Syria Deeply: This Week in Syria

Syria Deeply
Jun. 12th, 2017
This Week in Syria.
Welcome to our weekly summary of Syria Deeply’s top coverage of the crisis in Syria.

The Battle For Raqqa Begins: After much anticipation, the battle for Raqqa, the former de facto capital of the so-called Islamic State group, began on Tuesday morning.

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) officially launched a highly anticipated offensive, advancing toward Raqqa from three sides, Reuters reported. On Saturday, the SDF began a pincer operation against opposite flanks of Raqqa, advancing into the northwestern al-Romania district after seizing the far eastern al-Mishlab district and half of the western al-Sabahia district.

The anti-ISIS activist group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently and so-called Islamic State (ISIS) media outlet Aamaq distributed photos purporting to show U.S.-led coalition forces using white phosphorus on densely populated civilian areas of Raqqa. A U.S. official confirmed to the New York Times that U.S. forces fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria have access to the substance but said “ it was not being used against personnel.”

Syrian government airstrikes reportedly targeted ISIS positions and armored vehicles in the western Raqqa countryside, along a highway linking the ISIS stronghold to Aleppo on Thursday. Earlier in the week, pro-government forces reached the border of Raqqa province and secured their position on the western bank of the Euphrates.

Fierce Fighting In Daraa: Fighting has intensified in the southern city of Daraa, with some of the most intense aerial bombardments over the weekend.

On Monday, Reuters reported that pro-government reinforcements have been deployed to the city, including Iran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah and Shiite Iraqi militias. Major Issam al Rayes, a spokesman of the so-called Southern Front grouping of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), told Reuters that “the regime has brought large columns of troops from the elite 4th Armoured Division,” a key Syrian army unit.

“Everything indicates the regime is preparing for a large-scale military campaign in Daraa in which they plan to encircle the city and reach the Jordanian border,” Rayes said.

The activist-run Nabaa Media outlet in Daraa accused the government of using “napalm-like” weapons on the city, according to the Associated Press.

Since fighting in Daraa escalated in February, some 20,000 residents have fled the opposition-controlled areas of the city, Nabaa contributor Mohammad Abazeid told AP.

Iran-U.S. Tensions: Iran-backed Iraqi forces reached Iraq’s border with Syria over the weekend, encircling U.S.-backed forces roughly 31 miles (50km) northeast of the Tanf base, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Russia confirmed the claim, which, if true, would prevent U.S.-backed forces fighting ISIS from advancing along the Euphrates River in eastern Syria to the ISIS-held areas of Bou Kamal and Deir Ezzor, the Associated Press reported.

On Thursday, an American F-15 fighter jet shot down a drone that U.S. officials claim was connected to Iran or Iran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah and was used to target U.S.-backed fighters near the Tanf base. U.S. Army Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the coalition fighting ISIS, said though the drone’s weapon did not detonate, the coalition considered it a direct threat and not a “warning shot.”

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This Week’s Top Articles

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CIVIL SOCIETY

The Life and Death of One of Syria’s Most Beloved Minesweepers

Abu al Fadl devoted the final months of his life to clearing al-Bab of improvised explosives left behind by ISIS in everything from washing machines to cooking pots. The 60-year-old destroyed roughly 3,500 mines before one took his life.

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DIPLOMACY & FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Analysis: Euphrates Fight May Beat ISIS Militarily, But Not Ideologically

As U.S. and Iran escalate their battle against ISIS in eastern Syria and western Iraq, no one is thinking about the fate of local communities after the militant group’s potential military defeat, writes journalist Lorenzo Trombetta.

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RELIGIOUS & ETHNIC GROUPS

Analysis: U.S.-Brokered Deal Aims to Ease Tension Between FSA and Kurds

The move to arm the Kurds is a sign that the U.S. is beginning to deal with the complications of its anti-ISIS policy in Syria, writes Chatham House fellow Haid Haid. However, some Syrian analysts think it’s too little too late.

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Community Insight

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DIPLOMACY & FOREIGN AFFAIRS

How Russia Can Secure the De-Escalation Zones in Syria

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Neil Hauer,  Senior Intelligence Analyst, SecDev Group in Ottawa

Neil Hauer, senior intelligence analyst at the SecDev Group, examines Russia’s primary option to secure the “de-escalation zones” and ensure compliance with the cease-fire: the Chechen units of the Kremlin’s military police.

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DISPLACEMENT

Safe Zones Must Offer Protection, Not Solely Prevent Search for Asylum

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Geoff Gilbert,  Professor of Law, School of Law and Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex

In today’s conflicts, safe zones cannot realistically provide the security guaranteed to civilians under international law and should not be proposed as a substitute for asylum in another country, according to the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law.

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ARTS & CULTURE

Journalists Challenge Syrian Media to Improve Gender Coverage in War

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Jihii Jolly,  Community Editor of Women & Girls at News Deeply

The Syrian Female Journalists’ Network was founded to ensure better coverage of gender issues and better representation of women in newsrooms in the midst of the country’s protracted conflict. Milia Eidmouni tells News Deeply how they do it.

FIRST LOOK

Upcoming coverage

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Author: Sarah Lafen

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