Local activists in Idlib report that many Syrians in the rebel-held province are growing concerned of the crimes committed by foreign militants belonging to the HTS and other groups.
Local activists in Idlib report that there is a growing discontent with the militants belonging to the rebel group Hayy’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). Many of the complaints relate to the conduct and behaviour of these militants who have taken up residence in the rebel-held province to fight against the Syrian Arab Army (SAA).
The foreign militants of the HTS have been implicated in a number of crimes against the people of the region. The main source of concern appears to be the militants confiscating the homes and properties of local Syrians to use it for themselves and their families. In Idlib City, whole apartment complexes were confiscated from their owners, with the militants citing them as “spoils of war” despite many locals having ownership documents. Such legal documents were often ignored by the militants.
The large-scale appropriation of property has led to a rising concern among Syrians that the foreign militants are not just intending to fight the SAA but build settlements in the region. Many of these foreign militants have either fought insurgencies in their homeland or are planning to do so and have thus chosen Syria as a suitable base of operations to gather strength.
This is particularly evident in the city of Jisr al-Shugour in western Idlib countryside, which is under control of the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), a predominantly Uighur and Uzbek group and an ally of the HTS. It is estimated that since being taken over the TIP, some 5,000 Uighurs moved into city. The large number of Uighurs, mostly dissidents from Xinjiang/East Turkestan, has threatened to draw the otherwise-aloof Chinese Government into the Syrian conflict.
Similarly, the prevalence of Chechen insurgents, another demographic implicated in such crimes, in groups such as the HTS and ISIS has been linked to these groups looking to build their strength following their defeat at the end of the Second Chechen War. Their presence has been directly attributed to why Russia has become so invested in Syria.
For the locals in Idlib, there are not many options for justice. Hundreds of letters and complaints have been written to the HTS-backed Syrian Salvation Government (SSG) in Idlib City but received no response. Locals have also appealed to Turkey for help. Although Turkey is sometimes viewed as a backer of the SSG, in truth, it has little influence over the affairs of the organisation, with much of its political backing aimed at the rival Syrian Interim Government.