Syria Crisis: North East Syria Situation Report No. 15 (1- 31 August 2017) EN/AR]
Up to 15,000 civilians remain trapped in Ar-Raqqa city and face increasingly deteriorating humanitarian conditions and protection concerns. Despite the risks of exposure to mines, snipers and military operations, some civilians have been able to escape through newly established corridors.
Clashes escalated between the Government of Syria (GoS) forces and ISIL in Deir-ez-Zor city and its surrounding neighborhoods.
Following a polio outbreak in Syria, UNICEF, WHO and local partners vaccinated some 252,768 children under 5 years old in Deir-ez-Zor and Ar-Raqqa governorates.
29,936 people displaced from 1 – 31 August, 51,344 since 1 July 2017
333,861 people reached with food assistance from 1 – 31 August
252,768 children under 5 vaccinated against polio in Ar-Raqqa and Deir-ez-Zor Governorates
6,760 hygiene kits distributed benefiting more than 33,800 people across various IDP sites
Throughout the reporting period, civilians in Ar-Raqqa city continued to be significantly implacted by the advance of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) towards the centre of Ar-Raqqa city with the support of US-led Coalition airstrikes. The SDF continue to control approximately 60 per cent of the city. Civilians continue to reside in only five of the 24 neighborhoods and seek support to leave the neighborhoods. Up to 15,000 civilians remain trapped in the city, increasingly exposed to hostilities; at risk of being killed by airstrikes, mortar and artillery shelling, ISIL snipers or mines should they try to flee, or being used as human shields should they remain. The increase in the number of airstrikes conducted in and around Ar-Raqqa city- with public reporting from the Coalition documenting 1,241 airstikes on or near Ar-Raqqa city in August alone- has resulted in large numbers of civilian casualties, including women and children.
Conditions for civilians trapped in the city continued to further deteriorate due to severe food, water, and medical shortages as well as the highly inflated prices of goods when available. Reports indicate that wounded civilians were dying due to lack of health care and basic commodities. Reaching the few operational trauma units inside the city is becoming increasingly difficult due to the lack of fuel to operate vehicles, as well large amounts of debris blocking the majority of roads. After the national hospital was rendered inoperable in an airstrike and the obstetrics hospital ceased operations due to military activity in the area, only one pharmacy continues to provide basic medicines. The presence of bodies in the streets are reportedly contributing to a further risk of the spread of diseases. Food shortages and shop closures continue to be reported. A general power outage prevails in the city, and it is no longer possible to operate power generators due to lack of fuel. Water supply through the main network continues to be cut forcing civilians to rely on unsafe water extracted from wells resulting in the deadly spread of water borne-diseases, especially among children. Furthermore, due to indiscriminate airstrikes, residents are unable to access the only functioning bakery remaining in the besieged neighborhoods. Dozens of children have reportedly been orphaned and have no alternative caretakers.
On 18-19 August, 78 civilian deaths were reported in residential neighborhoods due to airstrikes, the majority of which were women and children. On 20 August, local sources reported that airstrikes on Ar-Raqqa city hit a residential building in the Al-Badou neighborhood, reportedly killing over 40 civilians and injuring many others. The following day, on 21 August, in the same neighborhood 18 people were reportedly killed by airstrikes. On 20 August, local sources reported a large number of casualties in the Al-Sakhani neighborhood, where 40 people were reportedly killed due to airstrikes. In the same neighborhood, around 23 people were reportedly killed on 21 August. On 29 August, airstrikes on Ar-Raqqa city reportedly hit the Al-Wahda residential neighborhood, killing 13 people. These reports cannot be independently verified due to lack of access and the limited flow of information from the city.
In the Ar-Raqqa countryside, clashes in Sabka and Maadan Sub-districts resulted in increased displacement. Since 28 August, heavy clashes occurred around Maadan sub-district in the eastern rural areas of Ar-Raqqa between Government of Syria (GoS) forces and ISIL. On 28 August, in the ISIL-controlled areas of the eastern countryside of Ar-Raqqa governorate, ISIL reportedly executed 29 men on allegations of affiliation with GoS and arrested over 50 others.
On 22 August, Ali Al-Za'tari, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria, and Ramesh Rajasingham, the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria a.i, expressed their deep concern over the significant number of civilians reportedly killed due to the use of explosive ordnances, including through Coalition airstrikes, against ISIL targets in densely populated neighborhoods of Ar-Raqqa city. On 31 August, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein stressed that the battle to regain Al-Raqqa and Deir-ez-Zor from ISIL must not be waged at the expense of the lives of civilians trapped and besieged in these areas.
Civilians in Deir-ez-Zor governorate continue to be impacted as military operations, airstrikes and clashes intensified with thousands displaced in the past month due to both the increase in airstrikes and fears of further ISIL attacks.
The price of water trucking has reportedly increased as water tanks have been hit/impacted by airstrikes. The eastern countryside has been suffering from water cuts for more than ten months due to power outages, forcing people to use water from the Euphrates River which is deemed unsafe. On 26 August, an airstrike reportedly destroyed Ashara bridge in al Ashara city south of Deir-ez-Zor city after being rehabilitated by the local population for the transportation and dispatch of commodities. People now depend on boats which are expensive and difficult to use. The destruction of this bridge also resulted in high food and NFI commodity prices and difficulty in transporting emergency medical cases. Following the price increases, many merchants have withdrawn food commodities from the market for personal use and stock-piling, further contributing to inflated prices.
Civilians have reportedly been prohibited from moving outside the ISIL-controlled area though some civilians are using informal routes to leave the area. Numerous risks have been reported when attempting to leave ISIL-controlled areas, such as harassment, arrest, landmines, snipers and forced conscription. Women continue to be barred from travelling without a male relative and commonly faced intense questioning or harassment even when accompanied. ISIL has repordedly established ‘mobile’ checkpoints in the Deir-ez-Zor countryside to prevent people from displacing. Despite these restrictions, over 2,500 families were reportedly displaced from various rural areas of Deir-ez-Zor to Al-Hassakeh governorate between 24-27 August as GoS forces advanced in rural Deir-ez-Zor.
On 15 August, ISIL reportedly carried out a series of arrests, arbitrarily arresting males in its areas of control in Deir- ez-Zor governorate. This comes shortly after ISIL announced a policy of forced conscription, which led to hundreds of men fleeing to the Areesheh IDP camp in Al-Hassakeh governorate. The majority of young men who have reached the legal age for military service have left the area so the arrests reportedly largely affected those who are under the legal age. On 19 August alone, ISIL reportedly captured about 60 men in the eastern countryside of Deir-ez-Zor, including 13 children between 14 and 16 years. On 25 August, ISIL reportedly forcibly conscripted some 30 men from 40 families who were fleeing towards SDF-controlled areas. The remaining family members were forced to return to their places of origin. The same day, ISIL reportedly detained over 40 men for forced conscription from various neighborhoods in Deir-ez-Zor city.
The increased intensity of clashes and airstrikes, by both the Government of Syria (GoS) and allied forces, and the coalition, against ISIL, continue to result in increasing numbers of civilian casualties. On 16 August, three airstrikes on Masrab area in the western countryside of Deir-ez-Zor reportedly resulted in 8 civilian deaths and 11 injuries. Moreover, two men were aledgedly killed due airstrikes on Sbeikhan. On 17 August, a women and her son reportedly died due to airstrikes on Masrab town and a man also died due to airstrikes in Zbara. On the same day, an airstrike hit the government bakery in Kishkiyeh town and an airstrike in the eastern countryside of Al-Mayadeen resulted in the death of one civilian. On 20 August, three people were killed in airstrikes on an IDP camp in southern AlKharita town, in the western countryside of Deir-ez-Zor. Field reports indicate that two children were killed on 23 August in the Hawayej Thyab Shamiyeh area, while a women was killed and two people were injured by airstrikes on Kharita town. In addition, on the same day airstrikes on Al-Mayadeen city in rural Deir-ez-Zor reportedly killed six people and injured ten others.
On 3 September, GoS forces advanced from the south and southwest countrysides towards besieged areas in Deir ez Zor city where around 93,500 people live. On 5 September, GoS forces broke the three-year ISIL-enforced siege on the GoS-held parts of Deir Ez-zor city, with the GoS Ministry of Defense officially announcing the lifting of the siege. The situation on the ground remains volatile. Conditions for the population in the city had been increasingly dire due to sub-standard hygiene conditions in the area, due to bodies that have not been properly buried, damaged sewage systems and accumulated waste in open areas. Commercial activity has reportedly re-started with commodities flowing into the city following the lifting of the siege.
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