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

The al-Hol camp is currently witnessing an unprecedented period of instability and violence, as pro-ISIS residents and members of the “Hisbah” morality police have unleashed a clandestine campaign of murder and arson across the camp. These activities culminated in an organized attack targeting an on-site UNICEF school, where extremists killed staff and publicly beheaded a student who was formerly affiliated with an ISIS youth group. In response to rising bloodshed, the SDF launched a large-scale armed operation to crack down on wanted individuals and weapons within al-Hol. As the humanitarian and medical situation in the camp worsens, coronavirus cases across northeast Syria are up sharply over the past fortnight, with new recorded cases and deaths nearly doubling over the count for the previous period.


Attached Map: Military Situation in North-East Syria – 30th March 2021

ISIS Activity

    • Anti-SDF attacks: Suspected ISIS cells launched five armed attacks and three IED strikes against SDF troops, resulting in the deaths of at least 11 elements (3.3-25.3).
    • Anti-regime attacks: Two members of regime forces were killed in an IED attack against a military vehicle near Rusafa, southwest of Raqqa (20.3). Four days later, a number of regime soldiers were killed and wounded in an attack by unknown persons at checkpoints around Al-Maksar, near the town of Rusafa (24.3). Another IED struck a military vehicle belonging to the regime’s National Defense Forces (NDF) militia in the Al-Mayadeen desert, east of Deir Ezzor (27.3).

Russian & Regime Activity

    • Russian patrols: Russian military police conducted a series of military patrols in the city of Ain Issa, north of Raqqa, in Tal al-Saman, north of Raqqa, and in the city of Al-Malikiyah, northeast of Hasakah (21.3, 24.3). Russian troops also conducted patrols near Qamishli, around Ain Diwar in the Malikiyah countryside, northeast of Hasakah, and near Tal Tamr, north of Hasakah (1.3, 3.3).
    • Regime arrests: The SDF arrested two regime soldiers at a checkpoint in the city of Qamishli (3.3). Both were released two days later (5.3).

SDF Activity

    • SDF raids: The SDF launched a large-scale campaign of arrests in the city of al-Shuhayl, following an armed attack targeting one of its military points nearby (5.3). The raids also targeted a hospital in the city, searching for injured attackers and arresting four nurses on staff.
    • SDF-regime fighting: Clashes broke out between the SDF and regime forces at several crossing points along the Euphrates River around the town of Shuhayl (19.3). The SDF subsequently burned river ferries docked at these crossings.
    • Municipal employees arrested: SDF soldiers arrested all employees of the electricity company in the town of Al-Shaddadi, south of Hasakah, after unidentified persons stole electrical cables in the adjacent gas field (19.3).
    • Forcible recruitment: The regime arrested three young men at checkpoints in the town of Sabkha, southeast of Raqqa, forcing them into compulsory military service (22.3). Later in the week, regime forces also arrested a number of young men wanted for military service in the city of Madan, east of Raqqa (25.3). Earlier raids that began late last month resulted in the arrest of more than 50 were arrested in the towns of Um Sharjah, in the Raqqa countryside, in al-Jariya, west of Raqqa, in Ash Shaddadi, south of Hasakah, in Tabqa, west of Raqqa, and in Mahmoudli, west of Al-Raqqa (26.2, 2.3, 5.3, 6.3). The SDF also arrested a number of young men at the 17th Division checkpoint, north of Raqqa, and al-Nakhr checkpoint, west of Raqqa (6.3).
    • Humanitarian blockade: Regime forces and their allies have continued to prevent the movement of civilian buses and trucks loaded with foodstuffs to the SDF-controlled areas in Raqqa (24.3).

Political & Humanitarian Developments

    • Protests: Demonstrations broke out in the Al-Zuhour neighborhood of Hasakah city, as protesters chanted against the SDF seizure of bailiffs from the workers’ housing at the Special Directorate of Al-Jabsa Cooperative (26.3). Earlier anti-SDF demonstrations broke out in towns across the western Deir Ezzor countryside, where protestors blocked roads with tires (7.3).
    • School strikes: A teachers strike took place in the city of Ash Shaddadi, south of Hasakah, protesting salary delays from the Self Administration (25.2). The next week, a number of general school strikes took place in villages across Raqqa province, protesting against the SDF policy of forcibly recruiting teachers into the armed forces (4.3). A few days later, the SDF stormed the Al-Samra School east of Raqqa, and Kheniz al-Salman school, north of Raqqa, arresting a number of teachers for military recruitment (8.3).
    • Coronavirus: Over the last two weeks (19.3-30.3), the Self Administration recorded 905 new cases of the coronavirus across northeast Syria and counted 22 new deaths.
    • Al-Hol releases: A convoy of 70 families, counting 270 people from Deir Ezzor province, left in two stages from al-Hol, heading to the town of Sour, north of Deir Ezzor (19.3).
    • ISIS violence at al-Hol: Violence spread throughout the camp during the week, as an Iraqi refugee was killed by unknown gunmen in the first section of al-Hol and an Iraqi SDF member was shot dead in the second section (20.3, 22.3). The next day, a 23-year old Iraqi refugee was found dead after being shot in the first section (23.3) A tent in the fourth section of the camp also caught fire, with arson suspected, resulting in severe burns for one individual who was transferred to the city of Hasakah for medical treatment (22.3). The violence expanded when ISIS cells attacked a UNICEF tent school for children in the sixth section of al-Hol, shooting guards and teachers and beheading one 18-year-old student (25.3). An Iraqi child also died this week in the camp due to inadequate medical care (22.3). The SDF launched a series of raids in the camp’s fifth section (23.3). The SDF carried out a campaign of raids and arrests in the sixth section of Al-Hol camp for the displaced (25.3).
    • Al-Hol SDF operations: The SDF launched a campaign of arrests across al-Hol camp, and later arrested several members of the ISIS-affiliated Hisbah apparatus (19.3, 21.3) Subsequent raids followed in the camp’s fifth and sixth sections (23.3, 25.3). Following the week’s unrest, the SDF brought military reinforcements to al-Hol and initiated a large and continuous campaign of raids, supported by helicopters, targeting wanted individuals and weapons in all sectors of the camp (26.3). After the SDF informed humanitarian groups active in al-Hol to withdraw operations, centers run several major NGOs were subsequently burned and looted by both camp residents and operations forces.