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Executive Summary for March 20th

We review the key developments in Syria including a surprise rebel attack on the capital, Israel threatening to destroy Syria’s air defense system and the first group of rebels and civilians leaving al-Waer.

Published on Mar. 20, 2017 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Government Bombs Rebel Districts Outside Capital After Surprise Rebel Attack

Syrian airstrikes pounded rebel-held areas surrounding Damascus on Monday following a surprise rebel offensive over the weekend, AFP reported.

Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), the former al-Qaida affiliate in Syria, led rebels and affiliated jihadist groups in an offensive on government positions on Sunday in the eastern outskirts of the capital. Rebel gains were short-lived, as pro-government forces regained control by Sunday night.

“There have been intense airstrikes since dawn on opposition-held positions in Jobar from which the offensive was launched,” said the director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.

Jobar is located between the capital and adjacent rebel-held neighborhoods east of Damascus, where rebels have been under pressure to surrender to the government. Rebels fired artillery shells and rockets onto residential areas of Damascus, the Associated Press reported.

First Group of Rebels and Civilians Leave al-Waer

The first group of rebels and their families left al-Waer on Saturday, the last rebel enclave in Homs, Reuters reported.

A Russian-brokered agreement with the government will see rebels leaving al-Waer in groups toward other rebel-held areas in the north. The evacuation is overseen by Russian and Syrian forces as well as the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC).

“The preparations and the reality on the ground indicate that things will go well,” said Talal Barazi, governor of Homs. “We are optimistic that the full exit of armed (fighters) from this district will pave the way for other reconciliations and settlements.”

Nearly 15,000 people have signed up for evacuation so far, making it the largest deal of its kind. While a few hundred fighters from al-Waer were transported to Idlib under previous agreements, buses this time are taking evacuees to Jarablus, on the Turkish border.

Al-Waer endured years of siege and bombardment by pro-government forces.

Israel Threatens to Destroy Syria’s Air Defense System, Russia Summons Israel

Israel will destroy Syria’s air defense system if it fires an anti-aircraft missile at Israeli jets again, said Israeli defense minister Avigdor Liberman on Sunday, CNN reported.

“The next time the Syrians use their air defense systems against our airplanes, we will destroy all of them without thinking twice,” he said.

The Syrian government fired missiles at Israeli jets on Thursday and Friday after Israel targeted a position near Palmyra, breaching Syrian airspace. Damascus accused Israel of targeting a military position and strengthening the so-called Islamic State (ISIS), while Israel claimed to have targeted a weapons shipment bound for Hezbollah. The Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia is a key Syrian government ally. Israel denied Syria’s claims that it had shot down an Israeli jet.

“Our central problem, and this above and beyond all of the other issues, is the transfer of advanced weapons from Syria to Lebanon,” Liberman said, adding that “there will not be any compromise” on the issue.

Israel’s ambassador to Moscow was called for discussions at the Russian Defense Ministry on Monday, Reuters reported, to protest the military strike. Russia is the Syrian government’s main backer.

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