“Putin-Erdogan” area in April 2022 | Re-escalation of Russian military operations…mounting security chaos…ongoing humanitarian crisis
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 a 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 of 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 April 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:
Re-escalation of Russian operations
In April 2022, Russian fighter jets executed 39 airstrikes on several areas of the “de-escalation zone,” including 11 airstrikes witnessed the use of air-to-air missiles only. However, these airstrikes left no causalities. Further details of these airstrikes can be summarised as follows:
-April 4: Seven airstrikes targeted positions on the frontlines of Sfuhen and Fulayfel in the southern countryside of Idlib.
-April 9: Eight airstrikes hit positions in Al-Fterah and Fulayfel in south Idlib countryside.
-April 19: Russian fighter jets executed two airstrikes on the surrounding areas of Al-Bara town.
-April 22: Russian jets carried out several rounds of airstrikes which can be distributed as follows:
- Four airstrikes on Al-Ruwayha village in Idlib countryside.
- Four airstrikes on Al-Ankawi in Hama countryside.
- Four airstrikes with air-to-air missiles in the airspace of Maarrat Misrin, Al-Nayrab, Bayanin and Ihsim in Idlib countryside.
- Six airstrikes with air-to-air missiles in the airspace of Al-Dana, Tarmanin and Darat Izza.
-April 25: One airstrike targeted an area nearby Kafrantin in western Aleppo.
Hundreds of shells hit more than 35 positions
Beside the repeated Russian airstrikes on the “de-escalation zone”, regime ground attacks also continued in April. SOHR sources reported that more than 1,200 artillery shells and rockets were fired by the regime forces and their loyal militias 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 more than 35 positions in the rural areas of Aleppo, Idlib, Hama and Latakia.
Regime attacks are distributed regionally as follows:
- Aleppo: 450 shells and rockets hit the surroundings of Al-Atareb and Al-Sheikh Suleiman, Taqad, Tadeel, Kafr Taal, Al-Qasr, Kafr Nouran, and Kafr Amah villages.
- Idlib: 425 shells and rockets hit Al-Nayrab, Majdaliya, Al-Rouwayah, Mantaf, Maarzaf, Mariyan, Bayanin, Deir Sonbul, Shenan, Al-Barah, Kansfera, Fulayfil, Sfouhen, Al-Fatirah, Kafr Owid, Ain Larouz, Maarat Al-Naasan, Afes and Sarmin.
- Hama: 250 shells and rockets hit Al-Ankawi, Kharbah Al-Naqous, Tal Waset, Al-Mansourah, Al-Mashik and Al-Sermanyah.
- Latakia countryside: 75 shells and rockets hit the hills of Kabanah, Deir Al-Akrad and the frontline of Jabal Al-Turkman.
Ground bombardment and clashes leave casualties
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) activists documented the death of 11 people in April; they are as follows:
- Four civilians, all children.
- Five members of regime forces, including two officers.
- Two members of the factions, including one jihadist who blew himself up.
Here are further details:
- April 3: An HTS member was killed and three others were injured, two seriously, in clashes with regime forces on the frontline of Al-Fterah village in the southern countryside of Idlib.
- April 4: SOHR activists documented the death of four children in rocket attacks by regime forces on Maarrat Al-Na’saan in the northern countryside of Idlib, where the children were on their way to school.
- April 10: A captain and a soldier of regime forces were shot dead by HTS snipers on the frontline of Dadikh village in the eastern countryside of Idlib.
- April 11: A regime soldier was killed by opposition factions on the frontline of Al-Burayj in southern Idlib.
- April 15: A regime soldier was killed and four others were injured, as well as the death of a jihadist of “Ansar Al-Islam” faction in a suicidal operation. According to SOHR sources, the jihadist blew himself up in a regime position on the frontline of Al-Sarmaniyah in Sahl Al-Ghab area in the north-western countryside of Hama.
- April 22: A regime lieutenant from Jininat Raslan village in Latakia countryside was shot dead by a sniper of the factions on the frontline of Kabanah in the northern countryside of Latakia.
13 casualties in incidents of security chaos
SOHR activists documented seven incidents of security disorder in HTS-held areas in April, which left ten people dead, including a woman and a child, and five others injured. Further details of the circumstances of these incidents can be summarised as follows:
- April 9: Two unidentified persons were found dead in a farmland near Majdaliyah village in southern Idlib.
- April 10: A child was killed in gunfire by two gunmen on a motorcycle, while he was herding sheep with his father and brother in a farmland in Ariha city. Local sources reported that the murderers were of Hayyaat Tahrir Al-Sham and that the boy was killed by mistake.
- April 13: Two civilians were killed in Idlib city in gunfire by a gunman who was also killed later by HTS security service, when he refused to surrender.
- April 16: Five civilians, including a woman, were killed in a fight among civilians following disagreements over herding sheep in a civilian’s farmland in Salqin city in the northern countryside of Idlib.
- April 17: A man was shot dead by another man on the road to Kherbet Al-Jouz in Jisr Al-Shughour countryside in western Idlib following disputes between them.
- April 17: A woman was found dead in the area between Kafr Karmin and Babkah villages in the western countryside of Aleppo. However, the circumstances of the murder and the identities of the perpetrators remain unknown.
- April 17: Two men were found dead with gunshot wounds in the head near Majdaliyah area in the eastern countryside of Idlib.
- April 19: A man sustained injuries after unknown gunmen opened fire on him in front of his house in Sarmin town.
Movements and reinforcements by Turkish and regime forces.
Turkish forces continued boosting their positions in “Putin-Erdogan” through brining in tens of vehicles and military and logistical supplies, where a batch of reinforcement comprising 40 Turkish armoured vehicles and eight trucks carrying military and logistical supplies crossed into Syria via Bab Al-Hawa crossing in northern Idlib.
While on April 8, two other batches of reinforcement arrived in north-west Syria region comprising nearly 41 vehicles, including tanks, tracked personnel carriers and rocket launchers. The two batches headed to the Turkish base in Al-Talae’ camp in Al-Mastoumah in southern Idlib. The Turkish reinforcement was distributed later to posts in the “de-escalation zone in south and east of Idlib.
Meanwhile, Turkish forces have been evacuating their posts in the “de-escalation zone,” such as posts in Ihsim town, areas nearby the international highway (M4), where equipment are being transported to posts on frontlines with regime forces and on backlines in the eastern countryside of Idlib.
On the other hand, large military reinforcement of the regime and Russian-backed 25th Division arrived in the eastern countryside of Maarrat Al-Nu’man in the last week of April. A part of this reinforcement was delivered to Al-Ghadfah town which hosts one of the most prominent training camps and centres of the division.
The other part was escorted by Russian helicopters to Abu Al-Zuhour military airbase which hosts the largest gathering of the 25th Division in Idlib countryside.
Arrests target jihadists and rebels
As Hayyaat Tahrir Al-Sham has continued its arrest campaign against jihadists in areas under its control in order to dominate and impose full control of north-west Syria region, its security service launched a large-scale campaign in early April in different areas in Aleppo city and countryside, arresting seven jihadists, including two Egyptians.
Meanwhile, HTS security members have stolen all the contents of jihadists’ houses, including money, weapons, mobile phones and laptops.
On the other hand, HTS released Abu Abd Al-Rahman Al-Mikky who is a Saudi jihadist of “Hurras Al-Din” organisation, after he was detained for years. HTS had arrested “Al-Mikky” in February, 2020. During his detention, “Al-Mikky” went on a hunger strike with his fellow prisoners after they had been harassed inside the prison, while his former Syrian companion “Mas’ab Kan’an” was killed by a strike by the “International Coalition” in Idlib countryside.
In mid-April, a state of tension ignited between HTS and Al-Sham Corps, which is close to the Turkish intelligence, over exchange of arrests at Al-Ghazawiyyah crossing in the western countryside of Aleppo, which links between HTS-held areas and areas under the control of the “National Army” factions and Turkish forces in Aleppo countryside.
Deteriorating humanitarian situation and soaring prices in Ramadan
With the beginning of April, which coincided with the holy month of Ramadan, prices of most of goods, foodstuffs and fuel have experienced a noticeable increase in Idlib markets, further burdening the province’s inhabitants, especially the displaced people. Idlib province, as well as across the entire Syrian geography, witnessed dreadful living conditions, lack of job opportunities, low salaries and wages and almost-complete suspension of support provided by humanitarian organisations.
Most of basic products increased by 15 to 30 percent, noting that the prices before Ramadan were relatively high and unaffordable by most of the displaced people and inhabitants.
SOHR sources confirmed that the cost of an Iftar meal reached 100 TL at a time when a daily wage in Idlib city and countryside approximates 25 TL.
SOHR reported a list of the new prices of some essential products on markets in Idlib city and countryside as follows:
- Lamb: 115 TL per kilogram.
- Chicken meat: 35 TL per kilogram.
- Tomato: 25 TL per kilogram.
- Potato: 10 TL per kilogram.
- Aubergine: 25 TL per kilogram.
- Cucumber: 20 TL per kilogram.
- Fava beans: 15 TL per kilogram.
- Turkish courgette: 13 TL per kilogram.
- Syrian courgette: 30 TL per kilogram.
- Cabbage: 4 TL per kilogram.
- Onion: 5 TL per kilogram.
- Lemon: 6 TL per kilogram.
- Carrot: 5 TL per kilogram.
- Parsley: 8 TL per bundle.
- Orange: 10 TL per kilogram.
- Somali banana: 15 TL per kilogram.
While the latest prices of fuel, set by “Watad Petroleum Company,” were as follows:
- Petrol: 17 TL per litre.
- Diesel: 14 TL per litre.
- Gas cylinder: 183 TL.
It is worth noting that the Turkish lira against the US dollar recorded 14.7 TL.
For instance, in Ramadan, a family of five needed at least 150 Turkish liras a day to purchase the following foodstuff for preparing frugal Iftar (breaking fast) and Suhoor (meal eaten before fasting):
- One kilogram of aubergine.
- One kilogram of courgette.
- One kilogram of tomato.
- A litre of cooking oil.
- Two packs of bread.
- One bunch of parsley and another of mint.
This shows the considerable difference between the daily expenses of a family and its income.
Idlib city and countryside in north-west region have experienced unprecedented living crisis due to mishandling of the region’s affairs by the holders of powers, Hayyaat Tahrir Al-Sham and the “Salvation Government,” as well as the imposition of taxes and levies on the commercial movement.
Poisonous “iftar meals”
In the wake of the extreme poverty in the “de-escalation zone”, north-west Syria region experienced a noticeable decline in the activities of humanitarian organisations and charitable associations this Ramadan, including distribution of Iftar meals, food baskets and meat and setting “Mawa’ed Al-Rahman” (tables spread with food provided for free to the poor and passers-by, and these tables are set outdoors during Ramadan, at the time of Iftar), unlike previous years. Such charitable activities and projects had help poor families to bear the costs of living during Ramadan.
However, tens of civilians were transported to hospitals on April 25, after having fallen ill with suspected food poisoning due to consuming “off” meals provided by aid organisations. In “Al-Mulk Lellah” camp in Atma in northern Idlib, at least 12 civilians: seven children and three women and two men, were hospitalised, as well as 30 other civilians form Dar Al-Keram camp in Jabal Killi in Idlib countryside, mostly civilians.
The number of cases of food poisoning increased to over 150, after a local hospital had announced receiving more than 100 cases from Al-Aynaa, Kafr Oweid, Al-Mahabah and Al-Mukhtar camps in Idlib countryside.
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 the 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.