No Fewer than 85 Attacks on Vital Civilian Facilities in October, Including 78 by Syrian-Russian Alliance Forces in Northwestern Syria
Press release: (Download the full report below)
The Hague – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) today released its monthly special report summarizing the human rights situation in Syria during the previous month, documenting the most prominent human rights violations committed by the parties to the conflict and the dominant forces in Syria in October 2023. Amongst other things, the report stresses that Syrian-Russian alliance forces carried out no fewer than 85 attacks on vital civilian facilities in northwestern Syria.
The 27-page report provides details of the most prominent violations documented in October 2023, including the civilian victims killed by the parties to the conflict and controlling forces during this period, in addition to providing a summary of the month’s arrests/detentions and enforced disappearances, along with other information. It also sheds light on the attacks on civilian objects which SNHR was able to document during this period.
In compiling our reports, SNHR relies on continuous monitoring of incidents and news reports and on information gathered by a wide network of trusted contacts from dozens of diverse sources, in addition to exhaustive analysis of a large number of photos and videos.
In October, the report reveals, SNHR documented the killing of 161 civilians, including 34 children and 44 women (adult female), most of whom were killed by other parties. Among these, the report documents the killing of two individuals who died to torture. The report also records no fewer than four massacres.
As the report further reveals, October saw the documentation of 193 cases of arbitrary arrest/detention by the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria, with these detainees including 13 children and four women. The majority were detained by Syrian regime forces in the governorates of Rural Damascus (Rif Dimshaq) and then Damascus.
The report further notes that October witnessed at least 85 attacks on vital civilian facilities, 74 of them by Syrian regime forces, which were concentrated in the governorates of Idlib and Aleppo. Of these attacks, the report notes, 27 targeted educational facilities, 11 targeted medical facilities, and 13 targeted places of worship.
The report additionally reveals that October saw a further escalation by Syrian regime forces in northwestern Syria. Some of the regime attacks were indiscriminate, while others deliberately targeted certain objects. Similarly, some of the attacks targeted heavily populated civilian areas located far from the dividing lines with armed opposition factions, while other attacked areas close to the dividing lines. October’s attacks were concentrated on Idlib city, and a number of areas in western, southern, eastern, and northern rural Idlib, as well as areas in western rural Aleppo governorate and the Sahl al-Ghab in western Hama governorate. The report also records the use of cluster munitions and incendiary munitions in some of these attacks targeting civilian areas far from the frontlines. Elsewhere, the report notes, peaceful civilian demonstrations in regime-held areas continued in October for the third consecutive month, mostly in the governorate of Suwayda. The protestors condemned Bashar Assad for the dire state of the country, and called for the downfall of the regime. Additionally, the report records that some areas under the control of Syrian Democratic Forces were targeted in Turkish airstrikes, most of which were carried out using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), commonly known as drones. October also saw two civilians, one of them a child, killed by landmine explosions. This brings the total number of victims killed by landmines since the beginning of 2023 to 101, including 25 children and eight women. Meanwhile, more assassinations of civilians by unidentified assailants were recorded across Syria in October, mostly in the governorates of Aleppo, Daraa, and Deir Ez-Zour.
Meanwhile, economic, living, services, and security conditions continued to deteriorate across all sectors in areas under Syrian regime control, with a particularly sharp decline seen in the services sector and prise rises for all kinds of goods. In regard to this issue, the report stresses that the volatility in fuel prices led to price increases for all kinds of goods, due to the increase in manufacturing and transportation costs, further crippling public life in regime-controlled areas. In northwestern Syria, meanwhile, civilians’ already severe suffering continues to worsen due to deteriorating economic and living conditions in parallel with rising prices for food and grocery supplies, all intensified by the people’s waning purchasing power due to widespread unemployment and poverty, especially in those areas housing internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps, with wages for those in work in these areas also continuing to decline. Further exacerbating the dire living conditions was the declining value of the Turkish Lira (TRY), which has plummeted to a rate of 27 TRY to 1 USD. The intensified bombardment by Syrian-Russian alliance forces that targeted populated civilian areas and service facilities resulted in the displacement of tens of thousands of families, further exacerbating the suffering of people in these areas at all levels.
The report additionally notes that the situation in northeastern Syria remains similarly dire, with worsening living and security conditions. Prices of food, fuel and other essential commodities in the region continue to rise due to the controlling forces’ failure to regulate the market. The situation further deteriorated following clashes in September, which continued, though more sporadically, in October. Overall, these clashes made it even more difficult for civilians in these areas to secure water and day-to-day essential requirements such as food and medication. In October, Hasaka governorate saw a water and power crisis resulting from some of the stations being rendered inoperative by the Turkish airstrikes on the area.
Furthermore, the suffering of IDPs in northwestern Syria also continued to worsen in October in relation to both living conditions and the ongoing humanitarian crisis, with the humanitarian needs of millions of IDPs reaching unprecedented levels. The crisis is further intensified by the ever-increasing prices, especially of food supplies, on one hand, and by widespread unemployment and virtually non-existent purchasing power among residents of the area on the other. Moreover, the report records more massive displacement waves, with tens of thousands of families fleeing mostly areas in Idlib governorate in light of the intensified attacks by Syrian-Russian alliance forces.
The report stresses that the evidence collected suggests that attacks have been deliberately directed at civilians and civilian facilities. Syrian-Russian alliance forces have committed a large variety of crimes, ranging from extrajudicial killings to arrests, torture and enforced disappearances. The report notes that these attacks and indiscriminate bombardment by air and ground forces have caused the destruction of homes, schools, hospitals, shops and other structures, and that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the war crime of attacking civilians has been committed in many cases.
The report affirms that the Syrian regime has violated international humanitarian and customary law, and UN Security Council resolutions, in particular resolution 2139 and resolution 2042 related to the release of detainees, as well as resolution 2254, all without any accountability.
The report further notes that the continuing indiscriminate and disproportionate shelling by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is a clear violation of international humanitarian law, with the group’s indiscriminate killings amounting to war crimes.
The report calls on the UN Security Council to take additional measures following the adoption of Resolution 2254, and stresses the need to refer the Syrian issue to the International Criminal Court and to hold all those involved, including the Russian regime, accountable since all have been proven to be involved in the commission of war crimes.
The report recommends that the UN Security Council should adopt a resolution prohibiting the use of cluster munitions and mines in Syria similar to the existing prohibition on the use of chemical weapons, which should include information on how to safely dispose of the remnants of these dangerous weapons.
The report also calls on all relevant United Nations agencies to make far greater efforts regarding the provision of humanitarian, food and medical assistance in areas where hostilities have ceased, in camps for internally displaced persons, and in their follow-up on funding from states which have pledged the necessary voluntary contributions.
The report further calls for the application of the principle of responsibility to protect (R2P), especially after the exhaustion of political steps through all the agreements, statements of cessation of hostilities and Astana agreements issued to date, stressing the need to resort to Chapter VII and apply the R2P principle, approved by the United Nations General Assembly.
The report additionally recommends that the International Independent Commission of Inquiry (CoI) should open investigations into the incidents detailed in this report and previous reports, confirming the Syrian Network for Human Rights’ readiness to cooperate in any such endeavors and to provide further evidence and details. It also calls for the issue of mines and cluster munitions to be highlighted in the CoI’s next report.
The report also calls on the UN’s Special Envoy to Syria to condemn the perpetrators of all crimes and massacres and to denounce those who are primarily responsible for disregarding agreements reached on reducing the escalation of violence, as well as calling on him to restore the peace process to its normal form after Russia’s attempts to distort it, and to present the Constitutional Committee to the transitional government.
The report further stresses the need for the Syrian regime to cease its indiscriminate shelling and targeting of residential areas, hospitals, schools and markets, and its use of prohibited munitions and barrel bombs, and to comply with United Nations Security Council resolutions and customary humanitarian law.
In addition, the report emphasizes the need for the countries supporting the SDF to press the Kurdish-led group to cease all its violations in all the areas and towns under its control. In the report, the SNHR again calls on the SDF to immediately end its conscription of children, to hold all personnel involved in doing so accountable, and to undertake to immediately return all children arrested for military conscription to their families.
The report further recommends that armed opposition factions and the SNA should ensure the protection of civilians in all areas under their control, should distinguish between military and civilian targets, and should refrain from any further indiscriminate attacks.
The report additionally stresses the need for humanitarian organizations to develop urgent operational plans with a view to securing dignified, safe shelter for internally displaced persons; and to provide care facilities and mechanisms such as medical establishments, schools and ambulances with markings visible from long distances, as well as making a number of additional recommendations.