The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights

SDF-controlled areas in April | Euphrates river crisis worsening…ISIS attacks leaves 23 fatalities…clashes continue with regime forces and Turkish-backed factions

Areas under the control of Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) experienced, in April 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.



Euphrates river crisis tops recent developments


Turkey continues to reduce the amount of the Euphrates river water flowing from Turkish territory to the Syrian side, as water in the Euphrates river in Syria has reached its lowest level which led to drought of underground wells and significant damage to the environment, livestock and agriculture in villages adjacent to the river. Accordingly, we, at the Syrian Observatory, renew our appeals to the United Nations, humanitarian organizations and all international actors to intervene immediately and exert pressure on the Turkish government to adhere to international agreements regarding the quantities of water supposed to reach Syria.


According to the agreement signed between Syria and Turkey in 1987 regarding the Euphrates River, Syria’s share of water coming from Turkey is supposed to be 500 cubic meters per second (2500 barrels). However, less than 200 cubic meters of water now reach Syria.


The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has been all along warning against of an environmental catastrophe threatening food security in the Syrian Jazeera region, and a humanitarian crises which poses a threat to nearly two million and half people in different areas in al-Raqqah, al-Hasakah, Deir Ezzor and Kobani.


Reliable sources had told SOHR that the “Energy Board of the Euphrates region” adopted a new system of electricity rationing, decreasing the electricity operating hours in areas under the control of the Autonomous Administration, from Ain al-Arab (Kobani) and Sarin in Aleppo countryside to Ain Issa and Tel Abyad countryside in al-Raqqah countryside. According to the new system, these areas would experience power outages for 17 to 18 hours every day. Meanwhile, “Energy Board of the Euphrates region” attributed the decrease in the electricity operating hours to the ongoing water retention by Turkey, as Turkey decreased the amount of water pumped to Syria via the Euphrates river.



Ongoing ISIS attacks leave 23 people dead


In April 2021, ISIS continued its attacks in areas under the control of SDF and the Autonomous Administration in north and north-east Syria region, as 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. On the other hand SDF launched periodical security campaigns, with Coalition support, targeting ISIS cells and individuals accused of “dealing with these cells”. However, these campaigns remained timid and could not put an end to ISIS escalating operations in the region.


SOHR activists documented over 31 operations in April carried out by ISIS cells in SDF-held areas in Deir Ezzor, al-Hasakah, Aleppo and al-Raqqah, including armed attacks and explosions. According to SOHR statistics, the number of people killed in these operations during April reached 23. The breakdown of fatalities was as follows: eight civilians, including a child and two women, and 15 members of SDF, Asayish Forces and the Self-Defence forces.


As daily fatalities are recorded and updated regularly, the number of people who were killed in areas within the four provinces of Aleppo, Deir Ezzor, al-Raqqah and al-Hasakah, in addition to the SDF-held area of Manbij in the north-east of Aleppo rose to 736 fighters, civilians, oil workers, and officials in service parties.


The Syrian Observatory documented the assassination of 260 civilians including 17 children and 11 women by armed cells in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor, al-Hasakah countryside, al-Raqqah city and countryside, and Manbij area. In addition, 472 SDF fighters, including local leaders, were assassinated in the same areas.


Also, four members of International Coalition were killed. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Human also documented tens of injuries due to these assassinations.



Backed by International Coalition Forces: SDF security campaigns continue


Syria Democratic Forces, backed by the International Coalition, launched frequent security campaigns in April in an attempt to put an end to the ISIS escalating operations in Deir Ezzor and al-Hasakah. According to SOHR statistics, 43 people were arrested during these campaigns, for “dealing and communicating with ISIS cells” as well as other accusations, in Zagheer Jazeerah, Wadi al-Ujayj, al-Zar, al-Hawayij, al-Ma’amel, Abu al-Naytal, al-Busayrah and al-Kasarat in Deir Ezzor and other areas in al-Hasakah province.



Murders and skirmishes at crossings used for smuggling goods to regime-controlled areas


In April 2021, skirmishes escalated between regime forces and Syria Democratic Forces, as several clashes with medium and heavy machineguns erupted between the two powers stationed on the opposite  banks of the Euphrates river, regime forces on the western bank and SDF on the eastern bank. These skirmishes coincided with security campaigns by SDF on the river crossings, which left casualties on some occasions.


On April 5, SOHR sources said that members of a security patrol of Syria Democratic Forces killed a civilian from al-Shuhayl in Deir Ezzor countryside. According to SOHR sources, the young man was on a ferry in al-Raz area transporting goods to the Syrian regime-held areas. This incident coincided with the anti-smuggling operations by SDF which targeted river ferries transporting goods to regime-held areas.


While on April 23, a military group of Syria Democratic Forces stormed a river crossing used for smuggling between the banks of the Euphrates river in Theban town in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor. According to SOHR sources, an SDF member opened fire indiscriminately on the crossing, which resulted in the death of a worker working in the crossing which connects regime-held areas and SDF-controlled areas. During the raid, SDF also confiscated materials prepared to be smuggled.



Growing tension and popular discontent in al-Raqqah and Deir Ezzor


On April 7, the town of al-Shuhayl in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor experienced a state of tension after young people opened fire on an SDF patrol, in retaliation of the death of a man who was shot dead by SDF at a crossing used for smuggling in the town on April 5. SDF later seized ten houses belonging to the region’s residents after driving the inhabitants out. Negotiations were held between the town’s dignitaries and SDF in the house of the commander of Deir Ezzor Military Council in Al-Suwar town, where SDF demanded the handing over of the individuals who opened fire on the SDF patrol, the closure of the crossing and the handing over of weapons. The residents refused to handover their sons or weapons, but they accepted to close the crossing. While on April 11, SDF withdrew from these houses according to an agreement reached between dignitaries from Al-Shuhayl town and the chairman of the Civil Council of the Central region on one hand, and commanders of Syria Democratic Forces headed by the commander of Sahat Al-Busayrah and the head of Deir Ezzor Military Council on the other.


On April 17, SOHR sources in al-Raqqah city monitored growing public discontent over the practices of employees of an organization working on the restoration of war-damaged houses, supported by a European country. Employees deprived residents from their right to restoring their homes and lodging a complaint, particularly in “Hadikat al-Bustan” neighbourhood in al-Raqqah city, after residents of the neighbourhood held interviews with SOHR and spoke out about the negligence and suffering they experienced.


On the same day, April 17, the village of “Jadid Kaheed” in al-Karama area in eastern countryside of al-Raqqah experienced a state of tension, where residents cut off roads setting tires on fire and placing stones, protesting the killing of a young man by members of a patrol affiliated with the Internal Security Forces “Asayish” in the village a day earlier. According to Syrian Observatory sources, the Asayish patrol was roaming the village of Jadid Kahed during the curfew, where a group of young men refused to abide by the curfew, then a dispute broke out between the young people and the members of the Asayish patrol, which evolved into a fight which left a young man from the village dead, while four others were injured.


While on April 23, he Democratic Civil Administration in al-Raqqah released several detainees from the village of al-Jadidat, who were attempting to create strife, implement external agendas and try to destabilize the region. On the other hand, the dignitaries and elders of the village issued a statement to the public opinion about the destabilization and the implementation of external agendas in their region, and stressed the good initiative of the Democratic Civil Administration in Raqqa to contain the incident and maintain the security of the region. According to the sources, 34 detainees were released, under tribal elders and dignitaries’ guarantees in al-Raqqah.


On April 24, fierce clashes erupted between Al-Bosariya and Al-Sukhnah tribes in Tel Abyad street in al-Raqqah city centre, which is under the control of SDF and International Coalition. According to SOHR sources in the city, over ten people on both side were injured in these clashes.



Separate developments in SDF-held areas in April 2021


Skirmishes continued in the surrounding areas and countryside of Ain Issa in the northern countryside of al-Raqqah, as clashes renewed between Turkish-backed factions and Syria Democratic Forces, which left casualties. The clashes coincided with ongoing bombardment by Turkish forces.


On April 16, SOHR sources reported a new heinous crime in SDF-held areas, east of the Euphrates, where a 6-year-old girl was sexually assaulted by a person in the town of Hajeen, one of the most prominent former strongholds of the Islamic State. The girl’s parents later shot dead the perpetrator.


On the same day, April 16, a Turkish drone targeted a house in Ain al-Arab countryside (Kobani). According to Syrian Observatory sources, the house was located in the village of Albalor in the western countryside of Ain al-Arab, in which PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan lived more than 40 years ago when he came from Turkey to Syria. The airstrike caused material damage to the abandoned house, while the main objective of this strike was symbolic.