SDF-held areas in February | Alarming crimes against children…escalating protests…ongoing security campaigns against corruption and ISIS cells
Areas under the control of Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) experienced, in February 2021, scores of incidents of security disorder and violations against human rights. In this context, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) have monitored and tracked all key developments in SDF-held areas in the previous month.
Raping and killing of children: alarming crimes top the scene and ignite popular anger
The most prominent development in areas under the control of the Autonomous Administration in northern and north-eastern Syria in February 2021 was crimes of killing and raping children, as on February 18, a little girl called Shahd Al-Haj was found dead near an abandoned building in Al-Raqqah city. The perpetrators were arrested a few days later. Meanwhile, the city’s residents participated in a demonstration during which the demonstrators demanded the execution of the murderers of “Shahd Al-Haj”. The demonstrators headed to the girl’s house then they toured the streets of Al-Raqqah city, lifting placards with slogans on them read “where are the children’s rights?! We trust our judicial authorities…For which guilt was Shahd killed?! No to violent against children…We demand the execution of the murderers of Shahd”.
Two days after this heinous crime, a grocer raped a little girl under the age of 12, as she was buying groceries when the 60-year-old man closed his shop and attacked the child, before the neighbours noticed and beat him brutally and handed him over to the Internal Security Forces “Asayish”.
While on February 26, a married man raped a four-year-old girl after taking advantage of his wife’s absence, as his wife worked as a nanny for the neighbourhood’s children.
According to sources, the man gave the child some kind of narcotic substance before raping her, while local sources said that the criminal was an alcoholic and had a bad reputation in the neighbourhood. Meanwhile, “Asayish” arrested the criminal and imprisoned him until the investigation was completed.
A few days later, SOHR activists monitored several residents demonstrating in Al-Qahtaniyah town (Tirbespi) in east Al-Qamishli countryside, demanding the execution of Abd Al-Ahad Kuriya who raped the four-year-old girl. According to SOHR sources, several Christian clergies called for imposing the heaviest penalty on the “criminal” who is a Christian.
Worsening crises and escalating protests
The areas controlled by the Autonomous Administration are struggling with several crises, as it is the case across the entire Syrian geography. SOHR would like to shed light on the most prominent crises in these areas. One example, among many, was the bread crisis in Al-Darbasiyyah city in Al-Hasakah countryside which is deteriorating a day after another, although there are three automated bread bakeries and nearly 20 other stone bread bakeries which produce thousands of bread packs every day.
According to SOHR sources, there are several factors behind the worsening bread crisis, including the following:
- Suspension of providing state-subsidized high quality bread to the city.
- Flour shortage, as the Syrian regime does not provide flour to the three automated bread bakeries.
- The increasing price of bread baked in the stone bread bakeries, which many of residents rely on.
- Administrative corruption.
- Looting of bread bakeries’ allocations of flour and yeast.
- The increasing population of the city, as several people has been displaced from Ras Al-Ain and Abu Rasin to Al-Darbasiyyah.
Moreover, several residents had cut off the highway in Theban town in Deir Ezzor countryside, and closed the al-Jazeera bakery after expelling its workers due to the unfair distribution of bread and the mistreatment of residents by the bakery’s workers. While the Internal Security Forces (Asayish) taken over “Manouk” mill and grain stores administrated by regime employees in Al-Qamishli city. According to SOHR sources, the “Autonomous Administration” maintained the regime employees, giving them the option to stay in their posts and receive their monthly salaries or to leave. The Autonomous Administration later brought affiliated guards to guard the mill and grain stores. It is worth noting that Al-Jazerah mill in Al-Qamishli city was also run by the “Autonomous Administration”.
On the other hand, farmers in Al-Susah, Al-Baghouz, Al-Safafenah, Al-Marashidah and Al-Arqoup towns have difficulty irrigating their orchards, particularly pomegranate orchards their areas are famous for, as farming is a major source of income to the people of Deir Ezzor countryside, especially with the region’s land being fertile and close to the Euphrates river.
The farmers are still working on rehabilitate their orchards and planting new trees instead of those have got dried for not being irrigated for months, after the area’s people have fled from the military operations between SDF and the International Coalition on one hand, and ISIS on the other nearly two years and half ago.
In a testimony to SOHR, a farmer says “I have eight dunams of farmlands that had been planted with pomegranate, almond and citrus. When I returned to my land, after I had been displaced, I found out that all trees have been completely dry. I lost my source of income. I uprooted all trees in my orchards and planted new trees in light of the astronomically inflated prices. Reforestation of every dunam costs approximately four million Syrian liras in the wake of the high prices of planting equipment. Besides, I have to wait for years until the new trees bear fruit. Also, I have to fix a new irrigation system connected to the nearby river, after the earlier equipment has been stolen.”
The region’s residents are struggling with the high cost of rehabilitation of farmlands and the equipment needed for irrigation in light of the lack of peasant associations which have ceased functioning for unknown reasons.
Moreover, SOHR had monitored dozens of civilians awaiting in long lines in front of gas cylinder centres in Hajin city, which is under the control of Syria Democratic Forces in Deir Ezzor countryside, in order to exchang their gas cylinder. This development coincided with popular discontent over the high prices of many materials and lack of fuel in some SDF-held areas, at a time when dozens of oil tankers entered daily into the Turkish-backed areas through crossings in Aleppo countryside, al-Hasakah and Al-Raqqah.
Meanwhile, civilians in Al-Hasakeh countryside are experiencing difficulties in securing electricity despite the availability of the underlying determinant to produce it, in terms of the proximity of oil wells and primitive refineries spreading in the SDF-held areas.
Civilians rely on special generators by”Ampere” consumption system, where they pay for a certain value of “Ampere” with a monthly or weekly subscription in return for specific hours of electricity. The price per amp varies from one region to another, ranging from 2,500 to 5,000 Syrian pounds, which is unaffordable for poor families living in the area in the cities and rural areas in al-Hasakeh, al-Qamishli and al-Derbasiya where electricity is being cut off 20 hours a day.
In light of the long power cut and high prices of “amps”, some civilians resorted to installing solar panels and large batteries to store electricity in order to save it for a longer period, while not all families are able to install them, because of their high initial cost, which is cost about $400.
The agricultural and industrial sectors were severely affected by the power outage, as farmers converted electric water pumping engines into diesel engines, dramatically increasing the burden on farmers.
Moreover, small industries and crafts have also declined, and production has decreased as the cost of operating generators increased, which have become a cornerstone of industries.
Electricity reaches the areas held by the “Self-Administration” from the Euphrates Dam for four hours a day, while Al-Suwaydiya and al-Shaddadi plants operate with a quarter of their production capacity, as a result of neglect by “Self-Administration” and the repeated need for maintenance.
The “Self-Administration” controls all electricity production resources, including dams and thermal power plants, where the “Self-Administration” attributes the lack of electricity to lack of water from the Euphrates River, which operates the entire turbines, and the lack of maintenance parts for these plants.
It is worth noting that SDF took control of the Euphrates Dam in 2017 after battles with the Islamic State, and it controls Al-Suwaydiya plant in Rmilan and the Shaddadi thermal plant, Syria’s largest power generation resources.
Furthermore, some areas in Deir Ezzor countryside suffer from a shortage and pollution of drinking water, where some people resort to drilling artesian wells whose water is usually undrinkable, or to drawing water from the Euphrates River for domestic use through tanks, costing the people approximately 6,000 Syrian pounds for a single water transport. These wells are also contaminated like the rest of the water resources available in the region.
The suffering of the residents of al-Sama’a neighbourhood in the city of Al-Kishqiya in eastern countryside of Deir ez-Zor, has been going on for 10 years, with drinking water being cut off and contaminated, where residents of the neighbourhood have made several requests to the “Self-Administration” officials to solve the drinking water problem, but to no avail to date.
According to local sources, the replacement of the 1,500-meter-long pumping line from the main street will allow water to reach their homes, without receiving a clear response from water officials in the area.
Also, nearly 13 water stations were put out of service, on February 15, as fuel provided by “Autonomous Administration” to these stations ran out more than a week earlier. These water stations were as follows: Ma’adan mini station, Al-Bahra, Hawama, Abu Al-Hasan, Al-Keshmeh, Al-Sha’fah, Al-Bo Badran, Al-Susah, Al-Safafenah, Al-Baghouz, Al-Baghouz mini station, Al-Hajanah, Al-Suwar, Al-Hariji, Southern Al-Hasakah station. Accordingly, over 300,000 people in these areas were deprived from drinking water, amid growing popular discontent in the wake of dire humanitarian situation throughout Syria.
ISIS escalating operations leave tens of casualties
In February 2021, Islamic State’s escalating operations continued in areas under the control of SDF and the Autonomous Administration in north and north-east Syria region, especially with the recent ISIS resurgence. ISIS cells carried out several attacks and committed assassinations through various ways, including shooting, using sharp tools and planting IEDs and landmines throughout SDF-held areas. SOHR activists documented over 63 operations in February carried out by ISIS cells in SDF-held areas in Deir Ezzor, Al-Hasakah, Aleppo and Al-Raqqah, including attacks, gunfire and explosions.
According to SOHR statistics, the number of people killed in these operations since early February reached 46. The breakdown of fatalities were as follows: Ten civilians, including two women and a child, and 36 members of SDF, Asayish Forces and the Self-Defence forces. Also, the operations in this period left tens of civilians and military personnel injured.
Meanwhile, four ISIS members on motorcycles toured Al-Sabha village in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor, calling upon the relatives of SDF members and threatening to kill their sons if they did not give up working for SDF in no more one week. This development came in the wake of escalating operations by ISIS cells throughout SDF-held areas, east Deir Ezzor countryside in particular, as well as daily assassinations which targeted SDF members.
Security campaigns: nearly 70 people arrested for “dealing with ISIS”
SDF, backed by the International Coalition Forces, stepped up their security campaigns in areas under their control, mostly in Deir Ezzor and Al-Hasakah. According to SOHR statistics, SDF unleashed a large number of security campaigns in February 2021, arresting 69 people for “belonging and dealing with ISIS” in Al-Tayyanah, Al-Zar, Al-Shuhayl and other areas in Deir Ezzor countryside, Al-Shaddadi, Adlah, Al-Tuwaymin, Um Hamedah, Tel Al-Shayer, Tel Safouk, Al-Dashishah, Al-Atshanah and Tel Manikh in Al-Shadadi countryside in Al-Hasakah province.
As part of their anti-corruption campaigns, SDF also arrested three border guards, known as “Qouria”, from al-Darbasiya area on the Syria-Turkey border in al-Hasakah countryside. According to SOHR sources, the members were arrested after being accused of “being involved in corruption cases and smuggling operations on the Syrian-Turkish border.
Education: teachers’ arrests and strikes
On February 7, patrols of the Internal Security Forces (Asayish) arrested four teachers in Amouda city in Al-Hasakah countryside. According to SOHR sources, the four teachers were arrested for “giving students private courses in their homes, where they teach lessons of the Syrian regime curricula”. A week later, the teachers were released after they had vowed not to teach lessons of the regime curricula to the area’s students.
On the other hand, teachers in the villages and towns of Al-Susah, Gharanij, Hajin and other areas in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor started a strike in their schools, expressing rejection of the Autonomous Administration’s decision imposing mandatory conscription on teachers, and demanding increase of their salaries, especially with the recent Syrian currency plunge and high prices throughout Syria. Moreover, teachers in Al-Shuhayl town in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor staged a vigil, protesting their poor living conditions and “mandatory conscription” decision in areas held by the Autonomous Administration. A statement was issued, of which SOHR obtained a copy: “We, the residents, teachers and students of Al-Shuhayl demand the following:
- Improvement of living conditions.
- Increase of salaries in line with the current situation
- Total cancellation of mandatory military conscription.”