The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights

Iran’s presence in Syria in June 2022 | Violations and hectic movements in Homs and west Euphrates…demographic change in Hama…public rejection of Iranian presence in Al-Hasakah

SOHR calls upon all international actors to intensify their efforts to expel Iran and its proxies from Syria and bring to justice all those who aided and abetted the killing and displacement of Syrian people

Iran and its proxy militias have unprecedented influence in most areas under the “symbolic” regime control, as neither attacks by Israel and the International Coalition, nor the “cold war” with Russia could hinder the alarming entrenchment and expansion of these forces across Syria. Strengthening their presence and promoting their ideology, the Iranians are still carrying on with their systematic plan to change the demography of different areas throughout Syria’s geography.

 

In the following report, SOHR highlights the key developments in areas dominated by the Iranians in June 2022.

 

 

Blatant violations and hectic movements in Homs and west Euphrates region

 

 

Homs

 

On June 10, reliable sources informed SOHR that militiamen affiliated to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) burned down five houses in a neighbourhood in the western part of the archaeological city of Palmyra in the eastern countryside of Homs. According to SOHR sources, these militiamen gave weak arguments for burning down the civilian houses, such as “the owners of these houses dealt previously with ISIS and opposition factions” and “the owners of these houses live in areas outside the control of regime forces and Iranian-backed militias or live abroad.”

 

Observatory sources confirmed that the IRGC-backed militiamen used a special substance used for fragmenting concrete, while they were burning down the houses, where individuals affiliated with these militiamen were seen extracting iron used in the construction of houses and copper wires which would be sold later on.

 

It is worth noting that such violations took place in full view of regime forces which took no action, despite appeals by the residents of Palmyra city to curb the expansion of Iranian-backed militias in the city and put an end to their violations.

 

Iranian-backed militias had seized civilian houses in Palmyra and furniture of houses under the pretext that “some of these houses’ owners had participated in the peaceful protests against the Syrian regime, while the others had engaged into fight alongside opposition factions and ISIS.”

 

While on June 21, the Iranian-backed Afghan militia of “Liwaa Fatimiyon” operating in the archaeological city of Palmyra in the eastern countryside of Homs turned the grain silos building which is located ten kilometres to the east of Palmyra and near Palmyra-Deir Ezzor highway into a new headquarters for its members.

 

Three days later, on June 24, military checkpoints of the Iranian-backed Afghan militia of “Liwaa Fatimiyon” and Lebanese Hezbollah, stationed at the entrances of Al-Qaryatayn city in south eastern Homs countryside, launched an inspection campaign on those who were traveling into and out of the city, checking cars and passengers rigorously for unknown reasons. Moreover, members participating in the campaign asked passengers to show their IDs.

 

Also, reliable sources informed SOHR that an Iranian expert, escorted by guards of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, arrived at Al-Sawwanah site to do researches in the area of phosphate fields which is under the control of Iranian-backed militias, south of Palmyra.

 

According to SOHR sources, this was the third Iranian expert to arrive in the area, as two other experts had arrived in late March.

 

It is worth noting that the guard escorting the Iranian experts was changed and they were guarded by ten IRGC-backed militiamen and were transported in that area in armoured vehicles.

 

On June 28, Iranian-backed Afghan militia of “Liwaa Fatimiyoun” transported large quantities of weapons and ammunitions to fortified positions in basements in the area of the old Al-Hal market in Palmyra city, near Palmyra military airbase. The militias periodically store weapons at underground fortified posts and change their sites from Palmyra to areas west of Euphrates for fear of being targeted by Israel and International Coalition.

 

 

West Euphrates region

 

On June 3, Iranian-backed militias in Al-Bokamal city in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor expelled several families from their houses under the pretext of “living in SDF-controlled areas for a while.” It is worth noting that these families had displaced to SDF-controlled areas for years, because of the fierce battles between regime forces and Iranian-backed militias on one hand, and ISIS on the other in Al-Bokamal city, before they returned to their houses nearly two months ago.

 

According to SOHR sources, Iranian-backed militias had expelled other families from Al-Bokamal city and countryside under the same pretext. Iranian-backed militias had also arrested teachers from Al-Bokamal city for “communicating with their relatives who live in SDF-held areas.”

 

While on June 5, a group called “Al-Qadisiyah Cubs” burned down a poster of “Al-Khomeini” which was stuck on a lamppost in Hawd Al-Forat area (the Euphrates Basin area) in Deir Ezzor city, before they escaped.

 

Moreover, a shipment of surface-to-surface missiles was brought in by Iranian-backed militias to bases in Al-Mazarea area in Al-Mayadeen desert, the “Iranian capital” in west Euphrates region. The missile shipment entered Syria from Iraq on June 13, via an unofficial crossing. According to Observatory sources, the Iranian missiles “Fajr 5” were transported in vegetable trucks and stored in underground warehouses in Al-Mazarea area.

 

Similarly, on June 22, four “commercial cargo” trucks belonging to Iranian-backed militias arrived in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor from Iraq. The trucks headed to the archaeological area of Al-Shibli on the outskirts of Al-Mayadeen, east of Deir Ezzor, and then headed to the positions of Iranian-backed militias in Maadan desert in Al-Raqqah province. According to SOHR sources, these trucks carry weapons and ammunitions, including Iranian-made medium-range missiles.

 

On June 25, SOHR Iran-backed militias arrested over 30 local members for “refusing to participate in combing campaigns in the area from Al-Bokamal desert to Al-Salihiyah and Al-Suway’iyah deserts in Deir Ezzor countryside.

 

Also, on June 27, “Liwaa Fatimiyoun” rehabilitated a tunnel linking “fodder warehouses” and the “gym” on the outskirts of Al-Mayadeen city in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor. That tunnel had been dug by SIS during its control of the area in 2016. Recently, Fatimiyoun militia fully rehabilitated and equipped the tunnel to use it. SOHR sources confirmed that this tunnel is strategic, as it links the fodder warehouses and the gym, which are headquarters of Iranian-backed militias in Al-Mayadeen area. Moreover, the tunnel facilitates the transport and storage of weapons and ammunitions without being monitored by aircraft.

 

 

Demographic change in Hama and public rejection of Iranian presence in Al-Hasakah

 

Iranian-backed militias, which have been deployed in various areas under the control of the Syrian regime across Syria, continue their violations and demographic change by settling families of their members in areas whose inhabitants have been forced to displace after these militias having took control of the region.

 

In this context, SOHR sources reported that the Afghan militia of“Liwaa Fatimiyoun” settled, in June, families of some of its fighters in houses in the villages of Al-Sheikh Hilal, Al-Rahjan and Al-Shakuzeh in northeastern Hama countryside.

 

It is worth noting that most of the inhabitants of these villages, which is inhabited mostly by Al-Muwali tribe, have been forced to displace to northern Syria, after regime forces backed by Iranian-backed militias captured these villages.

 

“Liwaa Fatimyioun” had previously settled the families of its fighters in several areas, such as Palmyra, its countryside and other areas in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor, the eastern countryside of Aleppo and the vicinity of Sayeda Zeinab area, south of the capital Damascus.

 

On the other hand, unidentified persons distributed paper flyers in regime security zone areas in Al-Hasakah city against Lebanese Hezbollah presence in the area and expressed rejection of recruitment operations of people into its ranks and Iranian-backed militias. These leaflets, of which the Syrian Observatory obtained a copy, read:

 

“Lebanese Hezbollah is the most prominent Iranian proxy militia. Reprehensible practices, heinous crimes and blatant violations by Hezbollah members lead to instability wherever they go. Hezbollah funds depend mainly on drug business, and the group seems indifferent to the damage caused by such activities.

 

Sadly, the residents in Al-Hasakah have been plagued by this group which is stationed in regime bases and working secretly to undermine and security stability which we need. Every month, the Lebanese Hezbollah brings in more weapons to Al-Hasakah.

 

Lebanese pilgrims reside in the security zone, where they monitor the conditions of the region’s residents, before commanders, led by ‘Haji Mahdi,’ try to recruit our young men and turn them into agents and proxies for foreign powers working against the interests of their people.

 

We, the residents of Al-Hasakah, do not accept the presence of the Lebanese Hezbollah and its activities in our city. ‘No to Hezbollah presence in Al-Hasakah.’”

 

 

Ongoing Israeli attacks

 

As Israel continues to violate Syria’s sovereignty, SOHR documented two Israeli attacks waged on regime-controlled areas in Syria in June, with the first taking place on June 6 when loud explosions were heard in the southern part of Rif Dimashq due to an Israeli aerial attack on military positions in Al-Keswa area where militiamen of the Lebanese Hezbollah and Syrian regime batteries are deployed. The site was targeted with nearly ten missiles, nearly seven of which were intercepted by regime air-defences. Also, an Israeli missile hit a position in Aqraba town, which caused material damage only.

 

The second attack, which targeted Damascus international airport and put it out of service, took place on June 10. On that day, Israel fired several missiles on Damascus international airport, specifically the northern runway, the control tower, the old arrivals halls, three hangars and warehouses. It is worth noting that these old arrival halls, vast parts of which were destroyed, had been opened previously for those who were on their way to Saudi Arabia to perform pilgrimage. These halls were later used for welcoming senior commanders of IRGC and Lebanese Hezbollah secretly and temporarily storing Iranian weapons, before Iranian headquarters were transported to areas to the south of Damascus. The airport was back in service on June 22, after maintenance work had been accomplished.

 

 

Separately, three Iranian-backed militias were killed in an attack by ISIS members on a bus carrying them in Al-Shawla desert in south Deir Ezzor countryside.

 

 

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) is used to hearing the Syrian regime’s empty mantra that it always reserves the right to respond to Israeli attacks. However, regime forces do not hesitate when it comes to shelling opposition positions or bombarding residential and civilian areas inside Syria. The Iranians also dare not launch a large-scale military operation against Israel, as they know full well that they will be facing the might of Israel’s military, so the Iranians seem satisfied with letting its proxies do its bidding by firing only a few rockets from time to time on the occupied Syrian Golan, using the Iranian and Hezbollah-backed movement “Syrian Resistance to Liberate Golan”.

 

At a time when the Syrian regime “intercepts and downs” Israeli missiles only with a Russian green light, Israel can hit Iranian targets -with the purpose of undermining the Iranian military presence in Syria- and only with Russia’s full consent.

 

On the other hand, Washington justifies Israel’s stance that “Tel Aviv practices its legal rights to defend its security and interests against the Iranian direct threat”, not to mention the US desire to get Syria free of Iranian forces and militias.

 

We, at the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), call for keeping the Syrian civilians out of the regional conflicts as the targeted areas and facilities are owned by Syrian people alone, not by Iran or its proxy militias.

 

SOHR stresses the importance of expelling the Iranian forces and militias from Syria without risking the safety and lives of civilians or damaging Syria’s public properties and facilities.