria’s vital infrastructure, major industrial hubs, and transportation networks is now a major factor in its continuing economic devastation. Iranian efforts to build a rail network stretching across Iraq to the Syrian coast can be expected to reduce Syria’s economic isolation in the long term—potentially at lower cost and with fewer risks than maritime transit. However, Iran has other reasons to support transportation routes to Lattakia: the Lattakia port is a potentially important location for the export of Iranian oil, and Iranian companies have already claimed a controlling stake in the Lattakia port administration. To that end, the Iranian government is expected to continue to play a vital role in Syria’s post-conflict economy and transportation networks.

6. UK Seizes Iranian Oil Tanker

Gibraltar: On July 4, media sources reported that British Royal Marines stationed in Gibraltar had stopped and impounded the Panama-flagged oil tanker Grace 1, which was en route to Syria’s Banyas port. Shipping data reportedly indicated that the oil carried by Grace 1 was sourced from Iran, although the ship’s documentation registered the oil as Iraqi. In response, Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami declared the seizure of the tanker an act of “piracy” that the Government of Iran would not tolerate. In turn, Secretary of the Iranian Expediency Discernment Council (an administrative council appointed by the supreme leader) Mohsen Rezaee threatened to “reciprocate and seize a British oil tanker.”

Analysis: The oil tanker’s seizure will naturally contribute to Syria’s nationwide fuel shortages, which will continue to have a massive impact across all sectors of the Syrian economy. Iran remains one of the two primary suppliers of fuel to Syria (the other being Russia), and the tanker seizure highlights that Syria’s ability to withstand the fuel crisis is intertwined with broader geopolitical dynamics; these include the latest U.S. sanctions on Iran and heightened regional tensions over the Iran nuclear deal. Notably, the seizure of an oil tanker marks an unprecedented escalation in the U.K.’s enforcement of U.S. sanctions and EU restrictive measures, and it increases the likelihood of a commensurate Iranian response to heightened international pressures.

7. Denied Returns in Taldu (Houla)

Taldu, northern rural Homs: On July 5, several media outlets leaked a letter from Hussein Makhlouf, the Syrian minister of local administration and environment, addressed to Governor of Homs Talal Al-Barazi. The leaked letter was a response from Makhouf to an official request made by Al-Barazi regarding the return of IDPs to Taldu (Houla), in reconciled northern Homs. According to the reports, Makhlouf granted 193 IDPs permission to return, while a further 119 named individuals were denied return permissions, without a stated cause.

Analysis: Various initiatives to facilitate the return of IDPs to northern rural Homs since their evacuation to northern Aleppo in May 2018 have failed. In general, a critical factor enabling such returns is the role played by key intermediaries who are negotiating returns policies in their areas of influence. In the case of Taldu, this is clearly visible in the role played by the Homs governor, who had requested returns permissions on behalf of the Taldu IDPs. Nonetheless, the Government of Syria’s approvals process demonstrates its continued willingness to apply selective returns policies and opaque vetting practices when facilitating local returns. An important factor in northern rural Homs is the tension between Russian Military Police and reconciled former fighters on the one hand, and the Government of Syria’s forces and its affiliated militias on the other. Competition between these two blocs has reportedly prevented a broader agreement on the return of IDPs to northern rural Homs.

8. Anti-Syrian Refugee Measures in Turkey

Esenyurt and Kilis, Turkey: On July 3, the Turkish Ministry of Interior ordered that all signage for retail shops should be printed in Turkish, with Arabic script permitted only in small typeface beneath the Turkish lettering. The implementation of the policy began in Kilis and is expected to spread across the entire country within six months. Meanwhile, on July 6 media reports indicated that Turkish police conducted a campaign against undocumented foreigners in Esenyurt, in Istanbul Province. The police reportedly detained at least 93 individuals, including an indeterminate number of Syrians who lacked legal status in the country. As part of this campaign, several shops owned by Syrians were forcibly closed. Turkish authorities will reportedly investigate individual cases of those targeted by the campaign and will decide whether to forcibly return refugees to Syria.

Analysis: The recent politicization of the Syrian refugee file in Turkey suggests that policies targeting Syrian refugees are likely to be become increasingly systematized and pervasive. Some Turkish political parties have recently heightened their rhetoric against Syrian refugees and accused President Erdogan’s AKP of leniency toward Syrians in Turkey. However, the implementation of measures targeting refugees is likely to transcend inter-party dynamics and find expression in government policy and the practices of state institutions. The growing tensions between Turkish citizens and Syrian refugees are thus expected to escalate as Turkey’s Syrian refugee policy is further politicized.

The Wartime and Post-Conflict Syria project (WPCS) is funded by the European Union and implemented through a partnership between the European University Institute (Middle East Directions Programme) and the Center for Operational Analysis and Research (COAR). WPCS will provide operational and strategic analysis to policymakers and programmers concerning prospects, challenges, trends, and policy options with respect to a conflict and post-conflict Syria. WPCS also aims to stimulate new approaches and policy responses to the Syrian conflict through a regular dialogue between researchers, policymakers and donors, and implementers, as well as to build a new network of Syrian researchers that will contribute to research informing international policy and practice related to their country.

The content compiled and presented by COAR is by no means exhaustive and does not reflect COAR’s formal position, political or otherwise, on the aforementioned topics. The information, assessments, and analysis provided by COAR are only to inform humanitarian and development programs and policy. While this publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union, its contents are the sole responsibility of COAR Global LTD, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.

Media Anthology: July 02 – July 08, 2019


ALEXANDRINA

Media Anthology

July 02 to 08, 2019

linklanguagesourceDateCategory
The Syrian military establishment in 2019: Sectarian militias and foreign investmentsEnglishOmran CenterJuly 1, 2019Conflict and Military
Sheikh of a clan close to SDF mysteriously killed in the northern countryside of RaqqahEnglishSyrian Observatory For Human RightsJuly 2, 2019Conflict and Military
Casualties in motorcycle bombing in As-SweidaArabicAl ArabiyaJuly 4, 2019Conflict and Military
During one month: A report documents 25 assassination attempts in Dar'aArabicAl SouriaJuly 2, 2019Conflict and Military
Human right report: The National Army detained 56 person in Afrin in one monthArabicEnab BaladiJuly 5, 2019Conflict and Military
For the second time in 24 hours, clashes renew between factions loyal to Turkey and the regime forces west of al-Bab city in areas of “Euphrates Shield”EnglishSyrian Observatory For Human RightsJuly 4, 2019Conflict and Military
Russia chases Thu Al-Hemma Shalish ArabicAl modonJuly 2, 2019Conflict and Military
(Video) SDF announces the formation of al-Hasakah Military Council at the request of the International CoalitionEnglishSyrian Observatory For Human RightsJuly 4, 2019Governance and Service Management
Water distribution in Quamishli by trucks and the Self Administration accuses the regime of responsibilityArabicJesr PressJuly 7, 2019Governance and Service Management
The UN signs a "working plan" with SDF... What its details? ArabicOrient NewsJuly 2, 2019Social Dynamics
A leaked document banes 119 Syrians of returning homeArabicShezar PressJuly 4, 2019Social Dynamics
Civil society in Syria: A hostage of fear, bureaucracy and politicsEnglishSyria DirectJuly 4, 2019Social Dynamics
Al-Qusayr: Hezbollah allows a conditional return for few familiesArabicAl modonJuly 8, 2019Social Dynamics
Principled aid in Syria: A framework for international agenciesEnglishChatham HouseJuly 3, 2019Humanitarian & Development
A way out for Russia and Turkey from Idlib's spiral of violenceEnglishMiddle East InstituteJuly 1, 2019International Intervention
The US Needs to Re-engage with the Syrian OppositionEnglishThe New TurkeyJuly 2, 2019International Intervention
Sanctions exhausted them and airstrikes destroyed them. Iran's militias are withdrawing from SyriaArabicAl-7alJuly 3, 2019International Intervention
Syrian Legalists Committee reveals a list of defectors extradited by Lebanon to the Syrian regimeArabicShaam NetworkJune 30, 2019Other
The hardliner stream in Hurras al-Din lost its main influential figuresArabicEnab BaladiJuly 3, 2019Other
Jihad goes local: Addressing the root causesEnglishCenter For Global PolicyJuly 3, 2019Other
Harsh homecomingEnglishForeign PolicyJuly 2, 2019Other

Syria Update: June 27 – July 03, 2019

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Syria Update

27 June to 03 July, 2019

The Syria Update is divided into two sections.  The first section provides an in-depth analysis of key issues and dynamics related to wartime and post-conflict Syria.   The second section provides a comprehensive whole of Syria review, detailing events and incidents, and analysis of their respective significance.

The following is a brief synopsis of the in-depth analysis section this week:

On June 27, Government of Syria military forces heavily shelled Turkish Observation Point 10, in western Idleb Governorate and killed a Turkish soldier. In response, Turkish military forces began to directly shell Government of Syria military positions on front lines in northwestern Syria, sent new reinforcements into northwestern Syria, and stated that Turkey had completed preparations to “give the necessary response” if the attacks continued. The incident was not the first time that Turkish observation points have been shelled, nor was it the first time a Turkish soldier was killed in northwestern Syria; however, it was the first time that a Turkish soldier was directly and intentionally killed by Government of Syria military forces, and it may usher in a new phase in the Turkish intervention in northwestern Syria. To that end, on July 1, a Russian spokesman confirmed that the Governments of Turkey, Iran, and Russia will hold a new trilateral summit on Syria “in the near future,” which will reportedly be held in Turkey in July 2019. The conflict in northwestern Syria is now effectively a war of attrition where few territorial advances have taken place. This is partially due to the fact that the Government of Turkey has more openly supported Turkish-backed armed opposition groups in northwestern Syria, and Turkey has adamantly and repeatedly emphasized its opposition to further Government of Syria military advances in northwestern Syria. It is therefore likely that the trilateral summit in July will focus primarily on Turkey’s demands to end the northwestern Syria offensive. It is also likely that Russia will be compelled to accede to Turkish demands, considering that Turkey is now directly militarily confronting the Government of Syria.

The following is a brief synopsis of the Whole of Syria Review:
  1. The Head of Air Force Intelligence, General Jamil Al-Hasan, held meetings in Dar’a at which he reportedly stated “with respect to the detainees, forget about them”; his statement will likely have serious repercussions and may spark even greater unrest in southern Syria.
  2. A group of NDF and Hezbollah combatants engaged in clashes in the Qalamoun region due to disputes over profits from jointly controlled smuggling routes; this highlights the continued command and control problem facing the Government of Syria and its allies.
  3. A new anti-Government of Syria armed group announced its formation in northern Homs, potentially ushering in a new wave of instability in the northern Homs reconciled areas.
  4. The Government of Israel launched numerous missile strikes across Syria; the recent missile strikes reportedly killed several civilians and are a major indication that Israel intends to increase its targeting of Iranian interests in Syria.
  5. Ali Mamlouk, Head of the National Security Office, met with local notables in Madamiyet El-Sham and ‘encouraged’ them to contain pro-opposition sentiment in their community; he also emphasized that the deatinees issue in Madamiyet El-Sham would likely remain unresolved. As in southern Syria, this announcement will likely inflame anti-Government of Syria sentiment.
  6. A series of clashes took place in the Shouf region of Lebanon between rival Druze political parties; while reflective of internal tensions in Lebanon, one source of the tensions is the relationship of both parties to the Government of Syria and its allies.
  7. Anti-Syrian refugee protests took place in Istanbul, indicating both growing tensions with respect to Syrian refugees in Turkey and the fact that the status of refugees is becoming an important political issue in Turkey.
  8. The Bab Amr and Al-Sultaniyah neighborhoods of Homs city will reportedly be placed under the dictates of Law 10; both neighborhoods were hotbeds of opposition in the earlier stages of the conflict, and now present potentially lucrative real estate opportunities for Government of Syria business interests.

Turkish Soldier Killed in Northwestern Syria

In Depth Analysis

A Turkish Army patrol in the area around a Turkish monitoring post in northwestern Syria. Image courtesy of Syria TV.

On June 27, Government of Syria military forces heavily shelled Turkish Observation Point 10, in western Idleb Governorate. During the shelling, one Turkish soldier was killed, and three were injured. In response,vTurkish military forces began to directly shell Government of Syria military positions on front lines in northwestern Syria. Also on June 27, Turkish warplanes entered northwestern Syria. The warplanes did not launch any airstrikes, and were reportedly escorting medical helicopters sent to retrieve wounded Turkish soldiers. Turkish military officials have stated that they have sent new reinforcements into northwestern Syria, and added that Turkey had completed preparations to “give the necessary response” if the attacks continued.

The incident on June 27 was not the first time that Turkish observation points have been shelled since the northwestern Syria offensive began in April 2019. Turkish observation points have been shelled on at least six different occasions in the past four months. The incident was also not the first time a Turkish soldier was killed in northwestern Syria; three other Turkish soldiers have been killed in accidental or ‘unattributed’ incidents since the Turkish observation points were established in February 2018.  However, the incident on June 27 does mark the first time that a Turkish soldier was directly and intentionally killed by Government of Syria military forces. It therefore represents an important moment in the ongoing Idleb offensive, and will certainly influence any negotiations between Turkey and Russia regarding northwestern Syria. To that end, on July 1, a Russian spokesman confirmed that the Governments of Turkey, Iran, and Russia will hold a new trilateral summit on Syria “in the near future,” and that preparations for the summit were already ongoing. Reportedly, the summit will be held in July 2019, and will likely be held in Turkey. 

The Government of Syria’s offensive in northwestern Syria has now been ongoing for almost four months. While Government of Syria military forces initially secured parts of western Hama governorate, there have been relatively few territorial changes since early June. The Government of Syria’s inability to advance in northwestern Syria has been largely attributed to the fact that the Government of Turkey has much more openly supported Turkish-backed armed opposition groups: Turkey has allowed several National Army-affiliated armed groups in northern Aleppo and Afrin to join front lines in northwestern Idleb; Turkish-backed armed groups are now using much more advanced weaponry, such as TOW missiles and Grad rockets; and there are certainly more Turkish military forces in northwestern Syria than at any time previously. To that end, the conflict in northwestern Syria is now effectively a ‘frozen’ war of attrition. Significant shelling and aerial bombardment in northwestern Syria has become the norm, and casualties for Government of Syria and armed opposition combatants, as well as civilians, are reportedly extremely high.

Turkey has repeatedly emphasized its opposition to further Government of Syria military advances in northwestern Syria, and has demanded a return to the pre-offensive zones of control as per the northwestern Syria disarmament agreement. Indeed, Turkey has critical strategic interests in northwestern Syria, perhaps the most important of which is its interest in preventing a mass displacement of Syrians into Turkey. This is especially prescient for Ankara given the serious domestic tensions regarding Syrian refugees in Turkey (covered in more detail in point eight of this week’s Syria Update). It is therefore highly likely that the trilateral summit in July will focus primarily on Turkey’s demands that the Government of Russia end its support for the northwestern Syria offensive, and restore the pre-conflict front lines. It is also likely that – at least in part – Russia will be compelled to accede to Turkish demands given Turkey is now directly confronting the Government of Syria militarily.

Whole of Syria Review

2019JUL03 COAR Syria Update page

1. Jamil Al-Hasan Visits Dar’a

Dar’a Governorate, Syria:  On  June 30, the head the Government of Syria’s Air Force Intelligence, General Jamil Al-Hasan, conducted a visit to Dar’a governorate, where he met numerous prominent Government of Syria reconciliaition officials in Da’el and Ibtaa, and visited various checkpoints in Busra El harir, Kerk, and Da’el. Local and media sources indicated that Al-Hasan discussed the security situation in southern Syria, primarily focusing on the frequent targeting of Government of Syria forces. More importantly, General Al-Hasan reportedly reiterated the Government of Syria’s position with respect to the issue of Dara’s detainees: namely, General Al-Hasan stated that “with respect to the detainees, forget about them.” Notably, it was reported that Al-Hasan did not meet with many local notables in Dar’a, nor did he meet with reconciled armed opposition commanders. Instead, he is understood to have limited his attention to members of the Baath Party. Local sources attributed this to the growing distrust on the part of the Government of Syria towards local Dar’a notables.  

Analysis: Jamil Al-Hasan’s statement with respect to Dar’a governorate’s detainees is extremely provocative. In essence, General Al-Hasan has stated that the detainees are either dead, or that the Government of Syria is entirely unwilling to release them. This is a potentially explosive issue in southern Syria, as the release of detainees (alongside conscription policies) has been among the most important issues in the governorate since the reconciliation agreement in July 2018. General Al-Hasan’s statement is likely to inflame anti-Government of Syria armed activity throughout southern Syria. This is deeply concerning, considering the fact that southern Syria is already deeply unstable and asymmetric attacks against Government of Syria forces are a regular occurrence. Indeed, some analysts have already posited that General Al-Hasan’s statement may inspire an open revolt in southern Syria. Though this is unlikely for the time being, it is now a distinct possibility. It should be noted that similar waves of anti-Government of Syria activity are now forming in other regions of the country, such northern rural Homs (for more information see point three of this week’s Syria Update).

2. NDF-Hezbollah Clashes

Western Qalamoun, Rural Damascus governorate: On June 30, media sources reported that clashes have taken place between Hezbollah and NDF combatants in Flita and At-Tall over the past week. Clashes reportedly began as a result of a dispute between two NDF and Hezbollah commanders over the distribution of profits from jointly managed smuggling routes. A Hezbollah commander was killed. It is important to note that since 2013 Hezbollah has maintained a strong presence in the Qalamoun region along the Lebanese-Syrian border, and both Hezbollah and the NDF reportedly have major interests in the cross-line smuggling routes between both countries. 

Analysis:  Tensions and confrontations between various Government of Syria military divisions and allied armed groups are not uncommon. Indeed, inter-government clashes have been one of the main hurdles preventing the Government of Syria from maintaining security and order in many areas. This can partially be attributed to the Government of Syria’s limited capacity to ensure command and control between various armed groups. The Government of Syria does not exert direct control over Hezbollah, and local NDF units also rarely fit into clearly defined control structures. However, another contributing factor is the fact that many armed groups are now largely dependent on extracting economic resources to pay their combatants. In some cases (such as this incident), resources are secured through control over smuggling routes, whilst in others, it may concern control over lucrative checkpoints or real estate. In the meantime, clashes are likely to persist for the foreseeable future, across nearly every part of Government of Syria-held territory.

3. ‘Saray Al-Moqawama’ in Northern Homs

Ar-Rastan, Homs governorate: On June 27, media sources reported on the creation of a new anti-Government of Syria armed group in Homs governorate named ‘Saray Al-Moqawama’ (Palace of Resistance). Saray Al-Moqawama states that it intends to respond to the Government of Syria’s failure to adhere to the terms of Russian-mediated reconciliation agreement in northern Homs, and its subsequent deployment of reconciled combatants from Homs in military offensives elsewhere. Graffiti promoting Saray Al-Moqawama has since been found in Ar-Rastan, in northern rural Homs. Meanwhile, the Government of Syria has continued with its crackdown on reconciled commanders and figures in northern rural Homs. On June 29, Government of Syria Air Intelligence and Military Security forces reportedly detained several former members of the ‘Ar-Rastan Revolutionary Command’ and the Ar-Rastan Families Council, several of whom are known advocates for the Russian-brokered reconciliation agreement. 

Analysis:  The reconciliation agreement in northern rural Homs was initially brokered in May 2018 and featured heavy Russian involvement. One of the major challenges in the post-reconciliation period has been the fact that the Government of Syria has not fully adhered to the terms of the reconciliation agreement by conducting regular conscription and detention campaigns. Russian representatives have intervened on the behalf of reconciled individuals in the past, but have not done so consistently. Isolated anti-Government of Syria activity in northern Homs has therefore emerged at times, but the formation of Saray Al-Moqawama is the most dramatic manifestation of anti-Government of Syria sentiment in the area since reconciliation. It is still unclear whether the newly announced ‘Saray Al-Moqawama’ will be an effective insurgent group, or if it has any popular support. However, it must be recalled that the expanding unrest in Dar’a governorate initially began with the creation of similar groups, and that security conditions in northern Homs are likely to deteriorate in the near to medium term.  

4. Israeli Missile Strikes

Rural Damascus, Homs Governorates, Syria: Between June 30 and July 1, Israeli  Defense Forces (IDF) conducted several missile attacks in Homs and Rural Damascus governorates from Lebanese airspace. Among other targets, media sources indicated that the missle attacks targeted several areas in southern Damascus including in Al-Kisweh, an IRGC base south of Damascus, and Hezbollah bases in Qarra and Flita, in the Qalamoun. Notably, the attacks reportedly resulted in the death of at least six civilians. The IDF also reportedly targeted Um Haraytan located in western rural areas Homs, and another military base south of Homs city. The Government of Israel has yet to officially comment on the attacks, though it should be noted that the Chief of the Mossad Intelligence Agency, Yossi Cohen, stated on July 1 that Iran and Hezbollah is trying to deploy transfer assets further north in light of increased Israeli attacks. 

Analysis: While the Israeli airstrikes and missile attacks are not uncommon, the death of civilians in Israeli missile attacks is highly unusual. What is also unusual is the frequency of Israeli attacks over the past several weeks; in the recent round of missile strikes Israel targeted at least six separate locations. Considering the heightened tension between the U.S. and Iran, Israel is likely taking advantage of the current geo-political climate to escalate airstrikes and missile attacks against Iranain targets in Syria, knowing that an Iranian response could provoke a wider conflict. For that reason, whilst Israeli airstrikes alone will not fundamentally affect the broader trajectory of the Syrian conflict, they do have the potential to spark a much wider regional conflict.

5. Meeting in Madamiyet Elsham

Madamiyet Elsham, Rural Damascus, Syria: On July 1, media sources reported that the head of the National Security Office, Ali Mamlouk, convened a meeting with the reconciliation committee from Madamiyet Elsham and Jdeidet Artouz. Reportedly, Mamlouk threatened the members of the reconciliation committee, alleging that there had been a resurgence in opposition rhetoric in both areas. He further insisted that the reconciliation agreement should compel people to “disregard the status of the detainees”, adding that most have already died in prison. Concurrent with the meeting, Government of Syria forces have reportedly increased their military presence in the vicinity of Madamiyet Elsham, and enforced strict screening measures and mobility restrictions, thereby isolating Madamiyet Elsham from other nearby neighborhoods.

Analysis: Ali Mamlouk’s visit to Madamiyet Elsham is concerned with preventing the kind of growing pro-opposition movements observed in southern Syria and northern Homs. However, similar to General Jamil Al-Hasan’s meeting in Dar’a, Mamlouk’s message regarding the status of the detainees will be considered as extremely provocative by the local population. It is unclear to what extent Mamlouk’s meeting will actually defuse the manifestation of anti-Government of Syria sentiment and activity in Madamiyet Elsham, but it is notable that the Government of Syria’s capacity to control communities in the vicinity of  Damascus city is considerably greater than in rural areas, primarily due to the concentration of its security forces in Damascus and the Government of Syria’s prioritization of order near the capital. 

6. Inter-Druze Politics in Lebanon

Shouf District, Lebanon: On June 30, clashes between supporters of Lebanese Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), and bodyguards of the Minister of State for Refugee Affairs Saleh Gharib, took place in Qabr Shmoun, in the Shouf district of Mount Lebanon. The clashes resulted in the death of two of Gharib’s bodyguards and injuries to at least two supporters of the PSP. Of note, the PSP (led by prominent Druze politician Walid Jumblat), and the Lebanese Democratic Party (LDP), the political party of Minister Gharib, are both rival Druze political parties in Lebanon. Also of note, the LDP is also closely aligned with the Christian Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and Hezbollah. The clashes initially began after the leader of FPM, Jibran Bassil, gave a speech in the predominantly Druze/Christian Shouf district of Lebanon, in which he praised the role current Lebanese President, Michel Aoun, in the Druze/Christian battles witnessed in Mount Lebanon during the Lebanese civil war. This speech proved inflammatory for many Druze in the Shouf region, and prompted locals from the PSP-supporting villages of Kfarmatta and Shahhar to block Bassil and Gharib from entering deeper into the Shouf. Clashes subsequently took place, but stories as to which party initiated fire are contradictory. The incident led to numerous further roadblocks throughout Mount Lebanon and the Shouf, and the Lebanese Army was deployed to numerous areas. In an attempt to mitigate further inter-Druze or Druze-Christian conflict in the Shouf and Mount Lebanon, various political figures in Lebanon called for national unity.

Analysis: Tensions between competing Druze parties in Mount Lebanon have increased over the past year. Ultimately, these tensions stem from the fact that the PSP has long been considered the ‘primary’ Druze political party in Lebanon, and it is now being challenged by the LDP. There is naturally an ‘international’ element to these tensions. Walid Jumblat has been notably-if not openly-opposed to the Government of Syria, while the LDP draws much of its support from its alliance with FPM, and thus, Hezbollah (and indirectly, the Government of Syria). Therefore, the recent clashes in the Shouf should not be taken lightly: A growing inter-Druze and Druze-Christian rivalry in Mount Lebanon is clearly an outright challenge to the PSP’s long standing political monopoly in the Shouf district, and is considered locally as an attempt to change the balance of power in Lebanon more broadly. The fact that one of the Druze factions is much more closely tied to the Government of Syria certainly increases fears that the Government of Syria may play a role in what appears to be an internal Lebanese political issue.

7. Turkey Protests

Istanbul, Turkey: On June 30, groups of Turkish citizens in Istanbul reportedly attacked a group of Syrian refugees, looted their shops, and attempted to lynch several individuals following a (reportedly false) accusation sexual assault against a Syrian refugee. Small-scale riots and protests were accompanied by anti-refugee campaigns on social media. Notably, the new mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem İmamoğlu, a member of the CHP party, has increasingly deployed anti-Syrian refugee rhetoric. For example, in a statement made on June 24, Imamoglu blamed Syrians for Turkey’s poor economic situation and for “recklessly changing “Istanbul’s color.” Relatedly, on June 23, the Head of the Turkish Interior Ministry’s Migration Management Department, Abdullah Ayaz, stated that the Government of Turkey is incapable of hosting more Syrian refugees in the event of a major battle in Idleb. Ayaz stressed that finding a resolution to the ongoing battle in northwestern Syria is indispensable if Turkey is to avoid a new wave of refugees. 

Analysis:  It is important to view the recent anti-Syrian refugee incident in Istanbul in the context of internal Turkish politics. The newly elected CHP-affiliated mayor of Istanbul won in an upset for the ruling AKP party, and, like the wider CHP party, has argued against AKP policies on Syrian refugees. There are also some concerns amongst Turkey’s opposition parties that the AKP has adopted policies favoring Syrian refugees and which have facilitated Syrian attainment of Turkish citizenship as a means of building a new pro-AKP voting bloc. As the military offensive in northwestern Syria continues and more waves of refugees are anticipated in Turkey, further rhetoric on the status of Syrian refugees can be expected in Turkish domestic politics. This may instigate even greater tensions between Turks and Syrians in Turkey. 

8. Bab Amr and Al-Sultaniya Under law 10

Homs City, Homs Governorate, Syria: On July 1, media sources reported that the Governorate of Homs announced that urban plans for Bab Amr and Al-Sultaniyah neighborhoods in Homs city are currently under review.  An official in the governorate reportedly indicated that the reconstruction of both neighborhoods will be conducted under the authority of Law 10. Relatedly, Director of the General Company for Engineering Studies in the Ministry of Public Works and Housing, Dr. Yasar A’bideen, stated in an interview with a Government of Syria-affiliated media outlet that the company has been commissioned to create new urban plans for various areas in Rural Damascus governorate, including: Qaboun, Yarmouk, Basima Ein El Khadra, and Ein El Fijeh (both in Wadi Barada).  Reportedly, these plans are also likely to implemented under the dictates of Law 10. 

Analysis: Law 10 is the most well known of the Government of Syria’s urban development laws, and give broad powers to government officials to confiscate the property for redevelopment.  However, it is important to emphasize that Law 10 is not the only law used to confiscate property, nor is it the most frequently used. Numerous other laws can be used to seize property ranging from the application of terrorism laws, security decrees, ‘public safety’ ordinance, and damage regulations. More important than the laws used to confiscate property are the reasons for doing so. Ultimately, in the case of Bab Amr and Al-Sultaniyah neighborhoods, the Government of Syria and Syrian businessmen likely aims to profit from real estate opportunities likely to emerge from the tabula rasa redevelopment of both neighborhoods. Indeed, both are located at the entrance of Homs city and are potentially highly lucrative. Additionally, it is likely that the Government of Syria aims to drastically alter the ‘political demographics’ of both neighborhoods, and subsequently prevent the return of their original population. Of note, both Bab Amr and Al-Sultaniya were notably pro-opposition areas.

The Wartime and Post-Conflict Syria project (WPCS) is funded by the European Union and implemented through a partnership between the European University Institute (Middle East Directions Programme) and the Center for Operational Analysis and Research (COAR). WPCS will provide operational and strategic analysis to policymakers and programmers concerning prospects, challenges, trends, and policy options with respect to a conflict and post-conflict Syria. WPCS also aims to stimulate new approaches and policy responses to the Syrian conflict through a regular dialogue between researchers, policymakers and donors, and implementers, as well as to build a new network of Syrian researchers that will contribute to research informing international policy and practice related to their country.

The content compiled and presented by COAR is by no means exhaustive and does not reflect COAR’s formal position, political or otherwise, on the aforementioned topics. The information, assessments, and analysis provided by COAR are only to inform humanitarian and development programs and policy. While this publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union, its contents are the sole responsibility of COAR Global LTD, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.

Media Anthology: June 25 – July 01, 2019


ALEXANDRINA

Media Anthology

June 25 to July 01, 2019

linklanguagesourceDateCategory
About five Turkish soldiers were killed and wounded by the Kurdish forces’ targeting of the Turkish base near al-Basutah north AleppoEnglishSyrian Observatory For Human RightsJune 26, 2019Conflict and Military
Six soldiers of the Assad regime killed by Iranian militias in eastern SyriaEnglishNedaa SyriaJune 26, 2019Conflict and Military
A humanitarian time bomb in IdlibEnglishThe Washington InstituteJune 28, 2019Conflict and Military
Pro-Assad regime forces locked in battle of attrition in Idlib provinceEnglishInstitute for the Study of WarJune 28, 2019Conflict and Military
As it withdraws from the military operations in the Syrian north, the Lebanese Hezbollah pulls its forces out of the Syrian territory secretly away from the mediaEnglishSyrian Observatory For Human RightsJune 30, 2019Conflict and Military
Defenders corps in Aleppo Four security Square (Iranian influence)ArabicAl modonJune 30, 2019Conflict and Military
Closing the Lebanese borders for commercial movement with Syria and JordanArabicAl modonJuly 1, 2019Economic
Three roads were reopened by the regime's government in GhoutaArabicEnab BaladiJune 27, 2019Governance and Service Management
The Syrian Coalition assigned new prime ministerArabicNedaa SyriaJune 27, 2019Governance and Service Management
The Fourth Division terminates the contracts of the reconciliation volunteersArabicAl Mohrar MediaJune 25, 2019Governance and Service Management
SDF: Military councils is our new strategy ArabicEnab BaladiJune 28, 2019Governance and Service Management
Thousands of students take primary and secondary school exams in northwest Syria amidst bombing campaignEnglishSyria DirectJune 27, 2019Governance and Service Management
Under the pretext of “lack of guarantor”, SDF arrest displaced people from al-Mayadin and al-Quriyah in al-Tayyana town east of Deir EzzorEnglishSyrian Observatory For Human RightsJune 28, 2019Social Dynamics
4.1 Births for each woman and 21.8 people currently residing in SyriaEnglishThe Syrian ObserverJune 26, 2019Social Dynamics
A new meeting between the regime and the reconciliation committee in Dar'a to discuss the detainees’ destiny ArabicSyrian Press CenterJune 30, 2019Social Dynamics
UN warns of humanitarian disaster in Syria's IdlibEnglishAl JazeeraJune 24, 2019Humanitarian & Development
Smugglers report booming market as people try to escape Syria to TurkeyEnglishThe New HumanitarianJune 25, 2019Humanitarian & Development
Syria: Government co-opting recovery effortsEnglishHuman Rights WatchJune 28, 2019Humanitarian & Development
The Syrian-Turkish border: The closed open doorEnglishAl JumhuriyaJune 26, 2019Humanitarian & Development
Syria’s Idlib ‘on the brink’ of a nightmare, humanitarian chiefs warn, launching global solidarity campaignEnglishUnited NationsJune 27, 2019Humanitarian & Development
Moscow seeks Iran-Israel compromise at Jerusalem security chiefs meetingEnglishAl-MonitorJune 25, 2019International Intervention
“Turkicization (Turkophilia) or Turkification: Soft change in north AleppoArabicEnab BaladiJune 23, 2019International Intervention
Pedersen hopes for a 'deeper understanding' between Russia and the U.S. in SyriaArabicAl modonJune 27, 2019International Intervention
ISIS's second comeback assessing next ISIS insurgencyEnglishInstitute for the Study of WarJune 25, 2019Other
Dar'a: One year after a fragile settlement, a statistical reportArabicHoran Free LeagueJune 25, 2019Other