July 23, 2016
Welcome to the weekly Syria Deeply newsletter. We’ve rounded up the most important stories and developments about Syria and the Syrians in order to bring you valuable news and analysis. But first, here is a brief overview of what happened this week:
Northern Syria was the site of some of of the country’s most violent battlefields this week, and cities under siege saw an increase pro-government forces advances as civilians and opposition forces in the area came under heavy aerial bombardment.
The opposition-held eastern part of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, officially came under siege over the weekend. The only supply route into the eastern areas of the city, Castello Road, came under regime fire on July 7, but forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russian air power, seized the actual road over the weekend.
Food and fuel supplies are running critically low and besieged areas have not received any aid since the beginning of this month, according to the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
The latest Syrian government advance on Aleppo and subsequent retaliation from several opposition forces over the last three months have killed at least 955 civilians, including 219 children, and injured some 6,000 others, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“The situation is devastating and overwhelming. We hear that dozens of civilians are being killed every day and scores more injured from shells, mortars and rockets. The bombing is constant. The violence is threatening hundreds of thousands of people’s lives, homes and livelihoods,” Marianne Gassers, head of the delegation for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said in a statement.
In northern Aleppo province, along the Turkish border, the U.S-backed Syrian Democratic Forces pushed forward in their ground offensive against ISIS militants in the city of Manbij. The SDF has been fighting to push ISIS out of Manbij since May but this week saw a notable advancement in the operation. On Tuesday, the SDF was able to seize an ISIS headquarters in the town that had been set up in a hospital. By the end of the week, the SDF issued a 48-hour ultimatum for ISIS fighters to clear the area “in order protect civilian lives and property.”
The U.S. came under fire for its aerial bombardments over Manbij this week. At least 56 civilians, including children, were killed in a U.S.-led coalition airstrike over Manbij on Tuesday. At least 167 civilians have been killed in coalition airstrikes in Manbij since the coalition began its operation against ISIS there in May, according to the Observatory.
Opposition forces south of Manbij, west of the capital Damascus have not had the same successes as those in Manbij. Forces loyal to Assad launched a major offensive this week on the rebel-held and government-besieged city of Darayya.
Last month Darayya received the first aid delivery it has seen in the last four years of siege, but opposition forces said the new government offensive began soon after the humanitarian drop, preventing any additional supplies from reaching the city. Since the start of July, some 700 barrel bombs reportedly hit Darayya.
The week ended with a United Nations call for several, local 48-hour cease-fires across Syria to facilitate humanitarian aid deliveries into besieged and hard-to-reach areas. As of Friday, none of Syria’s many warring factions had agreed to the truce.
Sowing Hope and Weeding Out Siege Profiteers
As sieges have spread across Syria, people in the besieged areas have discovered a secret weapon that’s difficult to detect and almost impossible to defeat: seeds. In many of Syria’s besieged areas, people are turning to urban gardening to make up for the lack of humanitarian aid and exorbitant cost of black-market food.
Instead of driving a wedge between regional players, the Syrian conflict’s duration and intractability have forced proxy powers to prioritize cooperation over rivalry for their wider interests, according to Middle East analyst Sharif Nashashibi.
My Days in Damascus Entry 1: Contagious Fear
In her first diary entry for Syria Deeply, Farah, a young woman living in Syria’s capital city, discusses the daily struggles of trying to maintain a normal social and professional life in a country where residents are plagued by fear.
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Top image: A child holds up a picture of a Pokemon character that reads “I am from Syria… Save me!” Revolutionary Forces of Syria Media Office