SOHR exclusive | Regime forces seize large swathes of agricultural land in west and north Hama countryside
As thousands of families have abandoned vast swaths of agricultural land, that were cultivated by various types of crops and fruit-bearing trees in west and north Hama countryside, fleeing from the escalated militancy and fights between the regime forces and proxies on one hand, and the opposition factions and Jihadist groups on the other, since the beginning of 2019. regime forces have seized and looted these farmlands.
According to Syrian Observatory for Human Rights sources, the regime security services have seized the harvest of thousands of dunams in Sahl al-Ghab and Jabl Shahshipo after they fully controlled the region.
In mid-October 2020, the regime forces established groups of workers to harvest olive in the two areas. It is worth noting that Jabl Shahshipo is famed for olive planted in vast land of the area.
Reliable sources told SOHR that peas, that were grown in some parts of the agricultural lands in Sahl al-Ghab and Jabl Shahshipo in November 2020, is being harvest, as the hired workers returned back at the beginning of April 2021 for the harvest season.
The sources pointed out that seizure of these farmlands and crops has been carried out by regime-backed officers and merchants who bring workers from different regions like al-Saqilibah and villages of al-Raseef, al-Jeed and al-Aziziyah in Sahl al-Ghab in west Hama countryside and the village of Karnaz in north Hama countryside.
SOHR sources have asserted that large spaces of farmlands are currently planted with wheat, and the regime proxies have brought harvesters since the beginning of May 2021 in preparation for the harvest season. These crops were the basic source of income of most of the inhabitants of Sahl al-Ghab and Jabl Shahshipo areas.
Syrian Observatory sources have also documented the seizure of some plots of land that owned by civilians who have been displaced in Sahl al-Ghab in west Hama countryside, where the regime forces gave lease rights to merchants and farmers in a public auction. The lands later were invested in planting different types of vegetables like tomato, cucumber, eggplant, and wheat by farmers hired by these merchants for the purposes of plantation and harvesting.
A former official in a local council in north Hama countryside, told SOHR “the regime forces have offered in bids thousands of dunams of agricultural land in the countryside of north Hama and have transferred its ownership to merchants in many cities and villages, including Mourak, KafrZeta, Al-Lutamenah, Kafre Nabouzah, and Latmeen. Most of thes cities and villages were famous for pistachio, olive, and fig which were important crops for the inhabitants before deserting their lands. There are also large areas planted now with wheat and its revenues go to the traders and the in-presence regime proxies as observed by inhabitants of these areas via the wireless devices. The farmers who escaped from their villages and cities sustained considrable loss, as they not only lost their houses and were burdened significant costs by moving to the north of Syria, but they also lost the money and efforts exerted for cultivation either in the seasons of the fruit-bearing trees or the other crops. Unfortunately, regime forces seized all of these farmlands and invested them without consent of the real owners in a violation to the rights of the farmers in Hama countryside.”
A human right activist known by his initials as M.A. from north Hama countryside and now living in north Idlib countryside shared his point of view with SOHR. The man said “The regime forces started recently to apply a decision stipulating for offering the agricultural land in Hama countryside to public auctions, including the most of the cities in north Hama countryside especially those nearby the city of Mahradah. Some of those plots of land, that belong to farmers displaced during the military escalation and regime advancement in 2019, are planted with pistachio, olive, and other trees, while others are good for cultivating other crops like wheat, barley, and vegetables. Before enforcing the decision, the regime had prevented friends and relatives of the real owners of the land from planting it or sending its revenues to them.”
The activist reiterated that “the process of trading and auctioning is carried out by security and military committees led by general Ramadan Youssef Ramadan, who has issued previous decisions taken to confiscate further farmlands and seize the harvest. The decision was a cover to loot the income of the displaced civilians. The agriculture land of Hama countryside is fertile and diversified crops planted there are of high quality.
Talking about this grave violation, a farmer known as S.M. from Jabl Shahshipo in west Hama countryside and now living in a camp of Deir Hassan in north Idlib countryside told SOHR “when I was displaced with my family in May 2019, I have left a piece of land divided into 20 dunams planted annually by wheat and vegetables like peas, with a groundwater will in the centre, and five dunams that were planted with olive. As I have not worked in other fields, agriculture was the basic source of income for my family. However, I have received confirmed information that the regime forces have harvested the olive at the beginning of the past winter and used my land for planting and harvesting vegetables.
The farmer added, “I left all of my properties behind, even the furniture, due to the heavy bombardment. Now, I struggle with dire living conditions in refugee camps, and I have not tried to communicate with anyone to stop the regime forces’ using or investing my land because I don’t have any relatives or friends there. Regime forces have sized land plots belonging to hundreds of farmers in Jabl Shahshipo in west Hama countryside without giving them any choice to defend their rights in light of silence over the regime practices. The real owners of the seized farmlands seem satisfied with only hearing the latest developments regarding their properties via civilians and satellite photos and activists observing the situation on the ground using wireless devices.”
The regime-backed security committee in Hama issued in October 2020, a decision to run a public auction to invest the fruit-bearing trees and the bushes in north Hama countryside for 2020’s season in 20 villages and cities.
The decision read, “this agriculture land owned by persons who reside outside the Syrian regime-held areas and who are located in territories controlled by the armed terrorist groups.”
Its worth mentioning that the farmlands remained in areas under the control of the factions in the west and north Hama countryside are very few and not exceeding 20,000 dunams, as the regime forces and proxies have completely captured north Hama countryside, and 75 % of the western countryside. The cultivated lands are currently sorted in several villages in the north of Sahl al-Ghab, part of which isn’t safe to be plantated as it located on the frontlines between the opposition factions and regime forces.