SOHR exclusive | HTS-backed “Spoils of War Committee” confiscates properties of pro-regime individuals and religious minorities in Idlib
On June 15, the “Spoils of War Committee” which is affiliated to Hayyaat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) forced a family from Damascus city out of the house where they were living in Al-Naseem neighbourhood in Idlib city. The house belongs to a man who lives in areas outside the control of HTS and was accused of “being loyal to the Syrian regime,” and it was granted earlier to this family by the committee. Meanwhile, a voluntary team managed to secure another house for the family, after having been dismissed.
This incident brings to the fore the practices of the so-called “Spoils of War Committee” and the goal of establishing such committees, especially since the committee continues to take over real estates, including residential blocks, houses and farmlands, which serves Hayyaat Tahrir Al-Sham.
This committee was established in 2015 during the control of “Jaysh Al-Fath” of the entire province of Idlib, as it had captures Idlib city and countryside following violent clashes with regime forces and their proxy militias.
At that time, “Jaysh Al-Fath” which comprised several jihadist groups, mainly Hayyaat Tahrir Al-Sham (former Jabhat Al-Nusra), “Jund Al-Aqsa and Ahrar Al-Sham Islamic Movement, established this committee which took over hundreds of real-estate units belonging to pro-regime individuals in Idlib city and countryside. It is worth noting that the owners of these units had fled to other provinces during and before the last battle which enabled “Jaysh Al-Fath” to control the entire province. Moreover, the jihadists took over several units belonging to Christian civilians and others of religious minorities, who have chosen to displace to areas outside the control of the factions.
“Jaysh Al-Fath” later rented out properties of Christian civilians with the help of cronies close to the faction in that region, where the money was regularity delivered to the faction’s members and leaders. Under the supervision of the “Spoils of War Committee,” “Jaysh Al-Fath” continued seizing civilian properties until an internal infighting erupted in 2018 between Hayyaat Tahrir Al-Sham on one hand, and several factions, including Ahrar Al-Sham Islamic Movement, Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement and Suqur Al-Sham, on the other. The infighting, which was accompanied by fierce clashes, led to HTS taking control of the entire region, after expelling the other factions from Idlib and parts of Hama.
After HTS had captured Idlib city and countryside and the northern and western countryside of Hama, it cancelled the earlier rental contracts of properties belonging to Christian civilians and took over all real-estate units seized previously by the “Spoils of War Committee.” The jihadist group started to rent out some of these units to civilians for relatively low rents, while some others were granted to families that could not afford the rental fees. Moreover, HTS gifted several houses to some of its commanders, commanders of Uzbek militias and the Turkestani Islamic Party and other independent jihadists living in areas controlled by HTS.
Recently, Hayyaat Tahrir Al-Sham has sent notifications to families living in those seized houses, ordering them to evacuate the houses under the pretext of “reorganising this issue and brining these units back to their real owners.” However, some civilians see that HTS is attempting to benefit from these units and turning them into a new resource for the group through renting them out for higher rental fees.
It is worth noting that such notifications have been sent to a large number of extremist jihadists and independent individuals living in HTS-controlled areas and known for opposing HTS policy, where they see HTS has started to adopt policies and ideologies violating the “Islamic Law.”
Speaking to SOHR, an activist known by his initials as M. A. said “Hayyaat Tahrir Al-Sham has exploited everything to collect money and imposed its dominance and influence over the entire north-west region of Syria. It seeks to control the region forever, be internationally recognised and have resources inside Syria to enable it to give up funds sent from other countries. The issue of taking over real estate belonging to civilians living outside areas under HTS-controlled areas is a major source of money for the group. Previously, HTS granted a large number of houses in Jisr Al-Shughur area, Idlib city and other areas to displaced families and extremist jihadists. But now, the group is looking forward to investing in these houses, as it is expected that HTS will set high rental fees or auction them off. HTS may carry on with a plan to call for the return of Christian civilians to their houses in areas under its control as a part of attempts to polish its image before the international community. Everything remains possible, specially since the group has not announced any official clarification of the purpose behind evacuating these houses.”
The activist pointed out that when Hayyaat Tahrir Al-Sham sent notifications to displaced jihaidists a few months ago, asking them to evacuate the houses they lived in, some of those jihadists requested HTS to allow them in these houses in return for paying sums of money estimated to be more than 100 USD a month. However, HTS rejected the jihadists’ request and insisted on evacuating the houses. “This indicates that HTS intends to prepare these houses and shops to call upon their owners to return. This is a high possibility,” clarified the activists.
“The so-called ‘Spoils of War Committee’ continues to send notifications to evacuate houses. However, the notifications are signed by the ‘Housing Directorate.’ This means that the name of the ‘Spoils of War Committee’ has been changed to the ‘Housing Directorate.’ On the other hand, the decision of expelling the family which is from Damascus from the house they lived in has ignited broad criticism.”
It is worth noting that the “Salvation Government” dominates the economy and all resources in the areas under the control of Hayyaat Tahrir Al-Sham in north-west Syria region, including fuel, crossings telecommunications, internal transportation and advertisements, and it imposes taxes and levies on the commercial movement.
It is also worth noting that mass exodus started in Idlib in 2015 when opposition and rebel factions and jihadist groups captured Idlib city, where thousands of Christian civilians fled from Idlib city and countryside. Now, only tens of Christian civilians remain in the region.
Moreover, many civilians of religious minorities, including Druze and Alawite communities, as well as many pro-regime individuals displaced from Idlib, foregoing hundreds of houses, shops and farmlands which HTS later seized.