“Erdogan-Putin’s De-escalation Zone” in 2021 | Over 100 children and women among 205 civilians killed in military operations and incidents of security disorder, amid catastrophic living conditions
SOHR appeals to the international community to intervene immediately and force Russia and Turkey to keep civilians away from their narrow mutual interests
The “de-escalation zone”, stretching from the north-eastern mountains of Latakia to the north-western suburbs of Aleppo city running through both Hama and Idlib, has been under an “alleged” and in-name-only ceasefire agreed upon after a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Receb Tayyip Erdogan on March 5, 2020. However, that region has experienced noticeable escalation of military operations by Russian and regime forces and their loyal militias, including daily bombardment with tens of rockets and artillery shells and Russian airstrikes, which all have caused significant human losses and material damage. Meanwhile, Turkey, the “de-escalation” guarantor, seems satisfied with its “timid” bombardment on regime positions, which has not restrained this alarming military escalation,mainly concentrated in the southern countryside of Idlib, as well as affecting east Idlib countryside, towns and villages of Sahl Al-Ghab in the north-western countryside of Hama, Latakia mountains and western Aleppo countryside.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) has monitored and tracked all developments and violations against Syrian people in the “de-escalation zone” in 2021, including the military escalation by Russian and regime forces, incidents and attack, deteriorating security instability and disastrous humanitarian situation. These key developments can be summarised in the following main points:
Russian aerial operations: hundreds of airstrikes kill and injures tens of civilians
Since the Russian-Turkish agreement was reached in March 2020, the “de-escalation zone”, also known as “Putin-Erdogan” area, has experienced a complete cessation of aerial operations by regime jets and helicopters, but instead, Russian aircraft remained active in the area. SOHR has documented over 562 airstrikes by Russian fighter jets on the “de-escalation zone” in 2021. These airstrikes resulted in the death of 18 people: 14 civilians, including six women and three women, as well as four jihadists, including one Turkistani jihadist and another Chechen. The Russian airstrikes also left over 117 people, mostly civilians injured.
The total death toll included five civilians: a man, his wife, two of his children and a nephew, who were killed in the only massacre by Russian jets in 2021. The five civilians were killed on November 11 when their house was hit during Russian airstrikes on the outskirts of Bruma and Al-Habbat junction in the northern countryside of Idlib.
The Russian airstrikes in 2021 targeted 62 positions, and they are distributed regionally as follows:
- 48 positions: Sheikh Bahr, Harbanoush, Qorqanya, the perimeter of the central prison, the surrounding areas of MarratMisrin, the surrounding areas in Sarmada, HurshBasinqoul, Al-Rouj station, Sheikh Youssef, Muhambel, Ain Shaib, Saan, Al-Ruwayha, Sarja, Mantaf, Maarzaf, Bayanin, Sfuhen, Jozif, Al-Bara, Mar’ayan, Kansafrah, Baylon, Al-Fterah, Maarbalit, Majdalya, Hursh Al-Hamamah, Urm Al-Jouz, Ihsim, Al-Kendah, Sheikh Sandyan, Bruma, Bsamis, Al-Aliyah, Al-Ghassaniyyah, the surrounding areas of Zarzour, Deir Sonbol, Mashoun, Shaan, Iblin, Al-Fu’ah, Jisr Al-Sughour, the surrounding areas of Al-Kfir, Qah camps, the surrounding areas of Idlib city, Taltita, Shadirni and Al-Ya’qoubiyyah.
- Five positions: Kabana, Al-Khudr, Kafridin, Al-Bernas and Barzah in northern countryside of Latakia.
- Six positions: Al-Sarmaniyah, Duwayr Al-Akrad, Al-Ziyyarah, Zayzoun power plant, Kherbet Al-Naqous and Hemaymat in the north-western countryside of Hama.
- Three positions: Arhab, the surrounding areas of DaratIzza and Sheikh Suleiman in the western countryside of Aleppo.
Here is a monthly distribution of the Russian airstrikes on the “de-escalation zone” in 2021:
-January: Nine airstrikes left no fatalities.
-February: 20 airstrikes left no fatalities.
-March: 18 airstrikes. A civilian was killed in airstrikes on March 21.
-April: 15 airstrikes left no fatalities.
-May: 15 airstrikes left no fatalities.
-June: 18 airstrikes. A pregnant woman was killed in airstrikes on Mantaf village in Idlib countryside on June 12.
-July: 80 airstrikes left no fatalities.
-August: 95 airstrikes left no fatalities.
-September: 204 airstrikes left four people dead as follows:
- A child was killed in Al-Bara in Idlib countryside on September 3.
- A Turkistani child was killed in a camp near Zarzour town in western Idlib on September 15.
- Two jihadists: a Syrian and a Turkistani, were killed in Idlib province on September 24.
-October: 45 airstrikes. A member of Hayyaat Tahrir Al-Sham was killed in HurshBasinqoul in Idlib countryside on October 7.
-November: 40 airstrikes left eight civilians dead as follows:
- Five civilians: a man, his wife, two of his children and his nephew, were killed in a massacre by Russian jets on November 11, as their house was hit during airstrikes on the outskirts of Bruma and Al-Habbat junction in the northern countryside of Idlib.
- Two olive pickers were killed on the outskirts of Taltita, which is inhabited mostly by the Druze sect, in north-western Idlib on November 22.
- A woman was killed nearby Shenan village in Idlib countryside on November 25, while picking olive.
November’s airstrikes also left over 20 people injured.
-December: Three airstrikes. Three people: a man, a little girl and a Chechen jihaidst were killed nearby Al-Ya’qoubiyyah village in western Idlib on December 11.
Ground military operations leave 375 fatalities
With the frequent airstrikes by Russian jets, regime forces continued their ground bombardment on the “de-escalation zone” in 2021. According SOHR statistics, nearly 14,000 rockets, artillery and Russian-made laser (Krasnopol) shells were fired by regime forces and their proxy militias on the “de-escalation zone”, targeting 76 positions in areas under the control of Hayyaat Tahrir Al-Sham, opposition factions and jihadist groups in Aleppo, Idlib, Hama and Latakia countryside.
SOHR documented the death of 150 civilians, including 60 children and 30 women, in regime ground bombardment on these areas in 2021.
SOHR also documented the death of 84 regime soldiers and 141 members of opposition factions and jihadist groups, including Uzbek and Turkistani members, in clashes, bombardment and exchange of fire between both sides.
In 2021, regime forces committed nine massacres in the “de-escalation zone”, five of which occurred in July, killing 66 civilians, including 27 children and 12 civilians, out of the total civilian death toll.
Further details of the circumstances of massacres committed by regime forces can be summarised as follows:
- March 21: Regime forces fired guided missiles on Al-Atarib hospital in the western countryside of Aleppo, killing eight civilians including a child, a woman and a medic.
- April 8: Seven civilians, including three children and two women, were killed in rocket attack with a guided missile which targeted a car in Al-Najiyah area in Jisr Al-Shughour countryside in western Idlib.
- July 3: Five civilians: a man, his wife and their three children were killed in bombardment on Iblin town in Jabal Al-Zawiyah.
- July 15: Six civilians, including a child, were killed in bombardment on Masbah area nearby Al-Fu’ah in the north-eastern countryside of Idlib.
- July 17: Seven civilians, including a woman and four children, were killed in rocket attack with a guided missile on Sarjeh village in southern Idlib.
- On the same day, July 17: Eight civilians: four children and four women, were killed in bombardment on Ihsim in the south of Idlib.
- July 22: Regime forces shelled positions in Iblin in Jabal Al-Zawiyah, killing seven civilians of the same family: four children, their mother, uncle and grandfather.
- August 19: Five civilians: a woman, three of her children and another child, were killed in bombardment on Balshoun village in southern Idlib.
- October 20: 13 civilians, including a woman and three children, were killed in bombardment on Ariha city in southern Idlib. It is worth noting that this massacre left the largest number of fatalities ever since the ceasefire agreement came into force in March 2020.
The areas that came under regime bombardment in 2021 are distributed regionally as follows:
- 47 areas: Al-Dana, Sarmada, Tarmanin, MaarratMisrin, Batinta, Kafriya, Afes, Al-Nayrab, Sarmin, Maarrat Al-Na’saan, Ariha, Majdaliya, Maarbalit, Nahliya, Mantaf, Shenan, Sarjeh, Deir Sonbol, Bayanin, Kaddurah, Al-Ruwayha, Al-Bara, Kansafrah, Al-Faterah, Sfuhen, Fulayfel, Maarzaf, Ihsim, Jabal Al-Arba’in, Kafr Lata, Al-Rami, Mar’ian, Al-Magharah, Mashoun, Balshoun, Abditta, Iblin, Balyon, Al-Mozah, KafrOweid, Al-Haloubah, Jannat Al-Qura, Frikah, Marj Al-Zuhour, Shaghourit, Ain Al-Hamraa and Sheikh Sandiyan.
- 13 areas: Al-Sarmaniyah, Tel Wasit, Al-Ziyyarah, Al-Qarqur, Al-Hemaydiyyah, Al-Diqmaq, Qulaydin, Kherbet Al-Naqous, Hemaymat, Al-Mansourah, Qastun, Zayzoun, Al-Ankawi and other areas in Sahl Al-Ghab.
- Eight areas: The surrounding areas of DaratIzza, Tadil, KafrTa’al, KafrAmmah, Tqad, Atareb, KafrNuran and Katyan in the western countryside of Aleppo.
- Eight areas: Kabana, Al-Khudr hills, Al-Tuffahiyyah, Al-Zaiytouniyyah, the surrounding areas of Al-Yamadiyyah and three villages in Jabal Al-Turkman.
While the monthly death toll of bombardment and clashes in the “de-escalation zone” is distributed as follows:
-January: 40 people:
- Four civilians, including a woman.
- Ten regime soldiers and loyalists.
- 26 fighters of rebel and Islamist factions and jihadist groups.
-February: 30 people:
- Four civilians, including a child and a woman.
- 13 regime soldiers and loyalists.
- 13 HTS fighters and jihadists, including three members of Turkistan Islamic Party.
-March: 25 people:
- Nine civilians, including two children and a woman.
- Seven regime soldiers.
- Nine fighters of opposition factions.
-April: 24 people:
- Eight civilians, including three children and two women.
- Eight regime soldiers.
- Eight fighters of opposition factions, including three Uzbek jihadists.
-May: 20 people:
- Four civilians: a child and three women.
- Eight regime soldiers.
- Eight fighters of opposition factions.
-June: 44 people:
- 20 civilians, including four children and six women.
- One regime soldier.
- 23 fighters of Islamist and Jihadist factions and HTS.
-July: 59 people:
- 46 civilians, including 25 children and eight women.
- Six regime soldiers.
- Seven fighters of opposition factions, including four members of Turkistan Islamic Party.
-August: 42 people:
- 21 civilians, including three women and 15 children.
- Ten regime soldiers.
- 11 fighters of opposition factions, including four Uzbek jihadists.
-September: 17 people:
- Seven civilians, including three women and two children.
- Four regime soldiers.
- Six fighters of Islamist factions and HTS.
-October: 37 people:
- 22 civilians, including a woman and five children.
- Six regime soldiers and loyalists.
- Nine fighters of opposition factions and HTS.
-November: 30 people:
- Three civilians, including a woman and a child.
- 11 regime soldiers.
- 16 fighters of opposition factions and HTS, including two Turkistanis.
-December: Seven people:
- Two civilians: a child and a man.
- Five HTS fighters.
Deteriorating humanitarian situation
The humanitarian situation in makeshift refugee camps along the Syria border with Iskenderun region in north and north-west Idlib deteriorates considerably everyday, amid insignificant support by relevant organisations and “shameful” indifference by the international community to the sufferings of hundreds of thousands of Syrian people who have been forced to displace from their areas, fleeing devastating military battles by Russian and regime forces to a small geographical area.
Moreover, residents in the “Putin-Erdogan” area are struggling with dire living conditions and instable situation due to the bombardment which targets services and infrastructure. In addition, targeting refugee camps continued as a part of policy by regime forces and their Russian ally to drain the region’s resources and exert pressure on the displaced people to return to regime-controlled areas. Such practices are added to a long list of war crimes committed by Russian and regime forces against innocent Syrian civilians.
Furthermore, the region’s residents suffer from prohibitively high prices and HTS monopoly and domination on almost all affairs in the region, especially after adopting the use of the Turkish currency. Meanwhile, the Turkish lira has recently hit a record low against foreign currencies, which led to the increase of prices in the “de-escalation zone” to levels unaffordable by many.
Nearly 120 people killed and wounded in incidents of security disorders
As the escalating security chaos has topped the events in the areas under the control of opposition factions, Haayyat Tahrir Al-Sham and jihadist groups in Idlib province and surrounding villages in the countryside of Aleppo, Hama and Latakia, SOHR activists in these areas have documented the death of 85 persons since the beginning of 2021 in bombings, shooting or kidnapping and then disposing of many bodies in remote areas.
According to the SOHR statistics, the fatalities are categorized as follows: 41 civilians, including six females and two children, 35 Syrian fighters affiliated to HTS, Islamic and rebel factions, nine of jihadist groups of non-Syrian nationals. At least 78 others have been wounded in these attacks.
Attacks by “Abu Bakr” Jihadist Battalion: 28 Turkish soldiers killed and wounded in five attacks
As a part of the efforts of countering Turkish presence in Syria, a jihadist group known as “Ansar Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq” Battalion carried out five attacks in 2021, targeting Turkish convoys and military posts in Idlib. These attacks left ten Turkish soldiers dead and 18 others wounded. Here is a summary of further details on these attacks:
- February 3: A Turkish sergeant died of wounds he sustained in an armed attack a few days earlier on a Turkish post in Abu Al-Zubair area in the western countryside of Idlib. The jihadi battalion of “Ansar Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq” claimed responsibility for the attack.
- May 10: A Turkish soldier was killed in an IED explosion on the road between KafrLusin and Bab Al-Hawa crossing on the Syria-Turkey border in the north of Idlib, as the explosion targeted a Turkish military convoy of seven vehicles. “Ansar Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq” Battalion claimed responsibility for the attack.
- September 10: Three Turkish soldiers were killed in an IED explosion on the road between Idlib and Binnish. “Ansar Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq” Battalion claimed responsibility for the attack.
- October 3: A Turkish soldier was killed in an armed attack on a Turkish pickup vehicle in northern Areha. “Ansar Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq” Battalion claimed responsibility for the attack.
- October 15: Two Turkish soldiers were killed in an IED explosion near Kafreya junction in MaarratMisrin in Idlib countryside. “Ansar Abu Bakr al-Siddiq” Battalion claimed responsibility for the attack.
As a human rights organisation, we, at the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), call upon all international powers concerned with Syria’s affairs and the international community to intervene immediately and put an end to bloodshed in Syria, as well as applying international humanitarian laws and keeping civilians away from military operations and conflicts.
We also demand that Russia and Turkey, the “de-escalation” guarantors, comply with the ceasefire agreement and stop all violations, including intensive bombardment and airstrikes, which affect only the Syrian civilians who seek a safe haven in the “de-escalation zone”, fleeing from repression of the Syrian regime and its security services.