Welcome to our weekly summary of Syria Deeply’s top coverage of crisis in Syria.
For Syria Deeply’s ongoing feature, Expert Views, we’re gathering fresh insight and commentary from our expert community. This week, we’ll focus on unpacking how Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent remarks about working with Russia to a create “unified Syria” may or may not contradict Moscow’s de-escalation zone proposal. We invite you to share your insights here.
U.S. remarks on Syria, Russia: U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson addressed Washington’s willingness to work with Russia on Syria-related issues that extend beyond the battle against the so-called Islamic State group, in a press briefing on Tuesday.
Tillerson acknowledged one major point of contention between the two states: their opposing views on President Bashar al-Assad, adding that from the U.S. perspective, “the Assad regime has no role in the future governing of Syria.”
However, Washington is “working with Russia [to] achieve the end state, which is a unified Syria … that has the opportunity for the Syrian people to put in place a new constitution, have free and fair elections, and select a new leadership.”
“If we think about Syria post the defeat of ISIS, what we are hoping to avoid is an outbreak of the civil war, because we really, as you know, have two conflicts underway in Syria: the war against ISIS, the civil war that created the conditions for ISIS to emerge,” Tillerson said. “We’re working closely with Russia and other parties to see if we can agree a path forward on how to stabilize Syria in the post-ISIS world.”
It is unclear what Tillerson meant by “hoping to avoid … an outbreak of civil war.” The conflict in Syria was already considered a civil war years ago, but now that is has drawn in hundreds of thousands of foreign fighters and the interests of various governments, it is largely believed to have outgrown that label.
De-escalation zone update: There is still no concrete plan to implement Russia’s de-escalation zone proposal in Syria, yet there have been developments on the ground.
Russia said it established the third of four proposed de-escalation zones, which covers three rebel-held towns and dozens of villages north of Homs city. Moscow also announced a cease-fire in 84 settlements populated by more than 147,000 people, defense ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.
Both pro-government and rebel forces reportedly violated the cease-fire a number of times within 10 hours of it coming into effect, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). Despite the violations, Russian military police reportedly deployed to the area the following day, according to the Associated Press.
A similar series of events took place last week in the Eastern Ghouta region of the Damascus suburbs, also a proposed de-escalation zone. A cease-fire collapsed within 24 hours, and Russia deployed military police in the area. Fighting has continued in area this week: At least 25 civilians have been killed in the 12 days since a cease-fire went into effect, according to SOHR.
Arsal evacuations: Roughly 7,000 Syrian refugees and al-Qaida-linked fighters were bused out of Lebanon into Syria, in the last phase of an exchange deal between militants and the Lebanese Hezbollah group. At least 1,000 among those transferred are militants, according to Reuters.
The agreement grants safe passage to refugees and remaining al-Qaida-linked fighters to Idlib province and the Qalamoun region, leaving control of this corner of the border to Hezbollah, the Lebanese army and the Syrian government.
In exchange, the al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) alliance released eight Hezbollah fighters they held captive.