ISIS activity has surged across northeastern Syria in recent weeks, building on a rising crescendo of attacks in August that had already reversed previous months of declining violence. Cells belonging to the radical group have launched waves of armed attacks and IED strikes across Raqqa, Hasakah, Deir Ezzor and Hama provinces, claiming dozens of lives from among both Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and regime units. Both have responded with arrest raids and targeted military operations against ISIS in the Badia, resulting in pitched battles with the group that have caused dozens of additional deaths among SDF and regime troops. ISIS has intensified its campaign of violence, intimidation and fear against the civilian population in northeastern Syria, issuing individual death threats and blanket public warnings through leaflets to civilians cautioning them against collaboration with the SDF. In addition to the worsening security situation, a serious cholera outbreak has erupted across the region, with potentially thousands of cases and at least 36 deaths so far.
Attached Map: Military Situation in North-East Syria – 4th October 2022
- Anti-SDF attacks: Amidst a renewed series of arrest campaigns and military operations led by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) targeting radical cells, ISIS fighters have continued to target the SDF across northeastern Syria, launching five armed attacks and one IED blast against the group during the past month (1.9-27.9). At least five SDF troops were killed in anti-ISIS clashes while another three were wounded across Deir Ezzor and Raqqa provinces.
- Anti-regime attacks: ISIS has also gone on the offensive against regime forces, increasing its armed activities in central regions and northeastern regions. The Syrian regime suffered the highest rate of casualties in months as ISIS launched several attacks and clashed with regime forces around the Palmyra Desert in Homs province (1.9-27.9).
- Attacks on civilians: With ISIS growing more brazen in recent months, the group is increasingly turning its fire against civilians in the region. ISIS members killed six people after capturing them on the al-Kharafi Road near Ruwaishid in the northern Deir Ezzor countryside, while injuring three others by detonating a fuel tanker on the outskirts of al-Tarwazia, north of Raqqa (12.9, 23.9). ISIS also executed two individuals that the radicals accused of conducting witchcraft in the village of al-Hajna, north of Deir Ezzor (23.9). In addition to these killings, ISIS has posted notices on doors of mosques and other public buildings in the towns of Dhiban, al-Hurayjia and al-Busira in rural Deir Ezzor, warning civilians against cooperation with the SDF and listing the names of dozens of individuals wanted for execution.
- Anti-ISIS raids: Redoubling its efforts to suppress rising ISIS activity in the region, the SDF carried out dozens of arrests across Raqqa, Deir Ezzor and Hasakah provinces, detaining at least 24 individuals on suspicion of ISIS membership.
- Battle against ISIS cells: Days of pitched battles took place between SDF forces and ISIS cells in the village of Ghazliya in the countryside of al-Hol, east of Hasakah (20.9, 21.9). At least 13 SDF troops were killed in the intense fighting.
- Conscription tensions: The SDF continues its conscription drive in an attempt to bolster its numbers amidst threats of a Turkish incursion. Tensions have soared in the village of al-Hohoud, north of Manbij in the eastern Aleppo countryside, after villagers expelled an SDF military patrol during an attempt to detain young men for forced conscription (26.9).
- SDF-civilian unrest: Civilians attacked members of the SDF in the village of al-Shanan, east of Deir Ezzor, after SDF fighters stabbed a young man near a military point where SDF was launching anti-smuggling raids on the river crossings (6.9).
- Home demolitions: The SDF demolished 12 houses in the village of al-Mastriha, south of Manbij in the eastern Aleppo countryside, claiming that they were built in a restricted military area (19.9).
- Death in custody: Following the deaths of a young man in SDF custody, relatives gathered outside the National Hospital in Raqqa (19.9).
Political & Humanitarian Developments
- Cholera outbreak: A major cholera outbreak affecting several areas of Syria has also erupted across the north-east, with at least 120 cases recorded across Deir Ezzor province in recent weeks and thousands of other cases suspected. Officials count 36 deaths so far from the disease, many of them young children.
- Cholera medicine smuggling: As the epidemic has spread, there has been an eruption in illegal smuggling of medicines used to treat cholera. The Executive Council of the Self Administration prohibited the transport of medical supplies between districts in northeastern Syria without written approval from the Health Authority, in an attempt to crack down on the theft and resale of crucial cholera treatments (20.9).
- Arrests: For reasons that remain unknown, the SDF arrested a number of judges working in the Self Administration’s judicial system in Raqqa (29.9). At least twelve other non-ISIS related arrests were recorded in September, including one of a media activist in the town of al-Kasra in the western Deir Ezzor countryside (7.9).
- Teachers protest: Public school teachers in the western Deir Ezzor countryside went on strike, rejecting the curriculum imposed by Self Administration officials and demanding an increase in teachers’ salaries and the appointment of school guards to improve security conditions (22.9). The regional government responded three days later by suspending the state-mandated curriculum.
- Private school row: In contrast to public schools, many private schools in Qamishli province have continued to teach curricula crafted by the regime. The Self Administration moved to shut down schools teaching pro-regime curricula, prompting civil society organizations funded by Damascus to call for a sit-in in front of the United Nations office in Qamishli (20.9).
- Al-Hol developments: The SDF has conducted a massive raid into the 5th section of al-Hol camp, clashing with gunmen and arresting at least 120 individuals on suspicion of ISIS membership and coordination with extremists (9.9). An additional two camp residents were discovered murdered in the camp while four were tents burned down, although no injuries were recorded (1.9-27.9). The regional cholera outbreak has also reached al-Hol, with authorities registering 25 cases there so far.
- International ISIS returns: Authorities have continued to slowly repatriate international ISIS members and their families in recent weeks. The administration of the Roj camp in the al-Malikiyah countryside informed a number of women with French nationality that they will soon be handed over to a delegation from the French government for repatriation to their country (27.9).