[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.]
Death on the Highway
08 March 2020
Thirty-two people were killed on Saturday when a fuel tank truck hit two passenger buses and a number of cars on the road connecting the city of Homs with the capital Damascus, according to the Syrian official news agency SANA.
The Syrian Interior Minister Mohammed Khaled al-Rahmoun said the accident was caused by a malfunction in the truck’s breaks, causing it to collide with two buses carrying Iraqi passengers (who were returning from a trip to holy sites near the Syrian capital) and fifteen other cars.
Idlib’s Skies Without Planes
06 March 2020
On 5 March, the governorate of Idlib in northwest Syria witnessed a cautious calm and an absence of military planes from its skies as the ceasefire declared by Moscow and Ankara went into effect after three months of military escalation by government forces with Russian support in the area.
On midnight Friday, the ceasefire declared by the Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan went into effect, in an attempt to stop the offensive in the area that started early December, forcing around one million people to flee, in one of the largest influx of displacement since the onset of the crisis nine years ago.
05 March 2020
The summit between the Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday resulted in a new agreement in Idlib that includes steps to begin the ceasefire in northwest Syria starting on midnight Friday. It has yet to be implemented on the field.
Putin and Erdogan held marathon meeting in Moscow that included a “face-to-face” meeting and extended talks.
The Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced the terms of the agreement, explaining that the two countries will establish a safe corridor that extends for six kilometers along both sides of the road between Aleppo and Lattakia, known as the M4 road, in addition to conducting joint patrols on the road starting from mid-March.
Lavrov went on to say that an agreement was reached to halt all hostilities along the frontlines, starting from midnight on 5 March.
The US Special Envoy to Syria James Jeffrey had called on the Europeans and the NATO to provide bigger support for Turkey. Jeffrey said that Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 system is an obstacle to sending US military aid to Ankara, which requested the Patriot system.
Fighter Jets and Drones
04 March 2020
Airstrikes by Russian fighter jets and Turkish drones against the countryside of Idlib in northeast Syria intensified the previous day, on the eve of the upcoming summit in Moscow today between the Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said yesterday that Turkish drones and artillery continued their bombardment of government forces in the city of Saraqeb and its countryside, east of Idlib city. This coincided with bombardment carried out by Russian fighter jets on several axes in the countryside of the Saraqeb and Sarmin, the SOHR added.
Field sources affiliated with opposition factions said that “Iran intensified its military presence in Idlib countryside by bringing large numbers of militia from various nationalities to the frontlines with the opposition factions in the countryside of Idlib and Aleppo.”
80% Women and Children
04 March 2020
The UN Envoy to Syria Geir Pedersen said that eighty percent of the people displaced as a result of recent developments in Syria are children and women. This came in Pedersen’s opening statement on Wednesday to the one hundred and fifty-third session of the Arab League Council at the foreign ministers’ level presided by Yusuf bin Alawi, the minister in charge of foreign affairs in Oman.
Pedersen said that the challenge has reached its peak in Syria this year, as the country faces severe destruction and instability, in addition to the displacement of a large number of Syrians, adding that the conflict clearly affects stability in the region.
He called for providing a diplomatic solution to the problems the Syrian society faces to create favorable conditions to the development process, and launching a political process and dialogue between the opposition and the government, adding that the crisis is not restricted to Idlib, as there are numerous violations all over Syria.
The United States Gets Involved
04 March 2020
Washington got involved on the ground in the tension between Moscow and Ankara in the Syrian governorate of Idlib through a visit by US officials to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing between Syria and Turkey the previous day.
The US Special Envoy to Syria James Jeffrey said that his country is willing to provide Turkey with “ammunition and humanitarian aid” in Idlib. “Turkey is a partner in the NATO. Most of its army uses American equipment. We will make sure that the equipment is ready,” Jeffrey said.
In the meanwhile, two German officials said the German Chancellor Angela Merkel informed her conservative colleagues in the parliament that she endorses the establishment of “safe zones” in northern Syria.
03 March 2020
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday set the date for the next legislative elections on 13 April, after his forces were able to recapture vast areas in the country ripped by war for nine years.
Western countries and opposition figures expressed their doubts about the legitimacy of the elections at a time stalemate lingers over the constitutional reforms under UN sponsorship.
The parliament consists of two hundred and fifty seats divided almost equally between the sector of workers and farmers (one hundred and twenty-seven seats) and the sector of the remaining groups (one hundred and twenty-three seats).
These elections would be the third since March 2011. The last legislative elections were held in 2016, in which three thousand and five hundred candidates competed. The ruling Baath party and its allies won the majority of seats.
In the 2012 elections, the first after the onset of the conflict, doors were open for candidates not in the Ba‘th party, which was considered as an attempt by the authorities to contain the protest movement at the time.
The upcoming elections come after government forces took control of over seventy percent of the geography of the country thanks to the Russian military intervention in 2015.
Benghazi and Damascus
03 March 2020
The parallel government in Libya, supported by Field Marshal Haftar Khalifa in Benghazi, reopened its embassy in Damascus after its closure in 2012 when the two countries were ripped by conflicts.
This opening coincides with Turkey’s escalation of military operations against both countries. Turkey has been involved in an ongoing military operation against Syrian government forces in Idlib to support militant factions. It has also been sending military reinforcement to Libya to support the National Reconciliation Government headed by Fayez al-Sarraj.
02 March 2020
An “aerial war” between the Turkish and Syrian army has erupted with Damascus downing drones and Turkish aerial forces downing two military planes in the countryside of Idlib. This constitutes a test for Russia on how it will react toward this situation.
“As two Syrian planes were carrying out a mission in the Idlib region, Turkish military planes intercepted the planes and downed them above Syrian territory,” the official Syrian news agency SANA reported a military source as saying. The source said that the pilots “safely” ejected the planes using parachutes. The Turkish defense ministry confirmed the downing of “two Sukhoi-24 planes that were targeting our planes,” and the “destruction of an anti-aircraft weapon that downed one of our drones, in addition to two anti-aircraft systems.”
In the previous morning, a Syrian military sources mentioned the “closure of airspace above Idlib governorate.” The Turkish defense minister Hulusi Akar announced a military operation in northern Syria, adding that Ankara does not want to confront Russia, the strong ally of the Syrian government.