[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.]
Battle for Khan Sheikhoun
Enab Baladi and Reuters
16-19 August 2019
The spokesman for the media branch of Tahrir al-Sham, Abu Khaled al-Shami said on Monday that fierce battles raged between militants from al-Fatih al-Mobeen factions and government forces near al-Faqir checkpoint west of the city of Khan Sheikhoun. The factions are confronting government attempts to advance towards the city, he added, denying reports that government forces entered the city. The operation room for al-Fatih al-Mobeen includes Tahrir al-Sham, the National Front for Liberation, and al-Izza Army. Abu Khaled added that the government and its allies started off with intense air strikes, missiles, and artillery shelling to pave the way to al-Faqir checkpoint, where the factions confronted these forces in an attempt to recapture the checkpoint and prevent their progress.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said on Saturday that around twenty-seven civilians were killed in northwestern Syria in the last two days in an escalation of a Russian-backed offensive against the last major rebel stronghold.
An air strike in the village of Deir Sharki killed seven members of one family, most of them children, on Saturday, the SOHR added. Bombardments in other areas killed another seven people, it said.
On Friday, air strikes in the village of al-Haas killed thirteen people. They had been seeking shelter after fleeing another area. The bombardment forced hundreds of families to flee northwards from the targeted areas, the observatory and local activists said.
France called on Friday for an immediate end to fighting in the Syrian city of Idlib, and the French Foreign Ministry added that it condemned in particular air strikes on refugee camps. The United Nations and aid agencies have warned of a new humanitarian catastrophe in northwest Syria.
On Wednesday a US agency which supports health facilities in opposition-held areas of Syria said government air strikes had targeted an ambulance center, killing a paramedic, an ambulance driver, and a rescue worker who was trying to free them from the rubble.
Mark Cutts, a UN official working on Syria, condemned the strike in a statement, saying it “highlights again the horror of what is going on in Idlib and northern Hama.”
The “Turkish” Safe Zone
16 August 2019
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Friday that a joint Turkish-US operation center–to establish and manage a safe zone in northeast Syria–will be fully operational next week.
Turkey and the United States agreed last week to set up the joint operations center for the proposed zone along Syria’s northeast border but gave few details, such as the size of the zone itself or the command structure of forces that would operate there.
Earlier this week a US delegation visited southern Turkey to work on getting the center started, and Turkish drones began carrying out work in the area where the safe zone will be created, the Defense Ministry said.
“The joint operation center will start working with full capacity next week,” Akar was quoted as saying by Turkey’s state-owned Anadolu news agency. Akar said that Turkish and US officials have agreed that Syrian Kurdish YPG militants should be removed from the area and their heavy weapons should be taken. Ankara and Washington have also agreed in general terms about control and coordination of air space in the region, Akar added.
Targeting of Misyaf
15 August 2019
A Syrian military source said Syrian air defenses identified a missile that was fired toward the city of Misyaf near Hama late on Thursday and destroyed it before it hit its target.
“Our air defense system detected a hostile aerial target coming from northern Lebanon towards the city of Misyaf. It immediately engaged the target and destroyed it before it reached its destination,” the source said.
State television had previously reported the sound of a massive blast near Misyaf although there were no immediate reports of damage or casualties.
Government Plane Shot Down
15 August 2019
Rebels shot down a Syrian warplane in the opposition stronghold of Idlib governorate on Wednesday as Russian-backed government forces closed in on a strategically important town.
The official Syrian news agency SANA said the warplane had been hit by an anti-aircraft missile fired by militants while on a mission “to destroy headquarters of the Nusra Front.” SANA said the pilot’s fate was unknown.
Tahrir al-Sham, the most powerful group in the area, said its fighters had shot down a Sukhoi 22 jet that had taken off from a Syrian air base in Homs governorate. It did not say how the jet had been brought down.
Explosion in Qamishli
14 August 2019
A security force said in a statement that a car bomb killed one member of its members and wounded two others in the Kurdish-controlled city of Qamishli in northeastern Syria on Sunday. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack which it said had killed six members of a Kurdish militant group.
The car bomb targeted a training facility that was being guarded by members of the internal security force for northern and eastern Syria, also known as the Asayish, a statement released by the Kurdish security force said.