Continued bombing and fighting in northeastern Syria between the majority Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) is preventing displaced residents from returning to their villages along the territorial dividing lines. Groups of SNA are also reportedly seizing some civilian homes on the front lines to fortify their positions.
In October 2019 opposition SNA factions, backed by Ankara, seized a strip of territory along the Syrian-Turkish border between the Syrian cities of Ras Al-Ayn and Tal Abyad as part of the so-called “Peace Spring” offensive. The incursion pushed tens of thousands of people to flee their homes.
The Muatasem Brigade, a group within the SNA, reportedly converted some Kurdish-owned houses in the village of Al-Daoudiyeh outside Ras Al-Ayn into military bases. The village sits on the Al-Darbasiyeh-Abu Rasein highway and was home to around 50 families before Peace Spring. Its residents fled after the village became part of the new front line.
The Syria Report’s correspondent met with several residents of Al-Daoudiyeh who had fled to Hassakeh. They said homes in the village had been converted into military sites and headquarters for the Muatasem Brigade. Other homes had reportedly been demolished or converted into military barricades on the dividing line between SDF- and SNA-held territory.
Displaced residents told The Syria Report that they had refused an offer of mediation from notables in Ras Al-Ayn to facilitate their return. Local notables from the family of Ibrahim Pasha Al-Melli, one of the largest landowners in the area, carried out the official mediation with Muatasem Brigade leaders, trying to persuade residents to return home. But residents demanded that the fighters withdraw from their houses in return and move to the outskirts of the village. The Muatasem Brigade refused.
Residents also said they cannot return home because they are unable to irrigate their crops. Al-Daoudiyeh has about 1,500 hectares of irrigated farmland planted with grains and cotton. To irrigate the crops, farmers relied on water pumps attached to wells, like in most other villages of rural Ras Al-Ayn. When military operations settled down, the pumps had disappeared — most likely having been stolen, according to former residents. The loss left them without their most important means of watering their farmland.