The war in Syria is entering a new phase, as Bashar al-Assad’s government forces, backed by Russia and Iran, are already claiming victory. While the rest of the world focusses on the fight against ISIS, the Assad regime continues its campaign to force civilians opposed to his government to surrender.
However, this “victory”will not bring stability, as it will make the displacement of millions of people permanent. Nor will hasty reconstruction, since so much of the population is left out.
821,210 still under siege
Since the fall of Aleppo, the Assad regime has been emboldened to accelerate its “surrender or die” strategy which forces communities to surrender through campaigns of siege, starvation, bombardment of civilian targets and other war crimes. In their Siege Watch report published today, Dutch peacebuilding NGO PAX and Washington-based think tank The Syria Institute warn that more than 420,000 people in the besieged Eastern Ghouta are at direct risk of becoming the next victims in this campaign.
According to Siege Watch, an estimated 821,210 people in 34 communities remain trapped under siege. By far the majority of sieges are maintained by forces loyal to President Assad. Eastern Ghouta is the largest community under siege. Another 1.7 million people live in “Watchlist areas” which are under immediate threat of being fully besieged.
Two besieged communities that surrendered during the last Siege Watch reporting period are Barzeh and Qaboun in Damascus. Thousands of civilians were forced to leave, and Qaboun was depopulated entirely. In total, 12 communities have been depopulated entirely. Thousands of people from besieged communities have been deported to other provinces, mainly Idlib and Aleppo. These population transfers constitute one of the Assad government’s goals – to cleanse certain regions of the country of people sympathetic to the opposition. Under international humanitarian law, these are war crimes and may even amount to crimes against humanity.
In the Siege Watch report published today, Raqqa has been added to the Watchlist. As Coalition-backed SDF forces close in on the last ISIS-fighters in this northern city, an estimated 30,000 people are trapped and the civilian death toll continues to rise. Some people have been killed directly during bombing raids, and others have died as a result of the siege imposed on the town in June.
In addition, at least six suspected chemical attacks were launched against opposition fighters in Jobar and Ein Tarma during May-July 2017. In one case, showed symptoms consistent with exposure to a nerve agent.
This is the 7th quarterly Siege Watch update, and covers the period of May-July 2017.