Regime control of eastern Ghouta three years on | Tight security measures…grave violations…Iranian influence’s expansion
Three years ago, regime forces and loyal militiamen managed to capture eastern Ghouta in Rif Dimashq after thousands of Russian airstrikes on its towns and cities since Russia’s military intervention in Syria conflict, until the latest military campaign on eastern Ghouta in late February 2018. This campaign reached to an end in mid-March 2018 when an agreement reached stipulating the evacuation of factions and residents who refused the reconciliation with regime security services to north Syria as well as settling the security situation of those who desire to stay in their area. This agreement came as a part of a Russian-Turkish agreement led to handing over Afrin to the Turks and their proxy factions in return for handing over eastern Ghouta to the Syrian regime. It is worth noting that regime forces and security services imposed a crippling siege, started in July 2013, on all cities and towns of eastern Ghouta, panning the entry of food and medicine, blocking all entrances of Ghouta, and preventing residents from traveling in or out these towns and cities. The siege and intentional starvation lasted for five successive years before regime forces captured the region.
For three years, Syrian regime and Russians keep trying to erase tracks of the chemical attack
After three years of regime control of eastern Ghouta, the regime’s security services and the Russians have been working assiduously on effacing the evidences which could prove the regime’s use of chemical weapons against civilians. Some efforts, among many, manifested in the periodical and frequent arrests of nurses, doctors and everyone participated in relieving victims of the chemical attack in 2013, which targeted Zamalka city and surrounding areas to the flank of Ain Tarma city, as well as the arrests of tens of eyewitnesses of the massacres itself from Zamalka city and other areas in eastern Ghouta. These people have been forcibly used in video interviews portraying the attack as a “false flag” operation and focusing on pinpointing the responsibility for the chemical attack on opposition factions controlling the two Ghoutas at that time. Bedside, they were forced to claim that the number of fatalities circulated by media outlets and documented by international bodies were untrue.
In the past three years, regime security services arrested nearly 350 people across eastern Ghouta, particularly the areas of Zamalka, Ain Tarma, Hazza, Saqba, Jisrayn, Arbin, Hamouriyyah, Al-Mulayha, Jubar, while most of the arrested were activists and medics worked for civil associations affiliated to oppositionists during the control of the factions of eastern Ghouta. These people were taken to the “251st Branch” known as “Al-Khateeb Branch” where they were interrogated, at the presence of Russian officers. After investigations, the arrested people were released after having forced to appear in the fabricated interviews, lying about facts and numbers regarding the chemical attack.
Strict security measures and lack of minimum levels of basic essentials
For the third consecutive year, regime security services have imposed strict security measures on the cities and towns of eastern Ghouta, including inspection of men and women traveling in and out eastern Ghouta at the checkpoints, and regime security services’ campaigns with the purpose of driving young males to mandatory and reserve conscription. During the past three years, SOHR activists documented the arrest of thousands of young and adult males who were driven to military service in regime army.
On the other hand, most of the region’s towns and cities are suffering from interruption of drinking water and electricity, except for the areas with large population such as Kafr Batna, Saqba, Jisrayn, Ain Tarma, Hamuriyah and Al-Mulayha. It is worth noting that electricity is available in these areas for only two hours a day, amid frequent power outages due to the significant malfunction in power grid in general.
Moreover, regime forces checkpoints have imposed levies on all vehicles carrying goods and fuel entering eastern Ghouta.
“277th Branch” continues taking over oppositionists’ properties under “provisional seizure” decision
As regime Military Security service known as “277th Branch” has taken over the properties of people oppose the Syrian regime under the decision of “provisional seizure of property”, SOHR has documented the seizure of nearly 1,000 houses, shops and land plots by the Syrian regime in the past three years, after expelling the inhabitants and authorized relatives of such real estate owners, in Saqba, Kafr Batna, Hamouriyah, Beit Sawa, Jisrayn, Ain Tarma, Zamalka, Deir Al-Asafeer, Douma, Masraba, Zubaydeen, and other areas.
It is worth noting that patrols of the “Military Security” branch escorted officials of the regime’s government departments closed several houses and marked their doors, painting “seized by branch 277”. Furthermore, security surveys were carried out in eastern Ghouta in early 2021, covering all relatives of people under “provisional seizure” decision, with the help of cities, towns and villages headmen and informants working for regime security services.
Iranian influence’s expansion: IRGC-backed local militias continue purchasing real estate in eastern Ghouta
On November 20, reliable SOHR sources in eastern Ghouta reported increasing purchases of real estates in the towns and cities of Ghouta by a group of people working for dealers from Deir Ezzor. These people purchased real estates, mostly houses and some shops, at orders by the dealers, but the fact that all these real estates were kept closed after being sold was the most interesting about that development.
According to SOHR sources, these dealers are from Al-Mayadeen countryside in eastern Deir Ezzor and affiliated to the Iranian-backed local militias of “Al-Abbas Brigade”. The most prominent dealer is a man from Al-Bakarah tribe called Abu Yasser Al-Bakary, who has bought many real estates in Deir Ezzor at direct orders by Adnan Al-Abbas, the leader of “Al-Abbas Brigade”.
Such purchases were concentrated in eastern Ghouta, particularly in Kafr Batna, Hazza, Saqba, Ain Tarma, Al-Mulayha and Zamalka. These deals included real estates which were for sale and other real estates whose owners were displaced to northern Syria or traveled overseas, via brokers of both sides.
It is worth noting that the number of real estates purchased by “Al-Abbas Brigade” in the past few months exceeded 300, while the value of each real estate sold during this period ranged between 25 million SYL and 125 million SYL, according to the size and location.
SOHR sources confirmed that these processes were on the march, as representatives of these dealers, carrying individual guns, pay periodical visits to real estate offices in eastern Ghouta where they ask about real estates available for sale, and ask these offices’ owners to inform them as soon as there were real estates offered for sale.
Such suspicious and uncertain developments in the area triggered the residents’ fear and worry over the purposes and reasons behind purchasing this large number of real estates in their cities and towns.
We, at the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, renew our appeals to the international community and all international actors to intervene immediately and put an end to the demographic change and grave violations against innocent people in eastern Ghouta, and call upon them not to abandon their responsibility and obligations to finding a lasting solution to the tragedy of millions of Syrians.