Issued on: 13/04/2016 Type: Article

Main events of the week

  • The ceasefire entered into its seventh week, withthe familiar characteristics. At the same time, fighting continues in the various battle zones throughout Syria that are not included in the ceasefire agreement. The local clashes are concentrated in the area of Aleppo. The US State Department spokesman said that the US was concerned about the intention [of the Syrian Army] to take over the city of Aleppo. According to him, the takeover of the city is liable to undermine the next round of talks in Geneva. The French Foreign Ministry spokesman said that the Syrian regime’s attacks in the area of Aleppo and east of Damascus were jeopardizing the ceasefire agreement.
  • The Iraqi regime continues its efforts to establish itself in the Sunni Al-Anbar Province. Thousands of people who had left Ramadi began returning in the wake of the improvement in the security situation. At the same time, the Iraqi Army is trying to complete its takeover of the city of Hit, about 70 km northwest of Ramadi. In Syria as well, the regime is making an initial effort to restore normal life in Palmyra and Al-Qaryatayn, which were recently liberated from the hands of ISIS.
  • An editorial in the Islamic State’s organ Al-Naba (April 6, 2016) claims that Sinai will soon become the scene of fighting between ISIS and Israel and Egypt. This is in the wake of the attacks recently carried out against ISIS in the Sinai Peninsula, which the author attributes to Israel. An opinion piece published by the ISIS-affiliated Al-Haqq News Agency (March 31, 2015) recently called to open new fronts against the “Jewish enemy” from Sinai and the Golan Heights.

 

The ceasefire agreement

  • The ceasefire has entered into its seventh week, with characteristics similar to those of the previous weeks. According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, the coordination center in Hmeymim recorded an average of 4-6 ceasefire violations per day (compared to around eight last week). Reportedly, the number of towns that have joined the ceasefire is now around 60, compared to 53 last week (Russian Ministry of Defense, April 10, 2016).
  • Speaking at a briefing, Lt. Gen. Sergei Rudskoy, Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, said that despite the violations, the ceasefire remained under control. According to him, in most of Syria no military operations are being carried out, apart from military operations against the Al-Nusra Front and ISIS (Facebook page of the Russian Ministry of Defense).
  • Mark Toner, Deputy Spokesperson for the US Department of State, said that in order for the ceasefire to hold, its signatories must desist from attacks or takeovers of territory. According to Toner, the US is concerned about the intention [of the Syrian Army] to take over Aleppo when it is clear that there are organizations in the area that are participating in the ceasefire. He added that the takeover of the city of Aleppo before the next round of talks in Geneva could undermine the talks (Reuters, April 11, 2016). In addition, the French Foreign Ministry spokesman said that the attacks by the Syrian regime and its allies in the area of Aleppo and in the eastern rural area of Damascus jeopardize the ceasefire agreement (Reuters, April 12, 2016).

The international campaign against ISIS

  • The US-led international coalition continued to carry out attacks in Iraq and Syria against ISIS targets. During the week, aircraft of the coalition countries carried out many dozens of airstrikes. The vast majority of the airstrikes were carried out in Iraq, mainly in the areas of Fallujah, Hit, Kirkuk, Mosul, and Kisik. The airstrikes in Syria were concentrated mainly in the area of Al-Raqqah (US Department of State website). The spokesman for the US Army Central Command reported the arrival of American B-52 strategic bombers at the air force base in central Qatar to join the international coalition’s airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
  • Speaking during a visit to Iraq, French Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian said ISIS’s strongholds in Al-Raqqah and Mosul should be retaken by the end of 2016.  According to the minister, 2016 should be a turning point, marking the beginning of the fall of ISIS (AFP, April 11, 2016).
  • According to “Jordanian sources,” a training course will soon open in Jordan, to train a battalion intended to carry out special military operations against ISIS. The course will be supervised by the British. According to the sources, the battalion will number 900 fighters from various countries neighboring Jordan, who will be trained to carry out commando operations (Lebanon 24, April 6, 2016).

Russia’s involvement in the fighting in Syria

  • Russian planes continued their airstrikes throughout Syria against targets of ISIS and organizations that are not included in the ceasefire. The Russians attacked targets in and around Aleppo, Idlib, Deir al-Zor, Damascus, Al-Raqqah and elsewhere. The Russian Defense Minister confirmed that Russian Ka-52 and Mi-28 helicopters had reached Syria. According to the minister, the combat helicopters will support the Syrian Army in its attacks in the city of Palmyra, and will take part in the planned attack in Deir al-Zor (Russia Insider, April 10, 2016).

Main developments in Syria

Palmyra and the surrounding area
  • Following the takeover of the city, the Russians are helping the Syrian regime remove the large quantities of mines and IEDs left in the city and its environs by ISIS. According to Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, the Russian sapper unit destroyed more than 1,500 IEDs during the mine removal work in the city this week (Sputnik, April 8, 2016). Lt. Gen. Sergei Rudskoy, Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, said that so far, six kilometers of roads, over 200 dunams (20 hectares) and three buildings in the old city of Palmyra have been checked. In addition, Syrian Engineering Corps soldiers in the city of Al-Qaryatayn cleared mines on 17 km of roads, forty streets and public buildings (Facebook page of the Russian Ministry of Defense).
  • According to reports, renovation work has begun in Palmyra, and the city’s residents who had fled have begun to return. According to a report from April 9, 2016, around 2,000 residents who had fled from Palmyra to Homs have returned to their homes. Residents have also begun returning to their homes in Al-Qaryatayn (SANA News Agency, April 9, 2016).
Clashes throughout Syria
  • In other provinces throughout Syria, including provinces where the ceasefire applies and areas where it does not, local clashes continued between the various forces:
  • The rural area of Aleppo: localclashes continued in the rural area south of Aleppo. The Syrian Army is reportedly concentrating troops south of Aleppo, in order to retake the village of Al-Eis, which was taken over by the Al-Nusra Front and rebel organizations on April 1, 2016. The rebel organizations claim to have repulsed an attempted attack by the Syrian forces, who suffered severe losses (April 12, 2016). Among others, Hezbollah operatives and Shiite fighters handled by Iran were killed. According to Lt. Gen. Sergei Rudskoy, Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, the Al-Nusra Front is amassing forces and weapons in southwestern Aleppo. He estimates that 8,000 Al-Nusra Front operatives are deployed in the area, and around 1,500 operatives are deployed north of Aleppo (Facebook page of the Russian Ministry of Defense).
  • The area near the Turkish border: On April 7, 2016, five rockets were fired at the city of Kilis in Turkey, from territory controlled by ISIS in Syria. Four people were injured (Anatolia, April 11, 2016). In response, the Turkish Army attacked ISIS positions in Syria. According to a report by ISIS’s Aamaq News Agency, Turkish artillery fired 45 shells at the village of Al-Raesh, near the Turkish border (Akhbar al-Aan, April 7, 2016).
  • The area of Deir al-Zor:Clashes continued between ISIS operatives and the Syrian Army in the area of the military airbase. ISIS operatives tried to take over the area of Daghim, east of the airbase, but were driven back by the Syrian Army, with air support. The Syrian Army and the Syrian Air Force attacked ISIS targets in several neighborhoods in the city of Deir al-Zor. 
  • Idlib- A new agreement was reached between the rebel organizations (Jaysh al-Fatah) and the Syrian regime for the departure of around 500 casualties and their escorts from the Shiite towns of Kafraya and Fu’ah, northeast of Idlib[1] (Dimashq al-Aan, April 9, 2016).
  • Al-Raqqah –The coalition forces, Russia and the Syrian Army carried out airstrikes against ISIS targets in the area of Al-Raqqah, ISIS’s stronghold. The targets attacked included the Al-Tabqa airbase and targets in a neighborhood in the south of the city, among other things (Dimashq al-Aan, April 7, 2016).
  • Al-Hasakah –ISIS continues its guerrilla warfare against the Kurdish forces: an ISIS car bomb exploded south of the city of Al-Shadadi, killing 21 Kurdish fighters (Zaman al-Wasl, April 10, 2016). According to an announcement by ISIS, six members of the Kurdish forces were killed by IEDs planted in the area of Tell Hamis, northeast of Al-Hasakah (Aamaq, April 9, 2016).
  • The area of Damascus –In the rural area east of Damascus, there were clashes between the Syrian Army and the rebel organizations. Concurrently, clashes were reported between ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front at the Al-Yarmouk refugee camp south of Damascus.
  • The Al-Dumayr area (east of Damascus) –Clashes continued in and around the city of Al-Dumayr between the Syrian Army and the rebel forces. More than 300 Syrian civilians, employees of a Chinese cement factory in the area of Al-Dumayr, were captured when ISIS operatives took over the factory. After negotiations, over 100 of the factory employees were released and arrived in Al-Dumayr. It was also reported that 140 of them managed to escape. The remaining hostages were not released. They are the armed guards of the factory and militants loyal to the Syrian regime. According to ISIS, they will be tried according to Islamic law (the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), April 9, 2016).

Main developments in Iraq

  • Speaking at a press conference during a visit to Iraq, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that ISIS operatives had not carried out [meaningful] attacks in Iraq in several months. According to Kerry, ISIS is losing territory, money and operatives on a daily basis and is now on the defensive. Kerry noted that the coalition forces had destroyed more than 1,200 ISIS oil fields and hit other targets related to the financial system that funds the organization. According to him, the international coalition against ISIS intends to increase the pressure on ISIS, in cooperation with Iraq. Kerry said that the attack for the liberation of Mosul is clearly an Iraqi operation, which will have the support of the international coalition (Sky News, April 8, 2016).
Al-Anbar Province
Hit
  • This week, fighting continued in the city of Hit, most of which is controlled by the Iraqi Army. ISIS is attempting to prevent the Iraqi Army from completing the takeover of the city. Most of the battles took place in the city center (Al-Jazeera, April 9-10, 2016). According to an Iraqi “security source,” 75 dead and injured ISIS operatives from the battles in Hit are now in hospitals in Mosul (Al-Sabah al-Jadid, April 9, 2016).
Ramadi
  • Following the stabilization of the security situation in the area of Ramadi, residents who had fled have begun to return. So far, over 9,000 families have returned (Al-Sumaria, April 9, 2016). However, there are still clashes in the city between the remaining ISIS operatives and the Iraqi Army.
The Nineveh province and the city of Mosul
  • According to a report by ISIS from April 10, 2016, landline communications in the city of Mosul collapsed due to airstrikes on telephone exchanges in the city center by the US-led international coalition aircraft (Aamaq, April 10, 2016).
  • ISIS released a propaganda video, which aims to counter the Iraqi media reports that Sunni tribes in the Nineveh Province which support the Iraqi regime will be the spearhead of the campaign to liberate the city of Mosul. The video shows the head of the Albu Hamad tribe (one of the tribes living near the city of Mosul) saying that he recognizes the Islamic State and does not recognize the regime of the Iraqi government. Other tribal leaders appear in the video, pledging allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and expressing their support for ISIS in its fight against the Iraqi government (archive.org, April 7, 2016).
Kirkuk province
  • ISIS operatives reportedly attacked the city of Taza, south of Kirkuk, with rockets apparently containing toxic gas. Three people were killed and around 1,500 people were affected by the gas, which caused respiratory distress. The type of gas used by ISIS has not yet been identified, but it is suspected of being mustard gas (The Daily Mail, April 9, 2016).

Egyptand the Sinai Peninsula

  • During the week, the Egyptian security forces continued their intensive activity against ISIS’s Sinai Province in the areas of Sheikh Zuweid, Al-Arish and Rafah. The security forces imposed a curfew and carried out extensive searches in a number of areas. Many suspects were detained and weapons were confiscated. The forces also reported that they had uncovered and blown up several tunnels, including a smuggling tunnel in southern Rafah, near the border with the Gaza Strip (Al-Watan, April 9, 2016).
  • At the same time, ISIS operatives continued their guerrilla activities against the Egyptian security forces, mainly by planting IEDs. For example, on April 7, 2016, the Sinai Province reported that it had detonated five IEDs near the Egyptian security forces, causing the death of around 18 members of the security forces and destroying a number of vehicles (Aamaq, April 7, 2016). ISIS’s Sinai Province also claimed responsibility for the attempted assassination of Yasser al-Hafez, deputy head of the Sinai Security Directorate, who was seriously wounded when an IED exploded near his car west of Al-Arish (Twitter account affiliated with ISIS’s Sinai Province, April 7, 2016).
  • An editorial in the Islamic State’s organ Al-Naba dealt with the attacks recently carried out against ISIS in the Sinai Peninsula, which the author attributes to Israel.  According to the article, in the near future, Sinai will become the scene of fighting between ISIS and Israel and Egypt. The article notes that recent events in Sinai will have a widespread effect and will gradually lead to a deterioration of the cooperation between Israel and Egypt due to the ongoing violation of the Camp David Accords (Al-Naba, April 6, 2016).

 

The global jihad in other countries

Libya
Sirte
  • According to Libyan media reports, the Libyan Army is preparing to liberate the city of Sirte, ISIS’s stronghold in Libya. To this end, it has reportedly deployed dozens of snipers on the roofs of tall buildings in the city and planted mines in a number of areas in the city and its environs (Libyan News Agency, April 9, 2016; Al-Bayan, April 11, 2016).
Benghazi
  • In the city of Benghazi, the battles continue between the Libyan Army under the command of Khalifa Haftar and ISIS and the Shura Council of the Revolutionaries of Benghazi, although the intensity of the fighting is relatively low. According to an announcement by the interior ministry in Benghazi, the security forces detained four ISIS operatives who admitted under interrogation that foreign fighters from Tunisia and Yemen served in their ranks. Based on the interrogation of the detainees, ISIS receives assistance from Misrata through the Port of Al-Marisa (Akhbar Libya 24, April 10, 2016; Bawabat Ifriqya al-Ikhbariya, April 5, 2016).
ISIS’s threat against the oil fields in Libya
  • The Maradah-Zala basin guard unit, which is subordinate to the Libyan Army of the Tobruk government, announced the evacuation of employees of the Al-Beda, Tebsti and Samah oil fields, south of Maradah. This is in light of the recurrence of ISIS’s attacks in the area, and after intelligence was obtained, according to which ISIS was concentrating its forces near the Al-Mabruk oil field, located 220 km northwest of Maradah (Al-Wasat Portal, April 9, 2016; Akhbar Libya 24, April 7 and April 9, 2016).

Counterterrorism and preventive activity

Germany
  • In an interview with Die Welt, Hans-Georg Maassen, head of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution of Germany, said that ISIS intended to carry out an attack in Germany or to act against German interests. According to him, at the moment there is no precise information about the target of the attack, but potential targets are train stations, airports and outdoor festivals. German sources estimated that 800 Germans went to Syria to fight alongside ISIS and that about 150 of them returned in 2015 (RT, April 10, 2016).
Belgium and France
  • On April 9, 2016, Belgium filed charges against four people suspected of involvement in the terrorist attacks in Brussels (on March 22, 2016, killing 32 people). The two main suspects are Muhammad Abrini, who was documented in the security cameras at the airport in Brussels wearing a hat, and another detainee codenamed Usamah Krayim. The two men are suspected of being part of the ISIS terrorist network in Europe, which was responsible for killing 130 people in the attack in Paris in November 2015 and for the killing of 32 more people in the attacks in Brussels (AFP, April 9, 2016).
  • According to the Belgian public prosecutor, the interrogation of the suspects gave rise to the conjecture that the original plan had been to carry out attacks in Paris and not in Brussels. According to him, the site of the attack was changed after police arrested suspects in Brussels a few days before the planned date of the attack (The Mirror, April 10, 2016). In addition, the French newspaper Libération reported that the operatives of the ISIS terror network who carried out the attacks in France and Brussels planned to carry out attacks against the Euro 2016 football games to be held this summer. Muhammad Abrini reportedly disclosed this information to his interrogators, and the French authorities are now trying to verify it (CNN, April 11, 2016).
Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • According to an American expert on the Balkans, around 200-300 radical Muslims left Bosnia and Herzegovina and joined the ranks of ISIS or the Al-Nusra Front in Syria and Iraq. They include two of the world’s most wanted terrorists: Bajro Ikanovic, who has served as the commander of ISIS’s biggest training camp in northern Syria for some years; and Nusret Imamovic, a senior Al-Nusra Front operative in Syria. According to the expert, relative to the size of the population in Bosnia and Herzegovina, this is the largest number of operatives from any country in Europe (Der Spiegel, April 5, 2016).
Russia
  • The Russian Security Service (FSB) has arrested five ISIS operatives who recruited Russian fighters to join the organization. These operatives were planning to carry out terrorist attacks in the Volgograd Oblast (i.e., province), in southern Russia. Weapons, explosives, chemicals, IEDs and propaganda materials found in their possession were seized (RT, April 8, 2016).

[1]In September 2015, a ceasefire was declared for a period of six months, which included Al-Zabadani and the Shiite towns of Kafraya and Fu’ah. The agreement included the evacuation of 10,000 civilians from these villages in exchange for the departure of 500 militants of the rebel organizations.

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