Syria is on the verge of another flare-up that could spell a return to large-scale combat, the United Nations has warned in a new report.
“Today, Syrians face increasing and intolerable hardships, living among the ruins of this lengthy conflict. Millions are suffering and dying in displacement camps, while resources are becoming scarcer and donor fatigue is rising,” said Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, chair of the UN’s Syria commission.
“Syria cannot afford a return to larger-scale fighting, but that is where it may be heading,” he said on Wednesday.
In recent months, an intensification along Syria’s northern front has increased the suffering of citizens, warned the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic in its report.
Hundreds of thousands of people have died and millions have been made homeless since protests against President Bashar al-Assad in 2011 escalated into a civil war that drew in foreign powers and left Syria carved into zones controlled by rival parties.
The commission’s latest 50-page report on the human rights situation in Syria, which covers the period January 1 to June 30, said that many parties are complicit.
Under the threat of another Turkish ground operation, the commission recorded continued mobilisation and fighting between Turkish and Turkish-backed forces and Kurdish-led forces in the north.
“We also see continued operations by Israel, as well as the US, Turkey and Iran-backed forces, in this protracted conflict,” commissioner Lynn Welchman warned.
In addition, Russia is still actively supporting the Syrian government, particularly concerning air strikes that have killed civilians and targeted food and water sources.
@UNCOISYRIA press conference now live: https://t.co/ZZ7qNfFvLV Commission Chair Paulo Pinheiro: "Syrians face increasing, intolerable hardships. Syria can't afford return to larger-scale fighting but escalation may be looming,” Report: https://t.co/fMIt2TDJQY pic.twitter.com/7Kn8gXpQPa
— UN Syria Commission (@UNCoISyria) September 14, 2022
Families living in front-line areas have borne the brunt of pro-government forces’ ground-to-ground shelling in these areas, the report documented, with “children killed on their way to school, men killed as they tended to their shops, and an entire family killed as they gathered outside their home for afternoon tea.”
“Tens of thousands of Syrians remain forcibly disappeared or missing to date. Government forces continue to inflict cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment on the relatives of the missing by deliberately concealing the fate and whereabouts of the missing,” the report outlined.
Families’ search for their loved ones in Syria – often undertaken by women – is fraught with the danger of being arrested, extorted and abused.
The United Nations said fault lines between various areas are now starting to heat up again.
“We had an idea at some point that the war was completely finished in Syria,” Pinheiro told journalists in Geneva, adding that incidents documented in the report proved this was not the case.
— UN Human Rights Council 📍 #HRC51 (@UN_HRC) September 14, 2022
The report found that “grave violations of fundamental human rights and humanitarian law” had increased across the country in the first six months of this year.
Russian air raids over opposition-held areas had increased in the last few months, said commissioner Hanny Megally.
“We are seeing increasing violence,” Megally told reporters.
The report also documented more than a dozen Israeli strikes across Syria in the first six months of 2022, including an attack on Damascus International Airport that put the site out of commission for nearly two weeks.
The UN revealed on Wednesday that it had been unable to fly in humanitarian assistance to Syria during that time.
Across the country, the UN also documented cases of people and families who have been unable to return to their hometowns and villages because their properties were confiscated by forces, or because they cannot return to their properties and land, fearing arbitrary detention.
Against this backdrop, the commission noted that some neighbouring countries are creating concrete plans for mass returns of Syrian refugees. “Returns must be a choice and take place in a safe, dignified, and voluntary manner,” Pinheiro said.