Killings, Abductions Feed Frustration in Idlib

Killings, Abductions Feed Frustration in Idlib

Wednesday, 22 August, 2018 - 09:15
A Syrian woman holds her child walks at the Abu Duhur crossing on the eastern edge of Idlib province. AFP file photo
Beirut - London - Asharq Al-Awsat
Targeted killings and kidnappings for ransom have for months rattled Syria's Idlib province, with angry residents blaming dominant rebel 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, Agence France Presse reported.

Car bombings, roadside explosives and gunfire have targeted and killed 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," a media activist in southern Idlib told AFP.

"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 ISIS and alleged regime collaborators.

The Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) alliance, controls more than 60 percent of Idlib.

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 August 7, masked men abducted Khalil Agha, a hospital director in the southwest of the province, district spokesman Mahmud al-Sheikh told AFP.

He was only released a week later after payment of a $100,000 ransom, Sheikh said.

A second activist told AFP 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 rebels have arrested not only alleged ISIS 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.

"The regime has cells working to destabilize Idlib to have a pretext for a military operation," he said.

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