Joint Statement on Recent Unrest in Deir Ezzor
On 27 August 2023, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced in a statement published on their official website the launch of Operation “Security Reinforcement” in areas they control in Deir Ezzor province. The statement outlined the objectives of the operation as aimed at “eradicating the ISIS terrorist cells; thwarting their potential attacks; pursuing criminals responsible for perpetrating injustices against the local population; enforcing the law; and tracking down smugglers who exploit the populace’s livelihoods.”
On 30 August 2023, the SDF made a second statement, announcing their decision to dismiss the Commander of the Deir Ezzor Military Council, Ahmed al-Kh’bail (Abu Khawlah). The statement said that the arrest was carried out upon the order of the Public Prosecution in North-eastern Syria (NES).
In the early days of Operation “Security Reinforcement”, clashes between the SDF-commissioned forces and the Deir Ezzor Military Council were limited to several towns and villages in the northern countryside of Deir Ezzor province, notably in the town of Al-Busayrah. Later, the confrontations expanded to several areas in the province’s eastern countryside, including the towns of Theeban and al-Shuhail.
In another field development, hundreds of armed tribal elements joined the confrontations. Several tribal figures emphasized that the tribal armed groups were not defending the Deir Ezzor Military Council and its leader, Ahmed al-Kh’bail, but that they were driven by their own demands, including their right to secure their areas.
Over the past few days, numerous statements have been made by tribal leaders, dignitaries, civil society activists, and intellectuals. They stressed the necessity of ceasing hostilities to spare civilians’ lives. They also highlighted the negative humanitarian and security consequences for the residents and the region if clashes continue. Additionally, the U.S.-led Coalition issued a statement on 1 September 2023, calling for a ceasefire in Deir Ezzor.
The current situation has resulted in civilian casualties; multiple deaths and injuries have been recorded, while the continuation of hostilities threatens to deprive the population of essential supplies as many routes leading to Deir Ezzor have been severed. Moreover, there have been attempts at exploiting the current security chaos by several groups involved in the hostilities, many of which have attacked public and private properties, such as water pumping stations and hospitals, amidst heightened concerns that other groups may take advantage of the current upheavals to sow discord among the NES components.
Considering the situation relayed above, the undersigned organizations call for an immediate ceasefire by all parties and cooperation to restore calm to Deir Ezzor province through direct dialogue. Additionally, the organizations strongly condemn the media campaigns that accompanied the recent turmoil and their attempts to depict the situation as a “Kurdish-Arab” dispute. They, therefore, demand an end to media incitement against any Syrian component.
The undersigned organizations call for prioritizing the protection of civilians and holding all those allegedly involved in violations against civilians accountable. Therefore, they demand that:
First: Syrian Democratic Forces and the U.S.-led Coalition:
Expedite the provision of essential supplies to areas of Deir Ezzor affected by the hostilities, neutralize public utilities, ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid, and facilitate the movement of humanitarian organizations to assist the affected.
Establish an independent legal committee to initiate a transparent and independent investigation into attacks against civilians during the recent events in the affected areas of Deir Ezzor and ensure justice for all wronged individuals.
Second: Autonomous Administration and the Syrian Democratic Council:
Immediately address the local demands by commencing discussions that ensure the active participation of Deir Ezzor’s residents. To achieve this, they must hold consultations with local community representatives, tribal leaders, civil society organizations, intellectuals, and independent individuals, including on the cooperation with local leadership to select suitable representatives for civil and security administrations.
Adopt clear and serious oversight and accountability mechanisms to prevent violations against civilians and impunity. This should be done in consultation with local community representatives and civil society organizations.
Third: Local Community Representatives, Tribal Leaders, Civil Society Organizations, Intellectuals, and Independent Individuals in Deir Ezzor:
Launch local consultations to involve civil leadership and civil society activists in developing a comprehensive vision for civil and security administration in the region.
Engage in negotiations with the Syrian Democratic Forces and the U.S.-led Coalition to convey the demands of the local community related to their involvement in civil and security administrations.