Home Thematic Reports Robberies and Lootings of Civil Institutions and Organizations in Eastern Ghouta, Damascus Countryside

Robberies and Lootings of Civil Institutions and Organizations in Eastern Ghouta, Damascus Countryside


"Burglaries carried out by Persons Likely Belong to Faylaq al-Rahman, the Opposition Faction"

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Robberies and Lootings of Civil Institutions and Organizations in Eastern Ghouta, Damascus Countryside

Preface: Several humanitarian institutions and organizations, operating in the besieged Eastern Ghouta, were subjected to robberies and looting all their contents, specifically in October 2017. On Thursday, 19 October 2017, a number of masked gunmen stormed into food warehouses of Damascus countryside province[1] within Hamoryah[2] town, and looted all the foodstuffs they contained, (such as flour, sugar and milk), which were supposed to be distributed to the trapped civilians within days. According to many testimonies obtained by Syrians for Truth and Justice-STJ, those militants are likely to belong to Faylaq al-Rahman faction.

Only one day after the aforementioned incident, specifically on Friday, 20 October 2017, a group of militants, also believed to be affiliated to Faylaq al-Rahman faction[3], stormed into the headquarter of  Aamal Educational Foundation in Hamoryah town, and stole all its contents being technical or educational equipment.

The attack on Aamal Educational Foundation coincided with another attack on "Nabea El Hayat" organization in Beit Sawa[4] town, where people in civilian clothes, also believed to be of Faylaq al-Rahman faction, robbed the foundation premises and looted all foodstuffs and technical equipment in it, as many townspeople confirmed to STJ.

On Sunday, 8 October 2017, group of Faylaq al-Rahman faction fighters attacked the headquarters of "Binaa" for relief and development organization in Hazeh[5] town, where they stole all its contents of fuel and foodstuffs. The fighters also arrested the director of the organization and three stuff members under the pretext that the organization’s management engaged in trafficking and selling fuel and made use of the high prices and the urgency of it. According to STJ reporter, those arrested were subsequently released.

Political and military context:

On May 4, 2017, sponsor states of Astana Talks (Russia, Turkey and Iran) signed a Memorandum of Understanding for establishment of de-escalation zones in Syria. It included Eastern Ghouta in Damascus countryside, Idlib province and parts of northern Homs, as well as some parts of adjacent provinces (Latakia, Hama, and Aleppo) and some parts of southern Syria. One of the most prominent items is cessation of hostilities between conflicting parties and creation conditions for access of medical aids.

On  July 22, 2017, the Army of Islam participated in signing de-Escalation Zone Agreement in Syria, followed by Failaq al-Rahman, on August 18, 2017, as the Russian side and Failaq al-Rahman agreed to cease fire and continue to fight al-Nusra Front as well.

It is worth mentioning that the Syrian regular forces still impose a suffocating siege on Eastern Ghouta from late 2013 until the date of this report.

Eastern Ghouta is under the military control of Syrian armed opposition since late 2012, along with several factions such as Army of Islam[6], Failaq al-Rahman, Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya Movement[7] as well as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham/HTS[8], which owns some headquarters in Failaq al-Rahman control areas.

In April 2017, Army of Islam waged a campaign to uproot HTS/Nusra Front in Eastern Ghouta; the campaign lasted almost one month and resulted in decreasing the presence of the HTS to some limited headquarters in the outskirts of the town of Irbin and some areas of Hazeh and parts of al-Ash’ari farms. However, during the campaign Failaq al-Rahman interfered to counter Army of Islam, so the military confrontations expanded, and ended with the retreat of each faction into its areas of control. Duma, Mesraba, Ottawa, Al-Nashabiyah, Shifuniyah, and some al-Ash’ari farms became under the control of Army of Islam, Irbin became a joint control area between Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya Movement and Failaq al-Rahman and HTS/al-Nusra Front, whereas Hazeh became a joint control area between Failaq al-Rahman and HTS/al-Nusra Front, Hamoryah became a full control zone of Failaq al-Rahman, Saqba a full control zone for Failaq al-Rahman, Kafar Batna district became a Joint control between HTS/al-Nusra Front and Failaq al-Rahman, (Jisreen, Zamalka, Jobar, Ein Tarma and Madyara) are full control areas of Faylaq al-Rahman, and Beit Sawa a full control of the Failaq al-Rahman except for some farms controlled by Army of Islam as of the date of writing this report in October 2017, and Harasta is a full control area of Ahrar al-Sham Islamiyya Movement/formerly Liwa Fajr al-Islam.

A map illustrates the areas under military control in Eastern Ghouta, until early November 2017.

First: Looting and Burglary of Food Depots Belonging to Damascus Countryside Province:

At midnight, Thursday, 19 October 2017, a number of masked gunmen were deployed in Hamoryah streets, which is under the control of Faylaq al-Rahman faction, specifically in the roads leading to the warehouses affiliated to Damascus countryside province. There were about 40-armed men who then broke the door of the first warehouse, stole all its contents of food items such as flour and sugar. This was confirmed by “Hasan al-Ali”, an alias of one of Hamoryah’s natives who witnessed what happened.  In this regard, he spoke to STJ saying:

"Once those gunmen broke the door of the first warehouse, we rushed to the police[9] to ask for help, but the policemen could not confront them. Then several trucks, believed to belong to Faylaq al-Rahman, came and emptied the warehouse from its basic foodstuffs. The robbery lasted for long hours, specifically until 5 a.m. until the warehouse was emptied of all its contents, including 70 tons of sugar and powdered milk.
It is clear that those gunmen belonged to Faylaq al-Rahman, as it is not possible to have such a number of gunmen
not affiliated to Faylaq al-Rahman in an area completely under Faylaq al-Rahman control."

Hasan said that townspeople had tried by various means to stop the robbery, as they contacted all those concerned and active parties on the ground, but with no response. Hasan noted that the basic foodstuffs that were stolen were supposed to be distributed in days to the besieged civilians.

Gunmen not only stole that warehouse, but also stole two other warehouses inside Hamoryah town. Hasan al-Ali indicated that when speaking of thefts of food warehouses in the town, where he said:
"When the gunmen finished stealing the first warehouse at 5:00 a.m., they rushed towards the second warehouse and looted all its contents, which estimated to be about 12 tons of rice and oil. Then they went to the third warehouse, joined by some civilians, known to be disreputable, and stole about 10 tons of basic foodstuffs, such as sugar, yeast and rice. After that, they entered the fourth warehouse of the United Relief Office in the Middle Sector[10], in Hamoryah town, where they stole sugar, rice and technical equipment, but the accurate stolen quantities from this warehouse were not identified."

Image shows the insecurity situation in Hamoryah town, and the large number of people who were found stealing the third warehouse of Damascus countryside province in the town, on 19 October 2017,
Photo credit: Activists from Hamoryah town.

On the other side, Damascus countryside Provincial Council, affiliated to the opposition Syrian Interim Government, condemned through a statement published on 21 October 2017, acts of robbery and looting of its warehouses inside Hamoryah town. The statement indicated that it has been storing foodstuffs to be distributed to civilians during the siege.

Image shows the statement published by Damascus countryside province affiliated to the opposition Syrian Interim Government on 21 October 2017, in which it condemned robberies and looting in Hamoryah town by what it called "demagogues"
 Photo credit: Facebook page of Damascus countryside Provincial Council.

Second: Looting Humanitarian Organizations and Educational Institutions:

Educational institutions in Eastern Ghouta have not been spared from robberies and looting. Only one day after the looting of warehouses in Damascus countryside province, specifically on Friday, 20 October 2017, a group of masked gunmen entered the premises of the educational foundation “Aamal” in Hamoryah, which is under the control of Faylaq al-Rahman faction. They stole all the contents of the headquarters and the warehouse including technical and educational equipment, those militants belonged to Faylaq al-Rahman faction, according to many testimonies obtained by STJ.

In turn "Hasan al-Basha", the director of the educational foundation “Aamal”, commented on what happened through a Facebook post; he stressed that a group of masked gunmen (without specifying the party they belong to) stormed Aamal Educational Foundation and stole all its contents of fuel, laptops and other technical equipment.

Image shows the post published by Hasan al-Basha, Director of the educational foundation ‘Aamal’ on 20 October 2017; he talked about a group of masked gunmen who stormed into the warehouse of the educational foundation “Aamal”, inside Hamoryah town, and looted all its contents.
 Photo credit: Facebook account of the director of the educational foundation "Aamal", Hasan al-Basha.

According to STJ reporter, the attack on the premises of educational foundation “Aamal” in Hamoryah town coincided with another attack on the premises of "Nabea El Hayat" organization for childhood and development in Beit Sawa town that is under almost complete control of Faylaq al-Rahman. On Friday, 20 October 2017, specifically in the afternoon, about 300 people gathered in front of the organization headquarter and stole all its contents. That was confirmed by Muhammad al-Amir, a resident from the town who was a witness to what happened, Muhammad spoke to STJ, saying:

"Many persons dressed in civilian clothes gathered in Beit Sawa town, some of whom belonged to Faylaq al-Rahman, as I think, and then they started threats and no body objected. After that, a group of young men took those crowds to "Nabea El Hayat" organization premises, where they opened the door forcibly, and some of those young men jumped on the premises’ wall in order to break into it. The robbery lasted for more than two consecutive hours, they not only robbed foodstuff, which is estimated to be about ton and a half, but even stole the technical equipment being computers and solar panels, in addition to the stationery allocated to children’s education within the organization."

“Nabea El Hayat” organization for childhood and development, had issued a statement on 20 October 2017, in which it confirmed that a group of persons had stormed and robbed its premises and warehouse in Beit Sawa town, and demanded the commands of the region, especially the military, to assume its responsibility and protect civil institutions.

Image shows the statement issued by "Nabea El Hayat" organization for childhood, on 20 October 2017, in which it confirmed that people in civilian clothes had stormed its headquarters in Beit Sawa town
Photo credit: Facebook page of Nabea El Hayat organization for childhood and development

Third: The Attack of "Binaa" for Relief and Development Organization:

On 8 October 2017, a group of Faylaq al-Rahman fighters entered one of the warehouses of "Binaa organization" in the town of Hazeh, which is jointly controlled by Faylaq al-Rahman and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham/ HTS. This was confirmed by Jafar al-Shami, an alias of a native of Hazeh town who witnessed the first moments of the attack. In this regard, he spoke to STJ, saying:

"On the evening of Sunday, 8 October 2017, we heard the noise of large numbers of cars deployed all over the neighbourhood where I live. So was the scene when I looked out of my house’s window, which is near the warehouse of "Binaa" organization. A large number of armed military personnel, estimate to be about 50, stormed one of its warehouses, began to remove foodstuffs and fuel from the basement of the organization’s building, and put them in their cars. This process took about five hours. They left nothing; they took everything. Moreover, they arrested the director and three stuff members of the organization, as when the director of the organization came, several hours after the warehouse had been emptied, Faylaq al-Rahman fighters started to insult him and arrested him in a very humiliating manner; he was been blindfolded and thrown inside the boot of a car. We learned later that Faylaq al-Rahman released the detainees four hours after their arrest."

In turn, Relief Coordinating Management[11] in Eastern Ghouta issued a statement on 11 October 2017, through which it confirmed the break in and robbery of the warehouse of "Binaa organization” by a group belonging to Faylaq al-Rahman, in addition to the arrest of the Director of the organization and three of its staff members.

Image shows the statement issued by Relief Coordinating Management in Eastern Ghouta on 11 October 2017, in which it confirmed the storming of Binaa Organization’s warehouse by a group of Faylaq al-Rahman agents, looting its contents, and arresting the director along with three stuff members
Photo credit: Relief Coordinating Management in Eastern Ghouta

On the other side, Faylaq al-Rahman issued a statement on 12 October 2017 concerning its entry into the warehouse of "Binaa" organization in Hazeh town; it illustrated the reasons for that, pointing out that it showed with conclusive evidence that managers of the organization were engaged in trafficking and selling fuel and made use of the high prices and the urgency of it, which led Faylaq al-Rahman to reserve these items.

Image shows the statement issued by Faylaq al-Rahman on 12 October 2017, in which it explained the reasons for the entry into "Binna" organization’s warehouse in Hazeh town. Indicating that Faylaq al-Rahman had found out, with conclusive evidence, that the managers of the organization are engaged in trafficking and selling fuel and made use of the high prices and the urgency of it, which led Faylaq al-Rahman to reserve these items
 Photo credit: the official website of Faylaq al-Rahman

STJ had published a previous report about the practices of some Syrian opposition factions against many civilians in besieged Eastern Ghouta, such as Rabetet Al-Marj Brigade‘s[12] seizure of houses inhabited by displaced persons from Kafr Batna town which is jointly controlled by Faylaq al-Rahman and HTS.

 

 


[1] The food warehouses located in Eastern Ghouta are affiliated to Damascus countryside province, which in turn follows the Syrian Interim Government.

[2] Hamoryah town is entirely controlled by Faylaq al-Rahman.

[3] As confirmed by many residents of Beit Sawa town, those who robbed “Nabea El Hayat” Foundation for children were fighters belonging to Faylaq al-Rahman faction.

[4] Beit Sawa town is under the control of Faylaq al-Rahman faction, except for some farms controlled by Army of Islam.

[5] Hazeh is jointly controlled by Faylaq al-Rahman faction and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham/HTS (formerly Al-Nusra Front).

[6] The Army of Islam: in September 2011, "Zahran Aloush", the former prisoner in Sednaya Prison, announced the formation of the opposition Battalion of Islam that later became, in mid-2012, Liwa al-Islam. On September 29, 2013, the brigade merged with a number of other factions to announce the formation of the "Army of Islam" and later joined the Islamic Front, in the same year, including other Islamic brigades like al-Tawhid Brigade, Suqour al-Sham, Ahrar al-Sham Islamiyya Movement, and Liwa al-Haqq, and Zahran was the commander. The army is now mainly active in the Eastern Ghouta area of Damascus countryside, but is also located in most areas out of control of the Syrian government except areas under ISIS and the Syrian Democratic Forces/SDF.

[7] Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya was formed on November 11, 2011 with approximately 25, 000 combatants. It is an Islamic military faction formed of integration of four Islamic factions: Kataeb Ahrar al-Sham, al-Fajr al-Islamiyya Movement, Jamaat al-Taliaa al-Islamiyya and al-Iman Fighting Brigades. Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya actives in many areas that are not held by Syrian government, especially in the provinces of Idlib, Aleppo, and Hama, and is headed by Hasan Sofan/Abo al-Barra, born in Lattakia 1979, the ex-prisoner who was sentenced for 12 years in Sednaya Military Prison but released late 2016 following the prisoner swap agreement.  

[8] January 28, 2017, Several jihadist factions in northern Syria announced integration under a new 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, Jabhat Ansar al-Din and Jaysh al-Sunnah. However, following the recent clashes between HTS and Ahrar al-Sham in northern Syria July 15, 2017, Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement declared its separation from HTS on July 20, 2017.

[9] The “police” here refer to the police station in Hamorya, which in fact belong to Faylaq al-Rahman faction.

[10] The Middle Sector includes a number of cities and towns located in the middle of the Eastern Ghouta and is controlled by Faylaq al-Rahman faction, such as (Jisreen, Hamoryah, Saqba and Kafr Batna).

[11] An independent civil administration comprising a number of active relief institutions and charities, which work as a team to coordinate relief work in Ghouta.

[12] This brigade is a new military formation, established on May 18, 2016; it included a number of defectors of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya and Army of Islam. This brigade did not obtain any legitimacy from the military junta, and was preparing for a battle in the area of Meliha and Marj but it did not complete that. This brigade, according to people from Ghouta, is a new façade of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), as the latter was the only one that recognized it.

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