[Main COI reference: Security 2020, 2.2]
The governorate of Aleppo is located in the north of Syria, bordering Idlib governorate to the west, Hama governorate to the south and Raqqa governorate to the east. In the north it shares a 221-kilometre long border with Turkey. The governorate is divided in eight districts: Jebel Saman (where the capital city Aleppo is located), Afrin, A’zaz, Al-Bab, Menbij [Manbij], Jarablus, Ain Al-Arab [Kobane], and As-Safira. Population estimates for 2016 issued by the Syrian Central Bureau of Statistics indicated that Aleppo governorate had 3 734 000 inhabitants. Before the war, Aleppo city was the commercial and industrial capital of the country, with a population of around 2.5 million people.
As of March 2020, multitude of actors controlled different parts of the governorate. The southern part of Aleppo governorate, including the city of Aleppo, was under the control of pro-GoS forces. The SDF forces were in control of the areas around the cities of Manbij and Kobane. They also controlled the Tal Rifaat area, with some sources indicating joint control with the GoS. Turkey-backed armed groups controlled the area between the cities of Afrin, Azaz, Al-Bab and Jarabulus in northern Aleppo governorate. HTS and affiliated anti-GoS groups maintained their foothold in western Aleppo governorate. ISIL had a presence in the governorate, in particular in Manbij, and still claimed attacks in 2019.
In GoS-controlled areas, pro-government militias had been involved in kidnappings and street fighting among themselves. The clashes escalated into exchanges of machine gun fire and the use of rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), resulting in civilian casualties. The presence of explosive hazards in the governorate has also led to injuries and deaths. During 2019, the conflict between GoS and HTS took the form of ground-based strikes, missile attacks, bombardments and airstrikes, leading to civilians’ deaths as well as significant damage to infrastructure. The attacks of HTS were described by the CoI as ‘indiscriminate, indirect artillery fire into densely populated civilian areas, with no apparent legitimate military objective’. During the first months of 2020, violence had further intensified, with shelling affecting several neighbourhoods in the city of Aleppo. In rural western Aleppo, fierce fighting is resulting in increased levels of suffering for the local population.
In Afrin district and in other areas under the control of Turkish-backed armed groups, the security conditions are considered dire. Tactics of suppression, confiscation and expulsion of the area’s Kurdish population have led to an insurgency campaign against the Turkish presence by the YPG, with the use of IED attacks, roadside ambushes, kidnappings and executions. The use of vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) attacks, machine gun fire and mortars by armed groups operating in the area, was also documented. Factions of the SNA have split the areas under their control into geographic zones of influence. Competition over local resources and diverse regional background of the constituent factions were considered to be the main sources of tension between the SNA. Clashes and asymmetric attacks between factions have been frequently reported, with Turkey generally acting as the mediator. Civilians were regularly caught in the crossfire of rival factions or insurgent activity and casualties were recorded.
In areas under Kurdish control, armed clashes between Turkey and allied armed groups on one side and YPG on the other side were reported during 2019. Bombardments on YPG positions, shelling, artillery fire and frontline clashes were reported.
From March through mid-October 2019, ISIL claimed to have conducted 9 insurgent attacks in Aleppo governorate [Security 2020, 1.4.6]; the group was reportedly involved in ‘hit and run’ attacks, suicide vest attacks and car bombs, resulting in civilian deaths.
ACLED recorded 2 370 security incidents (average of 46 security incidents per week) in Aleppo governorate in 2019, the majority of which coded as explosions/remote violence. In the first two months of 2020, the number of security incidents in the governorate was 861, amounting to an average of 103 security incidents per week.
During 2019, security incidents occurred in all districts of the governorate, with the largest overall number being recorded in the districts of Jebel Saman, A’zaz and Afrin.
In 2019, VDC recorded a total of 370 civilian fatalities and SNHR recorded a total of 359 civilian fatalities in the governorate, the third highest number of civilian fatalities recorded out of any province in Syria. Compared to the official figures for the population in the governorate as from 2016, this represents 10 civilian fatalities per 100 000 inhabitants.
In 2019, Aleppo ranked as the second governorate in terms of IDP movements in Syria after Idlib, registering around 438 000 IDP movements within or to the governorate, the majority of which came from Idlib. In terms of IDP returns for 2019, Aleppo had around 64 000 IDP return movements, the majority of which were recorded within the governorate.
Massive destruction of infrastructure in the governorate of Aleppo had been documented, with housing units and healthcare facilities being particularly affected. Regarding the city of Aleppo, infrastructure damage was most severe in eastern Aleppo city and the old city and most civilians were evacuated from in these areas. Residential reconstruction had been limited due to the lack of private and state funds. Electricity was supplied primarily by generators and only private hospitals were reported to operate. Access to functional water networks was limited, while the presence of explosive hazards has resulted in fires and restrictions in access to services and humanitarian aid. Children, farmers and construction workers were particularly vulnerable.
Looking at the indicators, and in particular the presence of multitude of actors and the volatile situation in relation to the parallel conflicts taking place, it can be concluded that in the governorate of Aleppo, the degree of indiscriminate violence reaches such a high level, that substantial grounds are shown for believing that a civilian, returned to these districts, would, solely on account of his or her presence on their territory, face a real risk of being subject to the serious threat referred to in Article 15(c) QD.