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Syria Truce Unravels: Hostilities Resume as Major Powers Trade Accusations
United Nations envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, listens during a Security Council meeting on Wednesday, 21SEP16, at UN headquarters. (AP/Julie Jacobson)
This week’s snapshot focuses on the unraveling of the latest ceasefire scheme in Syria and the resumption of hostilities, primarily around the strategic cities of Damascus, Homs, Hama, Idlib, and Aleppo. The ceasefire agreement that the US and Russia brokered on 09SEP quickly deteriorated following a US-led coalition strike that killed dozens of Syrian soldiers in the country’s largest eastern city of Deir ez-Zor. Two days later, on 19SEP, Syrian or Russian warplanes bombed UN aid trucks near Aleppo, prompting the UN to suspend humanitarian convoys into the country. The Syrian and Russian governments denied responsibility and blame rebels. A tense UN Security Council emergency meeting on 25SEP consisted of accusations between Western and Russian representatives about who is to blame for the latest breakdown. Hours into the emergency meeting, the American, British and French representatives staged a walkout when Syria’s ambassador, Bashar al-Jafari, took the floor. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the deaths of 231 civilians since the end of the ceasefire, most due to Russian and Syrian bombardments. Among these strikes was the destruction of a pumping station supplying rebel-held eastern areas of Aleppo. As a result, nearly two million people were without water.
News summary of events during the week of 19SEP16 – 26SEP16
- 19SEP: The ceasefire appeared to be on the brink of collapse after a US-led coalition strike killed dozens of regime soldiers and warplanes supporting the regime struck Aleppo for the first time in nearly a week. (AFP)
- 19SEP: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey-backed rebels may extend their zone of control in northern Syria by pushing south and were focused on heading toward the Islamic State-held town of al-Bab. (Reuters)
- 19SEP: A senior Syrian military source in Damascus said the truce deal was set to expire during the evening at 7:00pm (1600 GMT). (AFP)
- 19SEP: UN OCHA chief Stephen O’Brien said he was “pained” that aid convoys had not deployed to eastern Aleppo, a key component of the truce. (AFP)
- 19SEP: US coalition partners Britain, Australia, and Denmark expressed remorse for a weekend airstrike against Islamic State militants that killed scores of Syrian soldiers. (Military.com)
- 19SEP: George Sabra, a senior member of the opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC), declared the ceasefire a “big lie”, since it has failed to deliver humanitarian aid to hundreds of thousands of desperate people in need. (DPA)
- 20SEP: US intelligence agencies believe that Russian aircraft conducted the strike that targeted a humanitarian aid convoy in northern Syria. (WSJ)
- 21SEP: At least 14 people died amid airstrikes targeting a medical facility in southern Aleppo. (DPA)
- 22SEP: The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff said he does not believe it would be a good idea for the US military to share intelligence with Russia in Syria. (AP)
- 23SEP: The UN said it was considering a different route to send desperately needed aid to east Aleppo, to circumvent the blocked main supply route. (AFP)
- 24SEP: The main opposition Syrian National Coalition hit out over the “silence of the international community”, saying Damascus and its Russian allies were committing “a crime” in the northern city of Aleppo. (AFP)
- 25SEP: Turkish President Erdogan said his country would like to join the US in a military operation to push Islamic State from its stronghold of Raqqa, as long as it excludes Kurdish rebel forces. (Reuters)
- 25SEP: Rebel forces retook the Handarat Palestinian refugee camp outside of Aleppo after it fell to pro-regime forces the day before. (AP)
- 25SEP: In an emergency session of the UN Security Council, the American, French, and British representatives accused the Syrian regime and Russia of war crimes, as the Russian envoy argued that such claims were fabrications and blamed the breakdown on the rebels. (The Guardian)
- 25SEP: When Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari was called to speak at the emergency session, all three American, British, and French ambassadors walked out of the council chamber in protest. (AP)
- 25SEP: Momentum grew on Capitol Hill for new sanctions against supporters of Syrian President Assad’s regime. (WSJ)
- 26SEP: Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem claimed that the US-Russia-brokered cease-fire agreement is still viable and said his administration is prepared to take part in a unity government. (AP)
- 26SEP: The Syrian regime and its allies pressed their bombardment of the rebel-held side of Aleppo, defying global condemnation over the newly launched offensive that has killed hundreds in the past several days. (WSJ)
Sample of Twitter handles tweeting about the failed truce in Syria
- @AmalHanano – Lina Sergie Attar, Co-Founder and CEO, Karam Foundation
- @DiabolicalIdea – Khaled Diab, Freelance Journalist
- @LizSly – Liz Sly, Beirut Bureau Chief, Washington Post
- @Rajaa_Altalli – Rajaa Altalli, Co-founder and Co-Director, Center for Civil Society and Democracy in Syria (CCSDS)
- @sahloul – Zaher Sahloul, Senior Advisor, Syrian American Medical Society
Sample of Third Party Validators regarding the failed truce in Syria
Rami Abdulrahman, Director, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights
“It was the heaviest air strikes for months inside Aleppo city. It was very intense. In that area we didn’t see heavy fighting recently.”
- “Jets pound Aleppo’s rebel-held areas, defying U.S.,” Reuters, 22SEP16
Robert S. Ford, Senior Fellow, Middle East Institute; former US Ambassador to Syria
“Frankly, I doubt Obama engaging on the diplomatic side would help much. Like Kerry, Obama wouldn’t have much leverage with the tough-nosed Putin unless Obama was also putting into play in the Syria war new elements of material — not verbal — pressure against the Assad-Russia-Iran alliance.”
- “Obama Puts Syria at Arm’s Length as Carnage Drags On,” NYT, 22SEP16
Carlos Francisco, Head of Syria Mission, Doctors Without Borders
“People in Aleppo already suffocating under the effects of the siege, have yet again come under horrific attack. No aid, including urgent medical supplies, is allowed to enter. We are deeply worried by the high numbers of wounded reported by the hospitals we support, and also know that in many areas the wounded and sick have nowhere to go at all – they are simply left to die.”
- “Syrian troops advance in Aleppo amid war’s heaviest bombing,” AP, 24SEP16
Yezid Sayigh, Senior Associate, Carnegie Middle East Center
“It’s all down to the US doing something or not…. I think the US clearly is entering a period of ‘coma,’ or hibernation, with the presidential election. What more can Kerry do in the remaining hours or days before the US is unable to pay any attention [because of the election], at least attention that the Russians or the Assad regime feel is worth listening to?”
- “If Syria cease-fire is officially abandoned, what can be done next?,” CSM, 23SEP16
Jeff White, Defense Fellow, Washington Institute for Near East Policy
“The Russians were eventually seeing progress in their strategy without any cease-fire. The regime’s military situation was improving. Assad’s position was solidifying. Russia’s strategic goals in the region were being met. There was no compelling reason for them to push hard for a cease-fire. The person pushing hard was Kerry, but the Russians were sort of, ‘Meh, we can take it or leave it.’ ”
- “A ferocious assault on Aleppo suggests the U.S. may be wrong on Syria,” WP, 23SEP16
Sample of open source research conducted by TRG analysts related to the failed truce in Syria
- Truce teeters after raids on Aleppo, Syria troops
Media: Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Date: 19 September 2016
Beirut, Sept 19, 2016 (AFP) – Syria’s ceasefire appeared on the brink of collapse on Monday after a US-led coalition strike killed dozens of regime soldiers and Aleppo city was hit by its first air raids in nearly a week.
The barrage of strikes on rebel-held districts of Aleppo on Sunday risks reigniting battlefronts in the city and could be the most serious threat to the ceasefire so far.
- Attempts to accuse Russia of aid convoy attack outrageous – Russian Foreign Ministry
Media: Tass (Russia)
Date: 20 September 2016
MOSCOW, September 20 /TASS/. Russian and Syrian planes delivered no strikes at the humanitarian convoy near Aleppo; any attempts to launch such unconfirmed accusations, which do not rest on any facts, arouse indignation and resentment, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.
“We are considering, with resentment and indignation, attempts by some foreign curators of rebel units and terrorists in Syria to put the blame for the incident on the Russian and Syrian Aerospace Forces who allegedly bombarded a relief convoy,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
- UN pleads with Assad over food aid stuck at Syria border
Media: Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Date: 22 September 2016
Geneva (AFP) – Food aid for rebel-held east Aleppo, which has been stalled at the Syrian border since last week, will go bad on Monday, the UN said Thursday, urging the country’s leader to clear the delivery.
“Forty trucks are sitting at the Turkish-Syrian border. The food will be expiring on Monday,” the head of the United Nations humanitarian taskforce for Syria, Jan Egeland, told reporters in Geneva on Thursday.
- Missiles batter Aleppo as Syria army readies ground assault
Media: Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Date: 23 September 2016
Aleppo, Syria, Sept 23, 2016 (AFP) – Missiles rained down on rebel-held areas of Syria’s Aleppo on Friday, causing widespread destruction that overwhelmed rescue teams, as the army prepared a ground offensive to retake the city.
Nearly 30 civilians including several children were killed and dozens wounded in the raids by Russian warplanes and regime aircraft, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group.
- Syrian opposition hits out at world silence over Aleppo
Media: Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Date: 24 September 2016
Istanbul, Sept 24, 2016 (AFP) – Syria’s main opposition coalition hit out on Saturday over the “silence of the international community”, saying Damascus and its Russian allies were committing “a crime” in the northern city of Aleppo.
Heavy Syrian and Russian air strikes on rebel-held eastern areas of Aleppo killed at least 32 civilians on Saturday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, as Damascus seeks to recapture all of the city.