Executive Summary for September 19th

We review the key developments in Syria, including government forces crossing the Euphrates, an attack on government forces north of Hama and backers of the Syrian opposition saying they won’t sponsor Syria’s reconstruction without a political transition.

Published on Sep. 19, 2017 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Pro-government Forces Advance Toward SDF in Deir Ezzor

Pro-government forces fighting the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) crossed into areas east of the Euphrates river on Monday, the Financial Times reported.

The pro-government forces crossed the river using makeshift bridges, and advanced within 3 miles (5km) of positions held by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, the FT said.

The advance comes only two days after the SDF accused Russian warplanes and government forces of attacking one of its positions east of the Euphrates. Heightened tensions between pro-government forces and the Washington-backed militia come at a time when the groups are simultaneously fighting separate campaigns against ISIS in Deir Ezzor province

Monday’s push increases the chances of further clashes between the two forces. But a spokesperson for the U.S.-led coalition told the Associated Press on Monday that lines of communication are being maintained to prevent clashes between the two forces as they converge to fight ISIS.

An unnamed western diplomat told the FT that President Bashar al-Assad is keen on pushing into areas east of the Euphrates to reclaim oil fields located in the area, namely the al-Omar oil field, Syria’s biggest and most lucrative. The AP said that control of the crossing would also allow the government to close in on ISIS from nearly all sides.

Also on Monday, pro-government forces used the Deir Ezzor military airbase – which they captured from ISIS earlier this month – for the first time since 2016. Two planes took off from the airport carrying aid to Deir Ezzor, Reuters said, citing Syrian state media and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

It remains unclear whether the airbase is under complete government control but the AP cited a Hezbollah media unit that said 90 percent of the airbase has been recaptured by the government.

Insurgents Launch Attack Against Government Forces in Hama

Insurgent rebel groups, including al-Qaida-linked militants, launched a major attack against pro-government forces north of Hama city on Tuesday, Reuters reported.

The attack – orchestrated by the al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance (HTS), the Turkistan Islamic Party and Free Syrian Army affiliates – targeted government-held villages in northern Hama province.

The attack is the biggest in the area since March and underlines the difficulty of preserving cease-fires in western Syria.

It is not immediately clear how many people have been killed in the attack or how many positions have been captured by insurgent groups.

U.S. Allies: No Support for Syrian Reconstruction Before Political Transition

Countries opposed to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad agreed on Monday that they would not support reconstruction efforts in Syria until a political transition shifts power away from the Syrian president, Reuters reported.

“We believe that the only way forward is to get a political process going and to make it clear to the Iranians, Russians and Assad regime that we, the like-minded group, will not support the reconstruction of Syria until there is such a political process,” British foreign secretary Boris Johnson said on Monday after a meeting of about 14 countries that back the Syrian opposition including France, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States.

“[A]nd that means, as Resolution 2254 says … a transition away from Assad,” he added.

U.S. acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs David Satterfield echoed these sentiments.

“There has got to be a political process if there is to be any international participation in the reconstruction of Syria,” he said.

“The reconstruction of Syria depends very much on that credible political process. That political process is focused on Geneva and the role of the United Nations.”

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