Last update: February 2023
Hama governorate is in central Syria and has internal borders with the governorates of Latakia and Tartous to the west, Homs to the south and with Aleppo, Idlib and Raqqa to the north. It comprises five districts: Hama, Misyaf, Muhardah, As-Suqaylbiyah, and As-Salamiyeh. As of February 2022, UNOCHA estimated the population of Hama governorate at just under 1 500 000 inhabitants and the population of Hama city at 964 000. Hama city is predominantly inhabited by Sunni Muslims while the rest of the governorate is more diverse with a presence of Alawites, Ismailis and Christians.
Background of the conflict
In 2019, attempts by GoS forces to advance into opposition-held areas in northern Hama were initially unsuccessful. After the SAA imposed a siege on the vast majority of the area later in that year, an escalation of military operations was reported for the region towards the end of 2019 [Security 2021, 2.3, p. 106]. During 2020 and the first quarter of 2021, the military operations in north-west Syria by GoS and pro-GoS forces continued, as did clashes and shelling between GoS and opposition forces in western rural Hama. This included ISIL attacks against GoS forces, resulting in military operations involving ISIL, GoS forces and allied militias in central and eastern Hama governorate.
Actors: control and presence
During the reference period the territorial control in the government remained unchanged. Most of Hama governorate was under GoS control, apart from the area bordering Idlib governorate. SAA units and associated armed groups were reported to be in the governorate, but limited specific information was available. Sources indicated the presence of the Syrian military’s Fourth Division and the Syrian Military Security Service’s Branch 219, as well as the Palestinian militant group Liwa al-Quds.
Russian forces are said to have carried out military operations mainly in the north and west of the Hama governorate. There is also information on military operations involving Iranian forces and its proxies. The area on the border with Idlib province in the Sahl al-Ghab area was controlled by rebel factions and the HTS. Recently, it was also reported that Turkish forces were establishing new military posts there.
Various sources recorded ISIL's continued presence and activities in Hama governorate.
Nature of violence and examples of incidents
During the reporting period, tensions in Hama governorate reportedly remained high. The security situation continued to be dominated by military operations by the GoS and pro-GoS Russian forces in the northwest of the governorate. High numbers of shelling and air strikes were recorded, resulting in damage to civilian facilities.
In southern Hama governorate around Rastan city, the security situation was described as ‘complicated’ due to the ongoing presence of anti-GoS armed groups, shelling by GoS forces and anti-GoS armed groups, as well as attacks on the road.
ISIL activities, such as multiple ambush attacks on civilians and security forces, were still observed in the east of Hama governorate. Increased Russian airstrikes against ISIL positions reportedly occurred in April 2022. ISIL attacks, including against civilians, were reported in the period from August to October 2022.
Furthermore, there is information about Israeli airstrikes in April and May 2022 in western Hama, which are said to have resulted in civilian casualties. Russian air- and drone strikes, also targeting populated areas, resulted in counter shelling by non-state armed factions and HTS as well as civilian casualties. There were also reports about Turkish shelling on GoS facilities in June 2021.
ACLED recorded 974 security incidents (average of 14 security incidents per week) in Hama governorate in the period from 1 April 2021 to 31 July 2022. Of the reported incidents, 878 were coded as ‘explosions/remote violence’, 86 as ‘battles’, and 10 as incidents of ‘violence against civilians’. In the period 1 August – 31 October 2022, 163 security incidents were recorded in Hama representing an average of 12.9 security incidents per week.
Security incidents were recorded in all Hama governorate districts during the reporting period, with the highest number recorded in As-Suqaylabiyah, followed by As-Salamiyeh district.
Civilian fatalities: data
The SNHR recorded 25 civilian fatalities in Hama in the nine months between April and December 2021. In January – October 2022, the SNHR recorded 36 civilian fatalities. This represented two civilian fatalities per 100 000 inhabitants for the first ten months of 2022.
As of August 2021, the number of IDPs in Hama governorate was stated to be 226 911.
UNOCHA recorded approximately 5 200 IDP movements from Hama governorate in 2021 as well as 820 IDP movements within the governorate, and about 1 200 IDP movements to the governorate. In the first four months of 2022, UNOCHA registered 1 101 IDP movements from Hama governorate and 902 IDP movements to the governorate.
In 2021, approximately 2 000 IDP returnee movements were recorded to Hama governorate. In the first four months of 2022, 2 158 IDP return movements were registered by UNOCHA recorded 247 spontaneous returns to the governorate from locations within Hama and from outside in January, 728 in February, and 594 in March, and 589 in April 2022.
Further impact on civilians
The city of Hama reportedly sustained 4.4 % of the total property damage in Syria. According to a 2021 estimate, 6.06% of the total population in Hama governorate was living in damaged buildings. Reports of damage to civilian infrastructure continued during the reporting period. In addition, there is sustained information about widespread contamination with landmines and explosive devices, resulting in injuries and casualties among the civilian population, including children. According to reports, there were checkpoints at the entrances to towns and on major highways in GoS-controlled areas, including the M5 highway that runs through Hama governorate. Attacks on roads and kidnappings were also mentioned.
Looking at the indicators, it can be concluded that ‘mere presence’ in the area would not be sufficient to establish a real risk of serious harm under Article 15(c) QD in the governorate of Hama, however indiscriminate violence reaches a high level. Accordingly, a lower 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.