The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights

“Putin-Erdogan” area in July 2022 | Horrific massacre and 24 airstrikes by Russian jets…Turkish assurances and military movements near frontlines…military escalation by regime forces

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 July 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:



Russian fighter jets commit horrific massacre


SOHR has documented 24 airstrikes executed by Russian fighter jets in “Putin-Erdogan” area in the past month, which left seven civilians, including four children, dead.


Here are further details of Russian airstrikes monitored by SOHR activists:


  • July 6: Russian fighter jets carried out 12 airstrikes on the surrounding areas of Bayanin, Al-Ruwayha and Shanan in southern Idlib.


  • July 12: Two Russian fighter jets carried out eight airstrikes on the surrounding areas of Mashoun and Balshoun in Jabal Al-Zawiyah, to the flank of M4 international highway.


  • July 22: A Russian fighter jet committed a horrific massacre when it targeted Al-Jadidah village to the north of Jisr Al-Shughour city in Idlib countryside with four airstrikes. The attack left seven civilians, four sibling children, two men and an unidentified person, dead. Also, over 11 displaced civilians sustained various injuries.



Hundreds of shells hit more than 30 positions


Beside the repeated Russian airstrikes on the “de-escalation zone,” regime ground attacks also continued in July. SOHR sources reported that more than 2,150 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 33 positions in the rural areas of Aleppo, Idlib, Hama and Latakia.


Regime attacks are distributed regionally as follows:


  • Aleppo: 600 shells and rockets hit Darat Izza city, the villages of Kafr Nouran, Kafr Amah, Al-Sheikh Suleiman, Taqad, Tadeel and Kafr Taal.


  • Idlib: 700 shells and rockets hit Bayanin, Hursh Bayanin, Sfouhen, Al-Rouwayah, Al-Fatirah, Sarja, Kansafra, Al-Mawzarah, Magharat Aliya, Deir Sonbul, Ain Larouz, Al-Barah, Maarat Al-Naasan and the surrounding areas of Sarmin and Afes.


  • Hama: 400 shells and rockets hit Al-Sarmaniya, Al-Mabaqer, Al-Mashik, Al-Ankawi, Kharbah Al-Naqous, Tel Waset, Al-Mansourah and Al-Qarqour.


  • Latakia countryside: 450 shells and rockets hit Al-Tuffahiyah frontline, 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 escalating bombardment in “Putin-Erdogan” area in July, which caused the death of eight people; they are as follows:


  • Three civilians: two children and a woman.


  • Five combatants.



Here are further details:


  • July 4: A woman was killed and another woman and a child sustained serious injuries in artillery fire by regime forces on Maarrat Al-Na’san town in Idlib countryside near the administrative border with Aleppo province.


  • July 4: A member of the “National Liberation Front” was shot dead by regime forces on a frontline in Jabal Al-Zawiyah.


  • July 6: A rebel was killed and four others were injured, some seriously, by the explosion of an advanced landmine nearby Kansafra town in the southern countryside of Idlib.


  • July 11: A rebel commander was killed and two others were injured by bombardment by regime forces on Kafr Ammah frontline in the western countryside of Aleppo.


  • July 22: Two members of “Ansar Al-Tawheed” faction were killed by regime bombardment on on Al-Fterah frontline in Jabal Al-Zawiyah in the southern countryside of Idlib.


  • July 30: Two children were killed in artillery attacks by regime forces on Kafr Taal town in the western countryside of Aleppo.



Incidents of security chaos leave one dead


SOHR activists documented only one incident of security disorder in HTS-held areas in Idlib city and surrounding villages in July, which left a man dead. According to SOHR sources, a young man was found dead with gunshot wounds and dumped in an area between Al-Daghali village and Maryamin in Jisr Al-Shughour countryside, was of Idlib, on July 1. The victim was robbed of money.



Abandoned new-born babies


On July 18, a new-born girl was found dead in a black bag left in an olive farmland in Killi town which is controlled by Hayyaat Tahrir Al-Sham in northern Idlib.



Incidents of suicide


Also, in July, SOHR activists documented only one suicide in “Putin-Erdogan” area, as a little girl had a “rice tablet” (tablets of Aluminum Phosphide which is readily available as a fumigant for stored cereal grains). The girl was from Kafr Sajnah town in Idlib countryside and lived in a refugee camp in HTS-controlled areas in north Syria region.



Turkish assurances to residents and military movements near frontlines


The “de-escalation zone” experienced hectic military movements by Turkish forces in July 2022, including arrival of military reinforcement at several posts. The most prominent movements can be summarised as follows:


On July 5, a Turkish military column crossed into Syria, via the military crossing of Ain Al-Baydaa in west Idlib countryside, before the troops were deployed in Turkish posts in east Idlib countryside and west Aleppo countryside. The column comprised tanks and various tracked military vehicles, mainly launchers of heat-seeking anti-tank missile which were seen for the first time in Syria. The column was escorted by anonymous military vehicles which also entered Syria for the first time.


While, on July 7, SOHR sources reported preparations for establishing a new military post by Turkish forces in Sahl Al-Ghab area in the north-western countryside of Hama. According to SOHR sources, mechanised digger erected soil barriers while reinforcement, including logistical supplies and cement blocks, arrived in the new post. The new post is located near Kherbet Al-Naqous town in Sahl Al-Ghab, on the frontlines with regime forces stationed in Jurin town. The strategic importance of the new post is manifested in its location near regime positions and the Russian camp in Mirza fortress in the north-west of Jurin.


Also, a Turkish column of tens of vehicles and trucks carrying heavy weapons, rocket launchers, armoured personnel carriers and logistical supplies, entered Syria via Kafr Lusin crossing and stopped at Bab Al-Hawa crossing on July 18. The column later headed to Turkish military posts in Idlib countryside.


A day later, July 19, Several Turkish military convoys arrived in frontlines with regime forces in Kansafra town, before heavy weapons and vehicles were deployed to frontlines with regime forces in Kafr Nebl, Hazarin and Basqala. These convoys crossed into Syria a few hours after the conclusion of the latest trilateral summit in Tehran.


On July 11, the Turkish command distributed a circular to all military posts in the “de-escalation zone,” instructing commanders in charge of these posts to count all civilian properties in which Turkish forces are stationed and around military posts, which were damaged by military acts. According to the circular, the damaged real-estate units would be categorised according to the level of destruction, whether being totally or partially damaged, and all details about these units would be documented and referred to the Turkish leadership which would deliver reports on these units to the Turkish government. Turkish governmental organisations are expected to rehabilitate all real-estate units which were damaged in and around the Turkish military posts in the “de-escalation zone.”


Moreover, Turkish officers, headed by the commander-in-chief of Turkish forces in Idlib province in north-western Syria, met with dignitaries and representatives of Jabal Al-Zawiyah area in the southern countryside of Idlib inside the Turkish base in Balyon village in south Idlib countryside on July 19. According to Observatory sources, Turkish officers asked the dignitaries and representatives of Jabal Al-Zawiyah area to persuade displaced people to return to their homes and villages and promise to improve the services in Jabal Al-Zawiyah area which is under the control of the factions and where a large number of Turkish positions and bases are located. The Turkish demand for the return of displaced people came in light of the daily bombardment by regime forces on the area. However, the displaced people are concerned about meeting the same a fate of residents in the northern countryside of Hama and the southern and eastern countryside of Idlib in 2019. Regime forces then successively took control of cities and towns in these areas, while Turkish forces took no action to repel regime attacks. On the contrary, Turkish forces withdrew from their bases.



Ground attack target Turkish military bases


On July 10, regime forces fired several artillery shells on Turkish posts in the north of Saraqeb city in Idlib countryside, where four shells hit sites inside one of these bases.


Similarly, in mid-July, several artillery shells fired by regime forces on the perimeter of a Turkish military post in western Saraqeb. However, no casualties have been reported.



First UN aid convoy enters Syria after extending cross-border aid delivery


On July 28, a UN aid convoy of 14 trucks crossed into Idlib province in north-western Syrian, via Bab Al-Hawa crossing. It is worth noting that this was the first UN aid convoy to enter Syria following a Security Council decision to extend a vital system for cross-border aid to Syria.


On the other hand, other convoys crossed into north Syria, via Al-Tarnabah crossing separating areas controlled by opposition factions and regime-controlled areas in Idlib countryside.



Frequent flights by drones searching for jihadists


The “de-escalation zone” experienced frequent flights by drones during the past month as apart of systematic search operations and elimination of jihadists. According to SOHR sources, unknown armed drones, believed to be affiliated to the International Coalition, were seen hovering over areas hosting commanders and sharia officials of “Hurras Al-Din” organisation on the 16th and 18th of July. It is worth noting that several commanders hide in areas in the northern countryside of Idlib, near the Syria border with Iskenderun region.



HTS continues its security campaigns against jihadists


Hayyaat Tahrir Al-Sham continued its security campaign against extremist jihadists in areas under its control as a part of HTS efforts polish its image in front of the international community and gain international recognition.


In the first ten days of July, HTS security services arrested at least 15 commanders and ten members of its ranks, at Turkish intelligence’s orders. The campaign was concentrated in Al-Dubayt, Al-Jame’a and Al-Sa’a neighbourhoods in Idlib city, the ares of Salqin, Al-Dana and Sarmada in northern Idlib, on the Syria border with Iskenderun region. According to SOHR sources, the jihadist commanders who were arrested included:


  • “Abu Al-Qasim Al-Shami,” a former judge in Hayyaat Tahrir Al-Sham.


  • “Abu Bakr Mahin,” the leader of “Liwaa Ali” which is a prominent faction affiliated to Hayyaat Tahrir Al-Sham and a former commander in the former “Jabhat Al-Nusra” in Qalamoun.


  • “Abu Malek Al-Telli” who was arrested while escorting “Abu Bakr Mahin.”


  • “Abu Hafs,” a prominent commander in “Liwaa Talha” which is a prominent battalion affiliated to Hayyaat Tahrir Al-Sham.


  • “Abu Saied Al-Homsi,” a prominent commander in “Al-Asa’ib Al-Hamraa” (the Red Headbands). “Al-Asa’ib Al-Hamraa” group is HTS elite forces.


The campaign of arrests against prominent jihadist of HTS started after HTS security service had arrested tens of jihadists of Syrian and non-Syrian nationalities in “Hurras Al-Din” organisation and other jihadist organisations and groups, as well as curbing activity of many jihadist groups in the region.


These developments came as a part of understandings and coordination between Turkish intelligence and Hayyaat Tahrir Al-Sham, led by “Abu Mohammad Al-Julani,” as HTS attempts to gain the international community’s trust and respect and change its stance towards the terrorist-labeled group.


In the meantime, HTS continued prosecuting other extremist jihadist in areas under its control, as many are hidden, while others were fled from these areas, fearing arrests. Among those who fled from HTS-controlled areas was the senior jihadist and former commander in HTS and Al-Qaeda, “Abu Al-Yaqazan Al-Masri,” as he managed to escape to Turkey.


In the same period, HTS security service arrested nine members of an anonymous jihadist group known as “Ansar Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq Battalion” which had claimed responsibility of earlier attacks on Turkish military convoys and posts in Idlib.


According to SOHR activists, these members were arrested in the several areas across Idlib province: Idlib city, Al-Dana, Atma, Salqin, Harem in northern Idlib, near the Syria border with Iskenderun region, and areas in Jisr Al-Shughour countryside in western Idlib.


Moreover, dignitaries of Al-Bo Salim tribe issued a statement, denouncing practices by HTS members while arresting the elder and judge “Abu Al-Qassim Al-Shamy.” As the dignitaries described in their statement, HTS members trespassed the judge’s house and inspected it inappropriately. The dignitaries demanded HTS release the judge immediately.



Old ordnance poses threaten to residents’ safety and lives


Old landmines and unexploded projectile in “Putin-Erdogan” area are still posing a considerable threat to the safety and lives of civilians living there. In this context, SOHR activists reported on July 16 that two children sustained serious injuries due to the explosion of an unexploded projectile in Ain Larouz town in Idlib countryside.


While on July 30, a little girl was killed and his brother was seriously injured by the explosion of a unexploded cluster bomb in Al-Ghassaniyyah town in Idlib countryside.


It is worth noting that old ordnance, including landmines and unexploded bombs, shells, grenades and projectiles are strewn everywhere in residential areas, amid lack of specialist teams to remove them or raise the awareness of residents, particularly children, about the threats which this ordnance poses.




Al-Julani provides new service to religious minorities in Idlib


As Al-Julani spares no efforts to gain international acceptance and polish his image in front of international community with the aim of removing his group from the US list of designated terrorist groups, counting on his success in curbing chaos and insecurity situation and running affairs of HTS-held areas in Idlib, the leader of Hayyaat Tahrir Al-Sham in Idlib has started to change his previous discriminating policy against religious minorities in HTS-held areas, such as Christians and Druze.


After years of a systematic policy of marginalisation exerted by local authorities represented by “Salvation Government,” the executive wing in HTS-controlled areas, against the religious minorities, Abu Muhammad Al-Julani paid two rounds of visits in July to villages inhabited by religious minorities; those villages included:


  • Jabal Al-Sammaq” area, also known as “Jabal Al-Druze,” in northern Idlib countryside which is inhabited by Druze.


  • Al-Yaqoubiyah and Al-Qaniyah villages in Jisr Al-Shughour area in western Idlib countryside, which are inhabited by a few Christians, where Al-Julani met with these villages’ dignitaries to deliver services to them and improve their living conditions.


During a visit to Jabal Al-Sammaq area, Al-Julani inaugurated a water well to feed the surrounding villages with drinking water. During the visit, Al-Julani met with dignitaries of the villages of Jabal Al-Sammaq and discussed the humanitarian situation and their requirements, where Al-Julani promised to fulfil their demands and improve the poor services and their living conditions.


When Al-Julani visited villages north of Jisr Al-Shughour in the western countryside of Idlib, he announced no specific service projects to be implemented in these villages which host thousands of displaced people. The villagers also demanded Al-Julani to bring back their properties.



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.