This week in northern Syria
#34: May 16 - May 22
05/16/23: Muhammed Haitham al-Zayn al-Shihabi was selected as the president of the al-Bab Local Council, replacing Mustafa ‘Othman who had replaced al-Shihabi in 2021. Al-Shihabi headed the city’s Civil Police in the past and currently represents al-Bab at the SNC. This comes several weeks after a controversy provoked by ‘Othman’s unilateral amending of the council’s constitution, later reversed by Turkey’s Gaziantep governor’s office, the highest civilian authority in al-Bab. The council president is elected by the (currently) thirty-two-member council, which itself is made up of individuals nominated by local families, clans, unions, factions, and independents, and selected by representatives of the Gaziantep governorship.
05/17/23: Gaziantep Governor Davut Gül and Deputy Governor Burak Akeller (‘Wali of al-Bab’) visited various Turkish and Syrian institutions in al-Bab city. These included the Turkish 3rd Army’s 17th Commando Brigade “Akil Tepe” (Jabal ‘Aqil) base, the Turkish military’s headquarters for the entire Euphrates Shield region, the (Turkish) Syria Task Force’s ‘al-Bab Coordination and Humanitarian Aid Center,’ the recently opened al-Fatih mosque, and a shari’ah school named for a Turkish Jandarma officer killed in a 2021 explosion in al-Bab, currently under construction.
05/17/23: Five individuals, including one seventeen year old, were reportedly injured by Turkish shelling on the ‘Ain ‘Isa front lines, around the village of Jadidah and a former IDP camp, abandoned in October 2019. According to the Turkish Ministry of Defense, “5 PKK/YPG terrorists who were preparing to attack by digging a tunnel in the Peace Spring region were neutralized,” while Kurdish sources reported the five men as civilians. Other media outlets reported that at least some of the five were civilians employed by the SDF in the digging of defensive tunnels.
05/18/23: A Turkish drone strike killed a man named ‘Abd al-Wahab al-Hajj Hamidi and destroyed a car near al-Kharoufiyah, in the southern Manbij countryside. Accounts from AANES-linked outlets report that Hamidi was a civilian from al-Kharoufiyah, seemingly with no role in the local administration. Meanwhile Turkish media claimed the destroyed car belonged to the YPJ. According to SOHR this was actually a double tap attack and Hamidi died of injuries sustained while responding to the first strike, which went unreported by the SDF and in associated media. While SOHR is not the most reputable source, this scenario seems plausible as Turkish drone strikes in rural areas have previously resulted in little to no civilian casualties and the car’s make and model (circa 2010 Hyundai Santa Fe?) is consistent with those frequently used by SDF cadre.
05/19/23: A Turkish drone strike reportedly targeted a regime position near the village of Majra al-Wastani in the northern Manbij countryside, killing as many as four soldiers. According to al-Modon, the strike targeted two military vehicles around the “4 kilo checkpoint,” which is possibly the military position (location: 36.597666, 37.943463) shown below four kilometers north of the northern entrance to Manbij and 300 meters east of the intersection leading to Majra al-Wastani. At least two of the killed soldiers have been identified in local social media. An allegedly related, un-geolocatable photo of what appears to be the remains of a Turkish MAM-C munition was shared by Turkish accounts on Twitter, however the time stamp is from the previous evening suggesting in might be from the May 18 strike in southern Manbij.
05/20/23: The SDF reported that one of its patrols came under attack on the Abu Khashab road in northwestern Deir ez-Zour, injuring three of its fighters. The SDF claimed it has confirmed the Islamic State as the responsible party, however IS has yet to claim the attack.
05/21/23: A large fire broke out at a diesel market on the outskirts of A’zaz, destroying four tanker trucks, two underground tanks, and injuring three civilians. According to Syrian Civil Defense, the fire was likely caused by an electrical short in a fuel pump.
05/22/22: Tajikistan repatriated 109 Islamic State family members from AANES-operated camps, bringing its total repatriations to 255. Meanwhile, the AANES announced it would be releasing 217 Syrians from al-Hawl, back to their families in Manbij.
05/22/22: The Ministry of Foreign Relations of the AANES reportedly facilitated the evacuation and return to al-Qamishli of 150 Syrians who had been residing in Sudan, within the context of the ongoing clashes throughout the country.
05/22/22: A US patrol was blocked and turned around at a Syrian Army checkpoint on the Tell Tamer - Zirgan/Abu Rassin road along the western al-Hasakah SNA/SDF front lines. The checkpoint, located in an area nominally controlled by the SDF/AANES, is ten kilometers west of the US/Coalition base at Jabal Ghul, as well as in close proximity to the Russian base at Tell Tamer, and Turkish and SNA front line positions in the Serê Kaniyê/Ras al-’Ain countryside.
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