While tensions remain high along border regions, the threat of an immediate military operation by Turkish forces and their allied militias into Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) territory appears to have receded for the moment. Groups comprising the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) are stepping back from a war footing, with many soldiers allowed to return to their homes and normal lives in recent weeks. However, invasion plans appear to be on hold for the time being, and the pause should not be read as a larger policy shift from Ankara. The threat of war with Turkey is one of many factors adding to an atmosphere of growing political repression in SDF-held areas. With economic conditions in north-east Syria rapidly deteriorating, the SDF have adopted increasingly draconian measures to clamp down on domestic dissent and silence protest as threats to their authority mount on all sides. Over the last few weeks, security forces have shown an increased willingness to pursue individuals for social media posts, even detaining civilians for commenting on Facebook about the declining quality of local bread, while launching waves of arrests across every province under Self Administration control. Officials have also issued a new circular that places rigid restrictions on the transport of grain across provincial lines, backed up by a new array of punitive measures to target smugglers. The potential of these moves to spark a larger backlash against SDF governance constitutes another factor adding to uncertainty in the region.
Attached Map: Military Situation in North-East Syria – 30th June 2022
- Political repression: Amid worsening economic conditions, authorities have grown more heavy-handed in recent weeks with a widespread crackdown against criticism targeting the SDF on social media platforms. The SDF arrested a young man following a Facebook post criticizing poor services at the National Hospital in Tabqa, while the People’s Court summoned another to appear on charges of criticizing the poor quality of bread on his personal Facebook page (5.6, 13.6).
- Arrests: The SDF carried out dozens of arrests across Deir Ezzor, Raqqa, Qamishli and Hasakah provinces in recent weeks (6.6-20.6). At least one was affiliated to ISIS, three had links to the Assad regime, and three were Baggara tribesmen from Tal Tamr accused of cooperating with Turkish forces.
- Agriculture conflict: Residents of the village of Balqis, in the Tel Hamis district, expelled an SDF patrol while it was attempting to arrest young men from the village because of a quarrel over agricultural land (4.6).
- PKK election: The Democratic Union Party (PYD), the dominant Kurdish political party in north-east Syria, re-elected Saleh Muslim as co-chair of the party during its ninth conference, held in the city of Hasakah (19.6 ).
- Prisoner releases: The SDF released at least four prisoners from towns in the eastern Deir Ezzor countryside (8.6, 19.6). Of note is that all four individuals had been detained for extended periods of at least a year, which is unusual for detainees released by the SDF.
- 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 six armed attacks and one IED strike against the SDF in Hasakah and Deir Ezzor provinces, leading to seven deaths and at least six serious injuries (1.6-25.6).
- Anti-regime attacks: ISIS attacks against the Syrian regime have also declined significantly. However, In addition to one armed attack, a regime bus carrying soldiers was struck by an enormous IED blast along Raqqa-Homs road in the Al-Jira area (17.6). The combined attacks killed 15 soldiers and injured scores of others, and the regime responded by launching a sweeping military operation through the region.
Political & Humanitarian Developments
- Student arrests: Regime forces arrested a number of students in the city of Raqqa who were en route to the town of al-Sabkha to receive high school exam cards (3.6).
- Wheat policy: Amidst surging wheat prices and growing concerns about smugglers, the Executive Council of the Self Administration issued a new circular banning the transport of wheat between provinces under its control (2.6). The circular outlines harsh penalties for violators that include both fines and lengthy imprisonment.
- Al-Hol developments: Al-Hol camp has witnessed another month of extremely high levels of violence, in which at least nine camp residents were murdered by suspected ISIS members within the camp. Furthermore, two electricians were killed by ISIS cells in the camp’s fifth section while they were installing lighting poles (14.6). A large but unspecified number of residents also managed to escape in the middle of a guard shift, setting off a largescale hunt in search of the fugitives that involved helicopter deployments (11.6). The SDF subsequently carried out a massive campaign of raids in the third, fourth and fifth sections of the camp, resulting in the arrest of at least 12 men and five women (18.6).
- International ISIS returns: A number of foreign ISIS family members have been repatriated from north-east Syria in recent weeks. Self Administration officials handed over two Austrian children from the Roj camp in addition to 16 children and six mothers, all with Belgian citizenship (2.6, 21.6). The latter were taken on a plane by the Ministry of Defense from another camp in north-east Syria. The SDF also conducted a census of Moroccan women and children at the Roj camp (2.6). At al-Hol, camp officials transferred a convoy of nearly 500 Iraqi citizens to the Jada’a camp in the Iraqi province of Nineveh (2.6).