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Syria: Zeid warns of Daraa catastrophe amid fighting

GENEVA (29 June 2018) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has called on all sides to the conflict in Syria to end the escalating violence in Daraa Governorate, abide by their obligations under international law and avoid a repetition of the bloodshed and suffering seen earlier this year in Eastern Ghouta. 

“Thousands are already reported to have fled their homes but there is also the grave risk that the intensified fighting will see many civilians trapped, caught between Syrian Government forces and their allies on the one hand and armed opposition groups and ISIL on the other,” said Zeid.

Government forces and their allies have captured the key city of Busr Al-Harir, as well as many towns in the eastern part of Daraa, including in the Lajat region. 

“My Office has also received reports that in the last few days, civilians at some Government checkpoints in the southern-eastern and western parts of Daraa have only been allowed through to Government-held areas in Daraa City and As Suwayda Governorate for a fee,” the High Commissioner said.

“To add to the bleak situation facing civilians, there are also reports that ISIL fighters in control of the Yarmouk Basin area in the western part of Daraa Governorate are not allowing civilians to leave areas under their control,” he said.

“In Syria, civilians continue to be used as pawns by the various parties. I remind all parties to the conflict that international law requires that they do their utmost to protect civilians, and call upon them to provide safe passage to those wishing to flee, while those wishing to stay must be protected at all times,” the High Commissioner said.

Since 19 June, when shelling and airstrikes escalated, the UN Human Rights Office has documented at least 46 civilian deaths in several towns. Among these is Al-Hirak City, which has seen heavy bombardment. Ground-based strikes reportedly hit opposition-held areas of the city, killing two civilians on 20 June and another four civilians on 21 June. Reported airstrikes killed six civilians in Al-Hirak on 26 June. On the same day, a market in Nawa in western Daraa was reportedly hit with ground-based strikes, killing six civilians. On 27 June, a family of five, two parents and three children, was reportedly killed in the town of Dael in western Daraa when an airstrike hit their car.

Thousands of civilians are reported to have fled their homes towards areas in western Daraa, including Nawa and Jassem, and towards the Jordanian border, many of whom remain stranded in the desert area with no access towards basic food and water needs. On 26 June, Jordan announced its border with Syria would remain closed.

Daraa Governorate, which is located at the intersection of Jordan, the occupied Golan region and Lebanon, was declared a de-escalation zone in July 2017, when a trilateral ceasefire agreement was reached, with the US, Russia and Jordan as guarantors.   

“I have spoken of the cruel irony of Eastern Ghouta being a de-escalation zone, and how the conduct of this war has been utterly shameful from the outset and a stain on us all. Now another supposed ‘de-escalation’ zone risks becoming the scene of large-scale civilian casualties. This madness must end,” Zeid said.

ENDS