Rural Damascus surrounds the capital, Damascus, on all sides, and most of its areas are rural and agricultural. Before the popular uprisings against Bashar al-Assad began in 2011, rural Damascus was home to approximately 2.2 million people.
The regime of the previous president, Hafiz al-Assad, had separated rural Damascus from the capital during the seventies with the use of a military belt, turning it into an area with numerous military camps for the army, lands owned by the government, or settlements for officers and those loyal to them. This stopped the expansion of the city of Damascus, resulting in an increase in the price of its lands as well as a separation between the city and its rural areas.
In this report, SHRC will display the most prominent of war crimes and crimes against humanity which have been committed in Syria since March 2011 till today.
The Peaceful Movement in the Ghouta of Damascus
The popular uprising against the Syrian regime in the Ghouta began in the first week of the popular uprisings in March 2011. On 25/3/2011, many areas in rural Damascus witnessed large demonstrations which were followed by a large wave of arrests.
Rural Damascus excelled in its organisation in the peaceful movement, particularly in the demonstrations in which demonstrators gave out flowers and water to the army officers who were surrounding them.
However, this peaceful movement was responded to with violence from the regime, with the use of live fire against demonstrators and their arrest, as well as inflicting torture leading to death on them on a wide scale. We see this in the example of some of the most prominent activists such as Ghiyath Matar and Yahya al-Sharbaji: Ghiyath was arrested on 6/9/2011 and his corpse was given to his family on 10/9/2011, after his throat had been pulled out.
The regime was not satisfied with arresting activists or firing on demonstrators, but also began to commit massacres, shell continuously, use internationally forbidden weapons and explosive barrels, whilst also imposing one of the harshest sieges the Middle East has seen since at least a century.
The Targeting of Civilians in Al-Ghouta
Rural Damascus has witnessed a large number of massacres since the beginning of the uprisings and until today. The following is a list of the most prominent of these massacres, documented by SHRC:
The massacre of Daraya (rural Damascus)- 28/8/2012
This massacre took place in the city of Daraya when the Fourth Brigade of the army raided the city after it had imposed a blockade on it. The Brigade committed many field executions, and 221 bodies were found, including 122 bodies which were discovered in the Salman al-Dirani Mosque, and in which the families of the city had escaped to and were taking refuge from the army and shabiha.
The Massacre of al-Maliha/ Rural Damascus/ 1/2/2013
This massacre took place when an airstrike targeted a convoy of vehicles and pedestrians at the Nawras Fuel Station, raising the number of deaths due to the fires which erupted in the cars and in the station. The number of those killed in this massacre was approximately 80 civilians, whilst hundreds of cases of serious burns were recorded.
The Massacre at Adra Checkpoint (Rural Damascus) 18/1/2013
Forces of the Syrian army at the checkpoint between Mid’a and Adra, also known as the Chemistry Battalion checkpoint, killed eight civilians with gunfire from a close distance. The reasons of the crime are unknown.
Massacre of Jdaidat Artooz al-Fadl (Rural Damascus) 21/4/2013
After its raid of Jdaidat Artooz al-Fadl, which lies in the area of Qatna in rural Damascus, forces of the Syrian army as well as local militias committed a massacre against civilians, in which 566 people- mostly children and women- were killed with white and small weapons from a close distance.
This massacre is counted as one of the worst committed in Syria since the beginning of the revolution in March 2013.
Most residents of Jdaidat al-Fadl are from refugee families of the Golan Heights that moved to the area after the Heights were occupied in 1967.
The A’atilah Checkpoint Massacre (Rural Damascus) 16/5/2013
After the Free Syrian Army took over the A’atilah checkpoint (which lies at the entrance of the Ar-Raihan village close to Douma), close to the Adra Central Prison, 30-50 corpses were found in the fields surrounding the checkpoint. The corpses seemed to have been killed for a number of months, and had been burnt after they had been killed. Despite this, it was identified that some of the corpses were those of children. The date and method of the killings was unidentified.
Al-Hasiniah and Al-Dhiyabiah Massacre 11/10/2013
Foreign forces loyal to Hizbollah and Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas battalion committed a large masscare in the village of al-Dhiyabiah and the al-Hasiniah camp in rural Damascus, after clashes which lasted a number of days with opposition forces. Data confirmed that more than 130 civilians were executed in the village by these forces: they were either slaughtered with white weapons or fired upon from a close distance.
Those who managed to escape from this massacre reported that the foreign militias were shouting sectarian slogans as they raided the village and camp and as they carried out the killings.
The massacres of al-Nabak (Rural Damascus) 7, 8,10/12/2013
Foreign militias fighting with the Syrian regime began their attack on the city of al-Nabak in rural Damascus on 19/11/2013. Since the beginning of the attacks, the city was subjected to continuous shelling with all kinds of heavy weaponry which led to the death of over 250 civilians. However, the militias were not satisfied with this, and proceeded to carrying out a series of massacres in the city.
On 7/12/2013, 40 bodies were found in the al-Fattah district north of the city. The bodies had been disfigured and burnt, and 22 children, 10 women and 3 elderly were found within the bodies.
And on 8/12/2013, also in al-Fattah district, another 40 bodies were discovered, most of whom has been subjected to slaughter, disfigurement and burning.
On 8/12/2013, seven children were killed alongside their pregnant mother in the al-Sina’iah area, as they were leaving al-Nabak towards Yabroud. Their killers sent them back to al-Nabak by car, and the circumstances of their murders are unknown.
On 19/12/2013, families of the city found 19 bodies on the route between Damascus and Homs. The circumstance of their murder is unknown, although it is thought that the Syrian regime and foreign forces loyal to them carried out the killings.
And on 10/12/2013, 21 bodies (among them nine women and five children) were found in a cellar in al-Ameen Road in al-Nabak. The bodies were charred and chopped.
The massacre of Bait Sahm 18/12/2013
During the exit of the Committee for National Reconciliation- alongside hundreds of citizens- from the checkpoint of Bait Sahm, regime forces opened fire on citizens, killing at least 45 citizens.
The use of Forbidden Weapons in Ghouta, Damascus
Rural Damascus has been subjected to the largest number of attacks using internationally prohibited weapons, including chemical weapons, poisonous gases and cluster bombs; as well as ranking second after Aleppo in its subjection to explosive barrel attacks.
The following is some of the most prominent attacks using prohibited weapons, documented by SHRC during the last 3 years:
On 19/10/2012 and 23/10/2012, the Eastern Ghouta was bombed with cluster bombs.
On 4/11/2012, cluster bombs were dropped from war planes on Zamalka, Hamouria and Ain Tarma in rural Damascus, leading to the death of a number of civilians as well as a number of injuries, in addition to damage caused to homes.
And on 25/11/2012, an MiG plane dropped cluster bombs on the village of Deir Asafeer in rural Damascus, killing 10 children. The remnants of the bombs were gathered and the moment in which they were dropped from the planes was also recorded.
On 12/12/2012, a cluster bomb was dropped on the city of Kafr Batna in rural Damascus. The moment in which the bombs burnt on the ground was recorded.
On 18/12/2012, Fission bombs (a type of cluster bomb) dropped on Deir Asafeer led to the death of around 20 civilians, among them at least 10 children.
On 19/1/2013, a warplane bombed the area of Bait Sahm with cluster bombs, leading to the complete destruction of a three story building and the death of a number of residents.
On 20/1/2013, the area of Huran al-Awameed in rural Damascus was bombed with cluster bombs, killing 11 people including women and children.
On 12/2/2013, planes bombed the area of Moadamiyat al-Shaam in rural Damascus with cluster bombs, resulting in material losses to the city. The remnants of the bombs were gathered and documented.
On 1/3/2013, Yabroud was subjected to bombing with cluster bombs. The moment in which they were dropped from the planes was recorded. The village was bombed a third time on the next day.
On 19/3/2013, the village of al-Otaiba was subjected to an attack with three rockets containing chemical rockets, which led to the death of livestock as well as affecting a number of residents with burns and suffocation. Regime forces stationed on the borders of the village withdrew suddenly before the launch of the rockets.
On 24/3/2013, Adra and Douma were bombed with chemical weapons, leading to the death of a number of civilians.
On 21/3/2013, Yabroud was subjected to bombing with cluster bombs. The moment of bombing was recorded and documented.
On 28/3/2013, video clips by local activists from the village of al-Sabinah revealed that the area of Jam’iat al-Sabinah had been bombed with cluster bombs thought to be Phosphoric.
On 28/3/2014, Harasta was subjected to bombing in which poisonous gases were used, leading to a number of cases of suffocation.
On 9/4/2013, al-Otaiba was subjected to bombing with poisonous gases for a second time. A number of children had burn injuries, and some fell unconscious.
On 11/4/2014, Harasta was bombed with mortar rockets, one of which at least contained the lethal chemical Sarin.
On 16/4/2014, Harasta was bombed with poisonous gases for a third time within 20 days.
On 17/4/2013, Ain Tarma was bombed with rockets containing chemical weapons, leading to tens of cases of suffocation.
On 25/4/2013, the city of Daraya in rural Damascus was bombed with rockets containing chemical weapons, which led to the formation of a large cloud on top of the city as well as more than 40 cases of suffocation.
On 3/5/2013, the village of al-Abada in rural Damascus was subjected to bombing with cluster bombs, which led to limited loss of life.
On 18/5/2013, activists recorded the moment when phosphorous bombs were dropped on al-Moadamiyah, leading to tens of residents receiving burns.
On 23/5/2013, Adra was bombed with Sarin gas when bombs were dropped on the Adra Gym and Abu ‘Awni swimming pool. The bombing led to no less than 50 cases of extreme suffocation.
On 26/5/2013, Harasta and the area of al-Bahariah were bombed with what is assumed were chemical weapons, and in which more than 100 cases of suffocation were recorded.
On 29/5/2013, al-Ahmadiya in rural Damascus was subjected to the bombing of two rockets containing chemicals which reacted to the soil and produced a fountain of red gas, resulting in cases of suffocation and muscle spasms.
On 9/6/2013, al-Bahara- which lies on the outskirts of Douma- was bombed with chemical weapons for a second time, leading to many cases of suffocation.
On 19/6/2013, opposition forces in Zamalka were bombed with chemical weapons as they retaliated against an attack by Hizbollah forces on the city. A number of cases of suffocation and muscle spasms were recorded.
After four days, Zamalka was once again subjected to poisonous gases on 23/6/2013, leading to the death of ten people and tens injured.
On 7/7/2013, the village of Sidi Miqdad in Babila, rural Damascus, was bombed with chemical weapons. Dozens were reported to have been suffocated and their nerves damaged.
On 13/7/2013, Yabroud was bombed with cluster bombs.
On 21/8/2013, the Eastern Ghouta was bombed with chemical weapons. This massacre is considered one of the largest crimes of genocide in Syria since the beginning of the revolution, both in terms of the number of victims and the geographical area covered. More than 1300 were killed as a result.
On 17/11/2013, al-Nabak was bombed with cluster bombs.
On 30/12/2013, activists documented the remnants of cluster bombs used in bombings on the village of Madera in rural Damascus, and which had led to the death of a number of civilians.
And on 1/3/2014, Yabroud was bombed with cluster bombs. The moment of bombing was recorded.
The Siege on Rural Damascus
The siege on rural Damascus is considered one of the largest forms of genocide witnessed in Syria during the revolution, especially considering the large geographical area covered by the siege and the high number of residents living in these areas.
The beginning of the siege on districts of Damascus and cities of rural Damascus varies, as does the impact on the residents. The siege began on Kafr Batna on 1/6/2012, and on Harasta, Douma, Daraya and Moadamiyat al-Shaam in mid November 2012, whilst for the Yarmouk Camp it began on 26/12/2012, and on al-Hajar al-Aswad and al-Asaali it began on 15/7/2012.
By Ramadan 2013 (11/7/2013), the siege had intensified in the Southern areas , as checkpoints no longer allowed any food to come in, whereas before small portions were allowed to go through. The siege also intensified on the Eastern Ghouta, as checkpoints began to forbid the entering and exiting of people and goods from all areas of the Ghouta.
The effect of the siege differs from area to area, mostly due to two factors: the outlets/ports in each area – which affects the intensity of the siege and the ability to smuggle in goods from other areas- and the presence of agricultural resources in the area, which assist in alleviating the pressures of the siege. The agricultural areas in rural Damascus (al-Maliha, Kafr Batna, Harasta, Douma, al-Buwaida, al-Hajira) have managed to resist the siege more effectively than the more urban areas such as al-Moadamiyah, al-Hajar al-Aswad and Arbeen.