Syria Situation Report: October 13 - 20, 2016
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and their counterparts from Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, Jordan, and Egypt in Switzerland on October 15 to open a new multilateral initiative to end the Syrian Civil War following the suspension of bilateral negotiations between the U.S. and Russia on Syria on October 3. The meeting sparked a series of follow-on meetings meant to discuss potential options to separate opposition groups from Jabhat Fatah al-Sham – the successor of Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra – but failed to reach any concrete proposals to reinstitute a nationwide ‘cessation of hostilities’ and restore diplomatic talks to end the conflict. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry later emphasized that U.S. President Barack Obama has “not taken any options off the table at this point in time” during a meeting of the ‘Friends of Syria’ Group in London on October 16. The European Union also announced its intent to apply new sanctions on individuals associated with the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad following a meeting in Luxembourg on October 17. The U.S. and Europe nonetheless appear unlikely to pursue more aggressive action over the Syrian Civil War, including targeted sanctions against Russia in Syria or limited military strikes against the regime.
Meanwhile, Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu announced a temporary halt to pro-regime airstrikes in opposition-held districts of Eastern Aleppo City on October 18 in preparation for a series of three consecutive eleven-hour ‘humanitarian pauses’ scheduled for October 20 - 22. Shoygu stated that Russia will “guarantee the safe exit” of civilians and opposition fighters from Aleppo City to Idlib Province as well as the delivery of humanitarian aid to local residents. Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin stressed that a longer ceasefire would only be possible if foreign parties reach a “mutual agreement” to expel Jabhat Fatah al-Sham from Aleppo City. Activists have reported a local halt to airstrikes but noted that pro-regime forces continue ground operations throughout Aleppo City.