Syria Military Brief: North-East Syria – 30 April 2021

Intense clashes broke out this month between the regime’s National Defense Forces militia and the SDF in the Tay neighbourhood of Qamishli, causing civilians to flee the affected areas and resulting in deaths on both sides. Ultimately, a Russian-backed armistice agreement stopped the fighting a week after it began, halting the violence and further underscoring Moscow’s growing role as a power broker in north-east Syria. Meanwhile, a new coronavirus spike emerged in north-east Syria this month, with record-high numbers of new infections and deaths. Authorities are particularly concerned about local outbreaks in the Roj and al-Hol displaced persons camps, where humanitarian conditions are extremely poor and the threat of ISIS violence is ever-present following deadly attacks by extremist cells against humanitarian groups last month.


Attached Map: Military Situation in North-East Syria 30 April 2021

ISIS Activity

  • Anti-SDF attacks: Suspected ISIS cells launched six armed attacks and executed four bomb strikes against SDF troops across Hasakah, Deir Ezzor, and Raqqa provinces, resulting in 9 deaths (2.4-25.4).
  • Anti-regime attacks: Presumed ISIS cells continue to launch deadly attacks against regime forces in Raqqa and Deir Ezzor provinces, with three armed attacks, four IED strikes and once instance of ground shelling claiming the lives of more than 12 regime elements (8.4-29.4).
  • Anti-Iranian attacks: A member of the Iranian-backed Afghan Liwa Fatemiyoun militia was killed in an armed attack targeting a military vehicle on the road to the town of Sabkha, southeast of Raqqa (22.4). Two Iranian militiamen were also killed by a landmine explosion in the Rusafa area, south of Raqqa (27.4).
  • Civilians: ISIS claimed responsibility for the murder of a man in the town of Darnaj, south of Deir Ezzor, accusing him of working with the SDF (12.4).

Russian & Regime Activity

  • Russian airstrikes: Russian warplanes launched several air strikes against ISIS sites, targeting a number of positions in rural Deir Ezzor and Raqqa provinces amid ongoing anti-ISIS operations there (1.4-25.4).
  • Crossing closures: Regime forces in Deir Ezzor have closed all the river crossings extending from the town of Al-Mariiya to the town of Buqrus, due to the high prevalence of coronavirus cases throughout Deir Ezzor province (7.4).
  • Russian patrols: Russian police conducted military patrols in the vicinity of al-Malikiyah, northeast of Hasakah (18.4, 24.4, 28.4).

SDF Activity

  • Prisoner release: Tribal-led negotiations prompted the SDF to release a number of residents of from the town of Jdeideh, following their arrests over charges that they had attacked the local SDF headquarters (24.4).
  • SDF Raids: The SDF conducted a series of raids in the town of al-Hawayj, east of Deir Ezzor (27.4). A second series of raids was carried out by the SDF targeting river crossings between areas controlled by the regime and the Self Administration in the city of Shuhayl (27.4).
  • SDF-NDF clashes: Fighting broke out between the SDF and the regime National Defense Forces (NDF) militia in the Tay neighbourhood of Qamishli, displacing the entire local population and resulting in the death of one SDF fighter (19.4, 24.4). Two regime National Defense Forces (NDF) soldiers were also killed in the fighting. The two sides later agreed to end the fighting with an armistice agreement backed by a Russian security guarantee (29.4).
  • SDF-regime clashes: Clashes erupted between the SDF and regime forces around the al-Baghelia river crossing, near Deir Ezzor (28.4).
  • Anti-ISIS raids: Backed by the international coalition, SDF special forces conducted a series of raids in the town of Dhiban, east of Deir Ezzor, arresting three people believed to be affiliated with ISIS (28.4).

Political & Humanitarian Developments

  • SDF-regime summit: Russian police officiated a meeting between representatives of the regime and SDF near the al-Wehda roundabout in the city of Qamishli (22.4). The meeting sought to resolve differences between the two parties.
  • School closures: The local council in the city of Tell Abiad decided to close all schools for three weeks (29.4-17.5) in order to stem the spread of the coronavirus in the region (28.4).
  • Water cuts: Supplies of drinking water were interrupted for a fifth consecutive day in Hasakah due to power cuts at the Ras al-Ain and Alouk water stations (22.4).
  • Press freedom statement: Journalists and media professional working in Self Administration areas issued a collective statement accusing the SDF of restricting press freedom, and specifically of preventing coverage of clashes with the regime National Defense Forces (NDF) militia in Qamishli (27.4).
  • Tribal killing: A notable member of the Tay tribe was shot by unknown assailants while leaving a high-profile meeting arranged by the regime (24.4).
  • Anti-SDF announcement: A statement issued by the Al-Bukamal Tribal Council denounced the Self Administration for corruption and excluding its representatives from the decision-making process, threatening a large-scale general strike in the absence of reforms (11.4).
  • Coronavirus: Over the last month (1.4-29.4), the Self Administration recorded 7,254 new cases of the coronavirus across northeast Syria and counted 220 new deaths.
  • Al-Hol developments: Security conditions continue to deteriorate in al-Hol camp, with the bodies of two murdered women were discovered in the sewage system of the camp (2.4). An accidental kerosene fire burned eight tents in the camp’s eight section, though no injuries or deaths were reported (7.4). A child died in the al-Hol camp, east of Hasakah, due to lack of medical care (17.4). Additionally, an Iraqi refugee was killed by unknown gunmen in the first section of al-Hol (18.4).
  • Al-Hol arrests: SDF forces launched a campaign of arrests and raids in the fifth section of al-Hol camp, east of Hasakah (1.4). SDF guards arrested 13 individuals of Iraqi nationality as they attempted to escape al-Hol, by smuggling inside two water tanks (7.4). The SDF launched a second campaign of arrests later in the week, which targeted all sectors of al-Hol (9.4).
  • Al-Hol repatriation: The SDF continues to work towards repatriating those detained in al-Hol camp to their home countries, with administrators beginning preparations to transfer 500 Iraqi families to Iraqi custody (8.4). The Self Administration also handed over 30 children of Russian nationality in the camp to Russian officials for repatriation (18.4), with preparations beginning for a number of Uzbek families in the camp to return to their country (29.4). The SDF has also transferred three Tunisian prisoners from Qamishli prison to the Roj camp, in anticipation of handing them over to Tunisian authorities (11.4).