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.


Retired Lebanese soldiers in tense standoff with army during benefit cuts protest

Updated 19 July 2019
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Retired Lebanese soldiers in tense standoff with army during benefit cuts protest

  • Dressed in military uniforms, large numbers of veterans attempted to force their way through barricades set up to stop demonstrators reaching the city’s parliament building where a final vote on a controversial draft austerity budget was taking place
  • The meeting to vote on the 2019 draft budget came after a marathon three days of discussions

BEIRUT: Retired Lebanese soldiers on Friday came close to clashing with the country’s army when weeks of protests over planned benefit cuts reached boiling point in the capital Beirut.
Dressed in military uniforms, large numbers of veterans attempted to force their way through barricades set up to stop demonstrators reaching the city’s parliament building where a final vote on a controversial draft austerity budget was taking place.
A military source told Arab News that the Lebanese army leadership had decided to block access to Najma Square, in Beirut’s Central District, where Parliament members were sitting.
But former soldiers, joined by the parents of army martyrs and activists from the Sabaa and Communist parties, surrounded the building in nearby streets before attempting to push through barbed wire, concrete and metal barriers erected by the Lebanese army and the Internal Security Forces.
The protesters, waving Lebanese and army flags, got as far as the entrance to Maarad Street, on which Parliament is located, putting them in direct confrontation with the Lebanese troops.
Ten brigades of reinforcements were drafted in to help push back the veterans before protest leaders eased tensions by calling for a retreat to a nearby square to avoid any further clashes.
The meeting to vote on the 2019 draft budget came after a marathon three days of discussions. Before entering the parliamentary session, Lebanese Minister of Defense Elias Bou Saab said that “misleading the retired soldiers” would be “harmful to the image and demands of the protesters” and called on them to carry out “peaceful demonstrations.” He added that there had been mixed and confused messages regarding benefit cuts.
However, retired Brig. Gen. Georges Nader had vowed that protesters would not back off until the vote on their benefits was dropped.
Discussing the protests in Parliament, Samy Gemayel, president of the Phalange party, objected to the reduction in the army budget, to which Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said: “This has been concluded on the bases of an understanding with the army and the military establishment.”
MP Paula Yacoubian said that “retired soldiers are trying to storm Parliament,” to which Berri said: “Those who want to storm Parliament have not yet been born.”
The row had centered on a controversial article concerning amendments to the country’s income tax act, and Lebanese Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil insisted on defending it. He said: “It does not cost the retired soldiers, for instance, more than 3,000 Lebanese pounds ($2) per month. This amount rises to 400,000 pounds for brigadiers.” He added: “Which country in the world gives a retiree 85 percent of his salary?”
After a meeting between the minister and Nader in Parliament, the retired brigadier general went out to reassure the veterans that cuts from their salaries in respect of medicine and income tax would be reduced. Less intense protests continued for more than three hours before Parliament approved the relevant article in the budget.
Meanwhile, Berri had started the Parliament session by reading a resignation submitted by Hezbollah MP Nawaf Musawi.