Syria Crisis: Menbij and Ar-Raqqa Situation Report No. 4 (as of 1 May 2017)
Displacement in Ar-Raqqa Governorate intensifies as the fourth phase of the Euphrates Wrath operation begins.
Civilian deaths and damage to civilian infrastructure continues unabated due to ongoing hostilities and intensified airstrikes.
Water supply gradually returns to the governorate, following the opening of some flood gates of Tabqa Dam.
Reports of increased shortages of food and medical supplies in ArRaqqa city continue to be received.
During the reporting period, fighting between the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) continued unabated, resulting in scores of civilian casualties and large displacement movements, contributing to the overall deterioration of the humanitarian situation across the governorate.
Fighting and airstrikes intensified over the course of the month. In the first part of the month, airstrikes and increased shelling occurred in several locations (Ar-Raqqa city, Kasret Faraj towns, Atabaqa city and its suburbs), reportedly killing scores of people. On 13 April, the SDF announced the beginning of the fourth stage of the Euphrates Wrath operation, aimed at establishing control over the remaining ISIL-held areas in the northern countryside of Ar-Raqqa Governorate, and in particular an area commonly referred to as the Jalab valley.
Between 13-25 April, heavy airstrikes affecting civilian infrastructure continued across Ar-Raqqa Governorate, with reports of civilian deaths and large displacement movements, particularly from Teshreen and Al Qadisiyeh towns in the north of Ar-Raqqa city. On 17 April, airstrikes on Al-Abbara village in the northern countryside of Ar-Raqqa reportedly hit a primary school, followed by another airstrike rendering two schools inoperable in Atabaqa town on 23 April. During different incidents between 18 and 24 April airstrikes reportedly also hit ambulances, an IDP camp near Al Baradah village and Al Mansoura town (both outside of Ar-Raqqa city), a crowded market place in Atabaqa town, and field hospitals, killing scores of civilians, including children, medical staff and patients.
Clashes also intensified in Atabaqa town (Al-Thawrah town) as SDF forces attempted to take over the city. Almost 30,000 people were reportedly trapped within the city over the last three weeks, and faced rapidly deteriorating conditions, with water and electricity cut off, and medical points, personnel and supplies running low. As of the end of April, reports emerged that some 3,000 IDPs had managed to flee the city westwards using boats but that most individuals, however, remain trapped within the city. By the end of the reporting period, the SDF had managed to establish full control over the town except parts of the Tabqa Dam, where the ISIL fighters remain entrenched. Unconfirmed reports indicate that negotiations are ongoing to give a safe exit for the remaining ISIL fighters to ArRaqqa city.
In Ar-Raqqa city, ISIL continues to monopolise basic supplies and medicines, contributing to the deterioration of the humanitarian situation. On 21 April, ISIL detonated the Al Panorama water tank at the Southern entrance of ArRaqqa city, and on 23 April, ISIL reportedly bombed the AlHawooz water tank at the Ar-Raqqa city entrance affecting the water supply of many. By 25 April, supplies of baby milk and other food stuff were reportedly unavailable in city’s markets due to the military encirclement of the city since 9 April. Reportedly, thousands of people in the city are relying on regular food distributions from ISIL, which according to some reports has prepositioned stocks in large warehouses in the city.
The issue of the Tabqa Dam, which has been a major concern recently, appears to have been temporarily resolved. On 5 April, video footage taken by the SDF showed three of the dam’s floodgates open. As such, the water is currently passing into the riverbed. The dam still does not carry out its second function – the generation of electricity – due to damages to the control room. Military activities continue in the vicinity of the dam. The possibility of these activities affecting the dam’s integrity remains possible.