Syria Crisis: North East Syria Situation Report No. 14 (1- 15 August 2017) [EN/AR]
Intensified air strikes, ground shelling and heavy fighting, along with SDF advances into Ar-Raqqa city, have raised serious protection concerns for civilians remaining in Raqqa city, directly in the line of fire.
Between 18,000 and 25,000 civilians are estimated to remain trapped in Ar-Raqqa city facing increasingly deteriorating humanitarian conditions. Civilian infrastructure, such as hospitals and bakeries, continue to be hit by airstrikes of the international coalition. Civilians trapped in Ar Raqqa city risk being killed by ISIL snipers or mines if they try to flee, or being used as human shields if they remain.
Clashes escalated between the Government of Syria (GoS) forces and ISIL militants in Deir-ez-Zor city and its surrounding neighborhoods.
Following a polio outbreak in Syria, UNICEF, the World Health Organization and local partners vaccinated some 355,000 children under 5 years old in Deir-ez-Zor and Ar-Raqqa governorates.
Since April 2017, 12,715 people have been displaced from Deir-Ez-Zor to Aleppo, within Deir-ez-Zor, Idleb and Ar-Raqqa.
Since the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) initiated the offensive in Ar-Raqqa city against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on 6 June 2017, SDF forces have reportedly captured over 60 per cent of the city.
Throughout the reporting period, the SDF continued to slowly advance towards the centre of Ar-Raqqa city from the south, east, and west. ISIL is reportedly seeking to concentrate civilians inside the the city centre and alledgedly preventing civilians from fleeing. Civilians are reportedly residing in only five of 24 neighborhoods.
The humanitarian situation in the city continues to be dire. Food shortages continue to be reported. According to the July 2017 WFP Monthly Market Price Watch Bulletin, the price of bread in Ar-Raqqa city has increased by more than 100 percent in the last month. On 12 August, the Al-Fardous bakery was reportedly destroyed by an airstrike.
Currently, the “23 February bakery” is the only bakery remaining in the city, reportedly producing limited amounts of bread. Vegetables, fruits and meat are allegedly no longer available within the city markets, and many shops have reportedly been looted.
Furthermore, electricity supply remains erratic, there is limited access to clean water, and medicine supplies are running critically low. Very few doctors remain in the city, with unconfirmed reports of the death of three doctors in the second week of August. Informal care points still exist, but they are not always staffed by fully trained medical professionals and have only the most basic medical supplies available. ISIL is reportedly monopolizing water wells and boreholes, forcing civilians to resort to drinking water from unsafe sources. ISIL has reportedly distributed some aqua tabs, however, civilians remain exposed to the risk of contracting water-borne diseases, for which treatments are no longer available inside Ar-Raqqa city.
On 17 August, REACH published the fourth rapid assessment to monitor the humanitarian situation in Ar-Raqqa city. Key findings include:
Civilians have continued to leave Ar-Raqqa city, though departure rates have reduced.
The presence of minesand ERWs is a major concern.
The situation across the five remaining populated neighborhoods of the city continues to deteriorate.
Residents face constant threats to their safety including airstrikes, indirect fire, improvised explosives, mines, and sniper fire. The lack of fresh food and potable water pose significant threats to the safety and well-being of those remaining in Ar-Raqqa city.
On 1 August, airstrikes on the Al-Bosraya neighborhood in Ar-Raqqa city reportedly killed at least nine civilians and injured many others. On 3 August, Coalition airstrikes reportedly destroyed the National Hospital of Raqqa city. The attack reportedly resulted in the death of six nurses and the injury of one doctor, while the hospital sustained major infrastructural damage. On 7 August, local media reported that over 22 IDPs were killed and many others injured (mainly women and children) in airstrikes on Ar-Raqqa city, while many others are still suspected to be trapped under rubble. As military operations in Ar-Raqqa city continue, clashes, shelling, and airstrikes are likely to continue, causing further civilian casualties and outward IDP movement.
Reports continue to be received of people attempting to flee Ar-Raqqa city, despite ISIL reportedly planting landmines along the escape routes in the southern part of the city. Between 3–8 August, an estimated 3,000 people fled from ISIL-controlled areas in Ar-Raqqa city towards SDF-controlled areas south the city. Most IDPs crossed the Euphrates river, exposing themselves to sniper fire, and paying high fees (up to SYP 100,000) to use unsafe transportation modes to reach the southern banks of the river.
On 9 August, a group of more than 350 civilians managed to flee the ISIL-controlled Al-Amin and Al-Tasheeh neighborhoods to the SDF-controlled Al-Furat neighborhood of Ar-Raqqa city. Twelve people, including women and children, died in the incident, while another 10 died in a mine explosion that went off after they reached the southern side of the river. While the surviving IDPs eventually reached Al-Kassrat, and the ten injured individuals were transferred to Al-Tabqa military hospital, this incident shows the perils civilians face when attempting to flee Ar-Raqqa city.
In the southern countryside of Ar-Raqqa Governorate, clashes in Sabka and Maadan sub-districts resulted in increased displacement movement. On 3 August, local sources reported that around 5,000 families were displaced from Maadan and Sabka towns, following Government of Syria (GoS) forces advances in the area. Alleged reports of misconduct by GoS forces, such as looting, rape, confiscation of property and valuables emerged, following the GoS forces takeover of this area.
Reports of forced conscription, particularly of child recruitment, continue to be a protection concern. Initial reports indicate ongoing campaigns of forced conscription in areas under SDF control, including cases of recruitment of boys and girls. Meanwhile, ISIL continues to carry out campaigns forcibly recruiting young men in areas under their control.
During the reporting period, clashes escalated between the GoS forces and ISIL in Deir-ez-Zor city and surrounding neighborhoods. The GoS continues to advance towards Deir-ez-Zor Governorate from the south.
On 3 August, ISIL reportedly distributed fliers in ISIL-held areas in Deir-ez-Zor city and its countryside calling for a general mobilisation of men between 20 – 30 years of age, and throughout the reporting period, reportedly continued to forcibly conscript males, including minors, into their ranks in areas under its control. On 12 August,
ISIL reportedly abducted at least 30 youth from Muhasan area to an unknown destination. On 16 August, ISIL reportedly arrested some 30 men in Al-Buleil and Toob in rural Deir-ez-Zor for forced enlistment. The same day,
ISIL reportedly handed over the bodies of 25 child soldiers from Al-Mayadin and Abou Kamal cities to their parents, a mere ten days after the children had been forcefully conscripted by ISIL.
At the same time, over the reporting period there were increased attempts of young men to dodge the general mobilization called by ISIL by fleeing or being smuggled out of ISIL-controlled areas. On 5 August, local sources reported that around 300 men between the age of 20 – 30 years, escaped ISIL-held areas towards areas under SDF control. Between 14-16 August, around 70 males (aged between 18-30) were reportedly smuggled for a fee of SYP 300,000 per person from Al-Mayadin and Abou Kamal cities in eastern rural Deir-ez-Zor to SDF-controlled areas.
Airstrikes by GoS and allied forces, as well as the Coalition, continue to result in increasing numbers of civilian casualties. On 1 August, local media reported that airstrikes struck residential areas in Al-Kamsheh, Al-Showeit, Al-Doweir and Al-Ashara (eastern countryside of the governorate), resulting in 60 civilian casualties and many more injuries. On 5 August, airstrikes on the Al-Keshkiya town in eastern rural Bou Kamal city reportedly hit a house reportedly used by ISIL as a military training camp for child soldiers, killing and injuring many of them. On 8 August, an airstrike impacted a maternity and pediatric hospital in Al Mayadin Sub-district in Deir-ez-Zor Governorate. The attack resulted in the death of four civilians and the wounding of 30 others, as well as partial damage to the facility and to one ambulance. On 12 August, airstrikes reportedly destroyed the Fayez Mansour School in Abu Kamal city (Deir-ez-Zor countryside), damaging it completely. Also on 16 August, airstrikes on the Masrab area in the western countryside of Deir Ez-Zor reportedly killed eight civilians and injured eleven others. On 16 August, airstrikes on Masrab area in the western countryside of Deir-ez-Zor resulted in the death of civilians and eleven injuries.
According to the July 2017 WFP Monthly Market Price Watch Bulletin, in rural Deir Ez-Zor, the poor market functionality and low food supplies resulted in a 3 per cent increase in the total cost of a standard food basket. On 9 August, local media sources reported a significant decrease in the prices of livestock and property in the eastern countryside of Deir-ez-Zor governorate. Reportedly, the prices of houses dropped by 30 per cent and the prices of livestock dropped by 60 per cent.
In the besieged parts of Deir-ez-Zor city, the humanitarian situation for the estimated 93,500 people remains extremely difficult. The average retail prices in the market are 19 per cent higher for rice and 150 per cent for bulgur compared to same commodities in Damascus.
As of 15 August, WFP has completed 299 high altitude airdrops since April 2016, dispatching approximately 5,839 mt of mixed food commodities and other life-saving supplies on behalf of other humanitarian actors.