The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights

The Syrian crisis in November: Moscow and the regime have the “upper hand”, the International coalition is a secondary player, Turkey continues its operations despite the cease-fire and Israel targets the “Revolutionary Guard” in Damascus and its countryside. Civilians are the “weakest link” in the cycle of violence

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights,

November 2019

Only a few months remain until the Syrian crisis enters its ninth consecutive year without a looming solution to save millions of Syrian civilians who have been killed and displaced internally and externally by the parties of the conflict without any concern to the Syrian society and its repercussions on the future of the fabric. Thousands of people have been killed and millions displaced from their homes in and out. Although November has been somewhat quiet in some areas of Syria, it has also seen an upsurge in events and tremendous developments in others, while Russian airstrikes have dramatically escalated in the “de-escalation” zone, Northeast Syria has witnessed a sharp escalation in events since the start of Operation “Peace Spring” launched by Turkey on October 9. Since the beginning of November, the north-east of Syria has seen a continuation of hostilities despite 2 ceasefire agreements. The ceasefire was only “figurative,” as Turkish forces and Turkish-backed factions practically continued their operations in an attempt to advance in more areas within the SDF areas of control, while Russia and the regime now have the upper hand in Syria, where the regime and Russia control nearly 71% of the total Syrian territory, at a time when the international coalition to confront the Islamic State (IS) turned into a secondary player who has taken to the corner and only announced the continuation of its operations against IS cells with the withdrawal of most of its bases in northeastern Syria, and the establishment of new bases in order to “protect oil,” as the US President Donald Trump said.

Throughout that month, from November 1 to 30, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights continued to monitor various developments on the Syrian scene in various areas of control, most of which were alliances and balances shifted, as many awaited what could happen around the clock and what could change the conflict in Syria from moment to moment.

Northern-east Syria: The cease-fire is a “media lie”, Moscow distributes areas of influence and demographic change process is going under the auspices of “Ankara”

Although the ceasefire was declared twice, the first under the US-Turkish agreement and the second under the Russian-Turkish agreement, it was a “media lie” that has no resonance on the ground, according to reliable sources of the Syrian Observatory. Sources confirmed that the military operations did not stop for one day, but that the Turkish forces and factions loyal to it continued to bombard areas under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces, in an attempt to advance and control more areas.

Despite Turkey’s claims that it intends to establish a “safe zone” in the areas under its control, the SOHR have monitored widespread violations against the remaining population, where civilians are subjected to attacks, looting, kidnapping and extortion in exchange for money. “These violations are being ordered by Turkish intelligence, with the aim of forcing the remaining residents to leave their areas in order to effect a demographic change in the region,” reliable sources told the Syrian Observatory on November 26, “families from Idlib are being brought in from their areas and resettled in the houses of civilians Ras al-Ain, in order to bring about a demographic change in the region”. The sources said: “The violations continue, from robbery, looting and kidnapping, to fabricating accusations of civilians belonging to the institutions of self-management and arrest them, and even to request huge sums of money for their release.” According to information obtained by the SOHR, there are still differences between those who are settled in the city, whether by intimidation or coercion, as reliable sources said that “there are differences between those who have been resettled and the Turkish-backed factions, which have reached the degree of insults, and some armed factions have rushed to arrest a number of settlers arriving in the area, accusing them of several charges, including spreading sedition and tarnishing the image of the National Army, and other charges”.

According to reliable sources, since the end of October to November 26, 13 bombs exploded in the Raqqa and Hasakah countryside near the Syrian-Turkish border, as areas like Selouk, Hammam al-Turkman in the northern countryside of Raqqa, and the town of Tal Halaf in the western countryside of Ras al-Ain (Sri Kaneh) north of Hasakah, have witnessed car and motorcycle bombs.

With the successive developments in northeastern Syria, Russia has become the upper hand in the distribution of areas of influence and control in accordance with the agreements concluded with the Syrian Democratic Forces, the Regime and Turkey, thus returning 71.7% of the total Syrian territory to the control of the Regime, according to its military and political interventions to support the regime’s President, Bashar al-Assad. On November 16, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights learned that Russian reinforcements consisting of about 15 Russian military vehicles were stationed at al-Qamishli airport in al-Hasakah countryside. Sources told “Syrian Observatory” that the vehicles carry soldiers coming from Aleppo province, as a confirmation of what was published by “Syrian Observatory”, on 3 November regarding the intention of the Syrian regime to lease “Qamishli” airport to the Russian forces for 49 years to be the headquarters of Russian forces such as what happened with Khammeimim air-base. The SOHR monitored the Russian forces transferring a number of helicopters from “Khammeimim” to Qamishli, as part of Russia’s measures to secure the work of military police patrolling in northern Syria in accordance with the Russian-Turkish agreement.

Prior to October 6, the international coalition against the Islamic State controlled nearly a third of Syria’s territory in cooperation with the SDF, but the US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria prompted a series of changes that led to a shift that made the International Coalition a secondary player content with the protection of oil facilities in Deir Ezzor while it continues its operations against the Islamic State. On November 14, the SOHR learned from that the coalition forces fully withdrew from the Air-base “Sarin” near Ain al-Arab (kobani), the base from which the operation team targeted the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. On November 21, Russian forces confirmed what the Syrian Observatory revealed on November 15 that it had taken control of “Sarin” airport base in the countryside of Ain al-Arab, following the withdrawal of US forces from the base. According to the Syrian Observatory, four Russian helicopters landed at Sarin airport and Russian military police were deployed at the airport. Thus, the Russian forces have deployed in five previous bases of US forces after the withdrawal of the latter, namely, Aoun al-Dadat and al-Asaliyah bases in the area of ​​Manbij, and Mashta al-Nur and Sereen bases in Ain al-Arab countryside (Kobani), in addition to the Ain Issa airport base in the northern Raqqa countryside.

While Moscow controls most of Syria’s territory, the influence of the international coalition to counter the Islamic State has diminished considerably, with the continuation of joint operations against the cells of the Islamic State in cooperation with the Syrian Democratic Forces, where the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights learned that 15 people were killed (9 civilians and 6 SDF members) as a result of the security chaos within the areas of SDF in Deir Ezzor. In light of that chaos, the “SOHR” monitored an escalation of the activity of the Islamic State cells in Deir Ezzor, as members of the group staged an armed attack on the house of a citizen in the city of Al-Basira in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor, several days after the citizen was stopped and blackmailed to pay $10,000 in Zakat, but he refused to pay the said amount. On 6 November, the Syrian Observatory learned that unknown persons threw a detonated explosive device at the home of a doctor in the city of Al-Basira in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor, with a paper and a telephone number found inside it demanding $10,000. On November 3, the Syrian Observatory observed that a group of residents of al-Shuhail town in the eastern countryside of Deir al-Zour ambushed people who blackmailed the area in order to get money on the pretext that it was “zakat” under the threat of death if the money was not paid. Sources told the Syrian Observatory that the people were later released for fear of the brutality of ISIS operatives in the region.

Northwest Syria: “Escalation” in areas of “de-escalation,” electricity and fuel crisis and rebellion against the HTS in Kfar-Tkharim

Despite the relative calm in the de-escalation zones in September and October, November brought with it a massive escalation of hundreds of airstrikes and thousands of ground strikes, with the Syrian Observatory documenting from November 2 to 30, about 1329 air strikes carried out by Russian and Syrian warplanes and Syrian helicopters, in addition to 8110 ground strikes with artillery shells and rockets fired by the regime forces, killing dozens and injuring hundreds of others. Throughout November, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights documented six massacres carried out by Russian forces in Idlib and western Aleppo, while the regime forces carried out a massacre of ground bombardment on a refugee camp north of Idlib, in addition to another massacre carried out by the factions by shelling neighborhoods in Aleppo city. The escalation of military action in November, for the first time since the new Putin-Erdogan agreement at the end of August, caused a higher number of deaths, as the death toll in September and October combined 45 civilian martyrs, equivalent to less than half the number of dead people since Early November.

According to the statistics of the SOHR, November witnessed the death of 117 civilians in Aleppo, Hama, Latakia and Idlib, including 40 children and 23 citizens. The dead are: 69 civilians, including 23 children and 12 citizens in Russian airstrikes, 27 including 11 children and 9 Female citizens were killed due to ground shelling by regime forces, 8 including a woman and two children due to air strikes carried out by regime warplanes, 10 including a citizen and 4 children due to shelling factions of regime forces in Aleppo and Hama countryside, and 3 civilians due to barrel bombs dropped by regime helicopters. Also, aerial and ground bombardment resulted in hundreds of wounded, some of them in serious conditions while others suffered permanent disabilities.

In the areas controlled by the factions and the Hayaat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the security chaos continues largely, as Idlib is witnessing unknown people targeting factions’ members, citizens and buildings belonging to the “factions” with grenades, resulting in the death and injury of dozens. The city of Kfar-Tkharim witnessed major developments during November, as the SOHR spotted large protests on November 7 in the city that evolved to expel HTS members until it became free of any HTS presence, following a protest to refuse the measures of the General Authority for Zakat, which had broken an agreement with the people of Kfar-Tkharim, which obliges it to distribute the zakat of olives within the city of Kfar-Tkharim only. In this context, HTS and its security forces mobilized in several places in Idlib, surrounding Kfar-Tkharim, in order to put pressure on the people and to submit them to the decisions of the General Authority for Zakat and the return of elements of the police station to their work. On November 8, the Syrian Observatory observed demonstrations in different parts of Idlib governorate against HTS and the so-called “Rescue Government”, where the residents of Kfarkila, Maarat Misreen, Saraqeb, Taftanaz, Bench, Harbnoush, Maaret al-Nu’man, Idlib and other areas of the governorate went out. Demonstrators chanted against the “HTS” and its leader, “Abu Mohammed al-Golani” and the HTS-backed so-called “Rescue Government”.

Discontent in Idlib does is not confined to Kfar-Tkharim only, but a decision issued by the Ministry of Economy in the so-called “Rescue Government” caused a wide wave of discontent, after the decision to reduce the weight of bread bag from 800 grams to 760 grams by 9 loaves at a fixed price 200 SP, starting from the beginning in November. On November 3, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitored the demonstration of dozens of citizens in Idlib, rejecting the decisions issued by the “Rescue Government”, which reduced the number of hours of subscription to the electricity service, where protesters chanted against the “Rescue Government” and “HTS”, after it issued a decision to reduce subscription hours to 3 hours only at a price of of 3500 Syrian pounds per ampere.

The price of fuel in November witnessed an unprecedented rise, as the price of a liter of imported diesel oil reached up to 800 Syrian pounds for the first time. As a result, electric power generation was damaged in several areas in the northern countryside of Idlib, as well as in other areas in the western countryside of Aleppo. Some of generators’ owners using diesel fuel have announced they would stop working their throughout “Atareb” city in Aleppo countryside due to the rise of the fuel prices. In the overcrowded towns of Kfar-Tkharim, Armnaz, Silqin and Harim, and several villages in the northern countryside of Idlib, these areas are suffering a severe crisis due to the high prices of diesel fuel, which led to high electricity prices, as the ampere reached more than 3500 Syrian pounds, while running electricity only for two hours daily, not to mention the frequent interruptions during these hours and permanent breakdowns.

Damascus and its countryside, Chaos, insecurity and popular anger, Regime cannot hold security while using oppression

Despite the control imposed by the regime forces on about 71% of the Syrian territory, this control is no more than a mock control, where the areas under the regime’s control are witnessing chaos and insecurity, while the Regime is continuing to deal with a security mentality and torture. Reliable sources confirmed to the SOHR on November 10, that “a member of the regime’s forces was killed and three others were injured when a checkpoint belonging to the Political Security in Kafarbatna town in the Eastern Ghouta of Damascus countryside was targeted by an improvised explosive device”. On November 12, the Syrian Observatory learned that the “State Security” branch, known as “Khatib 215” branch of the regime forces, deployed about 20 security checkpoints in the neighborhoods of Douma city in Damascus countryside. According to information obtained by the SOHR, all checkpoints stop pedestrians to conduct a “security check-up” for women and men. Reliable sources confirmed that the “State Security” agency responsible for the city of Douma prevented dozens of young people who conducted “reconciliation and compromises” from going out from the city to areas of Eastern Ghouta and Damascus, arguing that the compromises they made during the exit of the “Army of Islam” from the city was for the purpose of census and that “State Security” is about to make a new settlement for the people of the city.

On the same day, November 12, the Syrian Observatory learned that military police patrols equipped with wiretaps intercepted the cities of Kafrbtna and Saqba in Eastern Ghouta and toured their neighborhoods for several hours continuously and left for the capital, after a checkpoint belonging to the Political Security in the town of Kafrbtna was targeted with an explosive device. On November 13, the regime’s intelligence services raided the town of al-Sabourah in the western countryside of Damascus, arresting several people and carried out another raid in “Rahiba” city in the eastern Qalamoun of Damascus countryside, on 14 November, where they arrested 7 young men after raiding their houses near the mosque in al-Rahiba, and they were taken to an unknown destination. Rgime’s intelligence also carried out further raids on November 15 in al-Hazza town and Zamalka city in Eastern Ghouta, where they arrested six people from Hazza and eight from Zamalka, although they had already made “compromises” when the opposition factions left the region, but their settlements were rejected. On November 25, the Syrian Observatory learned that the regime’s intelligence raided the city of Dameir, east of the capital Damascus, and launched a campaign of arrests of former members of the opposition factions, while providing a checkpoint for the “military police” around Harasta city. On 26 November, around 100 young people from different parts of Eastern Ghouta were arrested.

In addition to the internal chaos in the regime’s control areas, Israel has re-entered the Syrian crisis line. On November 20, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitored Israeli strikes on Damascus and its countryside, killing 23 people, including two civilian martyrs and 16 mostly Iranian, in addition to five members of the regime forces and air defense forces, including two officers who died as a result of the targeting of air defense batteries by Israeli aircraft at Mazzeh military airport. According to information obtained by the SOHR, Israel targeted warehouses and headquarters of “al-Quds Force” and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in the south of the capital Damascus, Damascus airport, south-west of the capital and in the vicinity of the suburb of Qudsaya, where a woman was injured as a result of the fall of the fragments of a rocket which was destroyed by air defenses of the system. According to sources, “unlike previous times, Israeli missiles have reached the majority of their specific objectives”.

The dollar exceeds 800 Syrian pounds and widespread public discontent with the policies of the regime

In light of the chaos and the insecurity in the areas under the control of the Regime, these areas witnessed an economic crisis in light of the collapse of the Syrian pound, where the regime’s president tried to save his face by issuing a legislative decree to increase salaries for all workers within the state’s public sector, at a time when a gas, fuel and electricity shortages and other crises began to loom. According to reliable sources, 150 thousand Syrian pounds is the average expenditure of the average family, as the expenses doubled to 10 times what it was before 2011, when the dollar was less than 50 Syrian pounds. According information obtained by the SOHR, the areas of influence of the regime witnessed a significant rise in food and consumer prices coinciding with the collapse of the Syrian pound, where it exceeded 800 pounds per the US dollar. Sources told the Syrian Observatory that the Ministry of Supply employees conduct daily patrols in the markets to monitor prices in all governorates under the authority of the Syrian regime. Sources confirmed that many shops were closed as a result of successive increases in exchange rates, in order to preserve their contents.

Southern Syria, 81 attempts of assassinations, attacks and explosive devices in 30 days

In Daraa, as a result of the security chaos in the governorate throughout November, the Syrian Observatory monitored several attacks and assassination attempts in various forms and methods by detonating IEDs, mines, booby-trapped vehicles and shooting. The SOHR counted 81 attempts during the past 30 days, as a result of the insecurity and chaos that spread in most of the different areas of control, where these attempts resulted in the death of 26, they are: 7 civilians, including a citizen and a child, in addition to 8 regime forces and armed loyalists and collaborators with the security forces, 6 of the faction fighters who made settlements and reconciliations and are now in the ranks the security services, including former leaders, and 4 Non-Syrian militias affiliated “Hezbollah” and Iranian forces, in addition to 1 of the Russian-established “Fifth Corps”.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has documented the death of 805 people, including 277 civilians (44 children and 29 citizens), with 29.3% civilians. According to Syrian Observatory statistics, November casualties are distributed as follows: 79 citizens including 27 children and 17 females killed in the bombing of Russian warplanes, 21 citizens including 3 females and 4 children killed in shelling and shooting by regime forces, and 13 citizens including a female and two children were killed due to warplanes shelling, 16 citizens were killed under torture in regime forces prisons, one civilian was shot dead by SDF forces, 7 citizens including a child as a result of shelling of factions, 3 people executed by HTS, one man and his wife were killed by Israeli planes, and 3 citizens killed at the hands of Russian troops. Also, 19 citizens including 8 children and a female, were killed by explosions of mines and explosive devices, and one citizen was killed in shelling by international coalition aircraft. In addition, 13 citizens, including a child, were killed in separate assassinations in Syrian territory. 37 citizens, including a child and a female, were killed in a booby-trapped explosion, 10 citizens, including 2 females, were killed in unknown circumstances, and two citizens died as a result of the Turkish military operation “Peace Spring”

Regarding the casualties of the fighters, the SOHR monitored the death of 241 Syrian fighters from the Islamic factions, the fighting factions and other movements and organizations, in addition to the killing of 71 Syrian Democratic Forces and 137 regime forces, and the killing of 38 members of the Popular Committees, the National Defense Forces and the militants loyal to the regime of Syrian nationality, as well as  16 of the fighters are loyal to the Regime of non-Syrian nationalities, most of them are from the Shiite sect. The Syrian Observatory also documented the death of 66 fighters of Islamic militant factions, ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra (Al-Qaeda in the Levant), the Army of Immigrants and Ansar and the Turkistan Islamic Party of non-Syrian nationalities, in addition to 9 who remain unidentified as of the moment.

At the same time, the Syrian Observatory has counted the death of 25, including a citizen and 10 children, as a result of the explosion of remnants of war that do not find any attention by the concerned organizations, which still threaten the lives of thousands of Syrians, especially as winter enters and some search for truffles which is used in heating.

8 years and 9 months since the start of the Syrian revolution, which turned into a humanitarian catastrophe that led to the death of thousands and the displacement of millions internally and externally. While the killing machine continues to claim the lives of Syrians in various areas of control, the SOHR renews its appeals to the international community and relevant international organizations, Such as the United Nations and the Security Council, to take a decisive decision to end the Syrian crisis and stop the bloodshed by the various parties involved in the Syrian crisis, despite all attempts to find solutions and operations of displacement and manipulation of the future of the Syrians and Security Council resolutions and the truce, and despite the reduce of the intensity of the killings due to the international desire to seek a solution; the bloodshed continues on Syrian territory, the killing and fighting continues without peace, and the ceasefire was only a war break between the warring parties on the Syrian geography. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights again calls on the international parties to work hard and continuously do their utmost to stop the bloodshed of the Syrian people.

The SOHR also appeals to the parties to the conflict to remove civilians from their ongoing struggle for influence and authority in various regions of Syria, especially in the disastrous humanitarian conditions of the Syrian people, who have been displaced in camps that have no basic life and humanitarian conditions, especially with Winter, shortages of heating and electricity, fuel crisis, bread and humanitarian aid. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also calls on concerned international organizations to intervene to raise awareness of the dangers of unexploded remnants of war, and to work to remove them and keep them away from civilians who fall as a result of their explosion due to lack of awareness of their dangers. The Syrian Observatory also appeals to the concerned relief organizations to intervene and consider the situation of thousands of displaced Syrians who are living in the open without finding the sustenance of their day, after they left their homes and properties to escape the shelling, killing and destruction that they are suffering everywhere. The Syrian Observatory stresses that the international silence towards what is happening in Syria is a sign of the inability of the world system to manage humanitarian disasters, crises and wars that plague civilians who have nothing to do with wars of power and influence, in which civilians are used as fuel for the flames of the war that never extinguishes.

The SOHR renews its commitment to continue to monitor and document the massacres, violations, war crimes and abuses against humanity committed against the Syrian people, in addition to publishing statistics about them and human losses to work to stop the continuation of these crimes, violations and atrocities against the Syrian people, and to refer the perpetrators in order to be prosecuted before the Special State Courts, so that they do not escape punishment for the crimes they committed against a people who were and still dream of reaching a state of democracy, freedom, justice and equality for all components of the Syrian people.