Home Thematic Reports Seizure of Public and Private Properties in Jisr al-Shughur- Idlib Countryside

Seizure of Public and Private Properties in Jisr al-Shughur- Idlib Countryside


“Special Report Lists Incidents of Confiscation and Looting of Properties by Jihadist Factions”

by wael.m
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Background: During the past months and years, many public and private properties and facilities in Jisr al-Shughur were subjected to systematic takeover and looting by factions controlling the region and the city, particularly Hayat Tahrir al-sham-HTS, formerly the Nusra Front[1], and other affiliated jihadist factions like Ansar al-Sham Brigades[2]. In addition to that, the Turkistan Islamic Party[3] involved in looting and confiscating number of other properties. There were numerous objectives in confiscating public and private properties like selling looted equipment sometimes, or diverting those facilities to military headquarters to train their components at other times. For example, Ansar al-Sham Brigades transformed the sugar factory located in Jisr al-Shughur into a training camp for its components after seizing, looting and selling all its equipment.

As for the post office located in Jisr al-Shughur, it was transformed into the Sharia court headquarter by HTS after seizing it. Similarly, HTS and Turkistan Islamic Party looted all equipment of the National Hospital in the city, after destroying a portion of it in the military operations to control and take it from the hands of the Syrian regular forces.

Eyewitnesses and activists interviewed for this report said some villages were entirely captured in the western countryside of Jisr al-Shughur as the majority of their population were Christians or Alawites. For example, the majority-Alawite village of Ishtabraq, the majority-Christian villages of al-Qunaya and Aziziyah, and other villages. However, Syrians for truth and justice/STJ could not know the circumstances in evacuating people from these villages, whether it was a systematic evacuation or just inhabitants fled out of fear during the ongoing military operations. It should be recalled that military factions have transformed these villages to settlements to house their foreign fighters and their families.

The factions not only seized public properties, but also confiscated private civilian properties like houses, shops or agricultural lands owned by civilians displaced during the war. The faction distributed them to their loyalties without any legal reason or judicial procedure.
 

First: Seizure of Public Facilities in Jisr al-Shughur in Idlib Countryside

  1. Confiscating Equipment of the "National Hospital” Located in Jisr al-Shughur

Following controlling al-Nusra Front, Turkistan Islamic party, and Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya on Jisr al-Shughur in Idlib Countryside on April 25, 2015, the factions divided the city into two sectors. Both HTS and Turkistan Islamic Party seized the north and west sectors of the city, the bulk of Jisr al-Shughur, which lies in the north-west of the Orontes River, while both Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya and Ansar al-Sham Brigades controlled the eastern sector located on the eastern side of the Orontes River that divides the city. Moreover, with the beginning of their control on Jisr al-Shughur, many people displaced to safer places.

The original population of Jisr al-Shughur estimated approximately 5,4000 inhabitants, but the figure has now reduced to about 20,000 accompanied with military operations during the control of the city, according to local sources.

As a result of the fierce battles that raged between those factions on one hand and the Syrian regular forces on the other, part of the National Hospital, in Jisr al-Shughur, was damaged, while the other part was looted, as Tariq Abdel al-Haq, a local activist, confirmed to STJ in mid-August 2017, he said:

“Part of the National hospital was damaged while HTS, formerly al-Nusra Front, and Turkistan Islamic Party looted the other part including the equipment. HTS stole the heavy equipment such as heart and rays equipment, while Turkistan Islamic Party seized other simple things like the ceramics and aluminum of the hospital after dismantling them. However, no one knows where the equipment was transported to or what they did to it.”

Abdel al-Haq said that HTS and the Turkistan Islamic Party simultaneously took over the Sundis Consumer Foundation located in Jisr al-Shughur; they looted all its heavy equipment, such as refrigerators, washing machines or even foodstuffs such as flour and sugar, Abdel al-Haq talked about Electricity and water plants which were also looted, he said:

"Most of the government buildings in the city like the Municipal building and the Agricultural Bank, even the coverage towers and generators were robbed as well. Anyway, Turkistan Islamic Party also looted schools, dismantled their doors and classrooms. Moreover, robberies continued until 2017, when those factions seized the industrial city that the Syrian regime was about to establish before losing control on Jisr al-Shughur. A short time ago, HTS announced its intention to hire large tracts of land in that city to invest and benefit from them.”

  1. Ansar al-Sham Brigades Seize the Sugar Factory Located in Jisr al-Shughur

At the beginning of 2016, specifically on 15 January, Ansar al-Sham Brigades managed to control the sugar factory. The city, as mentioned above, was divided into different sectors of control.

According to STJ reporter, the sugar factory was one of the largest economic and industrial facilities in Jisr al-Shughur, but as soon as Ansar al-Sham Brigades controlled it, they converted it to a completely empty place, free of any equipment. In this regard Osman Ahmed, a trader from the city was interviewed in mid-July 2017, said that agents of Ansar al-Sham Brigades affiliated to HTS , formerly al-Nusra Front, had sold many of the factory equipment through brokers with a view to evacuate and convert it into a military training camp for its troops, Osman Ahmad added:

 “On 15 June 2017, a guy identified as Abu Omar al-Ansari, the financial officer of Ansar al-Sham Brigades, came and offered me to buy some equipment and engines from the sugar factory, so he accompanied me to the lab, where I was surprised that it was all empty, just cement and metal blocks. There were only a few equipment left so he offered me by them for a cheap price saying that the building will be transformed into a training camp for troops”.

Ahmad continued saying that elements of Ansar al-Sham Brigades were evacuating the sugar factory in batches so that they would not draw people’s attention, and if someone noticed, they pretended they were sending them to special workshops for maintenance and getting them back subsequently, Ahmad ended his speech saying:

“The sugar factory in Jisr al-Shughur contained about 600 workers with a production capacity reached nearly 1,350 tons per day during the sugar cane production season. Now, it is merely a scrap and cement blocks, processed to become a military training camp.”

In a related context, on May1, 2015 Ansar al-Sham Brigades affiliated to HTS, formerly al-Nusra Front, posted a video footage  showing some parts of the sugar factory in Jisr al-Shughur located in Idlib countryside following its capture and expulsion of Syrian regular forces.

Image shows some external parts of the sugar factory in Jisr al-Shughur, after controlling it by Ansar al Sham Brigades affiliated to HTS. Taken July 25, 2017.
Photo credit: Smart Media Agency.

  1. Post Office in Jisr al-Shughur Transformed into A Court house Affiliated to HTS

The sugar factory was not the only facility seized by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham/HTS, formerly al-Nusra Front, or by other jihadist factions affiliated to it in Jisr al-Shughur. Moreover, after circulation of the term De-Escalation[4] that was agreed on May4, 2017, other public properties and facilities were seized, such as the Civil Court and the Municipal building, apart from the post office that was transferred to a courthouse run by HTS on the pretext that the city needed a court to handle its affairs. A shopkeeper near the post office in his interview confirmed this in mid-July 2017. He said:

 “On January 15, 2016, agents of HTS closed the post office in Jisr al-Shughur and assigned some guards to prevent anyone from entering it, and wrote on its entrance this phrase (no entry under penalty). On May 10, 2017, those agents began emptying contents and equipment of the post office to be transferred on May 20, 2017 to a courthouse run by HTS.”

Image shows writings on the entrance of the post office in Jisr al-Shughur in Idlib Countryside after HTS tookover it on January 15, 2016. HTS closed and transferred it later to a courthouse for HTS on May 20, 2017.

  1. Seizure of Agricultural Lands Belonging to the Religious Endowments Directorate in al-Dryaa Located in Jisr al-Shaghour Countryside

In 2014, al-Nusra Front, formerly, took over several agricultural lands belonging to the Religious Endowments Directorate in al-Dryaa village, Jisr al-Shughur Countryside. Anyway, this land is known for the abundance of olive crop every year, the matter that confirmed by Mohammed al-Niser, an independent activist who searched and persuaded on this case, he spoke to STJ in late August 2017 saying:

“Al-Nusra members gave these lands as guaranty to those who want to invest them; the term (guaranty) in agriculture means that the person who is guaranteeing those lands, sells his harvest then gives a percentage of the profits to the owner of those lands. Hence, the profits went yearly to al-Nusra Front; it is known that these lands are very fertile and people of the town used to materially benefit from them. The same thing happened in Harem, where al-Nusra Front robbed the rich olive lands and gave them as guaranty to those who wanted them."

In turn, the activist Mohammed noted that in 2015, HTS and Turkistan Islamic Party dismantled and stole the railways link Lattakia countryside and Jisr al-Shughur. They not only did that, but also cut the woods in 2013 and sold the wood during winter; entire forests had been cleared in Lattakia countryside and Jisr al-Shughur as well as some scattered forests located near Danah town that belongs to Idlib province. He added:

 “The worst thing is that HTS and Turkistan Islamic Party were seizing schools and turning them into their own jails either in Jisr al-Shughur or other areas in Idlib province. According to the research I have conducted on this issue, we cannot exclude Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya as they also confiscated agricultural lands in Sarmada area in Idlib Countryside and then sold them to make use of the money. Besides Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya also captured the “common lands” near Bab al-Hawa border crossing point.”

Satellite image shows the location of some scattered forests in Lattakia countryside in 2010, just before logging them randomly by HTS and Turkistan Islamist party.

Another satellite image showing the location of the previously mentioned forests following the random logging by HTS and Turkistan Islamic Party and selling firewood during winter. (date of image is 2015).

A new satellite image showing the location of the previously mentioned forests following the random logging by HTS and Turkistan Islamic Party and selling firewood during winter. (date of image is 2017).

Another satellite image shows the location of some scattered forests near al-Danah town located in Idlib province in 2010, before logging it randomly by HTS and Turkistan Islamist Party.

A newly satellite image showing the location of the previously mentioned forests, following its random logging by HTS and Turkistan Islamist Party. (date of image 2017).

In a crosschecked certificate, Asim Zedan, who is an officer in charge of a group for Documenting Violations of al-Nusra Front, confirmed what the activist Mohammed previously reported. In mid-August 2017, Asim spoke to STJ noting to large areas of olive lands in Selqin in Idlib Countryside that al-Nusra Front confiscated and made use of them since they include (300,000) olive trees. Concerning seizure of public properties, Zedan pointed out to a very important issue, he said:

“Al-Nusra Front, formerly, and Turkistan Islamic party captured entire villages that most of their inhabitants fled fearful of war, the majority of population were Christians and Alawites. Therefore, al-Nusra Front confiscated all their contents including houses, cars, shops and agricultural lands; I can mention the Alawite Ishtabraq village in Jisr Al-Shughur that al-Nusra Front seized in May 2015. The same thing applied to the Christian villages in the region, such as al-Qunaya and Aziziyah captured by both al-Nusra Front and Turkistan Islamic Party in January 2013."
 

Second: Confiscating Civilians’ Private Properties by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham-HTS in Jisr al-Shughur

  1. Capturing Agricultural Lands in Jisr al-Shughur Countryside

Following the confiscation of numerous civilians’ private properties by HTS, formerly al-Nusra Front, many families in Jisr al-Shughur and its countryside became homeless. A young man called Mohammed Ahmed Baker, a resident from Kherbet Eljoz in Jisr al-Shughur countryside confirmed this matter and assured to STJ that In mid-July 2017, his farmland was robbed by a station ran by HTS agents on July 10, 2017. He talked about what happened:

"Officers of the station informed me that my garden, which contains a living room, had become under HTS, formerly al-Nusra Front. Therefore, I went to my garden quickly and was shocked to see the phrase “al-Nusra Front 9" written on one of the room's walls. Immediately, I headed to the courthouse of HTS where the judge told me that my garden had become at the disposal of HTS. When I tried to inquire about the reasons, he said “You have a lot of real estates and lands; nothing will harm you when you give up your little orchard to one of the brothers in al-Nusra Front as he desperately needs housing”. After that, the judge assured me that the emir of the coastal sector, responsible for Jisr al-Shughur had previously issued a decision authorizing to seize private properties that are not used to serve the interests of HTS, and he gave me a clear copy of the decision.”

According to Baker’s certificate, this decision says:

"All non-used houses and shops or any other property, by their owners, serve the interest of the brothers in al-Nusra Front and will be owned by them. The Front has the right to dispose them in its interest and its elements, and anyone who objects the decision has to review al-Nusra courts."

Image shows the decision issued on Febryary15, 2016, by the emir of the Coastal sector (responsible for Jisr al-Shughur countryside), which allows seizure of civilians’ properties in the interest of HTS on the pretext that they are not used.
Photo credit: STJ.

Baker added that the judge hastily threatened to imprison him when Baker assured that what they were doing was not based on any legal or judicial procedure. Baker was then forced to accept that and soon he lost hope of restoring his garden as he said.

  1. Distributing Residential Apartments in Jisr al-Shughur on Elements of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham-HTS , Formerly al-Nusra Front

HTS distributed the previously confiscated houses to its members on pretext of housing them, thus preventing relatives or owners of those houses from disposing them as soon as their members wrote the phrase “al-Nusra Front” on the walls. In addition, when owners of these houses came back to their area and claimed to restore them, they had to get data proving their ownership of the properties and review HTS court in Jisr al-Shughur. However, it seems that the court rejected most of these requests to restore houses without any legal reason. According to STJ reporter.

Image shows the phrase (al-Nusra Front 241) on the walls of a civilian’s house in Jisr al-Shughur in Idlib countryside after HTS seized it. Taken on July 25, 2017.
Photo credit: STJ
.

In turn, Ragheb Shehada, the Head of Real Estates Interests Department in Jisr al-Shughur, in his interview in mid-July2017, referred to the fate of the applications made by local residents to prove ownership of the confiscated houses or shops, he said:

 “Recently, number of applications by the owners to prove ownership of their property increased, particularly after including Jisr al-Shughur in the Agreement of De-escalation Zones signed on May 4, 2017, due to the big numbers of returnees to their city. Because HTS, al-Nusra Front, seized their property, many sought to reclaim their property, but the majority of applications are rejected by the court on the pretext that it primarily protects its interests and their elements’, knowing that there is no other court in Jisr al-Shughur but the court of HTS.”

  1. Died Following Seizure of his House by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham-HTS al-Nusra Front.

HTS practices in Jisr al-Shughur located in Idlib countryside not only robbed civilians’ own properties, but also ended their lives, such as the young man Bashir Sejari, a father of two children and the breadwinner of his family, who suffered from a heart attack that ended his life after HTS took over his house in Jisr al-Shughur January 5, 2017. His wife testified to STJ in mid-July 2017, she said:

 “After staying in refugee camps for two years, we returned to Jisr al-Shughur in order to settle and stay here. Once we arrived at our house, we were surprised by the name of (al-Nusra Front 237) written in red on one of its walls and next to it they had written in black (a Muslim’s house –Nourreddin). We were more shocked to see several people staying at our house, and when we asked why they were here, they told us that it belonged to them and that we had to review the courthouse of HTS, al-Nusra Front."

His wife added that some neighbors said that member of HTS resided in their house. She also indicated to her husband’s relentless attempts to reclaim the family house shortly before his death. He extracted an ownership statement from the Department of Real Estate Interests[5], and on March23, 2017, he applied to the courthouse of HTS, al-Nusra Front, but the court rejected his applications despite his repeated revisions. She continued:

“Our application to restore the house was rejected on pretext that we moved away from the city and preferred to live in refugee camps and that the new residents of the house deserved it more as they kept it. we were forced to live in my husband’s relative’s house in the city hopeful to restore our house again; so my husband tried again through a person identified as Abu Mujahid, to restore it by mutual consent with the new residents, as well as paying about S.P 500 as compensation, but his offer was also rejected. Anyway, during that period, my husband was subjected to several heart attacks due to continuous thought and worry about the house but he miraculously survived. This situation remained as it was until March 30, 2017, when he suffered from a heart attack that ended his life. My family became without a breadwinner, we still live in one of my husband’s relative’s house and we could not regain our house so far.”

Image shows Bashir Sejari shortly before his death on March30, 2017, due to a heart attack after HTS seized his house January 5, 2017, in Jisr al-Shughur in Idlib countryside.
Photo Credit: STJ

Images shows writings on one of the walls of Bashir Sejari’s house in Jisr al-Shughur in Idlib countryside. The phrases say (al-Nusra Front 237) and (a Muslim’s house- Abu Nourreddin), after HTS took over it on January5, 2017. Image taken on July 24, 2017.
Photo Credit: STJ

 


[1] On January 28, 2017, several jihadist factions in northern Syria announced the merger under the name Hayat Tahrir al-Sham-HTS. These factions are: Jabhat Fateh al-Sham- formerly al-Nusra Front, Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement, Liwaa al-Haqq, Ansar al-Din Front, Jaish al-Sunnah,  and Ansar al-Sham Islamiyya Movement. However, after the outbreak of recent confrontations between Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya and HTS in the north of Syria July 15, 2017, Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement announced its separation from HTS on July20, 2017.

[2] Founded on March20, 2012, by a person identified as Imad Juma Abu Omar. The faction actives in the northwest countryside of Idlib and contains about 5,000 combatants.  On March25, 2017, it announced its accession to HTS, formerly Nusra Front.

[3] Its fighters descend from East Turkistan in China, they moved to Syria after killing Hakimullah Massoud, the Taliban leader in 2013, and they are fighting with al-Nusra Front mainly because of the convergence with al-Qaeda ideology. Moreover, they are scattered in the western Idlib countryside and are estimated about 4,000 combatants.

[4] On May 4, 2017, Representatives of the sponsoring countries of the Astana talks (Russia, Turkey and Iran) signed a Memorandum of understanding (MOU) to set up zones of de-escalation in Syria, and Moscow confirmed that it would be applied for six months, extendable, and the memorandum–published by the Russian Foreign Ministry–provides for the formation of areas of non-clash includes the following areas:

-Idlib province and certain parts of neighboring of (Lattakia, Hama and Aleppo).

-Certain areas of northern Homs province.

-Eastern Ghouta.

-Certain areas of southern Syria, Daraa and Quneitra provinces.

The Russian document proposed the establishment of safe

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