The fate of Raqqa’s eastern countryside is still unclear after recent advances achieved by the Assad regime. The area is still under ISIS control, but both the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Assad regime are advancing closer each day. In the last few weeks, the area has been massively targeted by Russian warplanes – forcing civilians of Shanan, Rahbi, Sabkha, Shrida, and Muglat to abandon their homes and flee towards the desert where they have established new camps. This past week, one of these newly established camps was targeted by Russian warplanes which resulted in the deaths of several civilians.
The majority of these internally displaced persons (IDPs) are trying to reach the western countryside or cross the river to the SDF controlled northern bank. According to reports coming from the area, crossing the river via smuggler costs around one hundred thousand Syrian Pounds per person or one gold ring for each woman crossing. It was also reported that three have died recently due to their boat sinking in the river. Civilians and activists from Raqqa have demanded the International Coalition secure safe corridors to help people flee the area.
Turki Al-Maar’e, the commander of Assad troops advancing toward the area, is originally from Bu-Hamad village in the eastern countryside of Raqqa. He was working in Saudi Arabia until 2008 when he was jailed for four months due to creating forged money and residency permits. After those 4 months, he was deported back to Syria. In Syria, he was subsequently imprisoned again for forging money and illegally trading antiquities. But in 2011, he was released from prison due to an amnesty decree from Assad in order to start working for the secret security forces.
In 2013, Turki joined one of the Islamic battalions in the eastern countryside of Raqqa to collect information under cover about their military factions. He continued to deliver information to Ayash military checkpoint until his connection to the Assad regime was revealed. In that time, he moved to Deir Ezzor and then to Damascus where he joined one of the Iranian militias.