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Damascus intensified normalisation with Arab states, Hei’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) attacked regime in northwest, and Islamic State (ISIS) launched near-daily attacks in centre as Türkiye killed group’s global leader.
Syria and Arab states pursued normalisation. Syrian FM Faisal Mekdad visited several Arab countries for first time since start of war in 2011. Mekdad 1 April met Egyptian counterpart in Egyptian capital Cairo and 12 April met Saudi FM in Saudi Arabian city Jeddah, next day announcing move toward reopening embassies and resuming flights. Syria and Tunisia 12 April re-established diplomatic ties; Mekdad 18 April met Tunisian President Saied in Tunis. Mekdad 15 April met Algerian counterpart in Algeria. Saudi FM Faisal bin Farhan 18 April met President Assad in capital Damascus, amid discussion of Syrian participation in May Arab League meeting. Meanwhile, Syrian, Turkish, Russian and Iranian officials 4 April met in Russian capital Moscow to foster Turkish-Syrian rapprochement (see Türkiye).
HTS targeted regime forces along north-western front. Idlib’s dominant group HTS and allied factions conducted raids on regime positions in north west, while al-Qaeda-leaning Ansar al-Islam for first time in several years conducted two raids 7 and 14 April. Notably, HTS and allies began regularly using anti-tank guided missiles for first time since March 2020.
ISIS continued attacks, Turkish operation killed group’s chief. ISIS cells launched near-daily attacks on civilians in centre, killing dozens during April, and engaged in battles with regime and Russian Wagner Group forces. U.S.-led coalition airstrike 3 April killed senior ISIS leader in Idlib and coalition 8 and 17 April conducted raids to capture two ISIS leaders in north east and Aleppo province. Turkish President Erdogan 30 April announced killing of suspected ISIS global leader in Aleppo.
Israel launched airstrikes and Türkiye struck Kurdish forces. Israel 2, 4, 8, 9, 29 April launched airstrikes amid multi-front escalation (see Israel-Palestine). Turkish defence minister 17 April announced “neutralisation” of ten People’s Defense Units/Kurdish Workers’ Party (YPG/PKK) militants in northern Aleppo after alleged YPG/PKK attack previous day injured four Turkish soldiers. Turkish drone strikes 14 April killed two senior YPG/PKK commanders in Qamishli.
Regime and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) resumed hostilities in north west, tensions flared between U.S. and Iran-backed forces in east, and President Assad sought to end diplomatic isolation.
In north west, cross-line tit-for-tat attacks returned and Turkish-backed militants killed Kurdish civilians. After weeks-long hiatus following earthquake, Idlib’s dominant faction HTS in March resumed raids and sniping operations on regime positions in north west, including in Idlib province 16 March and in Latakia province next day; regime had stepped up shelling of Idlib province following earthquakes. HTS and regime 23 March clashed in northern Aleppo province, killing 10 from both sides. Turkish-backed militants 20 March killed several Kurds during Kurdish new year celebrations near Jinderis town, Aleppo province; thousands next day protested in Jinderis.
U.S. and Iran-backed forces clashed in east and Islamic State (ISIS) continued attacks in centre. Alleged Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-affiliated groups 23 March launched drone attack on base near Hasakah city, killing U.S. contractor and injuring six U.S. troops; in retaliation, U.S. conducted airstrikes on alleged IRGC-affiliated groups, killing several militants (see Iran). Further attacks next day targeted coalition forces, wounding U.S. service member. Meanwhile, suspected ISIS cells in March increased activity in centre, conducting at least 30 attacks that killed dozens. Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and International Coalition continued anti-ISIS operations in north east.
Regime continued normalisation drive as Syrian-Turkish rapprochement stalled. President Assad 15 March met Russian President Putin. Assad 19 March visited United Arab Emirates and met President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Saudi media 23 March reported Riyadh was in talks with Damascus to reestablish consular relations (see Saudi Arabia). Assad 16 March ruled out meeting Turkish President Erdoğan until Ankara announces timetable for withdrawal from Syria; reports late month indicated possible meeting between Iran, Türkiye, Syria and Russia in early April.
In other important developments. Israeli airstrikes 7, 22 March reportedly hit Aleppo airport and 30-31 March struck Damascus; alleged Israeli rockets 12 March hit Hama and Tartus provinces. World Food Programme 15 March said situation in Syria is “worse than ever” with over half of population lacking food.
Earthquake killed thousands as regime used international aid to reduce isolation, while crisis reduced both hostilities in north west and Turkish operations in north; Islamic State (ISIS) attack killed scores.
President Assad leveraged earthquake aid for soft normalisation. Earthquake 6 Feb killed over 5,900 people, predominantly in rebel-held north west. Dozens of countries, including every Arab state except Qatar, flew aid into regime-held areas. First UN aid convoy 9 Feb arrived in rebel-held north west. U.S. 9 Feb issued six-month sanctions exemption for aid. In Idlib province, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) refused to cooperate in cross-line aid from regime-controlled areas; govt 13 Feb authorised UN aid via Bab al-Salameh and Ar-rai border crossings from Türkiye. Meanwhile, Tunisian President Saied 9 Feb announced intention to strengthen ties with Syria; Jordanian FM 15 Feb and Egyptian FM 27 Feb visited capital Damascus for first time since 2011; parliamentarians from eight regional countries 26 Feb visited President Assad.
HTS raids on regime and hostilities between Turkish and Kurdish forces declined. HTS ceased cross-line attacks on regime positions in Idlib and Latakia following earthquake until 26 Feb, when it raided position in Latakia. Hostilities between Turkish forces and People’s Defence Units (YPG) witnessed slight reduction; nevertheless, YPG rocket attack 7 Feb struck Türkiye’s Kilis province, while Turkish drones 12, 16 and 22 Feb struck Kurdish targets in Hasakah and Aleppo provinces.
ISIS attack killed scores in central Syria. In largest-scale assault in central Syria since April 2021, suspected ISIS cell 17 Feb killed at least 60 civilians and police escorts near Sukhnah, Homs province. Meanwhile, U.S. forces early Feb killed alleged senior ISIS leader in eastern Deir ez-Zor province. U.S. and Syrian Democratic Forces 10 Feb killed two ISIS leaders, and 16 Feb conducted ISIS arrest raid, which left four U.S. soldiers injured. Coalition forces 18 Feb arrested ISIS member in Hasakah province.
In other important developments. Israeli airstrikes 18 Feb struck Damascus, reportedly killing five and injuring 15. U.S. 14 Feb downed Iranian drone in Deir ez-Zor province; suspected Iranian rockets 18 Feb targeted U.S. forces in Green Village base, Deir ez-Zor province.
Türkiye targeted Kurdish and regime forces in north and signalled willingness to normalise ties with regime, while Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) battled regime and economic hardship persisted.
Türkiye continued operations in north amid concerns over its warming ties with regime. Türkiye reportedly carried out at least eight drone strikes targeting Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in north east. After Türkiye’s presidential spokesperson 14 Jan asserted ground operation was “possible any time”, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) head Mazlum Kobani 16 Jan said he expected attack in Feb. In Aleppo, Türkiye continued shelling regime forces, notably killing two high-ranking officers near Nubl town 12 Jan. Meanwhile, concerns rose over Ankara’s rapprochement with Damascus: Idlib’s dominant group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) 2 Jan criticised last month’s Ankara-Moscow-Damascus talks as “dangerous deviation”, while U.S. 3 Jan said “now is not the time”; Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar 4 Jan reassured Türkiye-backed groups Ankara would not take steps they oppose. Turkish President Erdoğan 5 Jan signalled possible meeting with President Assad. Thousands 6 Jan protested in Idlib and Aleppo provinces against Turkish reconciliation with regime.
HTS continued raids on regime positions. HTS conducted six raids against regime in Idlib and Aleppo provinces, as allied units from HTS-led Fatah Mubin coalition joined operations for first time; regime responded by shelling towns in Idlib.
Regime grappled with growing economic and fuel crises. Assad 14 Jan met Iranian FM in capital Damascus to discuss much-needed fuel shipments and financial support, and agreed to renew strategic economic ties; moved followed Assad’s approval in Dec of draft 2023 budget at $3.6bn, compared to 2022’s $5.3bn, reflecting slashed subsidies.
In other important developments. Military announced Israeli missiles 2 Jan hit Damascus airport, killing at least two soldiers; airstrikes 29-30 Jan reportedly struck convoy of Iran-linked groups near Iraq-Syria border. Two rockets 4 Jan hit site housing U.S. troops in Deir ez-Zor province; three drones 20 Jan targeted U.S. al-Tanf base, Homs province. SDF early and 25 Jan conducted anti-Islamic State operations in Hasakah province and Raqqa, arresting hundreds. UN Security Council 9 Jan unanimously extended cross-border aid into north west for six months.
Hostilities between Turkish and Kurdish-led forces eased in north, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) raided regime positions, and protests erupted in Suwayda over economic hardship.
Hostilities between Türkiye and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) somewhat eased. Following start of new Turkish operation on 19 Nov, hostilities continued along “Peace Spring” front line during month, albeit at lower intensity. Notably, suspected Turkish drone 17 Dec reportedly killed three civilians near Kobani, Aleppo province. Concern persisted that Ankara remains intent on new ground incursion into north (see Türkiye). Govt mid-month began moving Russian-backed 25th division units to Manbij countryside, Aleppo province. Meanwhile, Turkish officials hinted at normalisation with Damascus: Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar and intelligence chief Hakan Fidan 28 Dec met with Russian and Syrian counterparts, marking first official ministerial-level engagement between Türkiye and Syria in 11 years.
HTS launched series of raids on regime positions. Following raids in Sept-Oct and marking escalation in ground activity, Idlib’s dominant rebel group HTS 11 Dec conducted raids on regime positions in northern Latakia and eastern Idlib provinces, 17 Dec in western Aleppo province and 18 Dec in eastern Idlib province; HTS described raids as “defensive actions” aimed at countering regime forces’ movements and new positions.
Popular unrest erupted in Suwayda province in south west. Amid acute fuel shortage and consequent spike in cost of basic goods, mass anti-govt protests 4 Dec broke out in Suwayda city, Suwayda province; protesters burnt down governorate building and attacked police station, while security forces reportedly responded with live fire, leaving one police officer and one protester dead.
Islamic State (ISIS) continued low-level insurgency, as Israel struck targets. Two ISIS militants 26 Dec infiltrated Internal Security headquarters in Raqqa city, killing at least six security forces personnel; ISIS militants 30 Dec killed at least ten oil workers in Tayyem Oil Field outside Deir Ez Zor city. U.S. forces 11 Dec killed two ISIS militants in helicopter raid in east; U.S. 20 Dec said it arrested six ISIS members, including “senior official” Al-Zubaydi, in east. Military 20 Dec said Israeli airstrikes injured two soldiers near capital Damascus (see Israel-Palestine).
Türkiye intensified attacks against Kurdish-led forces after deadly Istanbul bombing, threatening ground offensive in north that could trigger displacement and fuel escalatory cycle of violence.
Türkiye stepped up strikes against Kurdish-led forces, threatening ground incursion. Following 13 Nov bombing in Turkish city Istanbul that killed six, which Türkiye blamed on Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and People’s Protection Units (YPG), Turkish forces 20 Nov launched “Operation Claw-Sword” in northern Syria and Iraq (see Türkiye); Turkish defence ministry claimed strikes targeting Kobani and Tal Rifat in Aleppo province, Cizire and Derik in Hasakah province and northern Iraq 20-21 Nov killed 184 militants. Turkish President Erdoğan from 21 Nov repeatedly signalled possible ground invasion into north as Ankara reportedly negotiated with Russia on possible offensive west of Euphrates River; potential ground operation in coming weeks – fourth since 2016 – would risk large-scale displacement, civilian casualties and escalatory cycle of violence with YPG. U.S. 23 Nov said Turkish strikes in Syria threatened safety of U.S. personnel and progress of anti-Islamic State (ISIS) operations. Meanwhile, retaliatory cross-border attacks into Türkiye increased: notably; rocket attack 21 Nov killed three civilians in Gaziantep province.
Russia continued strikes in Idlib, while Israel attacked regime bases. Russian aircraft 6 Nov bombed IDP camps near Idilb city, reportedly killing at least nine civilians and injuring over 70. Syrian military claimed Israeli missiles 13 Nov hit Shayrat air base in Homs province, killing two servicemen; Syrian state media reported Israeli airstrikes 19 Nov killed four soldiers and injured one in military bases in central and western Syria.
Deadly unclaimed attacks continued. Unidentified drone strike 8 Nov targeted militia convoy, reportedly killing at least 14, including suspected Iranian nationals, in Deir Ez-Zor province. Explosion near capital Damascus 21 Nov killed two, including Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps colonel. Rocket attack 22 Nov reportedly killed five civilians in Aleppo province’s Azaz city, controlled by Türkiye-backed groups.
In other important developments. Beheaded bodies of two teenage Egyptian girls were found in al-Hol camp in north east 15 Nov. Erdoğan 17 Nov raised prospect of normalising relations with Damascus following Turkish elections in 2023.
Deadly clashes erupted between opposition groups in north west as Hei’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) expanded beyond Idlib, prompting Turkish deployment; Russia continued air raids in Idlib.
In north west, hostilities broke out between HTS and Turkish-backed groups. Idlib’s dominant rebel group HTS blamed Turkish-backed groups for 7 Oct shooting of citizen journalist and wife in al-Bab city. In significant escalation, HTS and allied groups 11 Oct entered Afrin city in northern Aleppo and repelled Third Corps of Türkiye-backed coalition of armed groups Syrian National Army located there since 2018, as fighting reportedly killed dozens. Türkiye 15 Oct brokered truce, with HTS agreeing to withdraw from Afrin. However, HTS 17 Oct seized Kafr Jana town from rival Turkish-aligned faction, after sides accused each other of breaking deal, and 18 Oct approached Azaz city; Turkish troops same day deployed around Kafr Jana to end fighting. Meanwhile, HTS late Sept and 5 Oct conducted rare ground operation to expel regime forces after they advanced into no-man’s land in western Aleppo province toward Idlib.
Russia stepped up airstrikes in Idlib and Türkiye struck Kurdish and regime forces. After conducting five air raids last month, Russia continued bombings in Idlib province on 7, 11 and 17 Oct, straining March 2020 ceasefire. Turkish drone 6 Oct killed People’s Defence Units (YPG) commander in Aleppo province. Turkish forces 7 Oct shelled govt border guards base in Aleppo province, killing at least four.
Islamic State (ISIS) maintained simmering insurgency in multiple provinces. In north east, coalition 6 Oct claimed it killed ISIS leader in Hasakah province and two others in “northern Syria”; 10 Oct reportedly killed ISIS militant in Raqqa province. ISIS 16 Oct assassinated son of pro-Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia commander in Hasakah province. In south, regime forces and reconciled rebels 14 Oct ambushed large ISIS cell in Jassem city, Daraa governorate, allegedly killing Daraa emir. In centre, ISIS cells targeted regime forces across southern Raqqa and western Deir al-Zor provinces.
In other important developments. In capital Damascus, IED by unknown group 13 Oct killed at least 18 regime soldiers. Israel 21, 24 Oct reportedly conducted airstrikes on capital Damascus. Cholera spread continued, with death toll reaching 60.
Clashes involving Turkish, regime and Kurdish-led forces continued, UN raised risks of cholera outbreak, and Israel conducted airstrikes on regime facilities.In north, Turkish, regime and Kurdish-led forces clashed, and Idlib ceasefire held. Turkish drone 16 Sept reportedly killed five militants near checkpoint in Ain Issa, Raqqa province. Turkish airstrikes 18 Sept killed three regime soldiers in raid near Kobane, Aleppo province, following cross-border shelling targeting Turkish forces. IED attack by Kurdish militants 22 Sept reportedly killed one and injured three civilians in Afrin city, Aleppo province. Turkish and Kurdish-led forces 27 Sept exchanged shelling in northern Hasakah province, killing two according to state media. Idlib province’s March 2020 ceasefire held despite violations: notably, al-leged Russian airstrikes 8 Sept killed seven civilians near Hafsarja town; Russian strike 29 Sept killed seven and wounded 15.UN sounded alarm over cholera. UN 13 Sept warned that first cholera outbreak in years was serious threat to region, as dozens were killed from hundreds of suspected cases primarily in Aleppo (north) and Deir ez-Zor (north east) provinces; rising temperatures, and reduced upstream flow in Euphrates river, combined with dam-age to supply and sewage infrastructure, has left Syrians dependent on shrinking un-safe water sources.Low-scale Islamic State (ISIS) attacks continued, Israel targeted Aleppo and Damascus airports. In al-Hol camp in Hasakah province, clashes between Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and alleged ISIS militants 8 Sept reportedly killed one ISIS militant and two SDF members. ISIS 11 Sept reportedly killed six SDF members near Ruwaished village in Deir ez-Zor province. SDF 17 Sept announced end of three-week anti-ISIS operation in al-Hol camp, arresting over 200 people. Mean-while, state media 6 Sept reported Israeli airstrike on Aleppo airport in second strike in one week. Defence ministry 17 Sept said Israeli airstrike hit targets near capital Damascus, including Damascus International Airport, killing five soldiers.In other important developments. U.S. Central Command reported that rocket attack 18 Sept targeted U.S. military base Green Village in Deir ez-Zor province.
Deadly clashes escalated in north between Turkish and Kurdish-led forces; Idlib ceasefire held despite violations, as skirmishes broke out between U.S. forces and Iran-linked groups. In north, suspected Turkish drone 6 Aug killed four, including top commander of Kurdish Workers’ Party’s (PKK) Iranian affiliate Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK), in Qamishli city, Hasakah province; in response, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) 8 Aug claimed three cross-border attacks into Türkiye. Turkish troops and Kurdish forces 16 Aug exchanged fire in Kobane, Aleppo province, killing one civilian, while mortar attack on border post reportedly killed Turkish soldier in Turkish province Şanlıurfa. In retaliation, Turkish defence ministry same day claimed Turkish artillery killed 13 suspected Kurdish militants. Syrian state media reported Turkish airstrike 16 Aug killed three regime soldiers and injured six in Aleppo province; Syrian army claimed to have responded by striking Turkish military sites. SDF 18 Aug claimed attacks on army sites in Turkish border provinces Şanlıurfa, Mardin and Gaziantep; Turkish media confirmed three soldiers killed and eight wounded in attacks on border posts in Şanlıurfa and Gaziantep. Kurdish-run administration 19 Aug accused Türkiye of drone attack on girls’ school in Hasakah province, killing four. Rocket attack on market same day killed at least 14 in Al-Bab city in Aleppo province, held by Türkiye-backed forces. Suspected Turkish drone 24 Aug reportedly targeted Tal Rifaat town, Aleppo province, allegedly injuring nine. Meanwhile, Turkish FM Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu 11 Aug stated need to reconcile opposition with regime, stoking unprecedented anger as thousands 11-12 Aug protested Turkish policy in opposition-held areas across north. Idlib province’s March 2020 ceasefire held despite Russian airstrikes in central desert and Idlib province. U.S.-led coalition 15 Aug repelled drones allegedly operated by Iran-linked groups targeting its al-Tanf base in Homs province; U.S. 23 Aug launched airstrikes against groups allegedly linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Deir al-Zor and next day reported three injuries in subsequent exchanges with “Iran-backed militants”. State media 14 Aug claimed Israeli missiles killed three Syrian soldiers in Tartous province and near capital Damascus. Russian forces 26 Aug said Israeli jets targeted facility in Masyaf city, Hama province.
Idlib ceasefire held despite violations, U.S. claimed to have killed Islamic State (ISIS) leader in Syria, and UN Security Council extended cross-border aid mandate by six months. In north west, Idlib province’s March 2020 ceasefire held despite violations. Notably, four Russian airstrikes 22 July killed seven civilians in al-Jadidah village. Elsewhere in north, Turkish, regime and Kurdish-led forces traded fire; notably, Turkish shelling 4 July reportedly killed two in Ain Issa district, Raqqa province. Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) 4 July reportedly announced it would deepen military cooperation with regime to ward off potential Turkish incursion into northern Syria. U.S. military 12 July said U.S. drone strike killed man it claimed to be Maher al-Agal, alleged leader of ISIS in Syria, and injured another militant near Jindires, Aleppo province. Low-scale ISIS attacks continued throughout month; notably, ISIS affiliates 14 July reportedly killed five regime soldiers and injured three others near al-Tabqa city, Raqqa governorate. In southern Sweida province, clashes between residents and govt-aligned local faction 23-24 July killed at least 17 and wounded dozens. President Assad 9 July visited Aleppo city for first time since outbreak of war in 2011 to celebrate Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha and inaugurate thermal power plant. Defence ministry claimed Israeli airstrike 2 July wounded two civilians in al-Hamidiyah, Tartous province, and 22 July announced Israeli airstrike killed three soldiers and injured seven others near capital Damascus. After Russia 8 July vetoed resolution proposing 12-month extension of mandate for cross-border aid through Bab al-Hawa crossing from Türkiye into opposition-controlled north west Syria, UN Security Council 12 July adopted six-month extension instead; UN Sec-Gen Antonio Guterres said he “strongly” hoped for another six-month extension, while U.S. Envoy Linda Thomas-Greenfield accused Russia of taking “entire Security Council hostage”. UN Special Envoy Geir Pedersen 16 July stated talks between regime and opposition scheduled 25 July were “no longer possible”, reportedly because regime no longer considers Switzerland neutral due to its support for EU sanctions against Russia. Russian President Putin, Turkish President Erdogan and Iranian President Raisi 19 July met in Iran’s capital Tehran, where Russia and Iran voiced opposition to Türkiye’s planned incursion.
Israeli airstrike targeted Damascus airport, northern Syria braced for possible Turkish offensive, and country awaited outcome of crunch vote on cross-border aid at UN Security Council in July. Israeli airstrike 10 June hit Damascus International Airport, injuring one civilian and causing damage to runways; airport next day suspended all flights and 23 June reopened; Israeli media claimed attack sought to disrupt weapons smuggling from Iran to Hizbollah. In north west, Idlib province’s March 2020 ceasefire held despite violations. Turkish President Erdoğan 1 June said new military operation targeting Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) announced in May would target Tal Rifaat and Manbij areas in Aleppo province; Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) 7 June said it was ready to cooperate with Syrian govt to resist Turkish incursion. Russia and govt reportedly reinforced positions close to Turkish border, amid reported near-daily rocket and artillery fire early month. While U.S. and Russian opposition appear for now to have forestalled offensive, operation, if it goes ahead, could create new instability in north and strain Türkiye’s ties with West. Fighting among factions of Türkiye-backed militia coalition Syrian National Army 18 June reportedly killed at least eight and injured scores in al-Bab city, Aleppo province; Türkiye next day reportedly facilitated deal to end clashes. Meanwhile, protests against high electricity prices and power outages erupted early month in Turkish-controlled areas of Aleppo province; security forces 3 June killed one protestor in Afrin city. Low-scale Islamic State (ISIS) attacks and Russian anti-ISIS airstrikes continued. U.S.-led coalition 16 June captured senior ISIS leader in northern Syria and 27 June killed “senior leader” of al-Qaeda-aligned militant group Hurras al-Din in Idlib province. In Raqqa province, ISIS 20 June killed eleven govt soldiers and two civilians in Jabal al-Bishri. Russia 15 June carried out airstrikes at al-Tanf military base used by U.S. and UK forces in Homs province; Russia reportedly notified U.S. beforehand. Ahead of expiry of UN mandate to deliver aid from Türkiye into opposition-controlled north west Syria on 10 July, UN Sec Gen 20 June appealed to UN Security Council to extend mandate; UN late month warned “people will die” without renewal.
Rocket attack killed ten govt-backed fighters in Aleppo, Idlib ceasefire held despite violations, and Israel reportedly conducted multiple deadly missile attacks. In Aleppo province, rocket attack on military bus 13 May killed ten govt-aligned militants and injured nine in Anjara area. In Idlib province, March 2020 ceasefire held despite violations reportedly including Russian air-strikes. In north east, Turkish-backed, Kurdish and regime forces reportedly traded fire throughout month. Turkish President Erdoğan 3 May announced initiative to build infrastructure in north-west Syria to facilitate voluntary return of one million Syrian refugees; Erdoğan 23 May announced plan to launch cross-border operation targeting Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and creating 30 km “safe zone” along border, without giving specific timeline; U.S. next day warned Turkey against offensive; Turkish drone strikes 27 May reportedly struck targets in Tel Rifaat town, north of Aleppo. Ahead of July UN Security Council vote on renewing mandate for cross-border humanitarian aid to north west Syria, Russian deputy UN ambassador said there was “no reason” to continue aid deliveries, raising prospect of Russian veto. In central desert, Russia reportedly carried out airstrikes targeting Islamic State (ISIS), while ISIS allegedly continued low-level attacks. Reports of Russian troop redeployments mid-month surfaced claiming Russia troops had withdrawn from Latakia province to Russia’s Hmeimim airbase, and allegedly transferred bases to Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Lebanese Hizbollah. In Deir ez-Zor province, unidentified aircraft 7 May reportedly struck alleged Iran-backed militia positions in govt-held Hawija Katia area. Syrian state media reported Israel 11 May fired missiles at Hadar town, Quneitra province; 13 May carried out missile attack on alleged Iranian-linked target in Masyaf area, Hama province, killing five Syrians, including one civilian, and injuring seven; 20 May fired missiles near Damascus capital, killing three. Govt 17 May raised unsubsidised benzine and diesel price by around 40%, while cement price rose by 90%, raising fears of new bout of inflation.
Attack on U.S. military base injured four soldiers, govt-aligned militias and Syrian Democratic Forces besieged each other’s positions, and Idlib ceasefire held despite violations. Two explosions 7 April hit U.S. military base Green Village near al-Omar oil field in Deir ez-Zor province, injuring four U.S. soldiers; International Coalition reportedly responded with rocket fire on positions of Iranian-backed militias west of Euphrates. In Aleppo city, regime-affiliated militias besieged People’s Protection Forces (YPG)-controlled al-Ashrafiyyah and Sheikh Maqsoud neighbourhoods, preventing entry of food, flour and oil for population of 200,000 people for three weeks; Russian-mediated talks 12 April reportedly failed to defuse crisis. In response, YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) 14 April said they tightened siege on govt-controlled neighbourhoods in Qamishli and Hasakah city in Hasakah province, taking over around ten govt offices in Qamishli and closing highway to govt-run Qamishli airport. Offices of Kurdish National Council in Kobane city, Aleppo province, were reportedly attacked 20 April with Molotov cocktails; U.S. next day condemned attacks. In north east, Turkey continued shelling and drone strikes hitting YPG targets. In Idlib province, March 2020 ceasefire held despite escalating violations. Notably, govt forces 4 April shelled rebel-held Maaret al-Naasan, killing four children; Turkish-backed opposition forces and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham reportedly retaliated with artillery targeting govt positions. Russian warplanes same day reportedly carried out airstrikes in Fulayfil village in Jabal a-Zawiya area. Turkish FM Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu 23 April announced closing of Turkish airspace to Russian planes flying to Syria for three months. In central Syria, Russian airstrikes targeting Islamic State (ISIS) reportedly increased since beginning of month, killing dozens. Low-level ISIS attacks continued throughout month, reportedly killing several govt soldiers and SDF fighters. According to state media reports, Israel 9 April launched airstrike near Masyaf city in Hama province; 14 April reportedly fired missiles at Syrian military positions near capital Damascus. Amid skyrocketing food prices, World Food Programme early month reportedly announced reduction in food assistance in north-western Syria from May.
Islamic State (ISIS) stepped up attacks in central desert in face of reduced Russian airstrikes, Idlib ceasefire held, and President Assad visited Arab country for first time since 2011 uprising. In central desert, ISIS escalated attacks throughout month; most notably, suspected ISIS attack on military bus 6 March killed at least 13 soldiers in Palmyra desert, Homs governorate. In Idlib province, March 2020 ceasefire held despite ongoing Syrian govt shelling; after decline in airstrikes since 24 Feb invasion of Ukraine, Russia 28 March reportedly carried out strikes in Idlib. Following death of ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Quraishi in Feb, ISIS 10 March appointed Juma Awad al-Badri, known as Abu al-Hassan al-Hashemi al-Quraishi, as new leader; al-Quraishi is believed to be brother of ISIS’s former “caliph”, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Turkish artillery attacks and airstrikes continued against Kurdish group People’s Protection Forces (YPG)-linked targets; notably, Turkish military 8, 10 March targeted “Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)/YPG” positions at Turkey-Syria border. Turkish drone 15 March reportedly injured two civilians near Manbij, Aleppo governorate. Govt-aligned forces 27 March reportedly struck Turkish military vehicle near Atarib city in Aleppo governorate. In Hasakah province in north east, clashes between Syrian Democratic Forces and regime forces 1 March killed two regime soldiers in Ghazliya village near Tel Tamr. Israeli airstrike 7 March killed two Iranian Revolutionary Guard commanders near Syrian capital Damascus (see Iran, Israel/Palestine and Iraq). Constitutional Committee including regime, opposition and civil society representatives 21-25 March held seventh round of talks in Swiss city Geneva. In first trip to Arab state since outbreak of civil war in 2011, President al-Assad 18 March visited United Arab Emirates (UAE) to meet UAE PM and Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum and Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan to discuss strengthening bilateral relations. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, prices for basic goods including bread and cooking oil rose by 20% or more, while black market prices for diesel and benzine rose by nearly 50% and 40%, respectively, further aggravating economic and humanitarian crisis.
U.S. military raid in Idlib led to death of Islamic State (ISIS) leader, ceasefire in Idlib held, and Turkey launched airstrikes against Kurdish militants. U.S. special forces 3 Feb carried out overnight raid in Atma town in Idlib province targeting ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, who reportedly detonated explosives that killed himself and family members; operation also killed several civilians and ISIS fighters. Raid raises concerns that Idlib could remain ISIS hideout, providing pretext for Russia and govt to attack area. Elsewhere in province, March 2020 ceasefire held despite violations; notably, govt shelling 12 Feb killed six civilians in Maraat al-Naasan village. Russia during month deployed long-range nuclear-capable bombers and hypersonic missiles at its Hmeimim airbase, likely to bolster presence along NATO’s southern flank; fears rose that war in Ukraine may have knock-on effects in Idlib, as Turkish support for Ukraine may provoke ire of Russia and fuel tensions between Moscow and Ankara (see Ukraine). ISIS attacks increased in north east following last month’s Ghwaryan prison clashes; notably, ISIS sleeper cell 9 Feb attacked SDF military point in Shuhail, Deir ez-Zor province, killing two SDF members. In north east, Turkey early month launched new military campaign Operation Winter Eagle against Kurdish militants, with dozens of warplanes carrying out air raids in Hasakah and Raqqah provinces. In Turkish factions-controlled area in north west, Kurdish group People’s Defence Units (YPG) 15 Feb killed four civilians and injured 12 in Azaz, Aleppo province, with rockets fired from Tal Rifaat city; Turkish-backed forces responded by shelling YPG in Tal Rifaat. In rare protest in govt-controlled area, hundreds 11 Feb demonstrated against worsening economic conditions in Druze-majority city As-Suwayda (south west). Syria 9 Feb fired anti-aircraft missile toward Israel in response to alleged Israeli attack on capital Damascus that killed one soldier and injured five; Israel same day carried out airstrike on Syrian missile batteries. According to Syrian state media, Israeli attack 24 Feb killed three soldiers near Damascus.
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