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Executive Summary for May 17th

We review the key developments in Syria, including the military stating the government is in control of a large swathe of central Syria, the OPCW saying chlorine gas was likely used in February’s Idlib attack, and a U.N. warning about potential Idlib offensive.

Published on May 17, 2018 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Government Restores Control Over Territory in Central Syria

The Syrian military on Wednesday announced it restored government control over a large area between the cities of Homs and Hama after the last rebel fighters evacuated the area, the Associated Press reported.

“The brave armed forces, with support from allies, have completed the clearing of 1,200 square kilometers (463 square miles) in rural Northern Homs and Southern Hama, and have restored security to 65 villages and towns,” Brig. Gen. Ali Mayhoub was quoted as saying.

The announcement comes after more than 30,000 people, including rebels and their families, left Homs and Hama as part of a Russian-brokered evacuation deal that grants them safe passage to opposition-held areas in Syria’s north.

The victory has allowed the Syrian government to secure roads between three of Syria’s main population centers – Aleppo, Homs and Damascus – for the first time since 2011.

It also marks the first time since the start of the conflict that the Syrian government has been in control of most of Damascus, Homs and Hama.

OPCW: Chlorine Likely Used in February Attack on Idlib Province

A global chemical weapons watchdog on Wednesday said chlorine gas was likely used in an attack on the Syrian province of Idlib in early February, according to the AP.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) did not identify the perpetrator of the attack because it is not within its mandate to assign blame for the use of chemical weapons.

But the OPCW said its investigators “determined that chlorine was released from cylinders by mechanical impact in the al-Talil neighborhood of Saraqeb.”

The OPCW’s director-general, Ahmet Uzumcu, condemned the use of chemical weapons following the findings of the mission.

“I strongly condemn the continued use of toxic chemicals as weapons by anyone, for any reason, and in any circumstances,” Uzumcu said in a statement. “Such acts contradict the unequivocal prohibition against chemical weapons enshrined in the Chemical Weapons Convention.”

Syrian Civil Defense rescue workers and the Syrian American Medical Society had said on February 4 that several people suffered breathing difficulties after a suspected poison gas attack on Saraqeb.

U.N. Warns Against Potential Assault on Idlib

The United Nations on Wednesday warned that a government assault on opposition-held Idlib province could be more destructive than the campaign to recapture the Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus, Agence France-Presse reported.

“If we see a Ghouta scenario in Idlib, this could be six times worse, affecting 2.3 million people,” Staffan de Mistura, the U.N.’s special envoy to Syria, told the U.N. Security Council.

De Mistura also noted that most of the civilians residing in Idlib have fled to the province from other areas “and will have nowhere else to go” if a military offensive targets the opposition stronghold.

However, he said he was “encouraged” by talks between Turkey, Russia and Iran in the Kazakh capital of Astana earlier this week, which addressed ways to avoid a “worst-case scenario in Idlib.”

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