Killings, abductions feed frustration in Idlib

Residents are falling victim to infighting between rival groups in Idlib. (FIle/AFP)
Updated 22 August 2018
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Killings, abductions feed frustration in Idlib

  • Activists and analysts blame most of the violence on two rival umbrella groups, also attributing some to the Daesh group and alleged regime collaborators
  • In June, doctors and pharmacists in Idlib city announced a three-day strike to protest against “chaos and a lack of security,” including the kidnapping of doctors for ransom

BEIRUT: Targeted killings and kidnappings for ransom have for months rattled Syria’s Idlib province, with angry residents blaming dominant opposition and terrorist forces for the chaos.
Even as the regime says it aims to retake the northwestern province on Turkey’s border, its inhabitants are falling victim to infighting between the rival groups controlling most of it.
Car bombings, roadside explosives and gunfire have targeted and killed more than 200 fighters, but have also cost the lives of dozens of civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says.
These mostly unclaimed killings, as well as increasingly frequent abductions, have left inhabitants in constant fear of being caught up in the violence.
“Every time I want to take my car somewhere, I inspect it thoroughly... to make sure there’s no explosive device planted in it,” said a media activist in southern Idlib.
“Whenever I drive by a dustbin, I accelerate, afraid it’s going to blow up,” he said, asking to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals.
At the mosque on Fridays, he sits at the front of the congregation, as far away as possible from the entrance, in case a car or motorbike blows up outside.
Since April, 270 people — including 55 civilians — have been killed in assassinations of rebels and commanders from all sides in Idlib, and adjacent parts of Hama and Aleppo provinces, the Britain-based Observatory says.
Activists and analysts blame most of the violence on two rival umbrella groups, also attributing some to the Daesh group and alleged regime collaborators.
The Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) alliance, which is led by terrorists from Al-Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate, controls more than 60 percent of Idlib. Part of the rest is held by the National Liberation Front, a rival umbrella group backed by Turkey, while Daesh also has sleeper cells in the area.
The regime holds the southeastern tip of the province that is home to some 2.5 million people — more than half displaced by Syria’s seven-year war or bussed into Idlib under surrender deals.
As the rampant insecurity in opposition areas reaches all walks of life, residents have grown increasingly angry.
The media activist from southern Idlib said he mostly blamed the dominant force of HTS for the chaos.
“As the most powerful force on the ground, it is responsible for guaranteeing security,” the activist said.
Medical staff in the HTS-held provincial capital have also had enough.
In June, doctors and pharmacists in Idlib city announced a three-day strike to protest against “chaos and a lack of security,” including the kidnapping of doctors for ransom.
In one of the latest incidents, on Aug. 7, masked men abducted Khalil Agha, a hospital director in the southwest of the province, said district spokesman Mahmud Al-Sheikh.
He was only released a week later after payment of a $100,000 ransom, Sheikh said.
A second activist said that, in the street, residents changed their route if they saw men with scarves wrapped around their faces, fearing an attack.
In recent weeks, HTS as well as other combatants have arrested not only alleged Daesh members, but also dozens of people accused of collusion with the regime.
Rebels fear loyalists could help broker a surrender deal, but HTS official Khaled Al-Ali also accused regime forces of helping to foment instability.
President Bashar Assad on July 26 said regaining control of Idlib was a priority. But analysts say any offensive is likely to be limited to Idlib’s peripheries, to allow Turkey and regime ally Russia to eke out a deal for the rest of the province.
A report for the Turkey-based Omran Center for Strategic Studies said the chaos was due to “competition between a flurry of local forces,” as well as IS and regime sleeper cells.
The instability was affecting the popularity of all rebels, the report’s author Nawar Oliver told AFP, especially HTS.
“Many areas in Idlib hate HTS and are ready to revolt against them at any time,” said the analyst.
Popular anger “could help the regime if it tried to take back the province,” Oliver said.
But discontent over the violence could also “make civilians more favorable to an alternative” put forward by Ankara and Moscow, he said.


Jumblatt expresses concern over torture of Syrian refugees

Syrian children are pictured at a refugee camp in the village of Mhammara in the northern Lebanese Akkar region on March 9, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 19 March 2019
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Jumblatt expresses concern over torture of Syrian refugees

  • UN official stresses ‘urgent need to ensure’ their ‘safe, voluntary and dignified return’
  • Some 215,000 Syrian students are currently enrolled in Lebanon's schools 

BEIRUT: Lebanese Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt has expressed concern about reports that Syrian refugees returning to their country from Lebanon face torture and murder.

This coincides with a debate in Lebanon about whether Syrian refugees should return without waiting for a political solution to the conflict in their country. 

UN Special Coordinator Jan Kubis stressed after meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Monday the “urgent need to ensure the safe, voluntary and dignified return of Syrian refugees home, according to international humanitarian norms.” 

Kubis added: “The UN and the humanitarian community will continue to facilitate these returns as much as possible. Another very important message was also to support the host communities here in Lebanon.”

Mireille Girard, representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), on Monday said: “The reconstruction process in Syria may not be enough to attract refugees to return. We are working to identify the reasons that will help them to return.”

She added: “The arrival of aid to the refugees is an element of trust that helps them to return. Their dignity and peaceful living must be ensured.”

Social Affairs Minister Richard Kouyoumdjian said the Lebanese General Security “issued lists containing the names of refugees wishing to return to their homes, but the Syrian regime accepted only about 20 percent of them.”

He added: “The solution is to call on the international community to put pressure on Russia, so that Moscow can exert pressure on (Syrian President) Bashar Assad’s regime to show goodwill and invite Syrian refugees to return to their land without conditions, procedures, obstacles and laws that steal property and land from them.”

Lebanese Education Minister Akram Chehayeb said: “The problem is not reconstruction and infrastructure, nor the economic and social situation. The main obstacle is the climate of fear and injustice in Syria.”

He added: “There are 215,000 Syrian students enrolled in public education in Lebanon, 60,000 in private education, and there are informal education programs for those who have not yet attended school to accommodate all children under the age of 18.” 

Chehayeb said: “As long as the displacement crisis continues, and as long as the (Assad) regime’s decision to prevent the (refugees’) return stands … work must continue to absorb the children of displaced Syrians who are outside education to protect Lebanon today and Syria in the future.”