Civilians in Syria’s Daraa are at risk, exposed to violence: Bachelet

QAMISHLI, Syria (North Press) – The stark picture emerging from Daraa al-Balad and other neighbourhoods underscores how much at risk civilians there are, repeatedly exposed to fighting and violence, and in effect under siege, said Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), on Thursday.

“They are facing checkpoints, restrictions on their movements, tanks on the streets and their property is being seized and stolen,” Bachelet added.

Since June 29, with the start of the military campaign launched by the Syrian government forces with Iranian-backed factions, the residents of Daraa al-Balad region and the besieged neighborhoods have been suffering from difficult humanitarian conditions.

The Syrian government forces have strengthened their military positions in Daraa al-Balad and stationed tanks in residential areas, the OHCHR said.   

In recent days, they have only been allowing pedestrians out of Daraa al-Balad along the al-Saraya road, subjecting people to strict security checks, according to OHCHR.

As violence flared last week, the UN Human Rights Office documented that at least eight civilians were killed by reported ground-based strikes by both Syrian government forces and armed factions, among those killed were five members of a family whose home was hit in the town of al-Yadouda in southwestern countryside of Daraa. 

At least one mortar shell launched by unidentified armed individuals hit and damaged the Daraa National Hospital in Daraa al-Mahatta.

The OHCHR pointed out that among other incidents confirmed by the UN Human Rights Office, government forces seized and occupied several private homes in the areas of Shamal al-Khat, al-Panorama and al-Sabeel in Daraa al-Mahatta, expelling the occupants and not allowing them to take any of their belongings.

These forces also stole money, mobile phones and laptops during searches of at least nine private houses on July 30 and 31 in Daraa al-Mahatta.

The escalation in hostilities has forced at least 18,000 civilians to flee Daraa al-Balad since July 28, many of them to the city of Daraa itself and the nearby areas. These include several hundred people sheltering in schools in Daraa al-Mahatta, as the OHCHR put it.

“I remind the parties to the conflict of their obligations under international humanitarian law, in particular as regards the protection of civilians, and under international human rights law,” Bachelet noted.

“Tanks in residential areas and a checkpoint set up in a house strongly suggest the necessary precautions are not being taken,” she stressed. 

Report by Juan Shikaki