[The following is a selection by our editors of significant weekly developments in Syria. Depending on events, each issue will include anywhere from four to eight briefs. This series is produced in both Arabic and English in partnership between Salon Syria and Jadaliyya. Suggestions and blurbs may be sent to email@example.com.]
Change in Discourse: Temporary or Permanent?
Will the fate of the settlement in Idlib be different from those in other areas that preceded it in the Syrian war, especially with all actors insisting on their strategies and Russia and the Syrian government affirming their goal in having the Syrian army regain control over all the country? Will the Russian-Turkish negotiations determine the “price” for the agreement on Idlib’s fate, including their position regarding the Kurdish issue in Syria?
Russian “Keenness”: No Major Operations in Idlib
2 – 3 October 2018
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that the de-escalation zone in Idlib was effective and that there are no plans for major military operations in the area. “And that means, no large scale military actions are expected there … Military action for the sake of military action is unnecessary,” he said. However, Putin added that Moscow wants to see all foreign troops withdraw from Syria eventually, including Russian forces. He also said that the presence of US forces in Syria is “a breach of the UN charter.”
It is noteworthy that the Syrian government, through a statement by Foreign Minister Walid Moulem, confirmed that Turkey is capable of carrying out its obligations under the Idlib agreement.
Turkish Keenness … Withdrawal and Elections
2, 4, 6 October 2018
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday that Turkey would not leave Syria until the Syrian people hold elections. “Whenever the Syrian people hold an election, we will leave Syria to its owners after they hold their elections,” Erdogan said at a forum in Istanbul. He also said that Turkey is not experiencing difficulty in conducting talks with radical groups in Idlib, the last major area still under the control of armed opposition.
Erdogan pledged to strengthen Turkish observations posts in Idlib.
The Turkish role was manifested in armed opposition groups withdrawing their heavy weaponry from the demilitarized zone agreed upon by Turkey and Russia in north-west of Syria. The National Front for Liberation said in a statement that the process of withdrawing heavy weapons had begun, but the fighters would remain in their positions within the demilitarized zone. Opposition forces in northern Syria said on Tuesday that Turkey had confirmed that Russian forces would not deploy in the area.
On the other hand, Erdogan said on Monday that Turkey is seeking to secure the area east of the Euphrates in northern Syria by eliminating the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, in continuation of the Turkish strategy towards the Kurds.
Iranian Keenness … Response to Ahwaz in Boukamal
2 October 2018
Iranian “rage” over the Ahwaz attack burst in Syria as Iran said that the missile attack it carried out in Syria on Monday had killed forty “top leaders” in ISIS.
Iran fired six missiles at targets in Boukamal and Hajin regions in eastern Syria, in retaliation for the attack on a military parade in Iran on 22 September that killed twenty-five people, nearly half of them members of the Revolutionary Guard.
3, 4, 5 October 2018
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday he will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin soon to discuss security coordination over Syria, amid friction with Moscow over Israel’s air operations.
On Tuesday, Russia said it had upgraded Syria’s air defenses with the S-300 missile system, after accusing Israel of indirect responsibility for the downing of a Russian spy plane by Syrian forces as they fired on attacking Israeli jets last month. There have been no reports of Israeli air strikes in Syria since the Russia plane was shot down.
The French foreign ministry said on Friday that Russia’s deployment of the S-300 system in Syria risks fueling military escalation and hindering prospects for a political solution to the seven-year civil war.
General Joseph Votel, who oversees US forces in the Middle East, said that the deployment seemed to be an effort by Moscow to help shield “nefarious activities” by Iranian and Syrian forces in the country.
German Keenness Against Chemical Weapons
3 October 2018
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Wednesday that his country and the United States agreed on the need to do everything possible to prevent the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Maas comments came after a meeting with his US counterpart Mike Pompeo in Washington. He also said that Pompeo understood the scope of the political debate in Germany concerning the potential participation in any US-led military response in the event of a chemical attack.
Aid Keenness and Economies of War
4 October 2018
The Unites States Agency for International Development and the British Department for International Development found out that Bab al-Hawa border crossing in north-western Syria is being used by extremist groups to collect taxes from aid trucks. Therefore, they directed their partners to stop all use of the border crossing starting from 26 September.
Tahrir al-Sham, the main Islamic group in Idlib governorate, is designated a terrorist organization by the United Nations, the United States, and Turkey. Bab al-Hawa is the only official border crossing connecting Turkey to the Idlib governorate, where an estimated 2.1 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. Around 2284 trucks carrying aid went through the crossing in the first eight months of this year, according to David Swanson of the United Nation’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
US Keenness for the Kurds!
2 & 3 October 2018
Kurdish officials said that a series of visits by US diplomats to Syria in the last two months to renew preparations to discuss the future of the country indicate a long-term commitment. US forces are seen as a shield against Turkish attacks from the north and any attempt by the Syrian government to seize the region’s wheat and oil fields.
The number of US diplomats in Syria has doubled as ISIS fighters near a military defeat, US Defense Secretary James Mattis said on Tuesday. “Our diplomats there on the ground have been doubled in number. As we see the military operations becoming less, we will see the diplomatic effort now able to take root,” Mattis said.