General situation

On October 9, the Turkish military forces and their allies started an offensive in Northeastern Syria, following the announcement of the United States’ withdrawal from the area.

A few days later, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) requested the support of the Government of Syria (GoS) military forces, which resulted in their access to Manbij town.

On the night of October 17, an agreement was reached between the United States (US) and Turkey for a 5-day ceasefire (120 hours). Despite this announcement, a few shelling and gunfire were reported, but the situation is reportedly calm in most of the region.

As of October 20, the SDF is withdrawing from Ras al Ain (Sere-Kaniye) in the respect of the agreement between the US and Turkey.

 

Humanitarian situation

Displacement

According to OCHA’s first report on internal displacement, an estimated 200,000 people are reported to have been displaced following the start of the military operations. Thousands of people were on the move as a result of continuing advances of different forces in many areas.

Despite the ceasefire agreement and in parallel to the withdrawal of the SDF, residents of Ras al-Ain continue to be displaced with the fear of further military operations as the end of the ceasefire is approaching.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) displacement tracking matrix indicated a total of 4130[1] displaced persons from Syria to Iraqi Kurdistan. All arrivals were transported to Bardarash Camp.

Internally Displaced Persons’ (IDPs) in Mabrouka camp were evacuated by the SDF towards Areesha camp, far away from the frontlines.

Although an increase of spontaneous returns was reported to some areas, such as Hassakeh, Raqqa and Kobane, 48 shelters across Hassakeh governorate continue to host displaced people. The displacement trends indicated that most IDPs are hosted in urban communities across the region.

Geneva Call reminds the parties to the conflict to respect International Humanitarian Law and protect civilians, including camp residents, and civilian infrastructures.

Child Protection

The escalation of the violence is putting millions of children and women at risk. Among those displaced, OCHA has reported an estimated 70,000 children[2].

Displaced civilians have found refuge in schools with children in need of psychosocial support services.

UNICEF has reported that at least 170,000 children[3] are in need of humanitarian assistance as a result of the ongoing hostilities.

Attacks on schools were reported since the first day of hostilities.

Geneva Call is concerned about the level of targeting of key civilian infrastructure including schools, and the high number of causalities against children.

Geneva Call calls all parties to the conflict to take all possible precaution measures to protection civilians, among them children.

Protection of medical care

The fighting in North East Syria has caused the killing and maiming of dozens of civilians.

The Kurdish Red Crescent (KRC) has reported cases of deaths and serious injuries after the ceasefire declaration.

The main referral hospitals, such as Tal Tamer hospital in Ras al Ain, have reportedly decreased their capacity due to the escalation of the conflict. According to the KRC, the Tal Tamer hospital continues to operate with very limited resources and is at risk of attacks.

The same source reported the attack of two ambulances and the kidnapping of health workers. Besides, the KRC ambulances allegedly continue to be targeted as they try to reach the frontlines to deliver primary health care.

Kobane hospital was temporarily out of service due to damages after shelling.

Following allegations on the use of non-conventional weapons, victims have been transferred to Iraqi Kurdistan to meet the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and determine the injuries.

On October 19, a humanitarian corridor was created between Sere Kaniye and Tel Tamer and some wounded people were evacuated and medical supplies could be delivered. The convoy included 20 ambulances.

Geneva Call is concerned about IHL violations against health facilities and personnel, and reminds the parties to the conflict to respect medical missions.

Geneva Call reminds all parties to the conflict to refrain from using non-conventional weapons, as well as explosive weapons such as landmines, cluster munitions and other prohibited weapons.

Cultural heritage

The ongoing hostilities continue to represent a risk to cultural sites and objects, including World Heritage sites. Besides shelling and airstrikes, cultural heritage has been further affected during the conflict in Syria by cases of illegal excavation of archaeological sites, widespread looting of sites and museums, and illicit trafficking of cultural objects.

Geneva Call has identified positive protective measures taken in Northeast Syria by the self-administration. In 2015, a law on the protection of cultural heritage was adopted by the autonomous administration to prohibit the illicit excavation of archaeological sites, and the destruction, damage and trafficking of antiquities. This law is implemented by the local Internal Security Forces (the Asayish), which deployed mobile patrols and regularly inspects the main archaeological sites in the area.[4]

Geneva Call calls armed non-State actors to take all possible measures[5] to respect cultural heritage in areas under their responsibility.

 

Geneva Call’s activities in North-East Syria

As most NGOs, Geneva Call is facing a partial suspension of its activities in North-East Syria since October 9. However, Geneva Call maintained a field presence and is proactively continuing part of its operations in favor of IHL respect by Armed Non-State Actors (ANSAs).

Although Geneva Call’s planned IHL trainings with the Internal Security Forces have been temporarily suspended, engagement on IHL rules was maintained with the Internal Security Forces and the Self-Administration.

Geneva Call strengthened its monitoring activity on IHL violations and positive measures observation to enrich its engagement with the SDF, whenever possible.

On October 18, Geneva Call launched a communication campaign on social media to raise awareness on fundamental principles of IHL. The ECHO-funded innovative videos will target both ANSA members and the civilian population affected by the conflict.

In addition to monitoring IHL violations and protective measures by ANSAs towards civilians, Geneva Call monitors the protection of cultural heritage in North-East Syria and holds a continued engagement with the self-administration on the protection of valuable artefacts.

 

Geneva Call’s activities in North-West Syria

Geneva Call continues its regular activities in North-West Syria, while taking into consideration that ANSAs signatories to Deeds of Commitment[6] are directly participating in hostilities.

Among the Turkish-backed armed non-State actors, Geneva Call counts 5 signatory ANSAs of various Deeds of Commitment[7].

Geneva Call works in close collaboration with its partner Afaq Academy to continue a humanitarian engagement with the signatory ANSAs, as well as the ANSAs closely engaged – especially on their commitments and on the conduct of hostilities.

On October 14, Afaq Academy conducted an IHL training to an ANSA participating in the hostilities. 30 members attended the training, among which the Deputy Commander.

In parallel to the communication campaign in North East Syria, Geneva Call has launched a radio campaign to diffuse key IHL messages via a local radio channel in the North-West.

 

 

Notes

[1] https://gallery.mailchimp.com/3e0b28a713df5a494bfed23b2/files/df6a010a-046f-441e-811d-c1aa5ae1d9b3/ET_Displacement_from_Syria__IRAQ_Oct._18_20_DTM.pdf

[2]https://www.humanitarianresponse.info/sites/www.humanitarianresponse.info/files/2019/10/OCHA-Syria_NES-Flash-Update-%237.pdf

[3] https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/nearly-70000-children-displaced-violence-escalates-northeast-syria

[4] Culture under fire : Armed non-State actors and cultural heritage in wartime. Geneva Call, October 2018 https://www.genevacall.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Cultural_Heritage_Study_Final_HIGHRES.pdf

[5] Such measures include: establishing special departments of antiquities; adopting legislation and other regulations that prohibit the excavation of archaeological sites and the destruction, damage and trafficking of antiquities; posting guards to protect archaeological sites and religious temples; storing cultural artifacts, such as ancient manuscripts or statues, seized from traffickers in safe places; and securing cultural sites with sandbags and other in situ means of risk mitigation.

[6] A Deed of Commitment is a key tool of engagement that Geneva Call uses to allow ANSAs – as they cannot sign international treaties – to commit to abide by specific humanitarian norms and to be held accountable for complying with these norms.

[7] The Deed of Commitment for Adherence to a Total Ban on Anti-Personnel Mines and for Cooperation in Mine Action, the Deed of Commitment for the Protection of Children from the Effects of Armed Conflict and the Deed of Commitment for the Prohibition of Sexual Violence in Situations of Armed Conflict and towards the Elimination of Gender Discrimination.

 

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