Syria Situation Report: July 22 - 29, 2016

Pro-regime forces completed the encirclement of Aleppo City on July 28, isolating the main stronghold of mainstream opposition groups in Northern Syria. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu announced the start of a “large-scale humanitarian operation” in Aleppo City conjunction with the regime that includes several corridors for the evacuation of civilians and opposition fighters. The UN estimates that 250,000 civilians remain in opposition-held districts of the city. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad likely intends to depopulate Aleppo City in preparation for concerted ground operations to force its surrender. The incipient siege of Aleppo City threatens to generate a humanitarian disaster, radicalize opposition fighters, and reduce the long-term number of potential partners available to the U.S. against ISIS and Al-Qaeda in Syria. Meanwhile, Jabhat al-Nusra head Abu Muhammad al-Jolani issued a video statement announcing the cancellation of its operations and the formation of a new group called ‘Jabhat Fatah a-Sham’ with “no affiliation to any external entity” in a symbolic break with Al-Qaeda. The announcement follows the release of an audio statement by Al-Qaeda deputy head Sheikh Ahmed Hassan Abu al-Khayr condoning the severing of “organizational links” between Jabhat al-Nusra and Al-Qaeda as a move to “preserve the good of Islam…and protect the jihad” in Syria. The rebranding does not represent an abandonment of Salafi-Jihadism but rather a calculated move to facilitate the unification of armed opposition groups in a “grand merger” that continues to pursue the long-term strategic vision of Al-Qaeda to establish an Islamic Emirate in Syria.

This graphic marks the latest installment of our Syria SITREP Map made possible through a partnership between the Institute for the Study of War and Syria Direct.