Syrian Arab Republic: Recent Developments in Northwestern Syria Situation Report No. 7 - As of 29 January 2020
• Since 1 December 2019, nearly 390,000 people have fled from their homes, mainly from southern Idleb and western Aleppo governorates, mostly escaping hostilities by moving to urban centers and IDP camps in northwest Idleb. Tens of thousands of others have reportedly moved to areas such as Afrin, A’zaz and Al-Bab in northern Aleppo governorate.
• Most of the people displaced in northwest Syria since 15 January have been displaced multiple times before, with each new displacement introducing new risks and intensifying existing vulnerabilities.
• Daily bombardments perpetuate the unstable security situation in northwest Syria, affecting civilian infrastructure including IDP camps, schools, health centers and hospitals.
• Winter conditions are compounding the vulnerability of displaced people.
Many who fled are in urgent need of humanitarian support, particularly shelter, food, health, non-food and winterization assistance.
• Devaluation of the Syrian Pound is driving up prices and unaffordability of essential goods and services in northwestern Syria, exacerbating the dire situation and reliance on humanitarian assistance.
Civilians living in northwest Syria have been enduring a drastically worsening humanitarian situation as hostilities continue to intensify since November 2019. From 1 December 2019 to 27 January 2020, nearly 390,000 people – around 80% of whom are women and children – were displaced in northwest Syria, mostly from large population centers such as Saraqab and Ma’arrat An Nu’man, as well as smaller towns and villages in other parts of southern Idleb governorate. Many have been displaced multiple times, with each new displacement compounding experienced risks and vulnerabilities. With further mass displacement taking place since 27 January, this number is likely to continue increasing significantly.
Most people displaced since December 2019 have been moving towards northern Idleb as well as Afrin, A’zaz and Al-Bab areas of northern Aleppo governorate. With an estimated 400,000 people displaced in northwest Syria between May and August 2019 and nearly 390,000 people displaced in northern Syria since December 2019, increasingly large numbers of people are being squeezed into an increasingly small pocket of the northwest. The large numbers of displacements are severely exacerbating shelter and accommodation shortages across northwest Syria; thousands of families are reportedly temporarily accommodated in public buildings, schools and mosques, relying on local charities to provide immediate assistance including cooked meals; hundreds of other families are reportedly sheltering in unfinished houses, shops and other sub-standard buildings, as well as in open spaces including public parks, with no access to basic services.
Since 15 January, heavy aerial bombardment and artillery shelling has been affecting western Aleppo governorate, leading to 38,295 people moving from the area within the first four days, with some 10,700 IDP movements to Atareb and some 4,500 to Dana sub-districts near the border with Turkey. In total, 162,000 people were displaced in northwest Syria between 15 and 26 January due to hostilities mainly in western Aleppo and southern Idleb governorates. Of these, some 121,000 reportedly remained in areas of northwest Syria held by NSAGs, while some 41,000 moved to areas such as Afrin and A’zaz in northern Aleppo governorate, with many in Afrin reportedly unable to return due to restrictions on movement and risks of explosive hazards.
Impact on Civilians
The violence is taking a significant toll on civilian lives and infrastructure. OHCHR monitoring from 15 to 23 January documented confirmed incidents in which at least 81 civilians including 13 women, 14 girls and 20 boys were killed as a result of airstrikes and ground operations by parties to the conflict. Of these, eight civilians including four women and two boys were killed in Aleppo city and 44 civilians including seven women, 13 girls and 11 boys were killed in western rural Aleppo alone – more than 50% of the total. In 2020 thus far, 21 people have reportedly been killed and 48 people have been injured by projectiles hitting the city of Aleppo. On 15 January, approximately 100 air raids were reportedly carried out across Idleb and more than 28 barrel bombs dropped over areas such as Ma’arrat An Nu’man and Kafruma. 21 communities in Idleb were affected by airstrikes, of which six communities also came under artillery shelling. Reportedly, 19 civilians were killed and at least 68 wounded as a result of airstrikes on an industrial area and a market in Idleb city, which also caused extensive damage to infrastructure. Tens of people were injured from an airstrike on a market in Ariha city which also damaged a fence of a school. A barrel bomb damaged a Civil Defense center in Shnan village in Jabal Al-Zaweya area in south rural Idleb governorate and airstrikes on Banin partially destroyed the Omar Bin Al-Khattab mosque. Eight people including five children were killed in the airstrikes and 23 people including nine children were injured. Retaliatory attacks in New Aleppo and Az-Zahraa neighborhoods of Aleppo city between 21 and 25 January reportedly resulted in the deaths of five civilians including a child and injured six people.
Civilians are still unsafe in destination areas, as improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and other unexploded ordinances (UXOs) continue to place people’s lives at risk. In A’zaz, an area which received hundreds of displaced people since 15 January, a large vehicle-borne IED reportedly exploded on 26 January in proximity of a gas station, which exacerbated the explosion. Reportedly, one child was killed and some 30 people were injured as a result. Furthermore, hostilities were reported to have affected several civilian facilities, including schools, hospitals, health centers and IDP camps, while two primary healthcare centers (PHC) in western Aleppo countryside – one in Abzemo near Atareb and one in Zarbah in Jebel Saman district – reportedly suspended operations as a result of the hostilities.
The rise in civilian casualties during this week raises serious concerns regarding civilian protection. Equally concerning is that civilians are likely to continue to be severely affected by hostilities as territorial gains of populated areas continue. Between 15 and 21 January, 35 residential communities came under the control of GoS in southeastern Idleb governorate, including Abu Jreif and Tal Abu Jreif villages in eastern Idleb governorate. Humanitarian partners have maintained their delivery of assistance to areas shifting control in northwest Syria despite difficulties in accessing some areas. As aerial and artillery bombardments continued to affect multiple locations in northwest Syria, including in western Aleppo, on 27 January GoS forces advanced to within 2 km of Ma’arrat An Nu’man city, instigating a renewed mass exodus of civilians from towns and cities in the area, including from Saraqab and Ariha, with thousands of vehicles reportedly jamming the main roads heading north and northwest towards the border with Turkey. With ground operations shifting the southeastern and eastern frontlines of the Idleb de-escalation area, civilians in proximity of these areas are confronted with having to choose between staying and fleeing either to escape the hostilities or for the longer term, a decision based on considerations about immediate safety and whether to remain in NSAG-controlled areas or cross into GoS-controlled areas.