The President of the United States and President of Russia at the joint press conference held after their meeting (Kremlin website, July 16, 2018)
Tank and APC of the rebel forces from Daraa handed over to the Syrian army (SANA, July 15, 2018)
Syrian flags waved in the city of Tafas (SANA, 12 in July 2018).
Operatives of the Khaled bin Al-Walid Army in the town of Hayt. A video which they released shows their spokesman pledging allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Tell Al-Harrah and the houses of the town of Al-Harrah nearby (YouTube, January 31, 2011)
ISIS weapons found by the Syrian army in the village of Hasrat, north of Albukamal (SANA, July 14, 2018)
Egyptian army weapons seized by ISIS operatives in the ambush (ISIS-affiliated website www.k1falh.ga, July 14, 2018).
ISIS suicide bomber before leaving to carry out the attack, with ISIS flag in the background (ISIS-affiliated website www.k1falh.ga, July 13, 2018)
Main events of the week
- The Syrian army continues to record achievements in the campaign to take over the south of the country. After taking control of the Daraa area, the Syrian army transferred its focus of activity to the Syrian Golan Heights in order to take over the areas controlled by the rebel organizations. In the Syrian Golan Heights as well, the Syrian army has adopted a modus operandi combining ground fighting and taking over territories while entering into local surrender arrangements, in the format of the surrender arrangements implemented in the Daraa area.
- This week, the Syrian army mounted an offensive against the rebel strongholds east and southeast of Quneitra. Heavy fighting took place in the village of Mashara (around 12 km east of Quneitra), where dozens of Syrian soldiers were killed, including a senior Syrian officer (with the rank of brigadier general). Significant places taken over through surrender arrangements include the village of Al-Harrah and Tell al-Harrah, which dominates the Syrian Golan Heights. After taking over Tell al-Harrah, the Syrian forces continued to advance southward, apparently towards the city of Nawa. At the same time, the Syrian army took control of the southern and southwestern outskirts of the ISIS enclave (the Yarmouk Basin) and was deployed opposite the ISIS-affiliated Khaled bin al-Walid Army. The Syrian army’s actions pose a threat to the ISIS enclave from the north and the south.
- In addition to the fighting, diplomatic talks were held, including the issue of the presence of the Iranians and the Shiite forces handled by them (the Netanyahu-Putin meeting, the Trump-Putin meeting). At their meeting, both Putin and Trump expressed their support for Israel’s security. Putin said that the situation in the Golan Heights must be fully compliant with the 1974 Separation of Forces Agreement, but at the same time, he refrained from publicly commenting on the question of Iran’s status. Trump noted that “Russia and the United States will work jointly” for the benefit of Israel and made it clear that the United States would not permit Iran to take advantage of the campaign against ISIS to advance its interests in Syria.
- ISIS’s Khorasan Province (Afghanistan/Pakistan) is continuing its intensive terrorist activity, including acts of terror carried out by suicide bombers. This week, ISIS carried out a suicide bombing attack at an election rally in Pakistan, killing around 150 people. Another attack was carried out by ISIS near the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MoRRD) in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan (killing at least seven people).
Russian and American involvement in Syria
The issue of Syria discussed at the summit meeting between the presidents of the United States and Russia
- On July 16, 2018, the first summit meeting was held in Helsinki between US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also met on the margins of the summit (Russian Foreign Ministry Twitter account; TASS News Agency, July 16, 2018).
- The Syrian issue was one of a range of issues discussed at the summit. At this stage, the ITIC does not have information on the conclusions/understandings reached between Putin and Trump on this issue. In their public statements, the presidents of Russia and the United States stressed the importance of cooperation in the Syrian arena and their support for Israel’s security. Following are the main statements made by the two presidents on the Syrian issue:
- According to President Putin, Russia and the United States can undoubtedly cooperate with one another and lead the establishment of peace in Syria. Speaking about the situation in southern Syria, Putin said that after the final defeat of the terrorist operatives in southern Syria, the situation in the Golan Heights must be fully compliant with the 1974 Separation of Forces Agreement between Israel and Syria. According to him, this would make it possible to restore calm to the Golan Heights, to restore the ceasefire agreement between Syria and Israel, and to safeguard Israel’s security. He also noted that it would be possible to promote peace and stability in the region on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 338 (Kremlin website, July 16, 2018). Putin did not address the question of Iran’s status in Syria.
- President Trump said that Russia had supported the United States in its campaign against ISIS, which was nearing its end. He made it clear that the United States would not permit Iran to take advantage of the campaign against ISIS to advance its own interests. Referring to Israel, Trump noted that the United States had acted [in collaboration] with it for a long time and was closer to Israel than to any other country. He added that Russia was also acting on behalf of Israel’s security. Accordingly, Russia and the United States would work together for the benefit of Israel. Trump noted that the armies of Russia and the United States were coordinating their operations in Syria and elsewhere (US Department of State website, July 16, 2018).
- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked President Trump and President Putin for their remarks. He expressed his appreciation for the deep commitment displayed by the American president to the security of the State of Israel and added that the alliance between Israel and the US had never been stronger. Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed his appreciation for the security coordination between Israel and Russia and praised President Putin’s position on the need to implement the 1974 Separation of Forces agreements between Israel and Syria. He noted that he had discussed these issues in detail with the two presidents over the past few days (Benjamin Netanyahu’s Facebook page, July 16, 2018).
The campaign in southern Syria
The Syrian army takes over the city of Daraa
- It seems that most of the rebels and their families were evacuated from Daraa to Idlib in the north. The evacuation was carried out in several phases. On July 15, 2018, the first phase took place: Buses set out with 450 operatives and their families. The convoy was escorted by the Syrian Red Crescent (SANA, July 15, 2018). Apparently, the evacuees included operatives of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham, who were transferred to Quneitra as part of an agreement with the Syrian army, under Russian sponsorship (Sputnik in Arabic, July 11, 2018).
Right: The first phase of the evacuation of rebel forces from Old Daraa. Left: Syrian Red Crescent escorts the convoy (SANA, July 15, 2018)
The Syrian army establishes itself on the southern outskirts of the ISIS-controlled Yarmouk Basin
- As part of establishing its presence, this week, the Syrian army took over the city of Tafas, situated about 10 km north of Daraa, and several towns and villages around it. There are about 50,000 inhabitants in Tafas, and it constitutes a major urban center in northwestern Daraa. On July 12, 2018, the Syrian army entered the city of Tafas. The day before, a Russian force entered the city (SANA, July 12, 2018).
- After taking over the city of Tafas, the Syrian army advanced westward and took over Tell Ashaary (about 3.5 km west of Tafas). At the same time, Syrian forces advanced from the town of Zaizoun towards Jilen, about 5 km northwest of Zaizoun (Butulat Al-Jaysh Al-Suri, July 12, 2018). Thus, the Syrian army created an area controlled by it northwest of Daraa, opposite the southern outskirts of the Yarmouk Basin, controlled by ISIS.
The Khaled bin Al-Walid Army takes over the town of Hayt
- On July 12, 2018, the Khaled bin Al-Walid Army took over the town of Hayt, northwest of Zaizoun. This was done after the rebel organizations had left the town with their personal weapons on the wake of a surrender agreement with the Syrian regime (Khotwa, July 12, 2018). A video which was released shows ISIS operatives and a spokesman on their behalf pledging allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and promising to fight against the infidels (Ghurabaa, a website affiliated with ISIS, July 13, 2018). Apparently, the takeover of the town of Hayt was intended to improve the readiness of the Khaled bin Al-Walid Army in advance of a possible attack by the Syrian army, taking advantage of the military “vacuum” after the departure of the rebel organizations.
Right: Operatives of the Khaled bin Al-Walid Army in the town of Hayt. A video which they released shows their spokesman pledging allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Left: Tank of the Khaled bin Al-Walid Army in the town of Hayt (Ghurabaa, a website affiliated with ISIS, July 13, 2018)
Fighting in the Quneitra area
- This week, the Syrian army launched an offensive against key areas east and southeast of Quneitra. Battles in the Quneitra area were accompanied by artillery bombardment and airstrikes by the Syrian army. The attack included a combination of ground fighting to take over areas held by the rebels, as well as the signing of local surrender arrangements. Severe fighting took place in the village of Mashara (east of Quneitra), which is adjacent to Tell Mashara (the Syrian army sustained dozens of fatalities). Outstanding among the sites taken over by the Syrian troops without fighting on the ground was Tell Al-Harrah, an elevated site of strategic importance southeast of Quneitra. Previously, the Syrian army took over the village of Al-Harrah without resistance, as part of a surrender agreement reached on the spot. After taking over Tell Al-Harrah, the Syrian army continued to advance southward, in the ITIC’s assessment, towards the rebel-held city of Nawa (which is subjected to artillery fire and airstrikes).
Deployment of the forces in the Syrian Golan Heights (updated to July 17, 2018): Areas controlled by the Syrian army are marked in red; Areas taken over by the Syrian army through surrender agreements are marked in purple; Areas controlled by the rebels are marked in green, and areas controlled by ISIS are marked in black (Muraselon, July 17, 2018)
Takeover of the village of Mashara
- In the village of Mashara, about 12 km east of Quneitra, a severe battle took place, at the end of which the Syrian army took over the village (July 15, 2018). Then, the Syrian army took over Tell Mashara, to the west (SANA, July 16, 2018; Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, July 16, 2018). The rebels who fought in the village also included operatives of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham (formerly the Al-Nusra Front). According to Syrian media reports, over thirty Syrian soldiers and officers were killed in the fighting in Mashara. The fatalities included Brigadier General (Amid) Assaf Diyab, senior commander in the Syrian army’s 7th Division (Zaman Al-Wasl, July 16, 2018; Nidaa Suriya, July 15, 2018). After the Syrian army had taken over the village, several other villages around it surrendered (Khotwa, July 16, 2018).
Right: Operatives of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham in the village of Mashara. Left: Operative of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham launches RPG rockets at Syrian army soldiers in the village of Mashara (Ibaa News Agency, affiliated with the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham, July 15, 2018)
Right: Syrian army APC in Mashara. Left: The Syrian army in Mashara (the Syrian Army Military Information Office, July 16, 2018)
The takeover of the village of Al-Harrah and Tell Al-Harrah
- An elevated site of major importance taken over by the Syrian army was Tell Al-Harrah (about 16 km southeast of Quneitra). Before Tell Al-Harrah was taken over by the army, the town of Al-Harrah (southeast of Tell Al-Harrah), whose residents refused to hand over their weapons and surrender to the Syrian army, was subjected to artillery bombardment (Enab Baladi, July 16, 2018). Eventually, a surrender agreement was reached with the rebel organizations in the town, following which the Syrian army took control of the town without a battle (Khotwa News Agency, July 16, 2018).
Syrian army moves towards the south
- Following the takeover of Tell Al-Harrah, the Syrian army continued to advance southward. In the ITIC’s assessment, the target of the Syrian move is the city of Nawa, subjected to artillery bombardment and airstrikes which killed and wounded dozens of people (Ibaa News Agency, affiliated with the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham, July 18, 2018; Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, July 18, 2018). The Syrian army has also fired artillery and carried out airstrikes against Tell Al-Jabiya and Tell Al-Jamou’, northeast and east of the city of Nawa. These hills dominate the rebels’ southern control area and the northern part of the ISIS enclave (Enab Baladi, July 17, 2018).
The Syrian move after the takeover of Tell Al-Harrah: advance southward (marked with arrows) and artillery fire at Tell Al-Jabiya (marked with a black star) and Tell Al-Jamou’ (marked with a circle) (Enab Baladi, July 17, 2018)
- Concurrently with the military moves, surrender arrangements of towns and villages in the Quneitra area have become widespread. These arrangements are carried out by senior operatives in the rebel organizations and figures affiliated with the Syrian regime (Al-Akhbar, July 17, 2018).
Involvement of Iranian-handled Shiite militias in the fighting
- On July 3, 2018, a photo was distributed on social media showing fighters of the Fadl al-Abbas Brigade, under the command of Abu Ajeeb, around the village of Da’el (about 15 km north of Daraa). In recent days, another photo was distributed, showing Abu Ajeeb in the village of Da’el. This photo was probably also taken in early July 2018 (Al-Arab Al-Youm, July 11, 2018). The Fadl al-Abbas Brigade is an Iraqi Shiite brigade operating under Iranian sponsorship, whose fighters are involved in the takeover of southern Syria.
Commander of the Abu Fadl al-Abbas militia, who is codenamed Abu Ajeeb (center), in the village of Da’el, north of Daraa (Al-Arab Al-Youm, July 11, 2018)
ISIS continues its guerrilla warfare against the Syrian army and the Shiite militias in the Albukamal area
- On July 11, 2018, ISIS carried out a number of attacks against positions of the Syrian army and the forces supporting it near Albukamal and in the desert area around the city of Al-Mayadeen (northwest of Albukamal).
Right: ISIS operatives pointing a gun at Syrian army positions in the Albukamal area. Left: Two ISIS operatives walking in a trench as part of the preparations against the Syrian army (ISIS-affiliated website www.k1falh.ga, July 14, 2018)
- On July 14, 2018, official Syrian sources released a video showing ISIS weapons found by the Syrian army in the village of Hasrat (about 16 km north of Albukamal). These weapons included ammunition, rockets, and a satellite telecommunication device (SANA, July 14, 2018).
ISIS attack around the Tanf oil field
- On July 17, 2018, ISIS operatives attacked an SDF force (which is predominantly Kurdish) in the area of the Tanf oil field (about 49 km north of Albukamal). Coalition planes carried out airstrikes (against ISIS targets) in the area (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, April 17, 2018). The Tanf oil field is one of the largest in Syria.
Main developments in Iraq
- This week was characterized by relatively little activity by ISIS. Two noteworthy operations:
- On July 14, 2018, one person was killed and two others were wounded in an attack by ISIS operatives against a security post located inside the home of Ismail al-Haloub, the first deputy governor of the Salah al-Din Province. The attack was carried out some 80 km north of Baghdad (Al-Sumaria News, July 14, 2018).
- On July 15, 2018, ISIS announced that one of its operatives had fired mortar shells at the Tribal Mobilization forces some 54 km north of Baqubah (ISIS-affiliated website www.k1falh.ga, July 15, 2018). No casualties were reported.
The activity of the Iraqi security forces
- This week, the Iraqi security forces continued their operations aimed at locating ISIS’s infrastructure and networks:
- Operation Second Revenge of the Shahids: The operation took place in the Al-Azim Basin north of Baqubah and ended on July 16, 2018, after four days. During the operation, dozens of villages were combed by the Iraqi security forces, with Iraqi Air Force air support. In the operation, ISIS hideouts were destroyed and IEDs were neutralized (Al-Sumaria News, July 16, 2018).
- On July 14, 2018, the Iraqi security forces launched Operation Lions of [the region of] Al-Jazeera: During the operation, searches were conducted in the area north of the Euphrates River in Iraq, from the Haditha-Baiji Highway to the Iraqi-Syrian border. The Iraqi security forces occasionally carry out searches in areas under ISIS’s control and manage to detain ISIS operatives and locate weapons and IEDs (Al-Sumaria News, July 14, 2018).
The Iraqi forces operating under Operation Lions of [the area of] Al-Jazeera (Al-Ghad Press, July 14, 2018)
Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula
ISIS operatives ambush Egyptian army west of Al-Arish
- On July 14, 2018, ISIS’s Sinai branch announced that its operatives had seized Egyptian army weapons while setting up an ambush west of Al-Arish. A photo published by the branch shows grenades, night-vision goggles, field binoculars and other equipment of the Egyptian army (ISIS-affiliated website www.k1falh.ga, July 14, 2018). ISIS recently stepped up its attacks against the Egyptian security forces in the northern Sinai Peninsula, despite the extensive security activity being carried out against it by the Egyptian security forces.
Egyptian army weapons seized by ISIS operatives in the ambush (ISIS-affiliated website www.k1falh.ga, July 14, 2018).
Jihadi activity in other countries
ISIS suicide bombing attack at an election rally
On July 13, 2018, ISIS claimed responsibility for carrying out a suicide bombing attack north of Karachi. ISIS announced that more than 80 people had been killed and dozens of others wounded. The attack was carried out by a terrorist codenamed Abu Bakr the Pakistani, who detonated his explosive vest at an election rally in the city of Mastung in the Baluchistan Province (around 544 km north of Karachi, and around 42 km east of the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan). According to ISIS’s claim of responsibility, the fatalities included Mir Siraj Khan, the Pakistani Chief of Intelligence in Baluchistan who was also a candidate in the elections (ISIS-affiliated website www.k1falh.ga, July 13, 2018). Relying on local sources, CNN correspondents in Pakistan reported that the attack killed at least 149 people and wounded 186 (CNN, July 16, 2018).
Suicide bombing attack carried out by ISIS in Kabul
- At least seven people were killed and 15 were wounded when a suicide bomber blew himself up on July 15, 2018, near the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MoRRD) in Kabul (Khaama Press, July 15, 2018). ISIS’s Khorasan Province claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack. According to them, an operative of the organization, codenamed Abu Yazid al-Khorasani, detonated his explosive vest at a gathering of employees at the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development in Kabul. According to the claim of responsibility, there were around 60 casualties (ISIS-affiliated website www.k1falh.ga, July 15, 2018).
 Relations between the US and Russia have deteriorated in recent years. Putin and Trump have met on the margins of various international events and have also spoken over the phone. This was the first official meeting between the two presidents since Trump took office. ↑
 The Separation of Forces Agreement (1974) – an agreement which was signed between Israel and Syria at the end of the Yom Kippur War and the subsequent War of Attrition. This agreement defines the current Israeli-Syrian border and the accompanying military arrangements that include separation between the IDF and the Syrian army through the establishment of a buffer zone into which UN forces have entered. The agreement also stipulated dilution zones, mainly referring to tanks and artillery. ↑
 UN Resolution 338 was adopted by the United Nations during the Yom Kippur War and called on Israel and Syria to stop the fighting and start a process of negotiations. The resolution also called for the implementation of UN Resolution 242, which was based on a British-American initiative following the Six Day War. ↑
 Tell Al-Harrah is a mountain about 950 m high, dominating vast areas in the Golan Heights. Until its fall to the hands of the rebel organizations (2014), it served as a Syrian army base, which included an early warning radar base and a radio transmission tower. On October 5, 2014, Jaysh Al-Ababil, one of the rebel organizations, took over the site from the Syrian army. ↑
 See the ITIC's Information Bulletin from July 9, 2018: “Hezbollah and Iran-handled Shi'ite militias are integrated into the Syrian army in its campaign to take control of south Syria.” ↑