Geneva - Ongoing violence in parts of north-east Syria, which began over a week ago, has resulted in the deaths of several civilians and the destruction of many civil facilities, said Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor in a statement.
At least 54 civilians, including four children, have been killed since 27 August as a result of the latest armed clashes. According to the United Nations, critical public infrastructure has been severely damaged, including two hospitals and three water treatment facilities. Clashes between the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and militants affiliated with certain Arab tribes in the region exacerbate civilian suffering, adding to the dire humanitarian conditions people have been forced to endure for years due to the larger conflict and deteriorating economy.
The clashes between the SDF and militants affiliated with Arab tribes in some villages in Deir ez-Zor Governorate’s eastern countryside erupted after the SDF detained Ahmad al-Khabil, the head of the Deir ez-Zor Military Council, and launched Operation Security Reinforcement in the capital city “to counter ISIS sleeper cells, disrupt smuggling networks, and combat drug trafficking”.
As militants announced attacks on SDF outposts in Ayn Issa, Manbij, Tell Tamer, and other cities, the violence spread to areas outside Aleppo, Al Hasakah, and Raqqa. The civilians have been killed as a result of the mutual bombardment, and hundreds have been displaced in search of safety.
Five of the victims were killed and other civilians injured earlier this month in the al-Mohsenli village in the Jarabulus countryside, east of Aleppo, after the city was shelled by artillery believed to be fired from SDF outposts. The city was also targeted by air strikes believed to have been launched by Russian warplanes after militants affiliated with Arab tribes took control of the city following clashes with the SDF.
After regaining control of Al Busayrah, a town in the Deir ez-Zor countryside, the SDF reportedly carried out a random detention campaign, detaining dozens of civilians for their alleged participation in the fighting—a worrying indication that both parties to the conflict are carrying out retaliatory acts in the country’s conflict zones.
“In times of armed conflict, civilians always bear the brunt, as warring parties disregard the legal and moral norms that require civilians to be protected and kept away from hostilities,” said Euro-Med Monitor’s Chief Operating Officer Anas Jerjawi.
“The clashes in some areas of northern and eastern Syria highlight the country’s fragile security and political situation,” stated Jerjawi. He added that the conflict, which has lasted over 12 years, “has sown the seeds of political, sectarian, and ethnic tension that could erupt at any moment, emphasising the importance of addressing the deep roots of these tensions rather than simply implementing superficial or temporary solutions”.
Targeting civilians and civilian objects may constitute a war crime, as parties to a conflict are obligated under international humanitarian and human rights law to take several measures to protect civilians and civilian objects, as well as ensure the continued flow of vital goods and basic materials to the population.
The Syrian Democratic Forces and the militants affiliated with some of Syria’s Arab tribes must immediately cease all military operations, stop using violence to resolve crises, and refrain from targeting civilians and civil facilities.
Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor urges influential actors in Syria, particularly the United States, which is the SDF’s primary supporter, to pressure all involved parties to halt military operations; refrain from starting new conflicts, which would compound the suffering of an already vulnerable population; and engage in dialogue to avoid further bloodshed.