SOHR exclusive | Homs turns into duty free store and 4th Division officers pay bribes for serving at posts along routes used for smuggling
As checkpoints of the 4th Division and its affiliated security forces, which are deployed throughout regime-controlled areas, have become one of the most major sources of income, regime soldiers and officers operating under the banner of these military formations request to perform their service at any of these checkpoints. Accordingly, many members of the 4th Division have filed applications and paid bribes to their leaders in order to distribute them to any of the Division’s checkpoints and posts, especially those posts near the Syria-Lebanon border and checkpoints on the main roads used by convoys of trucks transporting oil and grains from east Euphrates region into regime-controlled areas.
Reliable SOHR sources have confirmed that officers and soldiers of serving in the ranks of the 4th Division are competing to serve at checkpoints which are deployed on border areas between Syria and Lebanon which have been established to curb smuggling operations. Ironically, members stationed at those checkpoints impose levies on smugglers in return for allowing them to cross with their goods and stuffs into Homs city, which has become more akin to a duty free store for products brought from Lebanon.
It is worth noting that the 4th Division managed to turn the western countryside of Homs into an “autonomous canton” run by its checkpoints deployed in several areas to the west and south-west of Homs city, in coordination with militias affiliated to the Lebanese Hezbollah. Hezbollah-backed militias facilitate the crossing of smuggled shipments of foodstuffs and oil and inform officers of the 4th Division about the smuggled shipments, where the 4th Division’s officers chase these smugglers and ask them to pay levies or to confiscate the shipments.
A reliable SOHR source has reported that the disagreements which took place in the past few months between members of the 4th Division checkpoints and members of the military security checkpoints on the Syria-Lebanon border prompted officials managing the checkpoints of the 4th Divisions to give up levies for the benefit of the military security to avoid clashes between the two sides. Moreover, these checkpoints bring relatively low income compared to revenue collected at checkpoints on road used by trucks transporting oil and goods between one Syrian province and another.
The source, who has asked not to reveal his name in order to ensure anonymity, said “this situation did not last for a long time, as the 4th Division’s checkpoints turned the route which had used for smuggling goods and foodstuffs, which stretched from Zita town to Al-Naqir running through Al-Qusayr city and Shanshar, to another route leading to Tartus, so that the smuggled stuffs do not reach Homs city where checkpoints of the military security service are deployed. The 4th Division have coordinated with smugglers to use the new route. Accordingly, the shipments smuggled from Lebanon are transported in primitive boats from Zita town to Al-Ghassaniyah which overlooks Qatinah lake. The shipments later are unloaded in Khrbet Ghazi village which has become a major centre for distributing foodstuffs and fuels to smugglers.”
In this way, the 4th Division, which has established a checkpoint at the main entrance to Khrbet Ghazi village in the western countryside of Homs, managed to block the way to any attempts by the military security service to collect levies from smugglers, without any direct confrontations with the military security service.