No Fewer than 206 Attacks on Vital Civilian Facilities in 2023, 69 Percent of Which Were Carried Out by Syrian Regime Forces
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, as well as documenting the most prominent human rights violations committed by the parties to the conflict and the dominant forces in Syria in the previous month, December 2023. Amongst other subjects, the report notes that there were no fewer than 206 attacks on vital civilian facilities in Syria in 2023, 69 percent of which were carried out by Syrian regime forces.
The 30-page report provides details of the most prominent violations documented in December 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 our team’s 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 December, the report reveals, SNHR documented the killing of 91 civilians, including 14 children and 13 women (adult female), most of whom were killed by other parties. Among these, the report documents 11 deaths due to torture at the hands of the parties to the conflict and controlling forces in Syria.
As the report further reveals, November saw the documentation of 232 cases of arbitrary arrest/detention by the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria, with these detainees including 17 children and six women. The majority were detained by Syrian regime forces in the governorates of Rural Damascus (Rif Dimshaq), then Damascus, and then Aleppo.
Additionally, a total of 206 attacks on vital civilian facilities were documented in 2023, including 148 attacks by Syrian-Russian alliance forces. Of these 206 attacks, 78 targeted educational facilities (schools and kindergartens), 18 targeted medical facilities, and 33 targeted places of worship. The report further notes that December witnessed at least 21 attacks on vital civilian facilities, including 10 on educational facilities and one on a place of worship. October saw the highest number of attacks on vital civilian facilities in one month throughout 2023, accounting for approximately 42 percent of the total, followed by September with 25 percent.
The report additionally reveals that December saw the continuation of the Syrian regime’s ground attacks on northwestern Syria, with SNHR documenting sporadic incidents of bombardment that were concentrated in southern and eastern rural Idlib, western rural Aleppo, and Sahl al-Ghab in western rural Hama, all areas close to the dividing lines between regime and other forces. Regime attacks also targeted Idlib city and western rural Aleppo and southern rural Idlib, which are all far from the dividing lines. Notably, some of these attacks targeted vital civilian facilities, killing and injuring dozens of civilians, as well as damaging many service facilities. Meanwhile, Russian forces continued carrying out aerial attacks in northwestern Syria, which were concentrating in the areas close to the dividing lines between areas controlled by regime and other forces in Idlib governorate.
Elsewhere, the report also notes, peaceful civilian demonstrations continued in regime-controlled areas of southern Syria in December for the fifth consecutive month, in the governorate of Suwayda. The protestors continued to condemn Bashar Assad for the dire state of the country, and to call for a regime change. These protests are continuing at a time of multiple, unprecedented and increasingly dire economic, living, and human rights crises in Syria. Moreover, the report records that, in northeastern Syria, regime forces and the SDF continued to engage in skirmishes. While regime forces have been targeting areas in eastern Deir Ez-Zour governorate on the east bank of the Euphrates River where the SDF are stationed, the latter have also been bombing regime-held areas on the river’s western bank. Although these skirmishes, which also involved sporadic clashes between the two sides, caused damage to residential buildings and public facilities, no casualties were recorded.
Meanwhile, clashes also continued between the Deir Ez-Zour Military Council’s forces and the SDF in Deir Ez-Zour in December, with the fighting, which began on August 27, entering its fourth month. As in November, however, these clashes were more sporadic than previously and were geographically limited to eastern Deir Ez-Zour. Also in December, as the report notes, we recorded shells striking military bases housing US-led International Coalition forces, with this shelling originating from sites where Iranian militias are stationed within regime-controlled territories. In retaliation, the US-led International Coalition has carried out rocket attacks on those militias’ sites in eastern Deor Ez-Zour. The report also documented drone attacks targeting both coalition bases and Iranian militias’ enclaves in eastern rural Deir Ez-Zour. However, SNHR has not yet been able to conclusively identify the parties responsible for these attacks as of this writing.
December saw 10 civilians, including one child and two women (adult female), killed by landmine explosions. This brings the total number of victims documented as being killed by landmines in Syria in 2023 to 114, including 26 children and 11 women. On the other hand, December also saw more killings of civilians at the hands of unidentified assailants across Syria, mostly in the governorates of Suwayda, Daraa, and Deir Ez-Zour.
Meanwhile, In December, economic, living, and security conditions, as well as public services, continued to deteriorate across all sectors in areas under Syrian regime control. Regarding the power crisis specifically, the regime government continues to implement a rationing policy. In December, residents in some regime-held areas had to grapple with increased weekly subscription costs for their Ampere-based generator. Similarly, the water sector saw increased costs across all tiers. Moreover, civilians in regime areas are still struggling with price increases for all types of goods, particularly for foodstuff, vegetables, red meat, and chicken. Red meat prices in particular have seen an unprecedented rise, with the Syrian regime’s government allowing the export of sheep and other livestock abroad.
In northwestern Syria, civilians’ already severe suffering also continues to worsen under continuously 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 situation has been the declining value of the Turkish Lira (TRY). 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 has further deteriorated in areas in eastern Deir Ez-Zour governorate, exacerbated by clashes which continued for the fourth consecutive month. Overall, these clashes have made it even more difficult for civilians in these areas to secure water and day-to-day essential requirements such as food and medication.
The suffering of IDPs in northwestern Syria also continued to worsen in December 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 the one hand, and by widespread unemployment and virtually non-existent purchasing power among residents of the area on the other. The report also documented more fires in December, while many IDPs camps in northwestern Syria were affected by the harsh winter weather conditions that severely damaged many IDPs’ tents. In northeastern Syria, IDPs’ suffering also continued in December in many of the irregular camps located in western rural Deir Ez-Zour, with these IDPs still grappling with inadequate access to basic services, and lack of water and power, all further exacerbated by the harsh winter weather conditions.
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.