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Last update: November 2021

[Main COI reference: Security 2021, 2.2]

General information

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 largest city Aleppo is located), Afrin, A’zaz [Azaz], Al-Bab, Menbij [Manbij], Jarablus, Ain Al-Arab [Kobane], and As-Safira. In a March 2021 report, UNOCHA estimated the population of Aleppo governorate to be of 4 014 129 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 2019, the UN estimated that around 1.6 million people were living in Aleppo city.

Minority communities present in the governorate include Christians, Kurds, Armenians and Turkmen. Kurdish population is present in Aleppo governorate, in particular in the Aleppo city neighbourhoods of Sheikh Maqsoud and Ashrafiya and in Afrin district. It has been reported that Turkey carried out a demographic change in Afrin area by empowering the SNA in forcing the Kurdish inhabitants of Afrin to leave the area, while thousands of rebels and their families from Eastern Ghouta were settled in Afrin following reconciliation.

Background of the conflict

Control over different parts of Aleppo governorate fluctuated between GoS and anti-government armed groups, with international actors also playing a pivotal role. Between 2012 and 2016, the city of Aleppo remained divided between the GoS-controlled west and the areas in the east, controlled by anti-government armed groups. In December 2016, after a prolonged siege and with the military assistance of Russia, eastern Aleppo was recaptured by the GoS. In the northern part of Aleppo, in early 2014, Kurds established control in the districts of Kobane and Afrin. After the advances of ISIL in Aleppo governorate, SDF and GoS, respectively backed by US and Russia, joined forces and managed to reclaim control of some parts of the governorate. Meanwhile, following two offensives in 2016 and 2018, Turkish troops and affiliated forces occupied other previously ISIL-held areas in the governorate. Between April 2019 and March 2020, parts of western Aleppo governorate were recaptured through a GoS offensive.

Actors: control and presence

Multitude of actors continued to control different parts of the governorate. The southern part of Aleppo governorate, including the city of Aleppo, was under the control of pro-GoS forces. Russian and Iranian military sites were located in different parts of the governorate. It was further reported that Iran-backed militia had long been entrenched in Aleppo governorate and that the IRGC and local militias had a strong military presence and influence in the governorate and the city itself. The SDF forces were in control of the areas around the cities of Manbij and Kobane as well as the Tal Rifaat area. Turkey has deployed forces at around 21 outposts in the northern Aleppo countryside and 12 main bases in the Afrin region. Turkey-backed SNA controlled the area between the cities of Afrin, Azaz, Al-Bab and Jarabulus in northern Aleppo governorate. HTS controlled Idlib-adjacent parts of western Aleppo governorate. The presence of ISIL was also reported in the governorate, in particular in Turkish- and SNA-controlled areas.

Nature of violence and examples of incidents

During the first months of 2020, the governorate saw heavy fighting, with intense shelling affecting several neighbourhoods in the city of Aleppo.

The ceasefire agreed in March 2020 was largely observed during the reporting period [Security 2021, 1.5.4]. However, it was reported that by mid-April 2020 it was violated over 109 times by the GoS forces which tried to break into areas in western Aleppo countryside, among others. There were also reports of several violations in February and March 2021.

In Aleppo city and its surroundings, security incidents were observed mainly in the first months of 2020 and recently in March 2021. For example, on 21 March 2021, shells, allegedly launched by Turkish-backed armed groups, fell on Al-Fardos neighbourhood in eastern Aleppo, killing and injuring civilians. In addition, a state of lawlessness and criminality were reported in the parts of Aleppo city.

In western Aleppo governorate, military activity by the SAA was reported that was comprised of brief ground operations and prolonged aerial offensives, which targeted several civilian facilities and healthcare units and led to civilian casualties. The military activity in these areas was particularly intensified during the first half of 2020. Six of the 28 attacks on healthcare facilities documented by WHO in 2020 in Syria were carried out in Aleppo. In March 2021, a hospital in Atareb, Aleppo governorate which was included in the UN deconfliction mechanism was shelled by GoS armed forces, killing six civilians and wounding an additional 16.

Since Turkey consolidated its control of northern Aleppo governorate, the Turkish Army and affiliated armed groups have been targeted by Kurdish and unidentified armed groups throughout 2020. These attacks have mainly taken the form of IED attacks which were reported in the city of Afrin and several other cities and villages in the Afrin region and resulted in numerous civilian casualties. Armed clashes between unidentified actors were also reported. Especially Al Bab has been characterised as ‘an area of frequent conflict’. In December 2020 and January 2021, an uptick in IED attacks in Turkish-controlled areas of Syria had been reported, continuing up to March 2021. In early March 2021 there were reports of frequent shelling and clashes between Turkish armed forces and affiliated armed groups on the one side and the YPG and GoS armed forces on the other.

In 2021 there were reported GoS and Russian attacks on makeshift oil refineries in northern and north-eastern Aleppo, which caused damages in civilian property and deaths of civilians. There was also ISIL activity reported in Afrin area and the ISIL cells claimed responsibility for attacks in Al-Bab and A’zaz. 

It has been reported that a state of lawlessness was prevalent in the SNA-controlled areas Aleppo governorate due to the assassinations and the fighting among the Turkish-backed factions that are in control of the area. The ongoing infighting and armed clashes, especially during the first months of 2021, have affected the civilian population. There has also been recorded systematic looting, property appropriation and widespread arbitrary deprivation of liberty in Afrin perpetrated by various brigades of the SNA.

In Tal Rifaat area, during December 2020 and the first months of 2021 there was recorded intensified reciprocal shelling between the SDF, who control the area, and the Turkish army. Several villages in Manbij area were bombed by the Turkish forces. There were also several armed skirmishes between SNA and SDF fighters in Manbij area. Sheikh Maqsoud and Tal Rifaat were besieged by GoS forces as a response to the siege imposed by the SDF on GoS-controlled areas of Qamishli, until a Russian-mediated agreement between the two forces. Israeli airstrikes against GoS military targets have been reported in Aleppo governorate.

The prevalence of explosive hazards in northwest Syria remains a particular risk and has resulted in civilian fatalities. In Afrin, it has been noted that the high prevalence of explosive hazards was one of the reasons that resulted in ‘very high protection needs, especially for women, children, and the Kurdish population’.

Incidents: data

ACLED recorded 2 405 security incidents (average of 37 security incidents per week) in Aleppo governorate in the period from 1 January 2020 to 31 March 2021. Of the reported incidents, 1 556 were coded as ‘explosions/remote violence’, 601 as ‘battles’ and 248 as incidents of ‘violence against civilians’. Incidents were reported with higher frequency in the first months of 2020, prior to the agreement of the ceasefire.

Geographical scope

Security incidents were recorded in all Aleppo districts during the reporting period, with the highest number of overall incidents being recorded in Jebel Saman, A’zaz and Afrin.

Civilian fatalities: data

VDC recorded 446 civilian fatalities in 2020 and 73 civilian fatalities in the first three months of 2021. SNHR recorded 390 civilian fatalities in 2020 and 104 in the first three months of 2021. For the full reporting period, this represented 519 civilian fatalities in total or approximately 13 civilian fatalities per 100 000 inhabitants according to VDC data; or 494 civilian fatalities in total or approximately 12 civilian fatalities per 100 000 inhabitants according to SNHR.


In 2020, Aleppo ranked as the second governorate in terms of IDP movements in Syria after Idlib, registering 690 000 IDP movements from, including within the governorate. Significant displacement (46 500 movements) was also reported in the first three months of 2021. The largest displacement numbers in 2020 occurred in January and February as a result of the GoS offensive in north-west Syria. The March 2020 ceasefire was likely an important factor influencing IDP return movements in 2020, as most of them took place in March – May 2020 in the governorates of Idlib and Aleppo [see also Security 2021, 1.6.5].

UNOCHA indicated that in 2020, there were 128 000 IDP return movements to districts in the governorate of Aleppo, most of them returning from within the governorate itself. In the first three months of 2021, UNOCHA reported 8 499 IDP return movements to, including within Aleppo governorate.

Further impact on civilians

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 these areas. Considerable number of IDPs returned to their areas of origin in eastern Aleppo city, despite the prevalent destruction. There was a small-scaled rehabilitation in Old Aleppo supported by the state and international funds and residential reconstruction limited to the economic means of a few civilians. Electricity was supplied primarily by generators and only private hospitals were reported to operate and access to water networks was limited. Western Aleppo countryside was affected by the GoS offensive to retake Idlib which caused destruction and damage to civilian infrastructure, including healthcare facilities. The conflict has also caused widespread destruction of occupied shelters. In northern Aleppo governorate, the growing population has caused considerable damage to the infrastructure, as internal displacement has overloaded the infrastructure and increased pressure on the distribution network.


Looking at the indicators it can be concluded that the degree of indiscriminate violence in Aleppo governorate reaches such a high level, that substantial grounds are shown for believing that a civilian, returned to the governorate, would, solely on account of their presence on its territory, face a real risk of being subject to the serious threat referred to in Article 15(c) QD.