Syria: updates on events from around the country (Apr 6 – Apr 19)

Ar-Raqqa: Beginning on the 7th, United States Marine detachments began performing artillery barrages on the environs of Raqqa city, targeting Islamic State (IS) positions and storage areas as forces of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Kurdish YPG militia continued to clash north and west of the Euphrates with IS fighters. Clashes on the 8th and the 9th were continuous, and after heavy artillery shelling and ferocious attacks the SDF captured and secured the town of Ibad east of Safsafah, and repelled a counterattack on the town later that night, killing 30+ IS fighters and capturing their munitions. IS attempted to attack Ibad and Safsafah multiple times on the 11th and the 12th, failing to take any significant amount of ground and losing fighters in the process.

On the 11th, the SDF advanced to within 2 km of Tabqa town after capturing the junction of the Raqqa-Damascus highway. After fortifying the junction and repelling an IS attack that night, the SDF began encroaching on Tabqa on the 13th, putting pressure on IS elements within the town who attempted to punch a hole through SDF lines at Safsafah in a bid to escape the siege. Their assault failed, and by the 15th SDF forces were within the Alexandria district on the southern edge of the town, having pushed back IS soldiers in vicious urban combat. Reinforcements from the Manbij Military Council (MMC) and northern SDF battalions arrived on the 16th and 17th as skirmishes continued, with the SDF advancing on the northern edge of the city as well. Al-Ithaa neighborhood was taken on the 18th, and on the 19th the National Hospital and Tabqa Hotel on the southern edge of the town were taken with significant casualties suffered on both sides.

In the countryside north of Raqqa, SDF and YPG forces continued to gain ground against IS. On the 16th, they captured the farming villages of Kasbah Gharbi and al-Rashid to the northwest of Raqqa, destroyed an IS SVBIED in the process. Eight more villages were taken on the 18th and 19th, and Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) coalition airstrikes were constant during this period.

An SDF fighter plants the organization’s flag at a captured checkpoint near al-Safsafah, April 10th.

Aleppo: Beginning on the 9th, government personnel with the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and National Defense Forces (NDF) restarted operations in Western Aleppo governorate following heavy airstrikes by the air forces of Syria and Russia. The initial attacks on the axis of Jamiyat Zahraa failed, with twenty members of NDF militias killed and one BMP destroyed by Faylaq ar-Rahman. On the 11th, SAA units north of Anadan captured al-Uraymah and Khirbet al-Uraymah, and attempted to advance closer to the outskirts of Bayanoon town.

Following the closure of a deal to evacuate civilians from the besieged and isolated pro-government towns of Fua and Kafraya, a car bomb of unknown origin targeted and detonated next to a convoy of refugees from those two towns near Rashideen on the 15th. 160 people were killed and hundreds more were injured in an attack that paralyzed the evacuation deal and saw many on both sides pointing fingers at the other. Although the attacker remains unknown, opposition leadership denied responsibility for the heinous attack. The evacuation deal continued despite tensions between the two sides, and most of the injured civilians were taken to Aleppo city hospitals for treatment for their injuries.

Dimashq: The SAA and Jaish al-Islam continued to clash for control of the orchards and agricultural areas in Barzeh, as the suburb of Damascus came under siege once again. Intense confrontations between the two groups, both in Qaboun and Barzeh, cost the government at least seventy fighters and six armored vehicles. Losses in the rebel ranks are unknown, but significant territory losses on the eastern side of Qaboun indicate that rebel forces there lost many men in fighting retreats against the SAA.

On the 14th, after negotiations regarding reconciliation and evacuation finally pulled through and reached a compromise, rebel fighters and their families in Madaya, Buqayn, and Zabadani began packing up and preparing to leave to Idlib. A deal was finally brokered that would allow those who wished to depart to leave for Khan Sheikhoun; those who wished to remain behind would be allowed to reconcile with the government and settle their cases with Damascus. The evacuations began on the 14th but did not reach completion until the 19th, when the last remaining fighters were moved out of Zabadani and Madaya. The towns returned to the control of the Syrian government.

SAA fighters overlook the entrance to a captured rebel tunnel in urban Qaboun, April 12th.

Homs: On the night of the 6th, American warships anchored off the coast of Cyprus fired fifty-nine Tomahawk subsonic cruise missiles at al-Shayrat Airbase in western Homs. The missile attack came as a response to the chemical weapons incident in Khan Sheikhoun on the 3rd, which prompted international outrage after video and pictures emerged from the aftermath of the incident, which was attributed to government warplanes. American President Donald Trump announced that the missile strike was an American response to the “war crimes” carried out by the regime, and that the missiles (of which only twenty-three were capable of hitting their target) were fired at the airbase that the chemical weapons had been purportedly stored at. Six SAA personnel were killed in the attack, but al-Shayrat suffered only moderate damage, and was able to return to service within twenty-four hours of the strike. The strike prompted outrage and condemnation from the allies of the Syrian government, and was supported by Canada, Germany, and the UK, among other states.

In the eastern reaches of the governorate, SAA and allied militia forces continued their advances against IS in the rural regions north and south of Tadmur. To the north, IS battalions were forced to retreat from positions on Jabal al-Humra, and to the south government troops advanced towards the al-Khunayfis phosphate mines in the Abtar mountain region, capturing Qasr al-Halabat and the SyriaTel hill on the 11th.

Hama: Fighting from the 5th carried over into the 6th in Ma’ardes and Halfaya as the SAA struggled to retain the ground they had gained in earlier advances. After the international outcry regarding the chemical weapons attacks on Khan Sheikhoun, operations in Hama briefly stalled out, but resumed with earnest on the 8th as Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF) warplanes launched a barrage against rebel units in Halfaya and Souran. On the 9th and 10th, fighting intensified as the SAA launched attacks on Ma’ardes and Halfaya, and these were repelled with significant losses in government ranks. However, an attack on the evening of the 10th yielded control of Ma’ardes to the SAA. Further fighting occurred on the 11th and 12th on the fronts of Souran and Halfaya, but neither side was able to gain any ground in their attacks, and both Halfaya and Mhardeh were shelled.

On the 14th, fighting resumed in earnest as the SAA advanced and captured Btaysh village after short clashes with Jaish al-Nasr fighters there. Heavy airstrikes on Lataminah and Halfaya stymied the flow of rebel reinforcements to the front lines, allowing the SAA with support from NDF personnel to capture Souran on the night of the 15th. The town was secured on the 16th, and rebel elements retreated from the outskirts of the town as artillery shelling continued heavily. Opposition fighters also abandoned their positions on nearby Tall Bzam, allowing NDF soldiers to occupy and secure the high ground there. Government forces followed up on the successful capture of Souran by advancing on Tayybat al-Imam, reaching the outskirts of the town on the 17th and entering it but failing to capture it entirely. The town was still contested on the 18th as opposition leaders rushed reinforcements to the frontlines, having suffered significant casualties from airstrikes.

SAA soldiers pose for a photo on the outskirts of Tayybat al-Imam town, April 16th.

Latakia: On the 6th, following initial preparations, Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) fighters launched a minor offensive in the Latakia highlands, targeting positions throughout Jabal Akrad. Several of the attacks were repulsed with significant losses of manpower.

Daraa: The opposition al-Bunian al-Marsous operations room, in conjunction with HTS fighters, restarted operations in the al-Manshiyah district of Daraa city on the 11th, beginning with a large SVBIED launched against government positions on the 16th street of the city. Throughout the week, clashes were reported throughout the district as government soldiers were forced to retreat, yielding ground to the opposition and losing nearly 90% of the entire district by the 18th.

A technical belonging to FSA Usud al-Sharqiyah targets IS positions in the Qalamoun region west of Daraa city, April 18th.

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