Exclusive report | Regime forces seize thousands of dunams of agricultural land in southern countryside of Idlib
Regime forces continue seizing farmlands belonging to the people who displaced from towns and villages captured by the regime after large-scale military operations in 2019, which covered large swaths of the countrysides of Aleppo, Idlib and Hama. Meanwhile, regime forces offer these plots of lands in public auctions to be rented by merchants in regime-controlled areas, where these land plots are invested.
Syrian Observatory sources have reported that regime forces seized agricultural land in several cities, towns and villages in the southern countryside of Idlib, exactly agricultural fields in several villages near the cities of Khan Sheikhoun and Maarat al-Numan, such as the towns of al-Tamanah, Sakik, al-Tah al-Khwain.
SOHR sources said that the owners of these farmlands, which are estimated at thousands of dunams in the villages and towns of the southern countryside of Idlib, learned through their acquaintances that regime forces offered their land in public auctions and transferred its ownership to merchants, after harvesting the agricultural crops that had been planted, then these farmlands were cultivated again.
“Agricultural land planted with various trees such as pistachios trees, which constitute 70% of the area’s trees, as well as olives, figs, berries and citrus trees all have been seized.” the source added.
Shortly after their control of the area, regime forces cut down many fruit-bearing trees to be used for heating, then they continued to harvest the fruits and exported them to the markets of Hama and its western countryside.
Moreover, SOHR sources also reported that regime forces reaped farmlands planted with wheat, cumin, coriander, and lentils, in the towns and villages of Maarshurin, Ma’arashmarin, Masran, Bebila, Deir al-Sharqi, al-Deir al-Sharqi, al-Ghadfa, Talmens, and many other towns and villages.
Talking about this grave violation, a farmer known as A.M. from Khan Sheikhoun city in the southern countryside of Idlib and now living in one of the camps of Harbanoush area in the northern countryside of Idlib told SOHR “I had a plot of land of an estimated 25 dunams on the outskirts of Khan Sheikhoun city, the entire land was planted with pistachio and olive trees, and it was the basic source of income for me and my family. I used to get an annual yield of nearly 15 million Syrian pounds, which comfortably secured the needs of my seven-member family at that time. As military operations escalated, I was forced to flee from my village towards north Syria, leaving behind hundreds of fruit-bearing trees.”
“Pro-regime militants seized my land, where they cut down a large number of trees and harvested the remaining crops during the past season. I was able to make sure of this through one of my acquaintances in Khan Sheikhoun city. I also watched a live broadcast on “Facebook” showing regime-backed militiamen on my land. I personally know many displaced people whose farmlands have been seized and now being rented to merchants who invest it and steal its revenue.”
A media activist from the southern countryside of Idlib shared his point of view with SOHR, saying ” with this step, regime forces are attempting to legalize their theft of the agriculture land of displaced people from south Idlib countryside which is famous for its vast agricultural areas, so they offer these farmland in public auctions to be invested by merchants affiliated with the Syrian regime. These practices are added to the list of violations committed by the ‘criminal’ regime against the Syrians opponents and agains the rights of thousands of displaced people who have left their sources of income and fled from war, especially since they are currently suffering from dire living conditions.”
The media activist added “many displaced people have tried, through mediators in regime-controlled areas, to stop the seizure of their land and to make regime forces allow their representatives to cultivate it. Regime forces take a fee of 80,000 Syrian pounds from every person who wants to participate in the auctions, and this amount is added to the price of including land plots for merchants, which is expected to exceed this amount several times per dunam, which means that regime forces get hundreds of millions by looting the displaced people properties, because the area of the seized farmlands in Idlib countryside is estimated at 200,000 to 250,000 dunams.”