Executive Summary for January 12th

We review the key developments in Syria, including a rebel counteroffensive in Idlib, a U.N. plea for a humanitarian pause in East Ghouta and Vladimir Putin saying he knows who is behind an attempted drone attack on Russia’s bases in the country.

Published on Jan. 12, 2018 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Rebels Launch Counteroffensive in Idlib

Rebel groups launched a counteroffensive on Thursday to drive back government advances in the northwestern province of Idlib, Agence France-Presse reported.

The Syrian government has stepped up its attacks on Idlib over the past two weeks, seizing a string of towns and villages from rebel groups including the al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) alliance.

On Wednesday, Syrian troops and allied forces stormed a strategic airbase in southeastern Idlib, which if captured would provide the government with its first military base in the area since it lost most of the province to rebels three years ago.

But on Thursday, HTS and its allies launched a counteroffensive that aims to “relieve the pressure” on rebels defending the Abu Zuhour airbase, AFP said, citing the United Kingdom-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

Rebels recaptured a string of villages in the attack, AFP reported, adding that 26 rebels and 15 pro-government fighters were killed in the fighting.

Citing unidentified sources, Reuters said that rebels recaptured 15 villages and seized 60 pro-government fighters on Thursday.

A Syrian military source denied the rebel claims, dismissing talk of a counterattack as “propaganda,” Reuters said. A Hezbollah media unit also claimed that the Syrian army and allied forces had regained control of positions from which they had withdrawn after coming under fierce assault by militants, according to Reuters.

Meanwhile, Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Thursday that he should put pressure on Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to halt attacks on the rebel stronghold of Idlib if he wants Moscow-backed peace talks to succeed, Reuters reported.

Russia is planning to host a Syrian national congress in the city of Sochi at the end of this month.

U.N. Calls for Humanitarian Pause in Eastern Ghouta

The United Nations on Thursday called for a pause in fighting around the Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus, where attacks by pro-government forces have put thousands of civilians at risk, the New York Times reported.

The Syrian government has stepped up airstrikes and artillery attacks on the last rebel enclave near the capital, killing at least 85 civilians and wounding 183 more since the start of the year, a U.N. official said on Wednesday.

Jan Egeland, the U.N. adviser on humanitarian affairs in Syria, said on Thursday that a humanitarian pause in fighting was necessary to allow the delivery of aid to the tens of thousands of civilians besieged by government forces, the NYT said.

“The situation is screaming for a humanitarian pause in the extremely intense fighting so that humanitarian agencies can do their work and civilians can get relief,” Egeland was quoted as saying.

The Eastern Ghouta suburbs have been besieged by government forces since 2013. The rebel enclave has a population of nearly 393,000, including 99,500 internally displaced people, most of whom have limited access to food and healthcare.

Moscow Puts Drones From Raid on Display

Russia’s defense ministry on Thursday presented two drones it said it captured during an attempted attack on its bases in Syria, the Associated Press reported.

It argued that they could not have been produced without the involvement of trained experts.

“The creation of drones of such class is impossible in makeshift conditions,” Maj. Gen. Alexander Novikov, who heads the ministry’s drone department, said during a briefing. “Their development and use requires the involvement of experts with special training in the countries that manufacture and use drones.”

Russia’s defense ministry on Monday claimed that its air and naval bases in western Syria came under attack by 13 armed drones over the weekend. A statement released on the military’s Facebook page said that the small drones were destroyed before they could lead to any casualties or material damage.

Russia did not blame any specific country for staging the attack but President Putin said on Thursday that he knew who was involved.

“There were provocateurs,” he said at a televised meeting with Russian newspaper editors on Thursday, according to the AP. “We know who they were and how much they paid for that provocation.”

Earlier this week, Russia suggested that the United States was involved in the attack but the Pentagon has denied all accusations.

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