Syria Deeply: Victory and loss in Deir Ezzor, plus Moscow and Washington’s agreements on Syria, and dire humanitarian conditions in Eastern Ghouta

Syria Deeply
Nov. 13th, 2017
This Week in Syria.

Welcome to our weekly summary of Syria Deeply’s top coverage of the crisis in Syria.

Victory and Loss in Deir Ezzor: After various claims of victory and days of intense clashes between pro-government forces and so-called Islamic State fighters in Deir Ezzor, ISIS apparently recaptured Boukamal, its last stronghold in Syria, on Saturday.

On Thursday, the Syrian government had declared victory over the militant group in Boukamal, but ISIS launched a counterattack just hours later. Fierce fighting ensued as ISIS “began surprise attacks with suicide bombers and rocket attacks after the Iranian militias were duped that Daesh had left the city,” Qahtan Ghanam al-Ali, a tribal leader, told Reuters, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS..

By the weekend, reports said Iraqi militias and the Lebanese Hezbollah had retreated from Boukamal and were “1 to 2 km [0.6–1.2 miles] from the city limits,” Rami Abdulrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), told Agence France-Presse.

Between Friday and Sunday at least 50 people, including 20 children, were killed in shelling and artillery bombardment in the countryside near Boukamal along the Euphrates river, the SOHR reported. Two camps for the internally displaced were among the targeted areas, according to AFP.

Diplomatic Response: Russia and the U.S. issued a joint presidential statement on Saturday affirming that there is “no military solution to the conflict in Syria” and reiterating their commitment to fighting ISIS.

U.S. president Donald Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin also “agreed to maintain open military channels of communication between military professionals to help ensure the safety of both U.S. and Russian forces and de-confliction of partnered forces,” the statement said.

The statement, which was released after Trump and Putin met on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vietnam, said both presidents agreed that, ultimately, the solution to the conflict in Syria must be reached through the Geneva process.

Israel signaled that it would continue to strike Syria in an effort to push back advancing Iranian-backed militias from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. This comes alongside a separate agreement between Trump and Putin to expand a cease-fire in southwestern Syria, near the Israeli and Jordanian borders.

Dire Situation in Eastern Ghouta: The World Health Organization (WHO) called on Sunday for immediate humanitarian access to the besieged Eastern Ghouta area in the Damascus suburbs.

As many as 400,000 people are trapped in the rebel-held area without access to health and basic living necessities. More than 240 people need “urgent advanced medical care,” at least 29 of whom need medical evacuation, according to a statement from the United Nations health agency.

“The situation is heartbreaking,” said Elizabeth Hoff, WHO representative in Syria. “We have now reached a critical point, where the lives of hundreds of people, including many children, are at stake. If they do not immediately get the medical care they urgently need, they will most likely die.”

On Thursday, U.N. humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland told reporters in Geneva that 29 civilians, including 18 children, were at risk of imminent death. Seven others had already died, he said.

“I feel as if we are now returning to some of the bleakest days of this conflict again,” Egeland said. “Nowhere is it as bad as in Eastern Ghouta.”

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