Last update: February 2023
Damascus governorate, which covers Syria’s capital, is located in the south-western part of Syria and is completely surrounded by the Rural Damascus (Rif Damashq) governorate. The governorate is divided into two districts, Damascus city and Yarmouk. As of February 2022, UNOCHA estimated the population of Damascus governorate to be of 1 828 845 inhabitants.
Background of the conflict
During the entire war, the GoS special forces were able to defend the capital, and while Sunni rebels captured the suburbs in the early stages of the conflict, they were never able to advance towards the central districts. The conflict inside Damascus city mainly played out in opposition-held areas, including the Jobar, Qaboun, Tishreen, and Barzeh neighbourhoods that were connected to eastern Ghouta, the opposition’s stronghold. The southern neighbourhoods of Yarmouk Camp and Tadamoun also frequently experienced conflict activity. In 2018, the GoS forces, backed by Iran and Russia, regained complete control of the capital.
Actors: control and presence
GoS and affiliated groups were in control of Damascus governorate throughout the reference period. Multiple Hezbollah and Iranian bases are reportedly located in the Damascus area. As of late 2019, Hezbollah was surveilling the Shiite al-Shaghour neighbourhood, the vicinity of the Umayyad Mosque, and the Sayyidah Ruqayya shrine area where the Hezbollah headquarters is located.
In August and September 2020, it was reported that ISIL and other opposition groups no longer had a presence in Damascus governorate. However, during the first half of 2022 sources noted an ‘active presence’ or at least ‘occasional’ ISIL activity. The possible presence of the insurgent opposition group Hurras al-Din and Saraya Qasioun cells was also noted.
Nature of violence and examples of incidents
It was noted that attacks had become rare inside Damascus governorate since the GoS recaptured the surrounding countryside in 2018. However, during the reference period there were several reported incidents targeting officials or supporters of the GoS, including three deadly bombings of military buses in August 2021, October 2021, and February 2022. Hurras al-Din claimed responsibility for the first attack and Saraya Qasioun for the second.
In September 2021, ISIL claimed responsibility for destroying a gas pipeline supplying the Deir Ali and Tishreen power plants, as well as two power pylons.
Several air strikes by Israeli forces were recorded, targeting locations at or near Damascus International Airport, including military posts and warehouses of GoS forces, Iranian troops or Iran-backed militias. Several Syrian soldiers and others linked to Hezbollah and Iran-backed militias were killed in the attacks.
Israeli airstrikes on GoS facilities were reported in September and October 2022, including on Damascus airport.
On 13 October 2022, an IED attack targeting an army bus killed 18 pro-GoS soldiers and wounded another 27 in Damascus city. No group claimed responsibility for the attack.
Damascus recorded the second lowest number of security incidents out of all governorates. ACLED recorded 21 security incidents (average of 0.3 security incidents per week) in Damascus governorate in the period from 1 April 2021 to 31 July 2022. Of the reported incidents, 11 were coded as ‘explosions/remote violence’, 8 as incidents of ‘violence against civilians’ and 2 as ‘battles’. In the period 1 August – 31 October 2022, seven security incidents were recorded in Damascus representing an average of 0.6 security incident per week.
All security incidents were recorded in Damascus city.
Civilian fatalities: data
The SNHR recorded no civilian fatalities in Damascus in the nine months between April and December 2021. In January – October 2022, the SNHR recorded three civilian fatalities. This represented less than one civilian fatality per 100 000 inhabitants for the first ten months of 2022.
As of January 2022, the number of IDPs in Damascus governorate was stated to be 609 682.
UNOCHA recorded approximately 1 000 IDP movements from Damascus governorate and 398 IDP movements to the governorate in 2021. In the first five months of 2022, UNOCHA registered 552 IDP movements from Damascus governorate and 62 IDP movements to the governorate.
In 2021, approximately 11 000 IDP return movements from the governorate and some 2 000 IDP returnee movements to the governorate were recorded. In the first five months of 2022, 2 671 IDP return movements from the governorate and 725 returns to the governorate were recorded by UNOCHA.
Further impact on civilians
Damascus governorate sustained about 3 % of the total damage to physical capital in Syria during the conflict. Yarmouk refugee camp was severely damaged, and as of March 2021, UNRWA noted that the basic infrastructure of the Yarmouk refugee camp remained heavily damaged. Four civilians died under a collapsing building, that had been previously shelled, in Jobar neighbourhood in May 2022.
The Carter Center reported that between December 2012 and May 2021, 31 744 explosives were deployed in Damascus city, resulting in an estimated contamination of the city by 3000-9500 pieces of unexploded ordnance. Clearance efforts by GoS and Russian forces were noted.
Looking at the indicators, it can be concluded that in the governorate of Damascus, there is, in general, no real risk for a civilian to be personally affected within the meaning of Article 15(c) QD.