Syria Crisis: Northeast Syria Situation Report No. 16 (1 - 30 September 2017)
Up to 7,000 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 fled. ** The UN is aware of reports – at time of issuing - that the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) have reportedly taken control of Raqqa city, with the last remaining civilians evacuated over the past few days. The UN is not able to verify first-hand the situation in the city due to lack of access.
Displacements from and within Deir-ez-Zor Governorate continued due to heavy fighting and airstrikes. An estimated 63,902 people have been displaced from 1 September to 8 October.
The overall protection situation for civilians remains of high concern across north-eastern Syria, with ISIL reportedly actively preventing civilians attempting to flee the area.
Large influxes of IDPs from Deir-ez-Zor Governorate are straining existing capacities and services in IDP sites resulting in increased protection needs.
150,652 people displaced from Ar-Raqqa and Deir-ez-Zor governorates between 1 July – 8 October
261,784 people reached with food assistance from 1 – 30 September in ArRaqqa,
Aleppo, AlHasakeh and Deir-ezZor governorates
156,392 children 6-59 months and pregnant and lactating women (PLW) reached with nutrition support
15,486 hygiene kits distributed benefiting more than 74,000 people across various IDP sites
Throughout September, hostilities between the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) including shelling, sniping and intensive airstrikes, continued to result in civilian deaths, widespread destruction, and deteriorating humanitarian conditions for civilians remaining in Ar-Raqqa city. As of 30 September, the SDF is estimated to control approximately 80 per cent of the city, while ISIL remains in control of less than 20 per cent of the city. More than 80 per cent of the city is estimated to be uninhabitable as a result of the destruction.
However, in late September small numbers of returnees started to arrive and some basic services were restored to a few neighborhoods, including the delivery of limited amounts of humanitarian assistance inside the city. Major protection concerns remain for the estimated 7,000 people remaining in three ISIL-controlled neighborhoods of Ar-Raqqa city. Following SDF advancement on the civilian-populated neighborhoods, those civilians unable to escape across front lines have been moving further north within the city to areas perceived to be less dangerous.
Civilians continue to face significant protection risks resulting from intensified airstrikes, landmines, and sniper attacks, significantly limiting freedom of movement of civilians within these neighborhoods. Furthermore, initial reports indicate that ISIL is exacerbating freedom of movement restrictions by imposing a penalty of 100,000 SYP ($465 USD) fine for each person trying to exit ISIL areas and forcing her/him to return to her/his home area.
Local sources continue to report shortages of healthcare, safe drinking water and basic commodities, which have reportedly led to several deaths. Supplies of flour and rice are largely depleted and there is almost no availability of meat in the city. Only one bakery is reportedly functioning in the central districts of Ar-Raqqa city. ISIL is reportedly providing limited food assistance, while some civilians are seeking to purchase food on credit. Civilians remaining in the city are largely depending on food stocks left behind by those who have already fled to the countryside. The situation has resulted in several reports of unverified cases of malnutrition. Public health concerns in Ar-Raqqa city are amplified by reports of water-borne diseases, the presence of unburied corpses, and the lack of access to healthcare. As of 15 September, ISIL had reportedly restored limited services at the Ar-Raqqa National Hospital, which was destroyed by an airstrike on 3 August. However, the hospital remains inaccessible to civilians, with the lack of diesel and severe shortage of medical supplies further limiting its functionality.
Despite the continued clashes in and around Ar-Raqqa city, local sources reported some limited movement back to the city. Following a period of four months of displacement, about 700 families arrived to the Al-Yarmouk neighborhood in south-western and south-eastern outskirts of Ar-Raqqa city, after being released from IDP camps in SDF-controlled areas. Returns to the area remain unsafe. Returnees are considered to be most vulnerable, as returning to the city is the option of last resort. Initial reports indicate that access to water, electricity, or healthcare services is extremely limited in the area. The nearest healthcare facility is located seven kilometers (km) away, in Hawi Elhawa. Another 115 families reportedly arrived to the Al-Ma’moun neighborhood in south-eastern Ar-Raqqa city in late September.
On 19 September, local authorities distributed approximately 700 food baskets containing beans, oil, rice, and wheat in western Ar-Raqqa city. Each food basket supports a five-person household for 30 days, cumulatively reaching an estimated 3,500 people. These distributions represent the first humanitarian assistance to reach Ar-Raqqa city since November 2016. On 27 September, the main water station in Ar-Raqqa resumed operations following repairs and the delivery of diesel after more than five months. Despite some technical and electrical issues, unavailability of diesel was the main factor affecting the full operation of the station. However, local authorities are now providing 2,000 liters of diesel on daily basis to sustain the supply of clean water.
The International Coalition continues to carry out heavy airstrikes concentrated on the city center and its vicinity. On 7 September, local sources reported that the last operational private hospital and Abu Thar Al-Ghafari school in ArRaqqa city were destroyed by airstrikes. On 8 September, airstrikes on Ar-Raqqa city reportedly hit the Al-Sharakseh mosque in the Al-Amin neighborhood claiming the lives of at least eleven civilians, including three children. On 13 September, 11 civilians, mostly women and children, were killed following an airstrike in Al-Bado area in Ar-Raqqa city. On 23 September, airstrikes on the Al-Wahda neighborhood reportedly killed 13 people and injured many others.
On 24 September, seven civilians were killed, including one woman and two children, due to shelling in Mathlum village. On the same day, four more civilians were injured due to an airstrike on Muhasan village. On 26 September, local sources reported 21 people were killed due to airstrikes on a building in Al-Badou neighbourhood in Ar-Raqqa city. On 27 September, airstrikes on Ar-Raqqa city reportedly hit residential areas in Al-Hadiqa Al-Baydaa, killing about 35 people and injuring scores of people. On 29 September, unconfirmed sources reported that airstrikes killed nine civilians in the stadium area in Ar-Raqqa city.
Governorate On 5 September, the Government of Syria (GoS) Ministry of Defense announced the Syrian armed forces had broken the three-year-long ISIL-imposed siege on the GoS-held parts of Deir-ez-Zor city that had affected 93,500 people.
On 7 September, the UN was officially informed by the GoS that road access to some of the besieged areas of Deirez-Zor city had been reopened. Medical cases in a critical condition were transported outside the city to receive adequate treatment.
On 8 September, SARC delivered the first of nine humanitarian aid convoys that reached Deir-ez-Zor city by land during the reporting period. Convoys delivered food, health supplies, shelter supplies, hygiene kits, medicines, and other relief supplies. Following the commercial and humanitarian deliveries, prices for basic food commodities in Deir-ez-Zor have since stabilized.
The breaking of the ISIL-imposed siege on Deir-ez-Zor city has only resulted in a shift in access conditions within the city, while control patterns of the city remain similar. While humanitarian convoys have since been delivered to the city, the wider area still remains a front line, with ongoing hostilities and continued ISIL presence in some parts of the city. In practice this means that the availability of food items in the GoS-controlled areas of the city has improved significantly; however, ISIL continues to shell these areas, cutting access lines and putting civilian lives at risk as hostilities between the GoS and allied forces and ISIL continue in the vicinity of the city.
Meanwhile, clashes continued between the GOS forces and ISIL in the countryside of Deir-ez-Zor city and its vicinity in areas east of the city and near the western banks of the Euphrates River, as well as on the western banks of the river. Initial reports indicate that “normal life” returned to Harabish and Al-Qusour neighborhoods in the western part of the city, however ISIL continues to target the area. In Deir-ez-Zor city, local sources reported that ISIL ordered civilians residing in neighbourhoods under its control to leave to the countryside, amidst reports of a potential GoS attack on Al-Hwiqa neighbourhood.
On 28 September, ISIL fighters attacked GoS forces in Deir ez-Zor’s western countryside approximately 52 km south of Deir-ez-Zor city resulting in the cut-off of the Palmyra – Deir-ez-Zor highway. Consequently, aid deliveries through this road, which has been used to deliver supplies since the beginning of the month have been temporarily suspended. In addition, SDF forces also launched an offensive into Deir-ez-Zor from the north, putting the two forces in close proximity.
Concerns remain for the safety and protection of civilians, civilian infrastructure and humanitarian actors across Deirez-Zor governorate, as the wider area is still a front line and parts of eastern and northern rural Deir-ez-Zor remain ISIL-controlled. Extensive IED contamination in the area, however, is expected to hinder IDPs from fleeing the SDFISIL frontlines. On 20 September, GoS forces reportedly opened corridors in Deir-ez-Zor for those wishing to leave areas where ISIL fighters are positioned. Government authorities called on locals in ISIL-held areas to head to the nearest GoS military point for assistance.
Daily reports of multiple civilian casualties and injuries due to airstrikes and shelling highlight an alarming trend of increasing numbers of civilian casualties. On 14 September, local sources reported that airstrikes on an informal settlement hosting IDPs in Jdid Ekeidat town, 20 kilometers south of Deir ez-Zor city, reportedly killed 120 people, including 100 children. On 15 September, 12 people including nine children were reportedly killed in Khasham town by air strikes. On 21 September, mortar shelling on Deir-ez-Zor city hit a SARC bread distribution site, killing six civilians and injuring 26 others. On 28 September, an estimated 21 civilians were killed, the majority of whom are women and children after airstrikes in Al Mayadin village. On 29 September, 15 civilians were killed and 13 injured when 50 families tried to flee Jdidet Bikara from Jdidet Bikara to Basira area due to the airstrikes on the area. On 30 September, about 11 civilians were killed and 15 injured in Bu Kamal and one woman was killed on the airstrike in Aljala’a town in Deir-ez-Zor governorate. On the same day, nine people were killed and more than 20 injures in Baqras town and 15 injuries were recorded among civilians following airstrikes in Zbara town.