“De-escalation zone” one year on | Nearly 430 people killed due to the ceasefire, while over one million displaced people still grappling with catastrophic conditions
Russian jets execute 55 airstrikes, the Turks withdraw from regime-controlled areas and bring in thousands of soldiers to new positions, while M4 highway still closed
The ceasefire agreement in the “de-escalation zone”, stretching from the north-eastern mountains of Lattakia to the north-western suburbs of Aleppo city running through both Hama and Idlib, has completed its first year. The recent ceasefire came into effect on March 5 and agreed upon during the meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Receb Tayyip Erdogan. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has monitored and tracked all key developments in the area since the ceasefire came into effect.
Skirmishes, aerial and ground bombardment leave great human losses
During the past year, from March 5, 2020, to March 4, 2021, SOHR has documented the death of 429 people. The breakdown of fatalities was as follows:
Civilians: 80 persons, including 12 children and 15 women, and they were as follows:
- 49 civilians, including ten children and nine women, were killed by regime forces.
- 31 civilians, including one child and six women, were killed in Russian airstrikes.
Opposition factions: 242 fighters (114 jihadists and 130 members of rebel and Islamic factions), and they were as follows:
- 181 fighters (82 jihadists and 99 members of rebel and Islamic factions) were killed in Russian airstrikes on Aleppo, Idlib and Latakia countryside.
- 63 fighters (32 jihadists and 31 members of rebel and Islamic factions) were killed in regime ground bombardment and clashes with regime forces
Regime forces: 107 regime soldiers, officers and loyalists were killed in bombardment, attacks and clashes with jihadist groups and rebel and Islamic factions.
At a time when SOHR has not document any airstrikes by regime aircraft since the ceasefire came into effect, Russian fighter jets have executed periodical strikes on several positions in the “de-escalation zone”, leaving human and material losses. According to SOHR statistics, the Russian jets have attacked the “de-escalation zone”, during the past year, on more than 55 occasions with at least 320 airstrikes, targeting positions in Aleppo, Hama, Idlib and Latakia countryside. However, the Russian airstrikes were concentrated in the southern countryside of Idlib and Jabal Al-Akrad in north Lataika countryside.
These airstrikes have left great human losses, as SOHR has documented the death of 31 civilians, including one child and six women, as follows:
- 27 civilians, including one child and six women, were killed in March 2020, shortly after the ceasefire came into effect, among them there were 15 civilians killed in a massacre committed by the Russian jets which targeted a gathering of displaced people near Maarrat Misrin.
- One civilian was killed in airstrikes on Idlib in June 2020.
- Three civilians were killed in airstrikes on Binnish city in Idlib countryside in August 2020.
The Russian airstrikes also killed 181 fighters (82 jihadists and 99 members of rebel and Islamic factions) in Aleppo, Idlib and Latakia countryside. It is worth noting that the rebel fatalities included 78 members of Al-Sham Corps, who were killed in an attack by Russian jets on October 26, 2020, on a camp of Al-Sham Corps in Jabal Al-Zawiyah area, while 74 other rebels were killed in March 2020.
Despite the cessation of regime aerial operations in the “de-escalation zone” during this year, regime ground forces and loyal militias continued sporadic and intensive bombardment and attacks almost daily on the factions’ positions. The regime ground bombardment was concentrated on Idlib, Sahl Al-Ghab and Jabal Al-Akrad, particularly the southern countryside of Idlib. SOHR has documented over 4,500 rockets and shells fired by regime forces on different positions in the “de-escalation zone” since the ceasefire came into effect on March 5, 2020.
The regime ground bombardment targeted tens of cities, towns and villages including the following:
- Idlib: Majdaliya, Qaddourah, Maarzaf, Mantaf, Sarjah, Ruwayha, Bazabour, Shnan, Varkiyah, Bayanin, Mar’ayan, Al-Rami, Al-Magharah, Ihsim, Deir Sonbol, Al-Barah, Abdittah, Mashoun, Balshoun, Iblin, Balyoun, Josif, Maratah, Arnabeh, Ain Larouz, Kansafrah, Kafr Oweid, Al-Faterah, Sfuhen, Fulayfil, Al-Mawzarah, Quqfin, Al-Halloubah, Al-Fataterah in southern countryside of Idlib, Sarmin, Al-Nayreb, Maarrat Alya, Majarez, Al-Salihiyyah, Afes, Kafrya, Al-Fu’a, the surrounding areas of Maarrat Misrin, the surrounding areas of Bennish in the eastern and north-eastern countryside of Idlib.
- Hama: Al-Ankawi, Qulaydin, Al-Duqmaq, Qastoun, Zayzoun, Al-Ziyyarah, Tel Waset, Al-Mansourah, Kherbet Al-Naqous, Al-Mashyak, Al-Sarmaniyyah in Sahl Al-Ghab.
- Aleppo: Kafr Ta’al, Tadil, Kafr Ammah, Ibzimo, Blanta, Al-Habbatah, Batron, Sheikh Salman, Taqad, Bakditah in the western countryside of Aleppo.
- Latakia: Kabanah, Al-Tufahiyah, Al-Haddadh and Tardin in the northern countryside of Latakia.
Moreover, SOHR has documented, since March 5, 2020, the death of 49 civilians, including ten children and nine women, due to ground bombardment by regime forces on the “de-escalation zone”, among them there were five civilians who were killed in a massacre in late 2020 when regime forces targeted, with a guided missile, a vehicle and a tractor of farmers in Al-Zaqum in Sahl Al-Ghab.
Turkish military movements
During the past year, the “de-escalation zone” has experienced hectic military movements by Turkish forces, including withdrawals, re-deployments, and bringing in new columns of vehicles and trucks carrying soldiers, military and logistical supplies. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has monitored and tracked all these Turkish movements in the “de-escalation zone” since the start of the ceasefire.
On January 5, 2021, the “Putin-Erdogan” area witnessed an unprecedented development as Turkish forces deployed prefabricated outposts in several positions on Aleppo-Latakia international highway “M4”, particularly positions near Al-Kefir in the south of Jisr al-Shughour, positions near Badma and al-Za’iniyeh in the west of Jisr al-Shughour, and positions near the furthest point of joint patrols at the administrative border with Latakia province, “Ain al-Hoor”. This development came was the aim to secure the highway instead of combing it, as several bodies rejecting the Russian-Turkish agreement had kept planting landmines and IEDs. It is worth noting that Turkey had promised the Russians to reopen the M4 highway.
Meanwhile, joint Russian-Turkish patrols have been suspended on the international highway since late August 2020, after the two sides conducted more than 26 joint patrols between March and August. The patrols were repeatedly attacked by jihadist groups opposing the Russian-Turkish agreement.
The Syrian Observatory highlighted all Turkish withdrawals from observation posts in areas annexed recently by regime forces, as out of 12 main Turkish posts in north-western Syria region, Turkish forces completely evacuated the following seven posts:
- Murek and Shir Mghar in Hama countryside
- Anadan, Al-Rashideen, Al-Eiss and Sheikh Aqeel in Aleppo countryside
- Al-Saraman in Idlib countryside.
Meanwhile, Turkish forces continued withdrawing from Al-Tuqan post in Idlib countryside, as troops stationed there were packing up and dismantling equipment.
Accordingly, Turkish forces have completely withdrawn from all main besieged posts in regime-held areas, except for Al-Tuqan post, from which they continue to withdraw in batches.
While there were four other main Turkish posts out of regime-controlled areas, and they are as follows:
- Ishtabraq in the west of Jisr Al-Shughur
- Al-Zaytounah in Jabal Al-Turkman
- Salwah in the northern countryside of Idlib
- Qalla’at Sam’an in the western countryside of Aleppo.
As for the recently-established Turkish posts, SOHR activists reported that Turkish forces completely withdrew from the following four posts: Maar Hattat and Al-Sena’a in the east of Saraqeb in rural Idlib, Al-Kurani factory in Al-Zarbah, and Qubaytan Al-Jabal in Aleppo countryside. Furthermore, Turkish forces continued dismantling equipment in Al-Duwayr post in northern Saraqeb in preparations to evacuate it.
It is worth noting that Turkish forces are still stationed in several posts established recently in regime-controlled areas, including the grain warehouse in the south of Saraqeb, Al-Sayromat factory in northern Saraqeb, Tarnabeh in western Saraqeb, and another post in Aleppo countryside near Kafr Halab.
At a time when Turkish forces continued withdrawing from besieged posts in the Syrian regime-held areas in the “de-escalation zone”, they were deploying in new positions. These deployments were mainly concentrated in Jabal al-Zawiyah in the southern countryside of Idlib, particularly in towns and villages on frontlines with regime forces, as well as in strategic posts that enabled Turkish forces to monitor the area.
The recent deployments coincided with crossing dozens of Turkish vehicles carrying soldiers and military and logistical supplies, almost daily, via Kafr Losien crossing on the border with Iskenderun region in northern Idlib, as part of the large Turkish reinforcement in the region.
According to SOHR statistics, the number of Turkish posts in the “de-escalation zone” has exceeded 64 posts, and they are as follows: (1) Salwah, (2) Qalaat Samaan, (3) Sheikh Oqail, (4) Tallat Al-Eis, (5) Tallat Al-Tuqan, (6) Sarman, (7) Jabal Anadan, (8) Al-Zaytunah, (9) Qoqfin, (10) the southern Al-Rashideen, (11) Shir Mghar, (12) Ishtabrak as well as other posts recently set up in (13) Anadan, (14) Al-Rashideen, (15) Maar Hattat, (16) Saraqeb, (17) Al-Tarnabah, (18) Al-Nayrab, (19) Al-Mughir, (20) Qumaynas, (21) Sarmin, (22) Taftanaz, (23) Maarrat Al-Na’san, (24) Maarrat Masrin, (25) Al-Jinah, (26) Kafr Karmin, (27) Al-Tawwamah, (28) the 111th Regiment, (29) Al-Mastumah camp, (30) Tramnin, (31) Al-Atarib and (32) Darat Izza, (33) Bardaqli, (34) Nahlaya, (35) Mu’taram, (36) Basnqul, (37) Al-Nabi Ayyoub, (38) Bazabur, (39) Batabu, (40) Kafr Nuran, (41) Ram Hamadan, and (42) Al-Jinah, (43) Besanqoul, (44) Al-Mshirfa, (45) Tal Khattab, (46) Bdama, (47) Al-Najiya, (48) Al-Za’iniya, (49) Al-Ghassaniyah and (50) Al-Kufayr, (51) Bernas, (52) Bdama, (53) Ariha, (54) Jannat Al-Qura, (55) Bsames, (56) Nabi Ayoub hill, (57) Al-Qiyasat, (58) an area near Basanqoul, (59) Marayan, (60) Ma’ratah, (61) Mantaf, (62) Al-Ruwayha, (63) Al-Jineh, (64) Tal Arqam, (65) Al-Wasetah, (66) the north of Afes, (67) Qastoun and many more.
It is worth noting that the number of Turkish military units which have entered the “de-escalation zone” since the new ceasefire came into effect has reached 8,335, in addition to the entry of nearly 10,000 Turkish soldiers.
The Syrian Observatory would like to point out that the number of vehicles and soldiers may vary marginally, as many vehicles, loaded with soldiers and military and logistical equipment, enter and exit individually.
All of these developments prove that the “Putin-Erdogan” agreement remains moot, especially with Erdogan’s unfulfiled promises to force regime forces to withdraw. On the contrary, the Turkish forces have withdrawn from observation and military posts located in regime-controlled areas.
It is worth noting that more than 1,150,000 people were forced to displaced from their areas in Aleppo, Idlib and Hama, due to the violent military operations in January and February 2020. Furthermore, the areas captured by the Syrian regime have become unpopulated almost completely, and only few pro-regime civilians have return after the entry of regime forces. The original residents of these areas are living now in the open, while others have managed to get hold of primitive tents or uninhabitable places in areas on the border with Iskenderun region and Turkish-held areas in the northern and north-western countryside of Aleppo like Azaz, Al-Bab, Jarabulus and Afrin.