Syria Media Roundup – July 2 to 8, 2018

In this Media Roundup, we collect weekly local news from Syria, which are published mainly in Arabic and Kurdish media. By this, we would like to make these news, which from our point of view, reflect the current situation on site, accessible to a broader readership. The sources come from news channels that we consider the most trustworthy, though we can not guarantee absolute reliability. The focus of the content are areas where mainly ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities live, such as in Afrin, Al-Qamishli and As-Suwayda.

Stolen goods and confiscations in Suwayda

On July 2, 2018, Sheikh Uqqal, Yousef Jarbua and Hamoud Alhannaoui, who are the Druze religious leaders in As-Suwayda, have issued a statement, which prohibits the acquisition of stolen goods from Darʿā. They furthermore called the Syrian regime to not allow the passage of these goods or the establishment of markets for it in As-Suwayda. The stolen goods started to enter As-Suwayda with the beginning of the Syrian military operation in Darʿā. Armed groups, most probably related to the Syrian regime, have stolen the goods from inhabitants of Darʿā (Suwayda24). On the same day when the statement was published, a vehicle belonging to members of the Syrian army was burned at the Al-Thaala roundabout in As-Suwayda. The vehicle was filled with stolen goods from citizens from Darʿā. The sources confirmed that the fire was set by local citizens as a protest against the occurrence of stolen goods from Darʿā in As-Suwayda (Suwayda24). On July 4, 2018, only two days later, members of the Syrian army have again confiscated three vehicles from citizens in As-Suwayda, presumably for the purpose of transporting stolen goods from Darʿā. According to sources of Suwayda24, one of the cars that were confiscated by the Syrian army on Monday July 2, in west of As-Suwayda, appeared later, carrying stolen goods from Darʿā (Suwayda24). The statement of the Sheikhs, can be understood as a response to the appeal of civilians, who have called on religious, social and political bodies to intervene immediately and prevent the practice of stolen goods being brought from Darʿā to As-Suwayda. The practice is threatening civilians financially and putting more strain on the tense situation between the two provinces of Darʿā and As-Suwayda.

Beside the rising criminality also kidnappings and arrests under unsolved circumstances continue to happen in As-Suwayda. An article of July 4, 2018, states that twenty-one civilians were abducted and detained during the month of June in As-Suwayda. Seven of these, were arrested by the security forces of the Syrian regime, nine persons were kidnapped by unidentified groups, while five others were abducted by armed local and tribe factions. Suwayda24 added, Samir Ziad Halabi, from the town of Rasas which is located in the south of As-Suwayda, disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Apparently, he was also detained by Syrian regime security forces (Suwayda24).

Seizure of property, torture and killings in Afrin

In the last weeks several reports addressed the situation in Afrin, in particular human rights violations by armed Syrian factions, who control the occupied province Afrin in cooperation with the Turkish army. One article states that the armed group Samarqand Brigade has killed a civilian named Mohamad Ebesh by torture on July 2, 2018. Accordingly, Mohamad Ebesh, was not involved into any kind of military action, he was 55 years old and originated from the village of Haj Hasan, which belongs to Janderas suburb of Afrin. In the article of Rudaw, there are no more details about the background of him being killed (Rudaw). Furthermore, members of Syrian factions and Arab settlers have seized eight houses of Kurdish citizens in Sharra, a suburb of Afrin on July 3, 2018. The armed groups prevented returnees from Afrin from entering their property. In correspondence with the sources, the houses have been seized by Arab settlers, who are originally from other parts of Syria (Rudaw). On July 4, 2018 the Levant Front faction, entered the village of Hassi at 4 am. They arrested ten people from the village, young as well as elderly people. The armed faction also seized about thirty mobile phones from the inhabitants (Rudaw). Another report of Rudaw, confirms the daily appearance of plunder by armed Syrian factions in Afrin. The newspaper has published lists of incidences, even mentioning the names of the victims.

At the same time, also press freedom gets more restricted in the area, since the military police of the Free Syrian Army has issued a resolution, on July 4, 2018 which prevents journalists from working without a permission in Afrin. The military police has formed a media office that is, according to the military police, on the one hand, supposed to facilitate the work of journalists. On the other hand, it should prevent “non-professionals from spreading rumors“. The military police has called all journalists to apply for “official mission certificate” before practicing their profession in Afrin and the surrounding villages (SMART News).

The Kurdish National Council (KNC) in Syria has addressed the severe situation in Afrin in a meeting with the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Paris on July 3, 2018. Hawas Agid, who is the KNC’s representative in the High Negotiation Committee, has been a member of the delegation visiting France. He confirmed that the issue of Afrin is on top of the KNC’s priorities in the discussions with the French Ministry. Agid said “France promised that it would work in every possible way to help the people of Afrin, and we focused on supporting the return of the people, and we highlighted the difficulties and human rights violations of armed factions which the people of Afrin are exposed to” (Rudaw). According to Agid, France recognizes that the Syrian crisis will not be resolved without negotiating the Kurdish issue inside Syria and in the constitution of Syria.

The PYD hands-over Kurdish areas to Syrian regime

On July 3, the Kurdish Future Movement (KFM) Party in Syria published a statement, saying that the PYD, has started to hand over the areas in the north of Syria, which were under PYD’s control since 2012, to the Syrian regime. Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war, the KFM has accused the PYD of cooperating with the Assad regime. Now, the Future Movement declares that the PYD is finalizing an agreement, which has already assigned in the middle of 2011. Accordingly, the PYD and the regime have, on the one hand, agreed on the halt of all activities of the PKK, respectively PJAK, in Iran. On the other hand, the Syrian regime has allowed PKK respectively PYD to manage the Kurdistan region of Syria, and fight activists’ standing against the Syrian regime in these areas. As an initial step to return the areas to the Syrian regime, PYD removed its images and flags from the cities under its control. Apparently, protest within the PYD/PKK ranks has occurred regarding the reintegration of the Kurdish areas into the Syrian regime. Critical voices, however, such as Shoresh Kobani, who served in the intelligence service, Haval Shiyar so called “Haval Akriy”, a former finance officer, as well as Haval Marwan, Sharvan Darwish, Fawaz Khale, have been killed or became victims of assassination attempts.

Also other sources confirm the recent increase of cooperation between the Syrian regime and the PYD. According to an article in the Syrian newspaper Alwatan, on July 5, 2018, the aim of the meetings is to conclude an agreement that would return the areas under PYD control to the Syrian regime. Alwatan added that several meetings were held between delegations of the Syrian regime and the PYD’s Self-management in the city of Qamishli. Furthermore, the PYD delegation went to Damascus to negotiate with senior officials of the Syrian regime regarding the same issue. In the last weeks, several statements of PYD leaders, such as Ilham Ahmed the co-president of the so-called Syrian Democratic Council, were published, saying that the PYD is ready to negotiate with the Syrian regime without any preconditions. Recently, the PYD has begun to remove its flags and pictures of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan from most of the cities under its control (Alwatan).

The assumption that the PYD works together with the regime is not just based on rumors. On July 5, 2018, Riad Darrar, the co-president of the PYD’s Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), said “We have the political will to start negotiations with the Syrian regime” (Rudaw), he pointed, however, out that the negotiations between the SDC and the regime were not launched yet. Accordingly, Ilham Ahmad the co-president of the SDC declared their readiness to send a delegation to start direct negotiations with the Syrian regime without preconditions. According to an article of Alwatan, on July 8, 2018, several delegations of the Syrian regime, including the governor of Ar-Raqqah, the governor of Al-Hasakah and some officers, visited the cities of Qamishli, Al-Hasakah, Ar-Raqqah, Al-Tabqah and Ash-Shaddadi, in order to meet some PYD/YPG leaders. Sources from the PYD’s Self-administration confirmed a new agreement between them and the Syrian regime. The agreement allows the Syrian regime to take over the control, management of the oil facilities in Al-Hasakah. Prospectively, also the sale of oil will be exclusively managed by the regime (Alwatan).

Also other incidences, such as a meeting of a delegation of the Syrian regime with the dam management committee in Al-Tabqah in the west of Ar Raqqah, on July 7, 2018, hint to a closer cooperation between PYD and Damascus. Sources of SMART News said that the regime committee has supervised the pervious maintenance and it will continue its mission at the Tishrin Dam in the south east of Manbij, which is under the control of the PYD’s Self-administration.

Forced recruitment, arrests and kidnappings in PYD areas

In the last week, reports were published about different kinds of arrests by PYD forces. First, the recruitment of young people by force continues to be an issue in PYD-controlled areas. On July 5, 2018, the military police of the PYD arrested more than fifteen young people in Al- Tabqah, west of Ar-Raqqah on July 5, 2018. The young people were recruited by force at one of PYD’s checkpoints at Al-Tabqah’s southern dam (SMART News). Second, there was a report about the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) arresting the political activist Abduljabar Alhwedi in Sarrin, close to Aleppo, on July 8, 2018. Apparently, Alhwedi was on the way back to Turkey, coming from Ar-Raqqah. On social media sites, activists accused the PYD and its armed forces of being responsible for Alhwedi’s arrestment and arbitrary detention. Social media users demand an end to human rights violations which they consider one of the biggest obstacles, preventing the inhabitants of Ar-Raqqah from returning to their homes (SMART News). Third, the Kurdish Future Movement in Syria published a statement, on July 5, 2018, which says that one of the PKK’s military leaders in Afrin Dijwar Khabat, who is also known as Dijwar Halabi, has been kidnapped. He participated in different front lines in Ar Raqqah, Sari Kani, Manbij and Kobani. According to the statement, many PKK leaders fled from Afrin during the Turkish invasion. Dijwar was one of the military leaders who rejected the decision from the PKK’s head quarter in the Qandil Mountains, to fight against the Turkish and the Free Syrian Army in Afrin. He also rejected to sacrifice the lives of civilians and fighters. A video record is attached to the statement. Until the publication of the statement Dijwar has disappeared.