[The following is a selection by our editors of significant weekly developments in Syria. Depending on events, each issue will include anywhere from four to eight briefs. This series is produced in both Arabic and English in partnership between Salon Syria and Jadaliyya. Suggestions and blurbs may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.]
29 July 2019
Russia’s air force helped the Syrian army to repel two attacks carried out by militants in the Idlib governorate on Sunday, TASS news agency reported, citing a senior defense ministry official.
Militants carried out two attacks on Syrian government forces’ positions using tanks and armored vehicles on 28 July, the official was quoted as saying.
Syrian government forces and allied forces took control of a strategic village in Hama governorate in middle Syria after fierce battles with opposition militants.
A field commander fighting with government forces acknowledged the difficulty of battles that government forces fought in Tal al-Meleh and its strategic hill in the western countryside of Hama. “A number of government forces were killed and others injured in fierce battle with opposition militants, who also had fifty people killed or injured, in addition to the destruction of a number of vehicles and motorcycles,” the commander told a German news agency.
Airstrikes and More Airstrikes
28 July 2019
Syrian and Russian air strikes killed eleven civilians on Sunday in northwest Syria, which has been subject to almost daily air strikes for three months, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
Since late April, Idlib governorate and surrounding areas in the governorates of Aleppo, Hama, and Latakia have witnessed an escalation in almost daily Syrian and Russian bombardment.
On Sunday, air strikes and artillery shelling targeted various areas in Idlib and Hama, which killed eleven civilians, according to the SOHR.
The SOHR said that five of the casualties died as a result of government air strikes on residential areas in Ariha city in Idlib governorate, after a bloody day in this city. Three others died in other places in northwest Syria. Russian airstrikes on farming land north of the adjacent Hama governorate left three civilians dead, according to the SOHR.
A government attack on the Tal al-Maleh village north of Hama resulted in the deaths of four soldiers, in addition to nine jihadists and opposition militants.
Tahrir al-Sham (previously Nusra) controls Idlib governorate–which has a population of three million. Other less influential factions are also present in the governorate.
Over the past three months, the Syrian-Russian bombardment has killed more than 750 civilians including more than 190 children, according to the SOHR.
A Picture is a Thousand Words
26 July 2019
A picture spread on social media showing two sisters stuck in the rubble of a building targeted by an air strike in northwest Syria while trying to help their younger sister from falling from a high floor. One of the two elder sisters died afterwards, while the other two are fighting for their lives in the hospital.
The city of Ariha–in the southern countryside of Idlib and hometown of the three sisters Dalia (eight years old), Riham (five years old), and Tuqa (seven months old)–was targeted by government air strikes on Wednesday, which hit the residential building where the three sisters live. This comes within the context of the escalation that has been going on for three months.
A photographer named Bashar al-Sheikh who works for a local news website took the photo of the girls as they were between the rubble of the destroyed but not completely collapsed building. The two elder sisters appear completely stuck under the bricks, as Riham appears holding her sister Tuqa from her torn shirt to prevent her from falling. A man stands near them screaming from terror and unable to approach them on top of the rubble to rescue them.
The AFP could not verify the identity of the man. Some activists said he is their father, whereas one of the volunteers in the White Helmets (civil defense in areas controlled by factions) said that he is one of the neighbors.
The family, which consists of six girls, was hospitalized after the air strike. The mother and her daughter Riham died shortly after because of the wounds they sustained. On Friday, Rawan (three years) also died, according to a doctor in Idlib hospital.
Save the Children said in a statement on Thursday that the number of children killed in Idlib in the last four weeks exceeds the number of children killed in the same area in 2018.
Displacement and Indifference
26 July 2019
The military escalation by government forces and their Russian allies has displaced more than four hundred thousand people in northwest Syria in the last three months. The United Nations condemned on Friday the continuous attacks that have targeted civilians and service and medical facilities.
Idlib governorate and surrounding areas, where three million people live, have come under almost daily bombardment by Syrian and Russian jets since the end of April, which has not spared hospitals, schools, or markets and has been accompanied by battles mainly in the northern countryside of Hama.
The bombardment has killed more than 740 civilians in the last three months, according to the SOHR, while humanitarian organizations say that the area is living a “nightmare” with the ongoing escalation.
28 July 2019
The London-based al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper said on Sunday that areas in northwest Syria have been witnessing mobilization of forces and factions allied to each of the United States and Turkey after the failure of the last round of negotiations between the two countries in regards to the “safe zone.”
The newspaper said that as soon as the negotiations between the US delegation and Turkish officials in Ankara ended in failure a few days ago, each side mobilized its forces and factions on frontlines. Ankara wants to pressure Washington, and the latter wants to “deter” the Turkish army.
The newspaper also mentioned that the last round of negotiations revealed the deep gap between Washington’s position and its Kurdish-Arab Syrian Democratic Forces on one hand and Ankara on the other hand in regards to establishing a “safe zone” northeast of Syria, and to a lesser extent in regards to implementing the “road map” in Manbej north of Aleppo.
25 July 2019
A US tourist, Sam Goodwin (thirty years old), who was detained in Syria for two months, was released thanks to a meditation of Lebanon, according to what his family said on Friday. “Sam is healthy and with his family,” his parents Thomas and Ann Goodwin said in a statement. “We are forever indebted to Lebanese General Abbas Ibrahim and to all others who helped secure the release of our son,” who went missing in May near the Kurdish dominated city of Qamishli northwest of Syria.
Goodwin was detained by the Syrian government. He wrote on his blog that he intended to complete his trip around the world by the end of the year. His family said it would provide more information at a later time.
Assassination in Daraa
24 July 2019
A former military commander in the Free Syrian Army (FSA), Firas Abdul Majeed al-Masalmeh, was killed in the governorate of Daraa and his personal bodyguard Shadi al-Ghanem was seriously wounded by gunshots on their car near the town of al-Yadoodeh, west of Daraa city.
A source in the Southern Front, which is affiliated with the FSA, said, “al-Masalmeh was the leader of one of the battalions in the FSA. He reconciled with government forces one year ago,” and worked with the Fourth Brigade–headed by Maher al-Assad, the brother of the Syrian president.
“The reason behind the assassination is perhaps mutual killings between groups working with government forces,” according to the source. Almost one year ago, government forces took control of the eastern and western countryside of Daraa after reconciliation with opposition faction commanders with Russian sponsorship.
25 July 2019
Six Iranians of forces allied to the Syrian government were killed in Israeli strikes in southern Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
The head of the SOHR Rami Abdul Rahman told the AFP that the attack killed nine fighters allied to the government, three Syrians and six Iranians.
The SOHR said on Wednesday that “reported Israeli missiles” targeted areas south of Syria near the Golan Heights, including Tal al-Harah in Daraa governorate and Nabi’ al-Sakhr and Tal al-Ahmar in Quneitera governorate.
Since the start of the conflict in Syria in 2011, Israel has launched hundreds of air strikes against Iranian targets and others for the Lebanese Hizballah, in addition to positions for the Syrian army.