Welcome to Syria Deeply’s weekly summary of our coverage of the crisis in Syria.
Eastern Ghouta: Syrian troops and their allies advanced on Eastern Ghouta over the weekend, capturing at least six towns and villages along the edge of the Damascus suburbs. Speaking to reporters in Damascus on Sunday, President Bashar al-Assad said the operation would continue. He added that there “is no contradiction” between the operation and the Russian-ordered daily five-hour cessation of hostilities to allow for civilian evacuations and aid deliveries.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Monday that a 46-truck aid convoy reportedly reached the besieged city of Douma, marking the first time the organization has been able to deliver aid to the area since November 12, 2017. The convoy included 5,500 food parcels that “should last a family of five a month,” the ICRC said.
The ICRC stated the food aid should feed 27,500 people, however, Siege Watch reported that 125,000 people were living under siege in Douma as of January 31, 2017. More than 390,000 civilians are believed to be living in the Eastern Ghouta.
Medical supplies were also expected to be included in the convoy, however, the Syrian government prevented 70 percent of such supplies from reaching the area, including “all trauma, surgical, dialysis and insulin supplies,” AP reported.
Marwa Awad, a spokeswoman for the World Food Program, told AP that “consequently, three of the 46 trucks being sent to Douma today are close to empty.”
More than 700 civilians have been killed in the region since the government stepped up attacks on the enclave two weeks ago, AFP said.
Afrin, ISIS and divergent interests: Turkey’s ongoing “Operation Olive Branch” military operation against Kurdish forces in northern Syria has prompted the Pentagon to put the battle against the so-called Islamic State on “operational pause” in eastern Syria.
Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesperson, said that “some fighters operating within the SDF [Syrian Democratic Forces] have decided to leave operations in the middle Euphrates river valley to fight elsewhere, possibly in Afrin.”
Pentagon spokesperson Col. Robert Manning said that the “pause” has put some of the SDF’s ground operations on hold, but that coalition warplanes continued to target ISIS positions.
In Afrin, Kurdish groups – with support from pro-government forces who entered the area in recent weeks – are fighting Turkish troops and their allied Syrian rebel forces. Turkish troops launched a series of attacks over the past few days, killing at least 36 pro-government fighters on Saturday and at least 13 people on Monday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put Monday’s death toll at 19, including two children and four women.
Astana: The foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey and Iran are set to meet in the Kazakh capital of Astana next week to “assess the results of their collaboration” and discuss next steps toward a settlement for the Syrian conflict, according to a statement released by Kazakhstan’s foreign ministry, cited by Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency.
The United Nations envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, will be invited to the talks, but neither the Syrian government nor other observer countries will participate, Anadolu said.