“Erdogan-Putin De-escalation Zone” in February 2022 | Death of “Al-Baghdadi’s successor” in International Coalition security operation… Russian airstrikes decrease…disruption of education and schooling…ongoing tragic humanitarian conditions
SOHR renews its 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 Recep 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 which is 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 February 2022, including the military escalation by Russian and regime forces, incidents and attacks, deteriorating security, instability and disastrous humanitarian situation. These key developments can be summarised in the following main points:
Subsiding Russian airstrikes
Russian fighter jets conducted, in February 2022, eight airstrikes on the “de-escalation zone” that left no causalities.
The airstrikes hit the vicinity of Kafr Shila in Idlib countryside twice: on February 3 and 6 with four airstrikes in each round.
SOHR sources monitored noticeable decline in the number of the Russian airstrikes in February compared to 50 raids in the previous month.
Meanwhile, operations by regime warplanes and helicopters in “Putin-Erdogan” area have been halted since the Turkish-Russian deal was reached in March 2020.
Hundreds of shells hit more than 40 positions
Beside the repeated Russian airstrikes on the “de-escalation zone”, regime ground attacks also continued in February. SOHR sources reported that more than 1,400 artillery shells and rockets fired by the regime forces and their loyal factions on military and residential positions in areas under the control of Hayyaat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) and the Jihadist groups and factions. The attacks targeted 44 positions in the rural areas of Aleppo, Idlib, Hama and Latakia.
Regime attacks are distributed regionally as follows:
- Aleppo: 500 shells and rockets hit the surroundings of Al-Atareb and Sheikh Suleiman, Taqad, Tadeel, Kafr Taal, Kafr Amah, Al-Qasr and Kafr Nouran villages.
- Idlib: 400 shells and rockets hit Maarat Al-Naasan, Al-Nayrab, Maarat Alya, Maarbleet, Al-Rouwayah, Mantaf, Maarzaf, Banin, Deir Sonbul, Shenan, Al-Barah, Kansfera, Fulifil, Sfouhen, Al-Futirah, Kafr Owid, Ain Larouz, Belyoun, Iblin, Al-Haloubah, Al-Fatatrah and the surroundings of Termanin.
- Hama: 300 shells and rockets hit Al-Ankawi, Qoulideen, Kharbah Al-Naqous, Tal Waset, Al-Mansourah, Al-Zyrah, Al-Mashik and Al-Sermanyah.
- Latakia countryside: 200 shells and rockets hit the frontlines of Kabana, Al-Khudr, Al-Tofahiya, Duwayr Al-Akrad and Jabal Al-Turkman.
As well as the ground attacks, a “kamikaze” drone believed to be Russian shelled positions of factions and HTS on the frontline of Kafr Nouran village in the western Aleppo countryside. However, no casualties were reported.
Regime ground attacks on the “de-escalation zone” in February left 13 civilian fatalities, including two women and two children, as SOHR documented the death of six people of the same family in a massacre in Idlib countryside on February 12 due to bombardment by regime ground forces on Maarat Al-Na’asan, north-east of Idlib; and they are as follows: two men, two children and two women.
In another attack on February 12, regime forces rocket fire on Tiqad town in west Aleppo countryside killed one person.
On February 17, four people: two brothers, another man and an unidentified person were killed and at least three were wounded as rockets hit a fuel market and its vicinity in Termanin area in the northern Idlib countryside.
Also, on February 27, reliable sources informed SOHR that two people were killed in rocket attack by the regime forces in Afes village in east Idlib city.
Meanwhile, SOHR sources documented the death of four regime soldiers and other members of opposition factions in exchange of fire in February in the “de-escalation zone.”
War ordnance claims lives of civilians
SOHR sources reported that explosions of old ordnance in February caused the death of two people and the injury of seven others, including six children.
On February 13, the Syrian Observatory documented the death of an elderly man and the injury of his wife due to the explosion of an unexploded projectile in Taftanaz town, north-east of Idlib.
While, on February 21, three children sustained severe wounds in explosion of old ordnance in Jisr Al-Shughour city. Another young girl was wounded in explosion of old landmine after she collected firewood with her family in the vicinity of Darkoush town in west Idlib countryside.
Similarly, on February 23, SOHR sources reported that a child died of wounds he sustained in the explosion of an unexploded shell fired during earlier bombardment by regime forces in Adwan village in west Idlib. Also, two children were wounded in a bomb explosion in Bilyoun town in Jabk Al-Zawiyah in south Idlib countryside.
Jandarma kill child and a man
On February 10, SOHR activists reported that the Turkish Jandarma shot a 12-year-old child dead near “Badama camp” in Ain Al-Baida village in the western Idlib countryside.
While on February 21, an old man from Al-Eis town in the southern countryside of Aleppo was shot dead by Turkish Border Guards, while he was working in a farmland near Al-Mushayrifah village in Salqeen countryside in north-western Idlib. It is worth noting that the man had a headshot.
Incidents of security vacuum leave casualties
SOHR documented four incidents that caused the death of five people, including two children who were brutally killed in Idlib countryside.
On February 9, SOHR activists reported that residents found the body of an unidentified man tied with a metal chain and dumped on the outskirts of Aleppo-Latakia highway, near the town of Al-Kafir, south of Jisr Al-Shughour in west Idlib countryside.
On the same day, residents found in Ariha city in south Idlib countryside, the body of a young man in his house after he went missing for several days. It is worth noting that the dead man was displaced from Hama city.
On February 20, residents found the bodies of two children near their families’ house in Al-Wafaa refugee camp in Atama that is under control of HTS in north Idlib.
Meanwhile, gunmen killed with machine guns an investigator in Sharia court. The victim was from Al-Eis town in southern Aleppo countryside.
Halt of education because of “teachers’ dignity” strike
February witnessed the suspension of education because of a strike called for by teachers as many had been working for years without receiving wages amid lack of support for the educational sector.
Nearly 80 schools in Idlib and its countryside issued a statement announcing their closure and the disruption of the educational process due to the prolonged suspension of support and their inability to endure harsh living conditions, demanding that teachers’ rights be secured by providing monthly salaries to resume the educational process in schools.
The closed schools are affiliated with the education directorates in Hama and Idlib and include the educational complexes in Idlib city and the areas of Jisr Al-Shughour, Ariha, Maarrat Misrin and Al-Dana.
The “Salvation Government,” that supervises the Ministry of Education, is responsible for providing support to these education directorates along with several humanitarian organisations in northern Syria.
“Al-Julani” arrests jihadists in Idlib and International Coalition kills “Al-Baghdadi’s successor”
As “Al-Julani”, leader of HTS, sets himself as “terrorism fighter” by arresting foreign members in Jihadist groups, SOHR sources reported that security forces of Tahrir Al-Sham carried out a large-scale security crackdown in Idlib in north-west Syria, on February 2, arresting more than 20 jihadists of non-Syrian nationalities operating under the banner of Sham Al-Islam and Hurras Al-Din organisations that are accused of “being loyal to Al-Qaeda.”
According to Syrian Observatory sources, a prominent Tunisian senior sharia official of “Huras Al-Din” called “Abu Al-Baraa,” was arrested in this strict security campaign.
The arrests came few hours before the International Coalition’s special operation in Atama region at the administrative border between Aleppo and Idlib near Iskandrun that caused the death of “Al-Baghdadi’s successor,” Abdullah Qardash. SOHR sources had confirmed the death of at least 13 people inside the building that housed Qardash, as well as a member of the Hayaat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), who was in the surrounding area was killed in the crossfire.
Four days after the death of “Abdullah Qardash”, the successor of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the ex-ISIS leader, SOHR sources reported that the security services of Hayyaat Tahrir Al-Sham sent notifications, via the economic bureau, to several non-Syrian jihadists operating in a formation known as “Ansar Al-Fasa’el Al-Islamiyah Al-Mustaqillah” (Supporters of the Independent Islamists Factions), informing them to evacuate the houses they living in, in Idlib city.
It is worth noting that these jihadists settle with their families in houses belonging to pro-regime soldiers in Idlib city. These houses had been taken over after capturing the city by the former “Jaysh Al-Fath” in 2015. At that time, the court of Jaysh Al-Fath distributed these houses to the factions participated in the battle. After it had eliminated many independent factions and combated with the remaining jihadist groups, Hayyaat Tahrir Al-Sham started recently to expel jihadists from the houses they had seized.
On the other hand, HTS, on February 18, executed imam of a mosque in Darkosh town in Idlib countryside. It is worth noting that HTS had arrested the imam in late April 2019 for “communicating with Syrian regime forces and providing coordinates of military positions”, according to reliable SOHR sources.
Continuous tragic conditions, price hikes and lack of some commodities
Refugee camps still witness worsening conditions amid decrease of allocations of support provided to displaced people. It is worth noting that nearly three million displaced people live in north-west Syria, most of whom are living in makeshift camps and terrible conditions.
Additionally, prices of food commodities and fuel are still increasing, which further burdens the people, as markets suffer lack of sugar while prices of fuel rise due to the global prices increase and the decline of the Turkish Lira value that is adopted in Idlib.
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 only affect civilians who seek a safe haven in the “de-escalation zone”, fleeing from the repression of the Syrian regime and its security services.