Syria Situation Report: October 20 - October 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:

October 24 – 25: Rival Damascus-Based Opposition Groups Agree to Discuss Joint Military Operations Room: Salafi-Jihadist group Jaysh al-Islam and rival Islamist group Faylaq al-Rahman expressed their willingness to form a joint military operations room in eastern Ghouta following an emergency meeting between senior leaders of the two factions. Faylaq al-Rahman stated that the group will begin removing all of its roadblocks in eastern Ghouta, while Jaysh al-Islam called for talks to discuss “practical steps” to “end the division” between the two factions. The statements follow increasing popular protests calling for opposition unity in order to reverse continued pro-regime gains in the eastern Ghouta and western Ghouta suburbs of Damascus.

October 27: Pro-Regime Forces Seize Key Town in Northern Hama Province: Pro-regime forces seized Souran in northern Hama Province following heavy clashes with opposition groups that included intense aerial bombardment. Clashes remain ongoing. The advance marks the latest reversal for an opposition offensive against Hama City that began in August 2016.

October 26: Assassination Attempt Targets Pro-Regime Militia Leader: A bomb hidden in a laptop detonated inside the main office of the Syrian Resistance in Latakia City, causing material damage but no casualties. Syrian Resistance head Mihrac Ural blamed the assassination attempt on Turkey, claiming that its intelligence services aimed to “liquidate” him as a wanted terrorist. The Syrian Resistance is a pro-regime militia group based in Latakia Province that has been implicated in several attacks in Turkey, including a dual bombing in Reyhanli in Hatay Province in southern Turkey in May 2013 that killed at least fifty individuals.

October 26: Pro-Regime Airstrikes Target School in Idlib Province: Pro-regime airstrikes targeted a school in the village of Al-Haas in Idlib Province, killing at least twenty children. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied that Russia or Syria played any role in the airstrikes.

October 21: UN Inquiry Finds Regime Responsible for Third Chemical Weapons Attack: The Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) run by the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) released a report which found “sufficient evidence” to blame regime forces for a chlorine gas attack on the town of Qmenas near Idlib City on March 16, 2016. The inquiry previously accused the regime of conducting two other chlorine gas attacks in Idlib Province.

October 23: Clashes Resume in Aleppo City After ‘Humanitarian Pauses’: Pro-regime forces resumed their offensive operations in Aleppo City after the end of three eleven-hour ‘humanitarian pauses’ implemented by Russia and Syria. The truces ended without any significant evacuations of civilians or opposition fighters from eastern Aleppo City. The UN stated that planned medical evacuations had been unable to move forward due to the lack of “necessary conditions” to ensure the “safe, secure, and voluntary” movement of evacuees. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused Salafi-Jihadist groups Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and Ahrar al-Sham of using “threats, blackmail, and brute force” to disrupt the truce.

October 25: Regime Forces Target Opposition Forces in Operation Euphrates Shield: A regime helicopter dropped barrel bombs on Tal Jijan in northern Aleppo Province shortly after opposition groups backed by Turkey in Operation Euphrates Shield seized the village from IS. The attack comes after members of several opposition groups claimed that Operation Euphrates Shield will ultimately act to lift the pro-regime siege of Aleppo City. The Syrian Arab Army also released statements between October 20-22 condemning the operation as an “occupation force” and vowing to respond by “any means necessary” including anti-aircraft fire.

October 22 - 27: Operation Euphrates Shield Continues Clashes with Syrian Kurds in Aleppo Province: Opposition groups backed by Turkey in Operation Euphrates Shield clashed with the Syrian Democratic Forces - a coalition that includes the Syrian-Kurdish YPG - near the key towns of Azaz and Tel Rifaat in northern Aleppo Province. Opposition forces also seized at least ten villages from IS as part of a continued advance towards Al-Bab in northern Aleppo Province. Turkish President Recep Erdogan stated that Operation Euphrates Shield will also aim to clear IS from Raqqa City and the Syrian-Kurdish YPG from Manbij in eastern Aleppo Province. Erdogan also threatened that clearing operations could occur in Afrin Canton in western Aleppo Province in order to prevent the formation of a ‘terror corridor’ along the border.

October 25: US Officials State Offensive on Raqqa City Could Begin Within ‘Weeks’: US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter stated that coalition operations against IS in Raqqa City will begin “within weeks” and “overlap” with ongoing operations to seize Mosul in northern Iraq. Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve commander Gen. Stephen Townsend stated that the Syrian Democratic Forces will play an integral role in the offensive and noted that negotiations with Turkey over the issue are ongoing. Meanwhile, Syrian-Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) Head Saleh Muslim expressed concern that the YPG could be “stabbed in the back” by Turkey during an offensive against Raqqa City and called for the US to provide guarantees of security. PYD Representative to Paris Khaled Issa stated that “conditions are not in place” for an operation to seize Raqqa City, stressing that the YPG could not participate in the offensive amidst ongoing clashes with Turkey in Operation Euphrates Shield in northern Aleppo Province.

Click HERE to view the PDF.