south of Damascus

South Damascus is located south-east of Damascus city and is administratively under Rural Damascus district. It is comprised of three main towns: Yelda, Babilla and Beit Sahem.

Opposition Armed Groups (OAGs) controlled the area in 2012, after which armed conflict and heavy bombing targeted the areas. The towns were left under a total siege until a truce was reached between OAGs in the area and the GoS (Government of Syria) in February 2014; the truce stipulated a ceasefire and lightened access restrictions, especially for supplies. UN OCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) classified the towns as hard-to-reach.

The area is tied to nearby Yarmouk Camp which was mainly controlled by ISIS; more than 6,000 households were displaced to the three towns after ISIS invaded Yarmouk Camp in April 2015. Prior to the reconciliation of the area, OAGs had frequently clashed with ISIS (direct and indirect fire) specifically on “Orouba checkpoint” located between Yelda and Yarmouk camp. Notably, the checkpoint should have been a humanitarian corridor for Yarmouk residents to access their basic needs in the three areas; however, armed offensives initiated by both OAGs and ISIS have led to its frequent closure (for weeks on some occasions).

Of note, GoS regained the area in April 2018, after a reconciliation agreement with the AOGs, where approximately 2500 individuals have been evacuated to Rural Aleppo and Idleb governorates.

Over 5,000 Palestinian refugee HHs taking shelter in the area have been grappling with dire conditions due to the price leap, steep rental fees, and forced military conscription with pro-government forces. While access has been eased for Syrians to exit and enter the area, Palestinians (including critical health cases) are still required to secure approvals to enter and exit.

More than 70% of the are HHs rely on aid distribution, with 100% of Palestinian HHs relying on aid. Reducing number of meals is widely reported as a negative coping mechanism as well as child labor, early marriage and others. More than 70% of the area’s residents (males & females) are unemployed as the market have become dysfunctional.

Wells are the main source of water for external use in the area; however, the water is unclean and requires purification and treatment. Most wells also require rehabilitation.

Drinking water is unavailable inside the area. SARC provides water trucking from nearby neighborhoods (Al Zahera, Tadamon etc.) and fills water tanks in the designated water points. However, the quantity provisioned is not enough; these water tanks are emptied within the first 2 hours in the morning leaving residents with no access to drinking water for the rest of the day.

Electricity cuts reach up to 10 hours per day, with increased cuts during winter; most HHs cannot afford fuel for generators and rely on rechargeable batteries and led lights. In winter, most HHs reported that they cannot rely on the electricity for heating purposes, instead, they purchase Butane Gas cylinders, Diesel and Firewood (with the latter being the most item HHs can afford).

Furthermore, residents of the area had sounded distress signals over the security turmoil and increasing abductions. In mid-October 2020, ten young men were kidnapped from the area. Eye-witnesses said the abductions had been carried out by a gang wearing military uniforms and boarding a black car with no registration plate. According to some resources, more than 500 people have been arrested by the GoS security forces since 2020.