Syrian Democratic Forces Bar Residents from Going Back Home
On November 6, 2016, the Kurdish-majority Syrian Democratic Forces -SDF- (primarily consisting of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party) initiated the first stage of “Ghadab al Furat” (Euphrates’s Fury) to take over the entirety of Raqqa governorate, one of the most major strongholds for ISIS (self-proclaimed the Islamic State. With the support of the international coalition forces, the battle started in northern suburbs of Raqqa governorate before moving onto western and eastern suburbs of Raqqa. By the end of June 2017, SDF, backed by the air forces of the international coalition, had taken over wide areas of western and northern suburbs of Raqqa -estimated at 80% of the governorate’s land area- and encompassed Raqqa city in preparation to take over the city.
The military operations saw a blatant disregard for the customary international law, which was reflected by the unjustifiable size of human casualties that were killed in that period of time. SNHR recorded that this alliance (SDF-international coalition forces) have killed no less than 895 civilians, including 241 children and 170 women, between November 6, 2016 and June 30, 2017. Also, we recorded approximately 78 incidents of attack on vital civilian facilities in the same period of time. Thirdly, we recorded that 117 individuals, including one child and three women, were arrested at the hands of SDF.
In light of the indiscriminate bombardment and killing, destruction of houses and vital facilities, and arrest operations, tens of thousands of residents to flee. Most of those found themselves forced to live in desert areas that are unequipped for habitation amid a lack of the most basic necessities of life. SNHR estimates the number of civilians who were forcibly displaced at 120,000 people at least from across the governorate. Some of those people managed to go back to their villages after they were taken over by SDF, which meant that international coalition forces’ strikes came to an end in those areas. Nevertheless, thousands of people are still displaced as is the case with al Salhabiya al Sharqiya village, western suburbs of Raqqa governorate. This is what the human rights, humanitarian, and media organizations have to shed light on in order to apply pressure on the international coalition forces so they instruct the forces supported and funded by them (namely, SDF) to let them go back to their houses at once.
In mid-May 2017, SDF advanced towards al Salhabiya al Sharqiya village, which is of an Arabic origin, in western suburbs of Raqqa (21 kilometers from western Raqqa city). Fearing the aerial shelling and arrest campaigns that usually these advancements bring, most, and maybe all, of the village’s residents fled. The residents estimate the number of displaced people at 4000 people who are displaced in the agricultural fields that are located in the vicinity of the village, as they set up tents and lived there.