Global supply chain shocks that accelerated last month with the Russian invasion of Ukraine are having a devastating effect on Syria’s economic situation—a deteriorating situation only compounded by the Syrian pound’s first significant period of devaluation against the dollar in more than a year. Populations across northeast Syria are increasingly struggling to cope with surging food, fuel, and other commodity prices, which threaten to plunge growing numbers of people into poverty. The untenable situation is sparking intensified waves of protests, centred on the Deir Ezzor countryside, where angry demonstrators are calling for improvements to living conditions and, increasingly, the departure of Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) troops from the region. Authorities have so far proven unable to provide effective relief for mounting hardships, with government policy mostly limited to low-impact measures such as the deregulation of the sale of fertilizers. Instead, official responses have been primarily punitive, with the SDF ramping up an arrest campaign and enforcing curfews over a string of unruly towns. In late March, the Self Administration also removed Deir Ezzor Civil Council Chairman Ghassan al-Youssef, a prominent advocate for tribal interests, sparking anger and threats of further instability in the weeks ahead from tribal leaders.
Attached Map: Military Situation in North-East Syria – 5th April 2022
- Anti-SDF attacks: ISIS cells have continued to wage widespread attacks against the SDF in northeast Syria, striking a range of military targets across Hasakah, Raqqa and Deir Ezzor provinces. A series of eight armed attacks and two IED blasts resulted in at least 11 deaths and scores of injuries amongst the ranks of the SDF over the past month (5.3-27.3).
- Anti-regime attacks: Sharply rising numbers of regime casualties were recorded last month resulting from attacks by suspected ISIS fighters in Raqqa and Deir Ezzor provinces, with at least 20 deaths and scores of injuries (5.3-15.3). In one devastating ambush, a bus carrying regime soldiers exploded along the Damascus-Deir Ezzor highway, killing 13 individuals.
- Attacks on civilians: Suspected ISIS elements also continued to target and terrorize civilians and other non-military targets in northeast Syria. Unidentified persons shot dead a young man near the municipal stadium in Qamishli, while the next week, a senior member of the al-Dawagneh clan was shot dead by unidentified persons on the Jazrah-al-Bushms road, west of Deir Ezzor (15.3, 22.3). Three shepherds were also killed and their livestock stolen by gunmen in the Rusafa desert, southwest of Raqqa (20.3).
- Tribal politician removed: In a controversial decision that threatens to further deteriorate tensions with local tribes, the Self Administration fired Deir Ezzor Civil Council Chairman Ghassan al-Youssef (27.2). Al-Youssef is regarded within local communities as an important advocate for local tribal interests, and his firing has sparked local anger. Tribal leaders in the area convened an emergency meeting, demanding the reinstatement of al-Youssef and threatening an escalation of strikes and protests against authorities if this did not happen.
- Anti-ISIS arrests and raids: The SDF arrested dozens of individuals on suspicion of ISIS membership in a series of raids across the region, which targeted the areas of Abu Hamam and al-Susah, east of Deir Ezzor, and Ash Shaddadi, Tal Ahmar, Tariqia, Ajaja, al-Haddadiya, al-Aresha, al-Rashidiya, al-Gharb, and al-Atta to the south of Hasakah (6.3, 11.3, 27.3).
- Baathists detained: The SDF arrested four local Baath Party leaders at the Tabqa checkpoint, west of Raqqa (13.3).
Political & Humanitarian Developments
- Surging inflation: As the Syrian pound has tanked in value over the past few weeks, food prices have jumped and oil shortages worsened across northeast Syria. The effects of a weakening Syrian pound are being compounded by the explosive growth in commodity prices around the world, pushing a growing number of Syrians over the edge into extreme poverty. The Self Administration’s response has been largely lackluster, limited to targeted moves such as issuing a resolution that removed all restrictions on the import, sale, and distribution of fertilizers (10.3).
- Protests across Deir Ezzor: The eastern Deir Ezzor countryside witnessed weeks of protests, as large demonstrations broke out across a number of towns including Abu Hamam, al-Jerthi, and Deranj. Protesters called for improved living standards, the expulsion of SDF troops from the area, and the release of local detainees (7.3, 10.3, 23.3, 25.3, 28.3). The sustained protests throughout the second half of the month were met with new curfews, which the SDF introduced in a string of towns affected by unrest (12.3, 25.3). At the same time, authorities did respond with limited concessions and prisoner releases in the town of Theban, following tribal mediation (8.3).
- Foreign ISIS prisoners: The SDF transferred a number of ISIS foreign prisoners from al-Shaddadi prison, south of Hasakah, to an unknown destination (14.3) Authorities are also preparing a nominal list of names of dozens of Iraqi families due to be repatriated to Iraqi territory from al-Hol camp. Sweden was the latest European country to repatriate its nationals from the camp, accepting four returnees consisting of two women and two children (16.3).
- Al-Hol humanitarian developments: Conditions in al-Hol remain dire amid continued arson attacks by ISIS sympathizers inside the camp. A woman and her child suffered serious burns after a fire broke out in the section for foreign ISIS families (11.3). An Indonesian woman also committed suicide by burning herself alive, and child died as a result of a fire that broke out in the camp’s fourth section (13.3, 19.3).
- Al-Hol raids: The SDF arrested three foreign women as they attempted to escape the camp, although notably, no smugglers or collaborators on the inside have been apprehended (7.3). Authorities also launched several raids across all sections of al-Hol, arresting at least 13 individuals and imposing a new curfew over the camp (12.3, 25.3). Additionally, a confrontation between guards and an attempted suicide bomber in the fourth section resulted in gunfire that killed four people, including a child (27.3). A number of tents also set alight and burned in the midst of the fighting.
- Coronavirus: Cases of the novel coronavirus ticked up modestly this month, though deaths continued to decline across northeast Syria in March (1.3-28.3). In total, the Self Administration recorded 7,562 new cases and 57 deaths in the areas under its control.