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Last update: November 2021

[Main COI reference: Security 2021, 2.11]

General information

Rural Damascus (Rif Dimashq in Arabic) is a largely agricultural governorate surrounding Damascus city. It has international borders with Iraq and Jordan to the east and Lebanon to the west. It borders Homs governorate to the north. To the south it borders Quneitra, Dar’a and Sweida governorates. According to UNOCHA, the governorate is divided into 36 sub-districts: Kisweh, Babila, Jaramana, Maliha, Kafr Batna, Arbin, Qudsiya, Douma, Harasta, Sabe Byar, Dhameer, Nashabiyeh, Ghizlaniyyeh, Haran Al’awameed, Al Qutayfah, Jirud, Ma’loulah, Raheiba, At Tall, Sidnaya, Rankus, Yabroud, Esal ElWard, An Nabk, Deir Attiyeh, Az-Zabdani, Dimas, Ein Elfijeh, Madaya, Sarghaya, Qatana, Bait Jan, Sa’sa, Markaz Darayya, Sahnaya, and Hajar Aswad. ACLED data on security incidents classifies Rural Damascus in 9 districts: Al Qutayfah, An Nabk, At Tall, Az-Zabadani, Darayya, Duma, Qatana, Rural Damascus, and Yabroud. Large parts of Rural Damascus governorate and Damascus city are largely integrated in contiguous built-up areas. Hence, it is difficult to distinguish the administrative boundaries separating them. In a March 2021 report, UNOCHA estimated the population of Rural Damascus governorate to be of 3 023 110 inhabitants.

Background of the conflict

Regions of Rural Damascus have been characterised as pockets of resistance to the government since the beginning of the conflict in 2011. These pockets became key hubs for armed opposition groups the following years. In the spring and summer of 2018, the government regained full control over the governorate.

Actors: control and presence

As of March 2021, Damascus governorate was under the control of the GoS. Units of the 2nd Corps of the SAA were reported to be present in Rural Damascus governorate in early March 2020. Russia and Iran, as well as Hezbollah, were maintaining a continued presence in Rural Damascus.

An increase in attacks reported against military and security personnel in early 2020 has been attributed to an armed group called Saraya Qasioun. The existence of this group was, however, doubted by other sources.

As of February 2020, ISIL was still sustaining a support zone straddling the border with Sweida governorate, crossing Rural Damascus and continuing into Homs governorate. In October 2020, sources reported that ISIL and other opposition groups no longer were present in the governorate and that state intelligence services had eliminated all opposition cells in Rural Damascus.

Nature of violence and examples of incidents

Since 2018, when the GoS retook control of all areas in Rural Damascus, there had been no major security incidents involving battles or military operations in the governorate, while in some places in Rural Damascus governorate, armed clashes between pro-GoS militias were reported.

Israeli airstrikes against military targets were reported in 2020 as well as in 2021.

In 2020, the CoI reported that ‘arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and torture remained pervasive’ in specific areas under GoS control, including Rural Damascus. In September 2020, protests against arrests, including arrests carried out without legal arrest warrants issued by court, were reported to have taken place.

Furthermore, explosive remnants of war (ERW) and other explosives has left settlements,
residential areas and agricultural land unsafe.

Incidents: data

ACLED recorded 204 security incidents (average of 3 security incidents per week) in Rural Damascus governorate in the period from 1 January 2020 to 31 March 2021, of which 125 were coded as incidents of ‘violence against civilians’, 40 as ‘battles’, and 39 as ‘explosions/remote violence’.

Geographical scope

Security incidents were recorded in Rural Damascus governorate districts during the reporting period, with the highest number of overall incidents being recorded in Duma, Qatana, Rural Damascus, At Tall.

Civilian fatalities: data

VDC recorded 51 civilian fatalities in 2020 and 19 civilian fatalities in the first three months of 2021. SNHR recorded 27 civilian fatalities in 2020 and 3 civilian fatalities in the first three months of 2021. For the full reporting period, this represented 70 civilian fatalities in total or approximately 2 civilian fatalities per 100 000 inhabitants according to VDC data; and 30 civilian fatalities in total or approximately 1 civilian fatality per 100 000 inhabitants according to SNHR.


In 2020, UNOCHA reported around 3 000 IDP movements from Rural Damascus governorate, including 323 IDP movements within the governorate. In the first three months of 2021, less than 200 IDP movements from the governorate were recorded by UNOCHA.

In 2020, UNOCHA recorded approximately 11 000 IDP return movements to, including within, Rural Damascus governorate, out of which 6 000 return movements took place from within the governorate itself. In the first quarter of 2021, approximately 3 300 IDP return movements were registered by UNOCHA.

Limitations on returns to specific areas of the governorate, such as in Eastern Ghouta, were in place and such returns were only partially permitted.

Further impact on civilians

Widespread lawlessness, such as arbitrary arrests, and general insecurity prevailing in the previously besieged areas, including Ghouta and Douma, was reported in the governorate. In 2020, a growing number of kidnappings of civilians for ransom, including kidnappings of children, were also noted.

It was assessed that 44.7 % of the population in the governorate was living in damaged buildings. Access to electricity and water in the governorate was limited to two to three hours a day, and the supply of potable water was scarce. Hospitals were almost completely lacking in Darayya city and its surroundings, and no action to reconstruct those destroyed had been taken by the GoS. Despite public health facilities being available in several areas, the quality of services was adversely affected by shortages of personnel and lack of medical supplies, while private healthcare services were unaffordable. 39 schools were completely destroyed as of the beginning of the 2019 school year, and 500 schools needed renovations. Key infrastructure such as roads, schools and health centres was found to be beyond serviceability.


Looking at the indicators, it can be concluded that indiscriminate violence is taking place in the governorate of Rural Damascus, however not at a high level. Accordingly, a higher level of individual elements is required in order to show substantial grounds for believing that a civilian, returned to the territory, would face a real risk of serious harm within the meaning of Article 15(c) QD.