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Executive Summary for April 18th

We review the key developments in Syria, including U.S. talks to establish a coalition of Arab military forces that could replace its troops in Syria, the Syrian army preparing for an offensive south of Damascus, and a U.N. security team inspects Douma.

Published on April 18, 2018 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Washington in Talks to Establish Coalition of Arab Forces

The U.S. is reportedly in talks to establish a coalition of Arab military forces that could replace its military contingent in Syria, CNN reported on Wednesday.

Citing unidentified sources familiar with internal discussions, CNN said Washington is seeking contributions from Egypt, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for a force that could help stabilize Syria once the so-called Islamic State is defeated and counter Iran if the U.S. chooses to reduce its footprint in the country.

The Wall Street Journal was the first to report on talks to establish an Arab force on Monday.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Tuesday that the kingdom would be willing to send troops to Syria if Washington agreed to add an on-the-ground component to the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS, according to Reuters. He said that Saudi Arabia is engaged in talks with the U.S. regarding “what kind of force needs to remain in eastern Syria and where that force would come from.”

U.S. president Donald Trump said earlier this month that he would pull U.S. troops out of Syria very soon. However, Saturday’s joint missile attack by the U.S., the U.K. and France pulled Trump back in and raised questions over Washington’s Syria policy.

The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. has said that Washington’s work in Syria is not done, suggesting that U.S. troops may stay in the country. But American lawmakers who attended a classified administration briefing on Tuesday seemed to indicate that the U.S. president is still seeking a pull-out, according to CNN.

“I think the administration’s plans are to complete the efforts against ISIS and (then) not be involved,” said Sen. Bob Corker, who attended Tuesday’s briefing. “Syria is Russia and Iran’s now. They will be determining the future. We may be at the table, but when you’re just talking and have nothing to do with shaping what’s happening on the ground, you’re just talking.”

Syrian Army Prepares Offensive Against Southern Damascus Region

The Syrian army shelled one of the last areas outside its control near Damascus on Tuesday, in what Reuters described as “preparatory shelling” for a wider assault on the region.

Citing a commander in the pro-government alliance, Reuters said that the government’s new offensive would target ISIS and al-Qaida-linked militants in the Yarmouk camp – Syria’s biggest camp for Palestinian refugees – and the al-Hajar al-Aswad district.

The commander said that rebels in the adjoining Beit Sahm area had struck an evacuation deal with pro-government forces.

According to Reuters, “recovering the Yarmouk camp and neighboring areas south of the city would give Assad complete control over Syria’s capital.”

Besides the rebel pocket south of Damascus, the commander said that pro-government forces were trying to secure rebel evacuations from the Eastern Qalamoun mountains.

Meanwhile, Syrian state TV said on Tuesday that rebels in the town of Dumayr, northeast of Damascus, had agreed to surrender their besieged enclave to government forces, Reuters said.

U.N. Security Team Inspects Douma Ahead of OPCW Investigation

A Syrian diplomat said a U.N. security team visited the town of Douma on Tuesday to decide whether chemical weapons investigators could safely visit the area, the Associated Press reported.

The comments by Syria’s U.N. ambassador, Bashar Ja’afari, came one day before investigators from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) are expected to start investigations into a suspected chemical attack on the town of Douma that killed scores of people earlier this month.

The OPCW said last week that its fact-finding mission was supposed to start investigations on Saturday, April 14. But Russia and the Syrian government have denied inspectors access because of “pending security issues,” Ahmet Uzumcu, the OPCW’s director general, said this week.

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