[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]
18 November 2019
The next Astana meeting on Syria is expected to be held in Nur-Sultan early December, the Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan Mukhtar Tleuberdi said on Monday.
The foreign ministry is waiting for an official request from the sponsor countries (Russia, Turkey, and Iran), the minister said.
The meeting was supposed to be held in late October but was postponed until mid-November because of the constitutional committee’s meetings in Geneva.
Confrontations After an Explosion
17 November 2019
A civilian was killed and another injured in clashes on Sunday between angry demonstrators and Turkish-supported local police in al-Bab city in northern Syria after a suspect was arrested for a car bomb that left a number of people dead, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
The car bomb exploded on Saturday in al-Bab, which is under the control of Syrian factions allied with Turkey, near a gathering point for taxis and public buses, killing nineteen people including thirteen civilians, according to the SOHR.
“On Saturday night, the local police in the city arrested a suspect accused of carrying out the bombing after reviewing surveillance cameras in the area. He was taken to police headquarters in order to be handed to the Turkish army,” SOHR director Rami Abdul Rahman told the AFP.
This angered hundreds of the city’s residents who took to the streets near the police station. A number of them stormed the station, demanding the suspect be executed in the city, according to the SOHR.
While trying to disperse them, the police intensively shot rounds in the air which killed one civilian and injured another, the SOHR said.
No one has claimed responsibility for the explosion in the city, which was considered a stronghold for the Islamic State in Aleppo governorate before it was ousted by Turkish forces and allied Syrian faction in February of 2017 in a large-scale offensive in the area.
The Turkish defense ministry on Saturday accused the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) of being responsible for the explosion. It declared the arrest of the perpetrator in a tweet on Sunday.
Bombardment of Idlib
17 November 2019
At least nine civilians were killed on Sunday in air strikes by Russian planes on areas in Idlib governorate in northwest Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
The SOHR said the toll was likely to rise because some of the injured suffered from “severe cases.”
Late April, Syrian government forces–with Russian support–launched a military operation in which they controlled various areas in the southern countryside of Idlib and the nearby northern countryside of Hama. A Russian-Turkish ceasefire was reached in late August.
Despite the ceasefire, the area is subject to Syrian and Russian air strikes every now and then, which have intensified recently, killing one hundred and ten civilians since late August.
The four-month attack has led to the displacement of four hundred thousand people and damaged dozens of health and education facilities. It also led to the death of around one thousand civilians, according to the SOHR.
Russian Deployment at US Base
16 November 2019
The Russian television channel Krasnaya Zvezda on Friday broadcasted footage documenting the first moments of Russian military police deploying at and controlling a US military base recently abandoned by Washington in Raqqa, north of Syria.
The US army had hastily evacuated the military base, driving the Russian air force to quickly dispatch its helicopters to prevent the Americans from destroying the runway as they did with similar bases in the past. Facilities at the military base were put under the guard of Russian military police.
Ninety Per Cent is for the Government
14 November 2019
Russian President Vladimir Putin said that after Russia started its fight against terrorism in Syria, ninety percent of this country’s territory has been liberated from the terrorists, and that in general all tasks were carried out.
This territory went back to Syrian government control “which was our objective. We have succeeded in carrying that out,” Putin said in a press conference after the BRICS summit in the Brazilian capital.
The Russian president emphasized the US contribution, and especially that of President Donald Trump, in fighting terrorism in Syria.
Washington is Leading
14 November 2019
In front of allies concerned by the US withdrawal from Syria, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday that the United States would continue to “lead” the fight against ISIS.
At the opening meeting of foreign ministers for member countries of the coalition against ISIS, Pompeo said that coalition countries have to “repatriate thousands of foreign fighters currently detained” in Syria. This demand, however, was met with the refusal of many countries, such as France, to receive jihadist fighters of their own citizens.
France called for this emergency meeting of the international coalition after a crisis erupted due to a new Turkish military intervention in northeast Syria.
Third Russian Base
14 November 2019
The Zvezda TV channel, which is affiliated with the Russian defense ministry, said on Thursday that Moscow started to establish a helicopter base in a civilian airport in the city of Qamishli in northeastern Syria, and showed footage of the arrival of offensive helicopters.
The new base is protected by the Panstir surface-to-air missile system. Three helicopters have already been deployed, two offensive Mi-35 helicopters and a Mi-8 military transport helicopter.
The TV channel showed Russian military police guarding the base, in addition to armored vehicles, ground support teams, a meteorology station, and a small medical clinic.
Trump and Erdogan
13 November 2019
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with US President Donald Trump at the White House on Wednesday at a time of intense relations between the two NATO countries.
The relations between the two countries were strained after Turkey launched an operation in northeast Syria against the Kurds–Washington’s allies–and bought advanced Russian air defense systems, in addition to Turkey insisting on its demand for the United States to hand over the US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Turkey accuses of responsibility for the failed coup attempt in 2016.
During the reception at the White House, Trump said that his relationship with the Turkish president is “good” and claimed that the ceasefire in northern Syria between Ankara and Kurdish-led forces is still holding.
Trump added that the Russian S-400 missile system, which Turkey bought, and the US F-35 fighter jets programs, which was suspended with Ankara, would be discussed.
Striking Jihad in Damascus
12 November 2019
Two people, including the son of Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Akram al-Ajouri, were killed early Tuesday in an Israeli strike in Damascus, according to Syrian official media and the Palestinian faction, which also declared that Israel “assassinated” one of its leaders in the Gaza strip.
An AFP photographer in Damascus said that he saw a building of three floors partially destroyed and windows in adjacent buildings broken. The apartment is located in one of the prestigious Damascene neighborhoods and is only a few dozens of meters away from the Lebanese embassy.
The Israeli army said in the morning that a “big” number of missiles were fired from Gaza into Israel. The missiles landed in southern Israel and sirens sounded in Tel Aviv.
Israel intensified in recent years its bombardment in Syria. It mainly targets positions for the Syrian army and Iranian and Hizballah targets. It reiterates that it will continue to confront what it describes as Iran’s attempts to cement its military presence in Syria and send advanced weapons to Hizballah.