Syria Situation Report: May 21 - May 27, 2016

Welcome to the latest installment of the Syria SITREP highlighting key developments in the Syrian Civil War. The SITREP Map is made possible through a partnership between the Institute for the Study of War and Syria Direct. To download the SITREP Map as a PDF, see below. Here's what happened in Syria this week:

May 26: Islamic State advances in Northern Aleppo Province. IS seized at least seven villages in a major attack against opposition groups in Northern Aleppo Province. The advance brought IS to the outskirts of the key border town of Azaz and isolated the nearby town of Mare’a. International aid groups reported that up to 100,000 civilians are now trapped between the Syrian-Turkish Border and the frontline.

May 24: Kurds reopen key fuel transit route in Northern Syria: The Syrian Kurdish YPG reached an agreement with rival opposition groups to re-open key transit routes for fuel deliveries from Northern Aleppo Province to Idlib Province via the Afrin Canton. The price of gasoline and diesel in Idlib Province reportedly more than doubled after the YPG instituted a blockade in April 2016.

May 24: Syrian Democratic Forces launch operation near Raqqa City. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) - a US backed coalition that includes the Syrian Kurdish YPG and allied opposition groups - announced the start of “ground operations to further isolate” the IS stronghold of Raqqa City. The SDF seized at least eight villages in Northern Raqqa Province but denied accusations that the operation aims to seize Raqqa City. Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov offered to coordinate with the US and SDF to seize Raqqa City, stating that the operation could be conducted “more effectively and faster” in partnership.

May 21: US CENTCOM Commander visits Northern Syria. US CENTCOM Commander Gen. Joseph Votel made an unannounced visit to Northern Syria to meet US Special Operations Forces (SOF) and leaders of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Gen. Votel reportedly held meetings near Manbij, Ain al-Arab (Kobani) in Eastern Aleppo Province, and Hasaka Province. 
IS conducted a dual 
suicide vehicle-borne IED attack near Tel
 Tamer in Hasaka
 Province that occurred within two kilometers of one meeting.

May 21: IS conducts suicideattack in Qamishli: Up to five IS 
militants opened fire with automatic rifles and grenades in the majority-Christian Wusta District of Qamishli in Hasaka Province before detonating two suicide vests, killing at least three civilians and wounding at least fifteen others.

May 23: Islamic State conducts quadruple suicide attack in Jableh. IS detonated an 
suicide vehicle-borne IED and three suicide vests targeting the central bus depot and national hospital in the majority-Alawite city of Jableh in Latakia Province, killing at least 73 civilians. IS issued a statement claiming the attack under the name of the newly-reconstituted Wilayat a-Sahel. The attacks occurred less than three miles from Bassel al-Assad International Airport, housing Russian Armed Forces.

May 23: Islamic State conducts triple suicide attack in Tartus City. IS detonated an suicide vehicle-borne IED and two suicide vests targeting the central bus depot in the majority-Alawite city of Tartus, killing at least 48 civilians. Activists claimed that pro-regime civilians burned several tents in a nearby refugee camp in retaliation for the attacks. IS issued a statement claiming the attack under the name of the newly-reconstituted Wilayat a-Sahel. Tartus is the site of a Russian Armed Forces naval facility.

May 24: Rival opposition groups negotiate truce in Eastern Ghouta. Prominent Salafi-Jihadist group Jaysh al-Islam and rival Islamist group Faylaq al-Rahman concluded a ceasefire agreement to end recent infighting in the Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus. The deal followed negotiations mediated by Riyad Hijab, head of the High Negotiations Committee, in Qatar. Clashes erupted between the two groups on April 28, killing more than five hundred and enabling significant gains by pro-regime forces.

May 22 - 25: Russia calls for ‘Regime of Calm’ in Damascus: The Russian Ministry of Defense called for a 72-hour ‘regime of calm’ in Darayya and Eastern Ghouta near Damascus, urging all parties to “stop offensive operations” and “distance themselves” from regions held by Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra (JN). The Russian Ministry of Defense later issued a statement on May 25 announcing a temporary suspension of airstrikes against JN to allow opposition forces an opportunity to distance themselves from the group. These proposals came after nearly forty opposition groups threatened to break a nationwide ‘cessation of hostilities’ if pro-regime forces did not cease ongoing offensives in Damascus within 48 hours.

May 26: Opposition groups seize town in Western Ghouta: Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, prominent Salafi-Jihadist group Ahrar al-Sham, and other opposition groups seized the town of Dirkhabiyah near Damascus following an operation entitled ‘Roar of the Freemen to Break the Siege’. The advance reopened key supply routes to besieged opposition-held enclaves throughout the Western Ghouta suburbs of Damascus.

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