“De-escalation” discussions, the many fights against ISIS and renewed clashes between rebels and regime

Syria Deeply
Jun. 23rd, 2017
This Week in Syria.

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“De-escalation zone” discussions: Ahead of the next round of talks in the Kazakh capital of Astana set for early July, discussions have started about foreign troop deployment to secure four proposed “de-escalation zones.”

At last month’s set of Astana talks, Russia, Iran and Turkey signed off on the memorandum to create four “de-escalation zones” in the country, including areas in the provinces of Idlib and Homs, the eastern Ghouta region in the Damascus suburbs and in the southern provinces.

This week Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Turkish troops would “probably be most prominent in the Idlib region with the Russians; mostly Russia and Iran around Damascus, and a mechanism involving the Americans and Jordan in the south in the Daraa region is being worked on,” according to Turkey’s Haberturk television.

Russia said it was discussing options to send Kazakh and Kyrgyz troops to Syria, Vladimir Shamanov, head of the Russian Duma defense committee, told RIA news. However, Kazakhstan denied that negotiations were taking place, adding that it would only send peacekeeping troops to Syria under a United Nations mandate, according to a statement from the Kazakh foreign ministry.

Syrian deputy foreign minister Fayssal Mikdad said Damascus is “checking every letter” of the Astana agreement and “will not allow anything thing to pass from which Syria’s enemies could benefit,” according to Syria’s state-run media SANA.

The many fights against ISIS: The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) continued their advance on Raqqa along the southern bank of the Euphrates River. The SDF pushed toward the eastern edge of the suburb of Kasrat al-Farj, in the area between the new and old bridges into Raqqa on Wednesday.

On Sunday, a U.S. fighter jet downed a Syrian army warplane for the first time since the conflict broke out in 2011. The Syrian regime SU-22 jet in the southern Raqqa countryside “dropped bombs near SDF fighters south of Tabqah,” according to a U.S.-led coalition statement.

The coalition and U.S. Central Command also said pro-government forces attacked the SDF-held town of Ja’din, south of Tabqah on Sunday, driving fighters out of the town. On Monday, SDF spokesman Talal Selo said “if the regime continues attacking our positions in Raqqa province, we will be forced to retaliate … and defend our forces.”

Syrian government allies also stepped up their operations against the so-called Islamic State. On Sunday, Iran fired medium-range missiles from its western provinces into Syria, targeting an ISIS command base in Deir Ezzor, killing several militants and destroying weapons and equipment.

Russia fired six cruise missiles from warships and a submarine based in the Mediterranean on ISIS positions in Hama province, destroying an ISIS command post and ammunition depots, and killing a number of militants, Moscow’s TASS news agency reported on Friday.

Renewed Fighting Between Rebels, Regime: Pro-government forces resumed their campaign against rebels in the southern city of Daraa on Tuesday, after a brief 48-hour cessation of hostilities. Ground clashes and intense aerial bombardments, including barrel bombs and airstrikes, were ongoing in Daraa on Friday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Also on Tuesday, Syrian troops and allied forces launched a new offensive against Western-backed Syrian rebels, pushing into the Bir Qassab area, located 45 miles (75km) southeast of Damascus, toward an eastern desert region near the Iraqi and Jordanian borders known as the Badia. The area recently came under Free Syrian Army control after rebels pushed ISIS militants out.

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