420 Days of Siege Laid on Deir Ezzor
The De Facto Reality of the Besieged Neighborhoods with Numbers
Faisal Dahmoush Al Mashhour
Syrians for Democracy
JFL Observatory in Deir Ezzor
Justice for Life Observatory in Deir Ezzor
JFL is a civil nongovernmental, non-profit organization that works on promoting the culture of human rights in Syria and based in Deir Ezzor. The Observatory aims to participate in strengthening and promoting the culture of human rights, supporting the activists in this field, familiarizing the citizens – males and females- with their political and civil rights, emphasizing on the concept of rule of law and its role in social development, working on build a foundation for legal work in Syria, and preparing the expertise and personnel to work in this domain.
The Siege laid on Deir Ezzor
The siege laid on Deir Ezzor neighborhoods is a part of the Syrian scene, but it differs from the rest of the Syrian besieged areas since it is a complicated siege and hard to be understood or identifying its actor for who are not following accurately the events in Deir Ezzor. In addition to the fact that the siege laid on Deir Ezzor neighborhoods is threating the lives of the biggest unarmed mass of humanity in Syria.
The international human law does not prohibit the action of siege candidly during the armed conflicts, but it stresses all parties to respect the terms of the international human law as well as the terms of the international human rights law such as refraining from starvation of civilians or practicing collective punishment. From this perspective, the siege of Deir Ezzor is considered as starvation of civilians and collective punishment, which is prohibited by the international human right law and the article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
This detailed paper aims at clarifying the nature of the siege that is laid on Deir Ezzor neighborhoods, identifying the parties responsible for, highlighting the circumstances of the civilians in those besieged neighborhoods, and seeking for the possibilities of reducing the impacts of the siege on them.
Deir Ezzor City
Deir Ezzor is the administrative center for the governorate. It is an area of 15.2 Km2. The area that is dominated by rebels since mid of 2012 until mid of July 2014 – which was dominated by “Islamic Sate” organization later – is 9.5 Km2. Assad regime forces still dominate 4.7 Km2: Al Joura, Al Qusour, Al Baladeyya villas, Ghazi Ayyash residences, and Al Daheya from the east and Harabish and Tahtouh neighborhoods form the west. The fighting zones are estimated at 1 km2..
The population of Deir Ezzor city before the conflict is 545,000 people. This number has considerably declined by the beginning of the war due to the displacement of the population who fled the city in order to escape from Assad shelling on the rebels-held areas. Then, the population rate intensified in the neighborhoods of Al Jura, Al Qusour, Ghazi Ayyash residences, and Al Baladeyya villas in comparison with “Islamic Sate” organization-held areas throughout two phases:
The first phase: after the campaign that was launched by the republic guards at the end of September 2012, where Assad regime controlled those neighborhoods and the fighting fonts came inside the city. In this phase, Assad regime worked on rebuilding its institutions, forcing employees to come back to their work by threatening them to stop paying their salaries. Furthermore, Assad regime stored quantities of wheat, established a mill to produce flour, and constructed an electrical refinery for oil for providing its needs of fuel.
The second phase: after Al Raqqa was liberated by the rebels at the beginning of March 2013, where dozens of families came from Al Raqqa to Deir Ezzor city along with people who could not stand the high cost of living in their displacement places ; Al Qamishli, Al Hasakeh, and Damascus.
After these two phases, the population became 285,000-340,000 (25% of them are locals of these neighborhoods and 75% of them are IDPs who fled from rebels-held areas). Most of them were employees of public sector, where the average GDP per capita is 18,000-20,000 SP along with a number of Al Furat university students.
Except the locals of those neighborhoods, the majority of the IDPs bear a heavy financial burden in terms of housing costs with average of 25,000-30,000 SP. Whereas, little of them could reside in accommodation centers; college dorm, men’s dorm, or the lodgment affiliated to the Red Crescent.
There was a simple trading movement that depended on importing commodities and food items from Damascus and Al Raqqa along with vegetables and fruits form the countryside of Deir Ezzor. The major part of this trading was controlled by traders who are linked to the regime military and security apparatus along with mediators between the social and military actors in the liberated areas and those traders. This led to creating job opportunities for some unemployed young people with an average of monthly salary at 10,000-12,000 SP.
The prices of commodities and goods were linked with the exchange rate (USD /SP), and to the transportation costs since the liberated areas were dominated by several rebels groups.
The Syrian Arab Red Crescent in turn worked on distributing food aids and sheltering items for the IDPs on limited-basis until the end of 2013. The distribution was subjected to the nepotism and the pressure made by the military and security members, as confirmed by reliable sources.
- The beginning of the siege
The motives of “Islamic Sate” organization, for controlling the city of Deir Ezzor, are linked to the circumstances of the Syrian scene and “Islamic Sate” organization’s objectives related to its strategy within this scene. In this context, “Islamic Sate” organization started to lay the siege on the neighborhoods that are controlled by regime forces on January 5th, 2015. It closed all routes- river and overland ones- to those neighborhoods, prohibited the civilians and foods to access, cut off the fiber optic cables, and cut off the cables that provide those neighborhoods with electricity power. Moreover, “Islamic Sate” organization shelled those neighborhoods by mortar shells and crude rockets every once in a while and resulted death of some civilians. The number of the killed civilians by “Islamic Sate” organization shelling until March 2016 is 63 victims including 14 women and 25 children. Furthermore, “Islamic Sate” organization launched several attacks on regime-held areas especially “Al Bghailia” sub district which is close to the western entrance of the city and “Islamic Sate” organization could control most of it in the mid of January 2016.
- The living situation
Like every besieged area, the basic necessities of life have deteriorated in the neighborhoods of Deir Ezzor city during the prolonged siege. The trading declined to its lowest level since the trader were not able to get permission for bringing goods into the besieged neighborhoods. The trading activities became monopolized by the traders who are linked to the military and security commanders in the city. The only device of transportation became the Ilyushin aircraft along with helicopter. Moreover, those traders were controlling the vegetables that were planted in Al Bghailia sub district, Harabish neighborhood, and Al Jafra village. That led to the fact they were controlling the prices of goods, then a group of brokers and middlemen emerged.
Furthermore, the unemployed number increased along with the incomes of decreased. The additional value was increased by the mediators. After more than one year of siege, the majority of goods prices were multiplied eleven times due to the absence of oversight and costumer-protect committee. Let alone the unavailability of the basic goods permanently as the trader control the supply according to the availability and expiration date.
In the shed of absent sources of income and the delay in paying the employees their salaries, the local sought to adapt with their new reality through several strategies; decreasing the number of daily meals to only one, decreasing the quantity of food in the meal to its half, cooking only of item as available in the market since they could not keep up with the crazy prices and due to the devaluation of the Syrian currency. Many cases were recorded for some families who had to eat cooked grass along with dry bread, or dry bread soaked in water.
Electricity, water, and tele-communications
“Islamic Sate” organization cut off the electrical power supply from the station of Al Tayem oil field which used to provide electricity for the besieged neighborhoods since March 25th and up till now those neighborhoods under siege do not have electricity. The local hence use candles as an alternative given the highly expensive cost of fuel required for running the generators or the lanterns fueled by kerosene oil. Moreover, cutting off the electrical power supply resulted negatively on the services that are based electricity, most important of which is drinking water, where water is being pumped for the locals from one main water station that is powered by a generator for three hours on daily basis; leading to a decrease in that period up to three hours every two or three days. As a result, water is not provided for all houses and it is not sterilized due to the lack of the liquefied chlorine, which forces the civilians to resort to private water mobile tanks at the cost of 2000 SP per barrel, or even to go to get water directly form the Euphrates.
Recently, the SARC branch of Deir Ezzor installed in the neighborhood of Al Joura six water tanks each one at the size of 25 barrels in order to combat the problem of drinking water in the neighborhood.
As for telecommunications, Assad regime has installed a new mobile phone station and has reactivated the service of the internet through which.
Bread and Fuel:
At the very beginning of the siege, there were seven functional bakeries in the neighborhoods that are under Assad control and where supervised by officials of the Assad regime in the city; such bakeries where provided with flour from a certain mill and where also provided with fuel by an oil refinery that was established by the Assad regime in that area. As the siege escalated, four bakeries had to shut down because their supply of fuel stopped. And in order to preserve the reservoir of the wheat by Assad regime officials, this resulted to a state of flour inadequacy for all bakeries. This led to the fact that the amount of the produced bread where not enough to cover all the needs of bread for the civilians there.
The civilians have to wait in line for 10-12 hours in order to get their allocations of bread, where most of the locals cannot get bread due to inadequacy of it; let alone that civilians are subject to beating and insult by the members of the military and the security forces supervising the process of distribution. As for the price of bread packet (eight loaves), it is between (300-350 SP), whereas one loaf of bread at the private bakeries (brick oven) is 75 SP per loaf, where there are three private bakeries working in the besieged areas.
As for the fuel that is allocated for heating and cooking, it is also in the hands of merchants affiliated to the Assad regime in the city; the prices of such items went up in a crazy manner, let alone that fuel is so scarce which forced the locals to use wood as an alternative for heating and cooking. But even woods got very crazy prices (150 SP per kg)
The educational sector is considered the one sector with the least amount of damage under the circumstances of siege, where in the areas of Assad regime control the following educational facilities are there as shown in the following table:
|The beginning of siege
|Until February 2016
The major damage that hit this sector is the dropping out on the part of the teachers in order to escape their lives outside the besieged neighborhoods, let alone the deterioration of the health and mental state for the students because of the siege and their over-occupation of How to Stay Alive ? .
Recently, the majority of student have been dropping out their schools, institutes, and colleges fearing from being arrested and taken compulsory to the front of battles.
The health sector suffers from dire circumstances in the besieged neighborhoods due to the lack of qualified medical staff for the majority of doctors left the besieged areas, especially surgeons, intern doctors, and gynecologists; this has led to closing three clinics where the medical services were provided by only the remaining two clinics in addition to Al Assad hospital where you only find ER doctors. On the other hand, the Military Hospital provides medical services only and only for the army of Assad regime, with very rare exceptions for some civilians.
Moreover, medications in the hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies are not available, especially for chronic diseases (cardio diseases, diabetes, and asthma) where those medications where provided by travelers commuting between Deir Ezzor and Damascus before the siege. What added insult to injury is shutting down the factory of oxygen cylinders which deprived that asthma patients for the required therapy sessions, where three fatalities were recorded among civilians due to the lack of medications. As such, the only available medications are just some painkillers and antibiotics that are sold per tablet.
Under response operations of crisis management, the SARC in coordination with ICRC was able to deliver 25 tons of medication along with therapy sessions for dialyses in April 2015. Most of such medications were given to the Military Hospital. As for the personal hygiene and hygiene items, the locals cannot use them simply because they cannot afford to for their priority is for providing food on the expense on their personal hygiene, where recently some diseases were seen like lice, scabies, and hepatitis. Assad regime officials in the city deprive the civilian patients form being airborne by helicopters that are used only for military members.
(Hospitals and clinics during the siege period)
|The beginning of siege
|Until March 2016
(Death cases along with reasons during the siege period)
|Cause of death
|Hunger and thirst
No death cases due to diseases, starvation, or lack of medication have been recorded among the members of Assad regime military, security forces, or loyalists. ‘
Security Sector: the locals of the besieged neighborhoods suffer from the lack of security due to the martial law declared by the military and security command of Assad regime in those neighborhoods, where you can see dozens of military and security checkpoints along with similar one for the militias of civil defense. The members of those security and military forces have unlimited jurisdictions that include searching and arresting any civilians under the excuse of security, where it is all up to the estimate of the member of the checkpoints. Those checkpoints members are also entitled to confiscating private cars of the civilians, again for security procedures. Furthermore, the locals suffer from repeated detention and torture at various security and military branches because such branches work independently and there is no coordination among them, let alone that those security and military branches give no feedback or any kind of information for the families of the detainees or for the reason of arrest or detention.
The attempts of supporting the locals:
Since the very beginning of the siege, Assad regime has been refusing to enter the aids into the besieged neighborhoods of Deir Ezzor. After international pressure, the SARC branch of Deir Ezzor and in coordination with the ICRC worked on entering food aids via “Ilyushin”, “Antonov” aircrafts, and helicopters as the following table:
|Rice – margarine
|Army and security members
|Army and security members
|Army and security members
After deducting 60% approximately of the aids by Assad army and the affiliated security apparatus, the SARC distributed the remaining 40% in April 2015 and February 2016 to the IDPs who fled form these neighborhoods: Al Matar Al Qadeem, Ali Bek, Al Ommal, Al Jbaila, and Seenama Fouad. Many breaches were recorded during the distribution process in terms of crony of the security members.
As for the aids that were entered in August 2015, the whole quantity was confiscated by the army and security apparatus. The aids were distributed to the members who in turn sold it them to the besieged locals as confirmed by witnesses. The price of each food parcel was 2500-5000 SP.
As for the aids that were entered in November and December 2015, the whole quantity was placed at the disposal of the governor of Deir Ezzor. A part of these aids was distributed irregularly (each two or three months) to the government employees as one parcel for three employees.
Each parcel included “tuna, sardine, cheese, I kg of bean: and some of them included “sugar, margarine, and rice”. The food parcel was not enough for a family of five members for 5-7 days maximum.
As for the aids that were airdropped by the Russian aircrafts in 15th, 19th, 20th, 25th of January 2016, they were 23 containers of food material and controlled by the Brigade 137. Some of these aids was distributed as cooked meals to some IDPs form Al Jbaila neighborhood and some local of Harabish neighborhood.
Marching out of the siege
Due to the harsh circumstances that are resulted by the siege along with severe need for food and medicine and the deteriorated basic services, the locals attempted to exit the besieged neighborhoods. Since the Assad regime forces and the affiliated security apparatus have been controlling the ways out – only one overland way towards Aleppo and other airway by Assad regime’s airplanes- a smuggling movement was emerged in coordination with the members of army and security who control the checkpoints at the prices of 20,000-25,000 SP.
After six months of siege, Assad regime imposed on the civilians, who desire to leave and exit the besieged neighborhoods, a security approval in order to pass through the checkpoints. The permitted cases were determined such as chronic patients, patients who need surgery operation, older persons and persons with disabilities.
In no time Assad regime prohibited absolutely exiting the besieged neighborhoods since scores of civilians did so. That what led to the fact that brokers and linked persons to the command started to increase the amount of cash that should be paid by the civilians who desire to exit.
The following table indicates the need money for the individual to exit.
|Cost for Individual during the first months of siege
|Cost for Individual during the second part of siege
|Cost for Individual since January 2016
In case the locals could exit the besieged neighborhoods through overland way, they have to walk on foot for 2.5 km and pass Al Bghailia sub-district to reach “Islamic Sate” organization’s controlled areas in Ayyash village. This way is too dangerous since it is mined. A family of six members blown off by a mine in June 2015.
After the local arrive the “Islamic Sate” organization’s controlled areas, they are questioned and interrogated by the members of “AlHisbah” apparatus. Some of those locals get insult, arrest, and torture along with attending “repentance” and “Sharea” courses. As for the students, their military service documents get torn. A number of the persons who exited the besieged neighborhoods still in the prisons of “Islamic Sate” organization since six months up till now. “Islamic Sate” organization executed four civilians who exited the besieged neighborhoods, and the last one was the poet “Basheer Al Ani” along with his son “Eyas”.
Some locals, who enjoy a good relations with mediators, loyalists, and close figures to the commanders of army and security apparatus, exit by military aircrafts to Damascus or Al Qamishli.
People who can exit the besieged neighborhoods will face very harsh living conditions where the high prices and costs in their new cities. Assad regime do not pay their salaries after their departure. Recently, the employees of temporary contracts have to return to Deir Ezzor in order to renew their contracts, otherwise – until the beginning of April 2016- their contracts will be terminated.
Although most of the locals do not have the required amount to exit the besieged neighborhoods, they had to sell their houses, furniture, or belongings at very low prices in order to get the required amount for exit. The locals who still remain in the besieged neighborhoods have nothing to sell.
During that period, more than the half of the civilians exited the besieged neighborhoods.
|Civilians number at the beginning of siege
|The civilians number until March 2016
|285,000 people – 340,000
|140,000 people – 100,000
Assad regime and the attempts to militarize the civilians
Assad regime worked on utilizing the suffering and desperation that were resulted by the siege, and the the unemployment of young people in the besieged neighborhoods in order to recruit them in his forces under the initiative called” Popular Mobilization “ to break the siege. General Mohammad Khaddour held a meeting with the head of directorates and Al Furat Univeristy in March 2015. The general requested to recruit a number of employees and students in the PMF (Popular Mobilization Forces) in order to back up the Assad army to break the siege throughout the way of “ Deir Ezzor – Damascus” .
These attempts failed completely, where after 300 young men were recruited by a salary 15,000-20,000SP, and most of them left the PMF since they saw that there is no real intention to break the siege.
Recently, after Assad forces lost the majority of Al Bghailia sub-district, Security apparatus pursued any man aged 18-40 years old, regardless of the fact that they already performed their military service, and sent them to fighting fronts in Al Bghailia sub-district, brigade 137, and Al Rushdeyya neighborhood. Moreover, they were forced to dig ducts and build barricades. “The security apparatus members invaded Al Furat university and arrested scores of students while the student were in exam rooms” as confirmed by the locals of the besieged neighborhoods.
The estimated number of the arrested men is 500 as documented by Justice for Life Observatory in Deir Ezzor.
Assad regime and “Islamic State” organization are partners in punishing and starvation the civilians
So clearly, the role of Assad regime and its affiliates is quite prominent in sieging the civilians in Deir Ezzor neighborhoods especially that it made no effort to relieve the besieged civilians since it has the airway route that can be used to enter the food and medical aids to these neighborhoods. Assad regime has three airstrips; Transportation directorate, Al Baath Pioneers Camp, and the stadium.
Thereby, Assad regime and “Islamic State” organization are considered the directly responsible for sieging the civilians in Deir Ezzor neighborhoods that led to the deteriorated humanitarian and health situation. The “Islamic State” organization has been sieging the neighborhoods controlled by Assad regime by using the strategy of starvation for the civilians in order to push them for leaving these neighborhoods for controlling it later. Assad regime has been sieging the civilians by preventing them from exiting the neighborhoods in order to use them as human shields for his own strategic and military objectives. Assad regime is using starvation of civilians as collective punishment and blackmail means the civilians and the international community alike.
In the polls that was made by JFL in collaboration with Rozana radio station that surveyed 60 civilians, males and females, form the besieged neighborhoods: 55% considered “Islamic State” organization the responsibility for the bad living situation in the besieged neighborhoods. Whereas, 45% considered Assad regime as the responsible one. 77% of the sample preferred to exit the besieged neighborhoods and 23% preferred to stay and hold out regardless of the suffering and being exposed to death.
The Role of the International Community
The international community did have no idea about the siege until after the meeting of Mr. Kevin Kennedy, the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, with a number of civic actors and committees in the UN office in Gaziantep in the mid of January 2016. Mr. Kennedy was astonished by the role of Assad regime in the siege after the elaboration that was presented by the participants.
The only one initiative the international community has done is the attempts of UN via WFP in February 24th 2016 to airdrop aids on the besieged neighborhoods within the frame of UN Security Council resolution 2254. A quantity of 21 tons of food was dropped and most of them fell on hard-to-reach areas, whereas the members of brigade 137 took the rest of those food items, and no aids were distributed to the besieged civilians.
The Possible Solutions
There is no that the first priority is to break the siege of Deir Ezzor, but this is not possible due to the complicated nature of the siege for two reasons:
The First Reason: the “Islamic State” organization is not considered as a member of the international community, and in turn it does neither care to the humanitarian situations in general nor care to international humanitarian laws that all conflict parties are bound to. Whereas, Assad regime is still a member of the United Nations even though it committed all sorts of massacres and banned violations according to the UN laws and the international human rights. According to these international laws related to the armed conflicts, Assad regime is bound to human rights laws, and it bears the legal responsible in fort of all civilians, especially that it is considered as the counterpart in sieging the neighborhoods of Deir Ezzor.
The Second One: due to political and military considerations, where Assad regime pursuit to make use of the siege that is laid by the “Islamic State” organization in order to play the role of the besieged party for begging the international community to break the siege, and consequently advance militarily towards the territories that have been dominated by the rebels in July 2012, before “Islamic State” organization control them in July 2014.
Hence, the possible way is to reduce the sufferings of the besieged civilians by entering humanitarian aids by aircrafts.
However, after reviewing the previous experience for delivering aids to the civilians, it is quite clear that no trust can be placed on Assad regime and the affiliated organization in terms of distributing those aids. Any initiative for relieving the civilians should be accompanied with two international teams who are assigned by UN; one team responsible for aids, and the other one for medical issues in order to supervise the distribution and the health conditions of the civilians.
Moreover and according to UN security council resolution 2254, “Calls on the parties to immediately allow humanitarian agencies rapid, safe and unhindered access throughout Syria by most direct routes, allow immediate, humanitarian assistance to reach all people in need, in particular in all besieged and hard-to-reach areas”.
Some issues to be taken into account;
- The aids should be enough for approximately 150,000 besieged civilians, the individual need of calories should be considered and each food parcel should be enough for at least one month.
- Entering children milk and food supplements
- Entering medical aids, especially the medications for the patients of blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, and dehydration.
- Providing treatment immediately to the patients who are in medical intervention of surgery operation inside the besieged neighborhoods or transfer them to other place if needed.
- Sending medical team to evaluate the health damages that are resulted by the prolonged siege.
- Entering the liquefied chlorine for sterilizing the drinking water in these neighborhoods.
- Entering the materials of personal hygiene.
Facilitating the movement of the civilians in/out the neighborhoods without any restrictions.
 Google earth
Assad regime received considerable quantities of wheat of the seasons 2012-2013 for Deir Ezzor and Al Raqqa
 The maximum number is according JFL estimations and the minimum number is according to SARC estimations.
After Assad regime lost the majority of Al Bghailia sub-district, the remaining areas are Al Joura, Al Qusour, and Al Villat neighborhoods
 Two civilians were killed while there were trying to enter the besieged neighborhoods in February 2015
 The “Islamic State” organization executed three civilians form the villages located in front of the besieged neighborhoods while they were trying to enter food items to those neighborhoods
The “Islamic State” organization arrested the maintenance operators and prevented them from repairing the fiber optic cable, later on they were released in Ayyash village.
 As documented by JFL
Rented by traders from the ministry of defense as prices of $20,000-25,000. Only helicopters continued in operation after the organization advanced towards the fronts of the airport.
Before it was controlled by The “Islamic State” organization in the mid of January 2016
 After one year of siege the fuel material prices reach at; gasoline 4,500S SP – kerosene oil 1,600 SP – diesel 2,000 SP – natural gas 12,000 SP.
 National defense militias have their own detention center
 As documented by JFL
 The maximum number is according JFL estimations and the minimum number is according to SARC estimations. Where ICRC estimated the civilians at 183,000.