There are increasing signs of cooperation and warming relations between the Assad regime and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), as the two seek a common front against the threat of a possible Turkish incursion into Self Administration-held territory. The opening of a new land bridge linking regime and SDF territory on either side of the Euphrates River in early July was just one such sign of the recent thaw, while there are also signs that regime forces are being given a wider berth by the SDF to mobilize troops toward frontline positions near the demarcation line with Turkey. Russia is meanwhile playing a crucial role in facilitating this emerging relationship, acting as a mediator between the two sides––for instance, Russia supervised one meeting that brought military leaders from both sides together at Qamishli International Airport last month. Fear of an imminent Turkish invasion within the SDF leadership has also led to a massive forced recruitment drive by the group, which has taken extensive measures to apprehend and detain young men who have so far managed to avoid military service. The ongoing conscription drives have focused especially on majority-Arab regions of Deir Ezzor, where many residents also strongly reject the possibility of defensive cooperation with the regime. The arrests have only served to further enrage segments of the civilian population, with families of recent conscripts organizing sustained protests against the actions of SDF-affiliated security forces. The contentious policy is compounding civil unrest amidst an intensifying fuel crisis, which has hampered mobility across north-east Syria, and is poised to trigger new price hikes for goods as transportation costs soar.
Attached Map: Military Situation in North-East Syria – 2nd August 2022
- SDF-regime summit: Members of the SDF and Assad regime held a meeting at Qamishli International Airport, under Russian supervision, to negotiate steps to confront a possible Turkish military offensive (19.7). On the regime side, the meeting was attended by the director of the Syrian defense minister’s office as well as a number of military and security leaders, while the SDF delegation included a number of ranking military leaders.
- Bridge opening: In a further sign of warming ties and deepening cooperation between the SDF and Assad regime amidst a possible Turkish invasion, a new land crossing opened across the demarcation line connecting the towns of al-Junaina and al-Hussainiya (2.7).
- Conscription drive: The Executive Council in Deir Ezzor issued a circular requesting the names of all employees eligible for conscription by military authorities in regions under SDF control (6.7). The circular came hours after the Self Administration declared a state of emergency in anticipation of a Turkish military operation. This conscription drive also included raids aimed at detaining young men for military service in the towns of Baghuz, as-Susah and Mozan in the eastern Deir Ezzor countryside (32.7).
- Arrests: The SDF has carried out dozens of raids and arrests in recent weeks, targeting several neighborhoods in Hasakah, a number of villages in the Hasakah countryside, including al-Hol, Tal Tawil and Wadi al-Rad, and the villages of al-Shaddadi, al-Sirajiyeh and al-Hawizia in the eastern Deir Ezzor countryside (9.7-28.7). At least 31 individuals were arrested for suspected ISIS membership while 20 others were detained for working with the Turkish government in addition to two suspected of passing secrets to the regime and another individual arrested for smuggling activities.
- Prisoner releases: The SDF released a number of prisoners previously held for forced conscription in al-Suwar in the eastern Deir Ezzor countryside (20.7). The releases followed a long public pressure campaign by detainees’ families and threats of violence against police.
- Anti-SDF attacks: ISIS attacks targeting the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have continued to decline in number, though violence still persists across north-east Syria. ISIS is suspected of carrying out four armed attacks and two IED strikes against the SDF in Hasakah and Deir Ezzor provinces, leading to seven deaths and a number of serious injuries (1.7-29.7).
- Anti-regime attacks: ISIS elements launched simultaneous armed motorcycle attacks against regime forces, in al-Tabani and al-Masrib Badi, both in Deir Ezzor province (16.7). Another IED blast struck regime forces combing the southern Deir Ezzor desert for ISIS cells, killing two and wounding several others (19.7).
- Attacks on civilians: While attacks against armed groups have declined, ISIS continues to target and terrorize civilians across the region. A young man was stabbed to death by unknown assailants in the town of Al-Mare’iya in the eastern Deir Ezzor countryside, an attack which appeared to coincide with the murder of the man’s second wife, whose body was then found inside the al-Hol camp several days later (9.7, 15.7). Another man was shot dead by a group of unknown assailants, who stormed a football field in the village of al-Hawaij and chanted pro-ISIS slogans before fleeing (12.7). Additionally, the body of a young man from the village of Alwa al-Shamsani was discovered on the Markada-Shaddadi road after being shot dead (25.7).
Political & Humanitarian Developments
- Landmines: A number of SDF members were either killed or injured following an explosion while planting landmines inside a tunnel near the village of al-Dibs in the vicinity of Ain Issa (14.7). Another landmine explosion in the countryside north of Tal Tamer led to the death of an SDF member (17.7).
- Tribal summit: Members of the Al-Qudah clan of the Jabour tribe called a meeting with tribal leaders from Deir Ezzor, Raqqa, Hasakah and Iraq in the village of Qana, south of Hasakah (19.7). Attendees met to discuss and protest the killing of a prominent local Arab merchant and oil investor, who had been detained by the SDF and seemingly poisoned with needles. The conference issued a statement demanding that the perpetrators be punished, calling for an end to arbitrary arrests targeting Arabs and for the release of long-term prisoners from SDF facilities.
- Anti-conscription protests: Families of young men recently forced into military service gathered in front of military headquarters in the city of Raqqa, demanding the SDF release their sons (22.7).
- Civil council assassinations: Two public sector workers from the Self Administration––one Deir Ezzor Civil Council employee and a media staffer of the Women’s Committee––were killed at the Civil Council headquarters by an SDF Special Forces member with a concealed weapon, who later fled the scene (15.7).
- No confidence vote: The Deir Ezzor Legislative Council voted unanimously to remove the body’s chair and co-chair due to perceived mismanagement, temporarily transferring leadership authority to the executive president (18.7). However, the decision was overturned by the legislature three days later following pressure from the Deir Ezzor Military Council.
- Fuel crisis: The cost of fuel is surging across northeast Syria, with diesel jumping from 1,200 SYP to 2,000 SYP per liter and premium gas rising from 3,160 SYP to 4,160 SYP per liter. The surge is being fuelled in large part by smuggling and price gauging in regime-held areas by the 4th Division and Qaterji militia, prompting the SDF to close numerous gas stations to limit cooperation with smugglers.
- Al-Hol developments: Al-Hol camp has witnessed another month of extremely high levels of violence, in which at least eight camp residents were murdered by suspected ISIS members and a young child also died due amidst a harsh summer heatwave (7.7-27.7). The SDF carried out four raid campaigns across all sections of the camp, arresting at least a dozen suspected ISIS sympathizers (10.7, 14.7, 16.7, 19.7).
- International ISIS returns: Gradual efforts to repatriate international women and children from ISIS families continued in recent weeks. A French delegation received more than 16 women and 35 children of French nationality, including orphans, from officials in the city of Qamishli (7.6). The group will be returned to France via Lebanese territory. The Self Administration also handed over 11 Russian children from ISIS families to Russian authorities, and received a delegation from Tajikistan to return over 146 ISIS families who were being held in Roj camp in the al-Malikiyah countryside (21.7, 26.7).