Having controlled the full range of rural Hama in early January 2019, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham/HTS was fast to seize and confiscate several public facilities and privately-owned properties, in addition to which it imposed royalties/taxes on the majority of the area’s residents, according to the testimonies obtained by Syrians for Truth and Justice/STJ.
In February 2019, HTS has confiscated no less than 60 houses and shops, as well as agricultural lands in the town of Kafr Nabudah, on the pretext that the owners of these properties are based in area’s held by the Syrian regular forces. Also, HTS imposed royalties/taxes on the civilians who stayed in the town, about 2500 families, obliging them to pay a sum of 1500 Syrian Pounds for each monthly consumed electricity ampere, given that power is obtained from the regular forces-control areas and for free.
In mid-January 2019, HTS confiscated 42 residential apartments, affiliated with the governmental General Organization for Housing in the al-Ziyarah District, western rural Hama. It is worth mentioning that in 2014 the Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya/Ahrar al-Sham took hold of these apartments; however, with HTS coming into power in the district, command over them turned to the latter armed group, which notified the displaced persons residing in these housing units of the necessity to pay a monthly rent of 4000 Syrian Pounds, warning all that failure at paying will lead to the evaders’ eviction.
Stopping not at this limit, HTS declared that the Qastoun Dam, 2700 dunums, is at the disposal of its affiliated Office of Economic Affairs, giving the agricultural lands, encompassed by the dam’s area, in rental to farmers for varying rents, while the dam is considered one of the key water resources, which farmers use as their primary means to irrigate their lands.
In the Qalaat al-Madiq District, HTS enforced royalties/taxes on the residents, committing them to paying 2000 Syrian Pounds for each monthly consumed ampere of electricity, in addition to another 1000 Syrian Pounds which it coerced them to pay in return for drinking water, not to mention that it imposed control over the al-Sharia Town’s Power Plant, Qalaat al-Madiq District, while allowing the Syrian government-affiliated employees in and out of the plant as to run its affairs.
At the onset of 2019, the Turkistan Islamic Party continued the acts of robbery and pillage with which it aimed at the Zayzun Power Plant, al-Ghab Plain, under the supervision of HTS this time, after the latter won control over the full range of rural Hama. Militants of the Party, in cooperation with HTS-affiliated militants, dismantled the plant’s cooling tower, the steel columns and panels as to sell them, knowing that the Turkistan Islamic Party has conducted a large-scale robbery of the plant, targeting numerous of its supplies and contents in the past years.
HTS, according to STJ’s field researcher, had attained full control over rural Hama in January 9, 2019, following clashes with the National Front for Liberation/NFL, which broke out as a result of the latter’s intention to expand, as it set up military posts and founded local councils in the Muhambal District, rural Idlib, especially in the village of Jdaria, which HTS considered a violation against its military and civil areas, most importantly the Muhambal District, where it holds the reins of power.
In the aftermath of the clashes, HTS managed to gain complete control of rural Hama’s areas, which are out of the Syrian Government’s control, including service and public facilities, buildings and projects owned by the Syrian Government before 2011. These confrontations also helped HTS take over the all areas in Idlib Province militarily.
It was not only the armed opposition group-held areas in Hama Province that bore witness to large-scale confiscations, robberies and pillages, for several public facilities and properties, as well as privately-owned ones in HTS-held Idlib Province were a target to similar violations in early 2019, on top of which were the General Grain Foundation in Idlib City, the mill in Ma’arrat Misrin and the grain bins in Raa.
1. Opposition and Extremist Armed Groups Take Turns in Seizing about 60 Houses and Shops in Rural Hama:
In February 2019, HTS seized 60 houses and shops in the town of Kafr Nabudah, northwestern rural Hama, the ownership of which belongs to civilians that fled the area several years ago, triggered by the shelling conducted by the Syrian regular forces. HTS confiscated these privately-owned properties on the claim that their owners are based in Syrian regular force-held areas, according to the testimony of a relative of a civilian, whose house was lately seized. The relative narrated the following to STJ:
“My relative was displaced to the Syrian regular force-held areas several years ago, escaping the bombing the town was subjected to. In 2018, an armed group, affiliated with Ahrar al-Sham, seized my relative’s house, along with other houses and shops. They have also deposited the families of their militants in these houses. The shops, however, were confiscated by an associated court, which leased out these shops under commercial contracts to persons who have close ties with the armed group. When HTS took over the town, particularly in early February 2019, it confiscated all the houses and the shops once seized by the Ahrar al-Sham, in addition to the building of the Free Police. HTS also summoned the people who rented the houses and the shops from the Ahrara al-Sham-affiliated court and then renewed these contracts, becoming the second party to the lease process in return for money.”
A Kafr Nabudah-based activist reported to STJ that HTS did not only confiscate about 60 of the town’s houses and shops, but it also imposed royalties/taxes on its remaining residents on February 15, 2019. The people were forced to pay a monthly 1500 Syrian Pounds for each electricity ampere they consume, knowing that electricity is obtained from the Syrian regular force-controlled areas/Muhradah District, which is usually provided free of charge.
In early April 2019, the number of families in the Kafr Nabudah Town was estimated at 2000 families, reported STJ’s female field researcher, adding that there are additional 500 displaced families, who sought refuge in the area coming from northern and northwestern rural Hama.
The HTS acts of confiscation in the Kafr Nabudah Town were not limited to houses and shops, as it also seized several agricultural lands, on the pretext of their owners living in areas controlled by the Syrian regular forces. A relative of one of the civilians whose land was taken over said the following:
“My paternal uncle’s family was coerced into leaving Kafr Nabudah Town, driven out by the bombing. Ahrar al-Sham, being in control of the town back then, confiscated the agricultural lands. My uncle owned a 45-dunum-land, cultivated with olive, and another 17 dunums which were not planted with any crop. An armed group of the Ahrar al-Sham seized his lands and other ones, leasing them out to another person, in return for about 300,000 Syrian Pounds. Nonetheless, when HTS controlled Kafr Nabudah, it summoned the people who rented the agricultural lands and renewed the contracts also in return for money.”
 On January 28, 2017, several jihadist factions in Syria’s north announced integration under “Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham/HTS”. The factions that dissolved themselves and joined together under the new name were (Jabhat Fatah al-Sham-previously known as al-Nusra Front- Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement, Liwa al-Haqq, Ansar al-Din Front, al-Sunna Army). Nonetheless and due to the confrontations that broke out between the Ahrar al-Sham Movement and HTS on July 15, 2017, the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement announced its separation from HTS on July 20, 2017.