Russian Forces and Their Syrian Allies Escalate Their Military Operations in Northwest Syria
Press release (Link below to download full report):
Paris – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) today released its monthly special report summarizing the human rights situation in Syria, outlining the most notable human rights violations documented by the SNHR in July 2022 at the hands of the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria, in which it notes that the Russian forces and their Syrian allies escalate their military operations in northwest Syria.
The 25-page report outlines the most notable violations SNHR documented in July 2022, including the death toll of civilian victims who were killed by the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces, as well as the record of cases of arrest/detention and enforced disappearances. The report also highlights attacks on civilian objects, which SNHR was able to document during this period.
The report draws upon the ongoing daily monitoring of news and developments, and on an extensive network of relations with various sources, in addition to analyzing a large number of photographs and videos.
The report documents the deaths of 86 civilians, including 21 children and eight women (adult female), in July 2022, with the highest percentage of killings being carried out at the hands of other parties. Among the victims were five individuals who died due to torture, in addition to at least two massacres committed by the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria.
The report documents at least 227 cases of arbitrary arrest/detention in July 2022 at the hands of the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria, including 16 children and nine women (adult female), with the largest percentage of these carried out by Syrian regime forces in the governorates of Damascus, then Damascus Suburbs, followed by Daraa.
The report documents at least four attacks on vital civilian facilities in July 2022, one of which was carried out at the hands of Russian forces and caused a massacre, two at the hands of Syrian Democratic Forces, and one at the hands of other parties. Among these attacks, SNHR documented one on an educational facility and two on IDP camps.
As the report reveals, July saw a noticeable increase in the frequency of artillery shelling carried out by Syrian regime forces in the Idlib region in northwest Syria, compared to previous months this year. This shelling in July was focused on the villages and towns of Jabal al Zaweya in the southern, eastern, and western Idlib suburbs, as well as on Sahl al Ghab in the western suburbs of Hama and the western suburbs of Aleppo, close to the line of contact with the armed opposition factions. The towns and villages of the northern and southern suburbs of Idlib and the northern suburbs of Aleppo, far from the contact lines, were also subjected to ground attacks by Syrian regime forces. The report also documents Syrian regime forces’ targeting of some roads in the areas nearby the contact lines using anti-armor missiles, in addition to sniper attacks by Syrian regime forces targeting civilians residing in those areas. A number of areas in Daraa governorate also witnessed a security escalation by Syrian regime forces, which imposed a security cordon around Tafas city, west of Daraa, and erected earth berms around the city, under the pretext of the presence of wanted persons there. At the end of July, Suwayda governorate witnessed clashes between personnel from the local branch of the Syrian regime’s Military Security division and local armed groups, after an armed group affiliated with the regime’s Military Intelligence, led by Raji Falhout, kidnapped a civilian in Shahba city, after which it turned into clashes between the two sides on July 26, which resulted in the killing of 23 militants from both parties, as well as injuring one girl.
The report adds that July also saw an increase in the frequency of Russian overflights and air attacks on northwest Syria compared to the previous two months. The report also documents that Russian helicopters flew almost daily over Manbej city in the eastern suburbs of Aleppo during July, coinciding with Syrian regime forces’ bringing military build-up all along the front lines with the Syrian National Army factions in Manbej and Ein al Arab areas.
In July, the report also records that Syrian Democratic Forces continued to launch ground attacks on the areas of the northwestern and eastern suburbs of Aleppo and the northern suburbs of Raqqa.
In terms of bombings, the report documents the explosion of improvised explosive devices in the governorates of Daraa, Hama, Aleppo, and Hasaka.
The report notes that July saw continuing civilian deaths due to explosions caused by landmines in various governorates and regions of Syria, with these incidents being concentrated especially in the governorates of Aleppo, Hama, Homs, and Damascus Suburbs, and with most of the landmine victims this month being children. SNHR documented the deaths of 14 civilians, including six children, resulting from landmine explosions in July, bringing the total death toll caused by these munitions since the beginning of 2022 to 90 civilians, including 45 children and nine women. The report also records in July the killing of civilians in various governorates, mostly in Daraa governorate, by gunmen whom SNHR has been unable to identify. The report also monitors the continuation of killings by shooting in al Hawl Camp.
The report notes that the living and economic conditions in all regions of Syria continue to deteriorate drastically and constantly at all levels. The areas under the control of Syrian regime forces are still subject to the policy of electricity rationing, which increases the suffering of civilians already enduring the searing summer heat, accompanied by shortages of drinking water, in addition to a continuing rise in the prices of basic grocery staples and their unavailability in the markets. The crisis of domestic gas subsidized by the Syrian regime’s government has also continued, with gas prices rising at a rate that exceeds citizens’ ability to buy it. The rise in fuel prices and their absence in the markets caused a transportation crisis that increased the suffering of citizens.
In northwestern Syria, civilians continued to suffer from the high prices of consumer goods, supplies, and fuels, in light of the almost total lack of purchasing power among those living in the region, due to the spread of unemployment, high poverty rates, and low labor wages. The high temperatures also increased the already extreme suffering of civilians in the area, especially those residing in camps, in the absence of basic services of electricity and drinking water.
During the month of July, the report records a noticeable increase in emigration from most areas under the control of the Syrian regime forces, whether through legal or illegal routes. The report also records an increase in the number of drowning cases in the bodies of water located in northwest Syria and northeastern Syria in July compared to previous months, with residents of the region resorting to the cooling waters in an effort to find relief from the searing temperatures.
In regard to asylum, displacement, and forced displacement, the massive suffering of IDPs in northwest Syria has continued, especially in light of the deteriorating economic conditions and the increase of the level of needs, which has reached record amounts given the reduction in external support required to cover those needs. In July, the report also monitors the continuation of fires breaking out in the IDP camps in the Idlib areas.
The report further reveals that evidence gathered by SNHR indicates that attacks have been directed against civilians and civilian objects, with Syrian-Russian alliance forces continuing to commit various crimes of extrajudicial killing, arrest, torture, and enforced disappearance. In addition, the indiscriminate attacks they have carried out caused the destruction of various facilities and other buildings. There are reasonable grounds to believe that the war crime of attacking civilians has been committed in many cases.
The report stresses that the Syrian government has violated international humanitarian law and customary law, and a number of UN Security Council resolutions, particularly resolutions 2139 and 2042 concerning the release of detainees, as well as resolution 2254, all without any accountability.
The report adds that the instances of indiscriminate and disproportionate bombardment carried out by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces are considered to be in clear violation of international humanitarian law, with such indiscriminate killings amounting to war crimes.
The report calls on the UN Security Council to take additional steps following its adoption of Resolution 2254, and stresses the importance of referring the Syrian case to the International Criminal Court, adding that all those who are responsible should be held accountable including the Russian regime whose involvement in war crimes has been repeatedly proven.
The report also calls on the Security Council to adopt a resolution banning the use of cluster munitions and landmines in Syria, similar to the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons, and to include advice on how to safely remove the remnants of such dangerous weapons.
The report additionally requests that all relevant United Nations agencies make greater efforts to provide food, medical and humanitarian assistance in areas where fighting has ceased, and in internally displaced person camps, and to follow up with those States that have pledged voluntary contributions.
The report calls for the implementation of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (R2P) doctrine after all political channels have proved fruitless through all agreements, the Cessation of Hostilities statements, and Astana agreements that followed, stressing the need to resort to Chapter VII, and to implement the norm of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine, which was established by the United Nations General Assembly.
The report calls on the Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI) to launch investigations into the cases included in this report and previous reports, and confirms the SNHR’s willingness to cooperate and provide further evidence and data, with the report calling on the COI to focus on the issue of landmines and cluster munitions within their next report.
The report also calls on the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria to condemn the perpetrators of crimes and massacres and those who were primarily responsible for dooming the de-escalation agreements, to reschedule the peace process so that it can resume its natural course despite Russia’s attempts to divert and distort it, through empowering the Constitutional Committee prior to the establishment of a transitional governing body.
The report also emphasizes that the Syrian regime must stop its indiscriminate shelling and targeting of residential areas, hospitals, schools, and markets, and stop using prohibited munitions and barrel bombs, as well as complying with UN Security Council resolutions and customary humanitarian law.
The report stresses that the states supporting Syrian Democratic Forces should apply pressure on these forces in order to compel them to cease all of their violations in all the areas and towns under their control, adding that Syrian Democratic Forces must immediately stop conscripting children, hold the officers involved in such violations accountable, and pledge to return all children who have been arrested for conscription immediately.
The report also calls on all Armed Opposition factions and the Syrian National Army to ensure the protection of civilians in all areas under their control, and calls on them to take care to distinguish between civilians and military targets and to cease any indiscriminate attacks.