Situation in Syria: between death, misery and persecution

Status: 01/24/2022 3:52 p.m

While the EU Foreign Minister and the UN Human Rights Council are discussing the situation in Syria today, new IS attacks are shaking the north-east of the country. People there lack the bare essentials in winter.

By Jürgen Stryjak, ARD Studio Cairo

Some children in Syria enjoy the masses of snow – but for others and their parents, the onset of winter is a disaster, as a woman from a refugee camp in Aleppo province tells a reporter from the Aljazeera TV channel: “It has been snowing all day, and in During the night our tents collapsed. The children suffered from the cold, they cried out: Mama, Mama, it’s so cold.”

Jürgen Stryjak
ARD-Studio Kairo

According to the UN, by January 19, 362 tents in the area had been destroyed by the masses of snow. “Our camp consists of 14 tents,” adds a man from the refugee camp. “Half collapsed under the snow. We had temperatures below zero during the night.”

The camp is located in northern Syria, in an area controlled by insurgents. But even where the regime of President Bashar al-Assad is in power, there is distress. “What should I do? We hardly have electricity at home,” says a man in a bathhouse in Damascus. “And if he’s only there for an hour, then we can’t even heat water for everyone in the family. There are ten of us at home.”

IS attacks in the north-east continue

The humanitarian situation is catastrophic throughout the country. According to the United Nations World Food Program, 12.4 million people in Syria cannot be adequately supplied with food. Most Syrians are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

The acts of war have greatly subsided, but people are still dying. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 3,700 people were killed in the Syrian conflict in 2021, including 1,500 civilians, 306 of them children. Nearly 300 people fell victim to land mines.

In north-eastern Syria in particular, people repeatedly suffer attacks by extremists from the so-called “Islamic State”. The terrorist organization lost its self-proclaimed caliphate three years ago, but it is far from defeated.

According to the UN, around 10,000 IS jihadists are said to have retreated to inaccessible desert areas on the border between Syria and Iraq. They are also said to have set up sleeper cells in inhabited regions. They terrorize the population, take hostages to extort ransom and carry out attacks, several hundred in the past year alone in Kurdish-dominated north-eastern Syria.

UN concerned about civilians

There, IS extremists try again and again to free supporters from prisons. The largest of these attempts so far began on Thursday evening. IS fighters apparently set off two car bombs at the entrance to Ghuweiran prison in the city of Al-Hassaka, penetrated parts of the prison and, according to IS, helped around 800 inmates to escape. The fighting against the IS fighters continued today. The Kurdish-led units of the Syrian Democratic Forces are supported by US troops from the air.

According to the UN Emergency Relief Office (OCHA), up to 45,000 people have fled neighboring residential areas before the fighting broke out. The UN has expressed concern for the safety of civilians in the area. Especially because of the freezing cold, the displaced people needed help quickly. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights announced on Monday that more than 150 people have been killed in the fighting, including 102 IS jihadists.

Assad re-established police state

In the rest of the country, Bashar al-Assad’s government now controls around 70 percent of the national territory, including almost all the important settlement centers. There, the regime rules with a brutal police state in which, according to human rights organizations, torture and ill-treatment are the order of the day and people disappear.

International pressure could possibly prevent the Assad regime from doing so – but it doesn’t look as if it will arise to a sufficient extent. On the contrary, a number of Arab countries in particular seem to want to make peace with Assad. Jordan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and other countries opened new channels for normalizing relations.

“Some countries are apparently trying to get closer to Assad because they believe that they could use it to pull Syria out of Iran’s bosom,” says Ibrahim al-Gibawy. But anyone who believes that, according to the Syrian opposition figure, doesn’t know the Assad regime.

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