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Common analysis
Last updated: September 2020

[Main COI reference: Security 2020, 2.10]

Damascus governorate, covering 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 16 municipal districts: Barzeh, Qaboun, Jobar, Al-Shaghour, Al-Midan, Al-Qadam, Kafr Sousa, Dummar, al-Mazzeh, Rukn al-Din, Al-Salihiyah, Al-Mouhajrin, Saroujah, Al-Qanawat, Old Damascus, and Al-Yarmouk camp, a refugee camp, set up in 1957 to house approximately 160 000 Palestinian refugees. The Syrian Central Bureau of Statistics estimated the population of Damascus at 2 011 000 in 2016.

The capital is considered vital to the government and to the interest of its allies. At the beginning of the uprising in March 2011, numerous incidents took place in conservative neighbourhoods. Fighting taking place in the surrounding governorate of Rural Damascus had also affected the situation in the Damascus governorate. Some of the city’s suburbs witnessed recurrent skirmishes and battles and the city suffered from road closures, a proliferation of security checkpoints and an influx of thousands of IDPs.

Yarmouk became the centre of armed conflict; 140 000 Palestinian refugees and thousands of Syrians fled the area after FSA and Al Qaeda-aligned Jabhat al-Nusra captured Yarmouk in December 2012. In April 2015, ISIL conquered large parts of the camp, with the help of Jabhat al-Nusra. Since then, Yarmouk Camp has been home to ISIL, Jabhat al-Nusra (now known as HTS), FSA factions, local Palestinian factions, pro-government paramilitary fighters, and government troops, making it a microcosm of the broader conflict. After recapturing Yarmouk by the end of May 2018, the GoS ‘reclaimed a final scrap of territory held by [ISIL] in southern Damascus, cementing total control over the capital for the first time in six years.’

As of March 2020, Damascus governorate was under the control of the GoS. A newly established local resistance group Saraya Qasioun, which operates in Rural Damascus, claimed attacks on personnel of GoS-affiliated forces in Damascus, although the reliability of the claim was questionable.

Since May 2018, when the GoS forces regained control over Damascus and most of Rural Damascus, there have been relatively few acts of violence in the city. A source indicated that the improvement in the security situation is ‘mainly because the government retook control of the last opposition-held areas in Damascus governorate and due to the government’s clearing of armed rebels from Rural Damascus, including Eastern Ghouta’.

In 2019, only sporadic attacks have taken place on the city and governorate of Damascus. Illustrative incidents include a large explosion near a military intelligence office, claimed by an HTS ally and several car bombs and IED attacks directed against Government officials and allies of GoS. From March through mid-October 2019, ISIL claimed to have conducted 3 insurgent attacks in Damascus governorate [Security 2020, 1.4.6]. In February 2020, six explosions took place in Damascus city, all of them caused by car bombs. Israeli air strikes also hit Damascus and the governorate Rural Damascus, for example targeting the Mezzeh Airbase and a research facility in Jamraya. According to the Carter Center, from 2018 up to November 2019, the majority of Israeli air strikes targeted Iranian and Iranian-aligned actors (such as Hezbollah) in Syria.

ACLED recorded 38 security incidents (average of 0.7 security incidents per week) in Damascus governorate in 2019, the large majority of which coded as remote violence/violence against civilians. In the first two months of 2020, the number of security incidents in the governorate was 12, amounting to an average of 1.4 security incidents per week.

In 2019, VDC recorded a total of 24 civilian fatalities and SNHR recorded a total of 15 civilian fatalities in the governorate. Compared to the official figures for the population in the governorate as from 2016, this represents respectively 1.2 or 0.8 civilian fatalities per 100 000 inhabitants.

In 2019, Damascus had a relatively low number of IDP movements in Syria, registering 352 IDP movements to or within the governorate, of which 60 were IDP movements within the governorate. In 2018, about 625 000 long-term IDPs were also living in Damascus, with often poor access to basic services. Around 2 000 return movements were recorded to or within Damascus governorate in 2019, of which 445 were within the governorate, while the rest came mainly from Hasaka governorate. Return movements from Damascus governorate were recorded mainly to Tartous (around 1 100) and Latakia (around 900) governorates.

In 2019, the hostilities in Damascus have resulted in destruction of civilian property and infrastructure with most damaged parts in the southern (Yarmouk) and eastern districts, extending toward Eastern Ghouta. In particular, the districts Jobar and to a lesser extent Al Masani, on the edge of Damascus city, have been severely damaged, according to satellite images of April and September 2018. Checkpoints run by different GoS security and intelligence services also impact civilian life in Damascus governorate.

Looking at the indicators, it can be concluded that indiscriminate violence is taking place in the governorate of Damascus at such a low level that in general there is no real risk for a civilian to be personally affected by reason of indiscriminate violence within the meaning of Article 15(c) QD. However, individual elements always need to be taken into account as they could put the applicant in risk-enhancing situations.