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Last update: February 2023

[Main COI reference: Security 2022, 2.11, pp. 190-202; COI Update 2022, 2., pp. 3-8]

General information

Rural Damascus is a largely agricultural governorate surrounding Damascus city. Rural Damascus is located in the south-western part of Syria and has international borders with Jordan and Iraq to the south and east and Lebanon to the west. Internally, it borders Homs governorate to the north and Quneitra, Dar’a and Sweida governorates to the south. The governorate comprises nine administrative districts: Rural Damascus, Douma (Duma), Al Qutayfah, An Nabk, Yabroud (Yabrud), At Tall, Az-Zabadani, Darayya, and Qatana. As of February 2022, UNOCHA estimated the population of Rural Damascus to be of 3 026 227 inhabitants.

Background of the conflict

The GoS recaptured Rural Damascus governorate in 2018, defeating the armed opposition in Eastern Ghouta in a Russian-supported military offensive launched between February and April 2018, during which GoS forces used chemical weapons against Douma city, the largest opposition stronghold in the vicinity of the capital from 2011 to 2018.

Actors: control and presence

Throughout the reference period, the GoS and affiliated groups were controlling all the governorate’s territory except for a zone in its easternmost section, the so-called US-declared 55-km exclusion zone around Tanf. Except for the SAA, there were also several Russian, Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah bases/posts in the governorate. ISIL, which was reported to have no longer a presence in rural Damascus in 2020, claimed an attack and two bombings in this governorate in 2021 and 2022.

Nature of violence and examples of incidents

Security incidents recorded over the reporting period included multiple cases of assassinations and assassination attempts targeting members of GoS military forces and GoS-affiliated militias, at least one instance of assassination of a former opposition commander, attacks involving IEDs, several attacks by unknown gunmen on SAA checkpoints, and several instances of civilians being killed in infighting between members of GoS forces, community disputes, and gang-related crime. The majority of the casualties were GoS fighters or combatants. Airstrikes and missile attacks by Israeli forces on targets in Rural Damascus governorate also occurred. These strikes included attacks targeting locations at or near Damascus International Airport. Several persons, including GoS soldiers, allied militia fighters and IRGC members were reportedly killed in these attacks.

Incidents: data

ACLED recorded 202 security incidents (average of 2.9 security incidents per week) in Rural Damascus governorate in the period from 1 April 2021 to 31 July 2022. Of the reported incidents, 104 were coded as ‘violence against civilians’, 62 as ‘explosions/remote violence’ and 36 as ‘battles’.

Most of the 87 incidents coded as ‘violence against civilians’ that happened in At Tall district concerned information released on deaths of civilians under torture in GoS prisons.

In the period 1 August – 31 October 2022, 66 security incidents were recorded in Rural Damascus representing an average of 5.2 security incidents per week. 

Geographical scope

Most ‘battles’ and ‘remote violence’ incidents took place in the Duma and Rural Damascus districts, while most ‘violence against civilians’ incidents were recorded in At-Tall district (see above ‘Rural Damascus: Incidents: data’).

Civilian fatalities: data

The SNHR recorded 10 civilian fatalities in Rural Damascus in the nine months between April and December 2021. In January – October 2022, the SNHR recorded 84 civilian fatalities. This represented three civilian fatalities per 100 000 inhabitants for the first ten months of 2022.

Most of the civilian fatalities were documented by SNHR in February 2022, when GoS released death notifications for persons arrested in previous years who have died in custody.


As of January 2022, the number of IDPs in Rural Damascus governorate was stated to be 1 115 922.

UNOCHA recorded approximately 3 150 IDP movements from Rural Damascus governorate in 2021, as well as 846 IDP movements within the governorate. Approximately 150 movements from other governorates were reported. In the first five months of 2022, UNOCHA registered 2 705 IDP movements from Rural Damascus governorate.

In 2021, approximately 30 000 IDP return movements were recorded in Rural Damascus governorate, most of which being within the governorate. In the first five months of 2022, 4 880 IDP return movements were registered by UNOCHA, a bit more than the half of it being to the governorate.

Further impact on civilians

70 % of the local infrastructure of Eastern Ghouta was estimated to be destroyed. The governorate showed a heavy distribution of explosive munitions use. During the reporting period, a number of civilians (including children) were killed in explosions caused by landmines or munitions remnants.

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.