Syria Situation Report: May 10 - May 18, 2017

Welcome to the latest installment of the Syria SITREP highlighting key developments in the Syrian Civil War. The SITREP Map is made possible through a partnership between the Institute for the Study of War and Syria Direct. To download the SITREP Map as a PDF, see below. Here's what happened in Syria this week:

May 10 - 15: Al-Qaeda Reportedly Dispatches Officials to Southern Syria: Hay’at Tahrir a-Sham (HTS) - the successor of Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fatah a-Sham - reportedly dispatched at least thirty senior officials from Idlib Province to Quneitra and Dera’a Provinces in southwest Syria. Activists claimed that the officials began recruiting fighters and buying heavy weapons in preparation for a joint offensive with opposition groups against pro-regime forces in Dera’a City.

May 12 - 14: Regime Continues Forced Evacuations From Opposition-Held Districts of Damascus: Buses evacuated more than 2,000 fighters and civilians from the besieged 
opposition-held Qaboun District of Damascus to Idlib Province on May 14. Pro-regime forces later entered the district to reestablish government offices. Meanwhile, buses evacuated more than 1,200 fighters and civilians from the adjacent opposition-held Barzeh and Tishreen Districts of Damascus to Idlib Province on May 12 in a second wave of evacuations that began
 on May 8. The relocations are part of a wider reconciliation deal between pro-regime forces and a local civilian committee brokered 
by Russia, which ultimately calls for the evacuation of up to 8,000 individuals from Barzeh and Tishreen Districts.

May 16: US Places New
 Sanctions on Syrian Regime:
 The US Treasury Department placed 
new sanctions on ten individuals and 
entities affiliated with the regime in response to “continued acts of violence” against civilians. The targeted sanctions included three close relatives of wealthy oligarch Rami Makhlouf - a key regime insider and cousin of President Bashar al-Assad - and his Al-Bustan Charity for its support to a “vast private network” of pro-regime militias. The new sanctions come after the US State Department publicized additional evidence of mass executions by the regime at Sednaya Prison on May 15.

May 18: IS Launches Major Attack on Pro-Regime Villages in
 East Hama Province: IS launched a
 major attack against the majority-Ismaili 
towns of Mabujjah and Aqarib al-Safiyah in east
 Hama Province, temporarily seizing parts of both towns and killing at least fifty civilians and local fighters. Pro-regime forces later recaptured both towns with Russian air support. 

May 10 - 18: Al-Qaeda Spars with Rival Groups in Idlib Province: Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) reportedly detained several fighters belonging to Free Syrian Army (FSA)-affiliated opposition groups near Ma’arat al-Numan in south Idlib Province between May 11-13. HTS also clashed with the Salafi-Jihadist group Ahrar al-Sham over the village of Sinjar in east Idlib Province. The tensions follow the HTS Sharia Council statement on May 9 that condemned the ‘de-escalation zones’ brokered by Russia, Iran, and Turkey at the Astana Talks as “treason” and called on “every Muslim” to breach the deal and fight the “remnants of the corrupt factions” in Idlib Province. HTS later distributed sermons condemning both Turkey and the FSA.

May 18: Ahrar al-Sham Orders Withdrawal from Jarabulus: Salafi-Jihadist group Ahrar al-Sham and the Islamist Originality and Development Front announced the withdrawal of their military headquarters from Jarabulus in north Aleppo Province due to improved security in the town. Ahrar al-Sham called on all other opposition groups to withdraw from Jarabulus and turn over the town to Free Syrian Police trained by Turkey.

May 12: Pro-Regime Forces Seize Airbase in East Aleppo Province: Pro-regime forces seized the Jirah Airbase in east Aleppo Province following clashes with IS. Pro-regime warplanes also intensified airstrikes targeting the IS-held town of Maskanah in south Aleppo Province. Opposition groups seized Jirah Airbase in February 2013 before IS took control of the base in January 2014.

May 18: US Targets Pro-Regime Convoy in East Homs Province: The US conducted airstrikes targeting a pro-regime convoy that advanced along the Damascus-Baghdad Highway towards Al-Tanf in east Homs Province. The convoy included fighters from the Iraqi Shi’a Militia ‘Kata’ib Imam Ali’. US CENTCOM later released a statement asserting that the US launched airstrikes to protect partnered opposition forces in the area after the convoy advanced “well inside an established de-confliction zone” and failed to heed “warning shots” and an “apparent attempt” to halt the convoy by Russia. Local activists stated that the airstrikes destroyed more than a dozen vehicles including as many as four tanks. Russia and Syria both condemned the incident as a violation of state sovereignty. The US, Britain, and Jordan operate a base in Al-Tanf to train fighters in the organization Jaysh Mughawir al-Thawra against IS in east Syria.

May 15: IS Claims New Attack Against Internally Displaced Persons Camp on Syrian-Jordanian Border: IS detonated two vehicle-borne IEDs targeting a restaurant and marketplace in the Rukban IDP camp on the Syrian-Jordanian Border, killing at least fifteen individuals including five opposition fighters from the US/Jordanian-backed Jaysh Ahrar al-Asha’er. IS has conducted a number of attacks targeting opposition forces and civilians near the Rukban IDP camp over the past six months.

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