The rebel group, Hayy'at Tahrir al-Sham, continues to arrest medical professionals across Idlib even though the region's health sector suffers from war conditions.
Earlier this week, an armoured column of Hayy’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) vehicles equipped with heavy weapons entered the town of Kafr Nabl in Idlib, surrounding a building and demanding that those within surrender. One would think that the building was home to an ISIS cell or operatives of the Syrian Intelligence. Instead, the building was home to something that the HTS seems to view as a far greater danger: The Free Hama Health Directorate.
The HTS quickly arrested the head of the directorate, Dr. Maram al-Sheikh, as well as Dr. Murhaf Ra’doun, the Director of Hospital 111; and Dr. Mustafa al-Masri, the Administrator of Al-Sham Hospital. In addition to the arrests, the HTS also confiscated mobile phones and other equipment.
The HTS has not been in the habit of explaining why it arrests people. In lieu of any details, speculation has been rife. The most common explanation is that the Directorate treated members of the National Liberation Front (NLF) during its recent clashes against the HTS in southern Idlib. Others speculate that the arrests were political, linked to Dr. al-Sheikh’s resistance to appoint an HTS-backed candidate as her assistant.
Regardless of the cause, the incident reflects the difficult conditions under which health professionals in Idlib must work. Indeed, the HTS represents the greatest threat to medical professionals after Syrian Arab Army (SAA) bombardment. The group’s brutal arrests of medical professionals and other activists has already elicited protests across Idlib. Although Dr. al-Sheikh has since been released, many others such as Dr. Abdo Najjar of the Deir Hassan Hospital remain imprisoned on unknown charges.
Through it all, the HTS, for all its claims of providing governance, has failed to protect medical facilities from petty crime. The Directorate was already targeted by armed robbers in late October, with HTS-backed police in southern Idlib failing to catch those responsible.
Given Kafr Nabl’s position as the home of veteran activist Raed Fares, who is commonly believed to have been murdered by the HTS, one has to wonder if the militants’ highly visible arrests in the town are a show of impunity, or merely a sign of being completely out of touch with the local people.