Syria: updates on events from around the country (Jan 11 – Jan 17)

Dimashq: Following the surrounding of the town of Wadi Barada by elements of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), several hundred civilians and rebels applied for terms of reconciliation. Despite the surrenders, fighting continued on the hills around the town and its nearby spring as JFS elements attempted to break the siege. The difficult terrain, however, frustrated such attempts and even gave the SAA room to take more ground, and they captured the village of Bassema on the 12th after heavy fighting. Attempts to retake the village were unsuccessful, and the army used its terrain advantage to bombard Wadi Barada relentlessly with rockets and artillery.

On the 14th, army forward units gained control of the village of Ain al-Fijieh, bringing the source of Damascus’s water back into government hands. The following day, as the army continued to shell Wadi Barada indiscriminately, al-Husseiniyah village also fell. Although determined defenders frustrated SAA attempts to infiltrate the Wadi Barada town, the siege held and constant shelling took a toll on both civilians and fighters. Despite further entreaties by regime military officials, the JFS commanders within Wadi Barada refused to admit engineers to fix the water pumps, prolonging the siege and the water crisis now gripping Damascus.

Elsewhere in Rif Dimashq, skirmishes and constant clashes continued in East Ghouta as the SAA continued to put pressure on the Jaish al-Islam frontline at Hazrama and Midaani.

An SAA Gvodzika self-propelled artillery piece shells the opposition-held town of Wadi Barada, January 15th.

Homs: After the Islamic State offensive against the government-held Tiyas Airbase ran out of steam, local government forces began recuperating and reorganizing for a campaign to retake ground lost to IS in December. Throughout the week, the SAA and IS clashed in the rural desert east of Tiyas, with no significant gains made by either side. Armor casualties among the government ranks were high due to the prevalence of ATGM units among the ranks of IS.

Deir-ez-Zor: The Islamic State and Syrian army elements clashed continuously between the 11th and 16th, with IS gaining control of Tameem Military Base, 113th Brigade Base, several rural checkpoints, and plenty of ground around the Damascus – Deirezzor Road. Advances by IS on Jabal Thardah on the 14th and 15th threatened the security of Deirezzor Airbase, and attempts by the SAA to counterattack were repelled multiple times.

By nightfall on the 16th, multiple IS offensives had furiously pounded the SAA defensive lines and split the Deirezzor pocket into two segments, as Assad Hospital, al-Furat University, and the police compound in al-Qussour fell into IS hands. The SAA also retreated from positions south of the airbase, leaving its peripheries vulnerable to fire as fierce fighting continued on both the southern and eastern fronts in the besieged desert city.

Night-fighting ensues as the IS offensive on government positions in Deir-ez-Zor continues, January 16th.

North Aleppo: On the 11th of January, SAA regiments began attacking IS outposts south of the city of al-Bab, which had been under heavy shelling by the Euphrates Shield forces for weeks. Farther north, several new attempts were made by the Turkish “Euphrates Shield” coalition to retake the critical village of Suflaniyah. The village, which connects the fortified town of Qabasin to al-Bab, was attacked on the 13th and 14th, but both assaults were repelled. An attack on the 15th briefly yielded control of Suflaniyah to FSA forces, but a counterattack forced them back, and the defenses of Qabasin held despite heavy shelling by Turkish artillery.

Ar-Raqqa: Following the capture of Kurmanjah village and the surrounding farmland on the 10th, SDF forces created a new pocket of IS-occupied territory north of the IS-held city of ar-Raqqa. The SDF conducted a pincer operation to cut off nearly 30 rural villages from reinforcements, and heavy fighting erupted along all fronts of this pocket. Within 48 hours, the pocket crumbled and all resistance was defeated as the SDF took and secured all villages.

Within the past week, the SDF has captured 60+ villages in rapid advances across northern Raqqa countryside. In spite of fierce IS resistance and a constant stream of SVBIEDs, the SDF has continued to capture and clean rural areas of IEDs and mines, aided by Kurdish allied militias YPG and YPJ.

An SDF fighter, engaging IS forces east of Jabr, prepares to fire an RPG at their positions, January 11th.
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