Fighters of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham in southern Idlib Province, August 14, 2019 (Omar Haj Kadour/AFP)

Ninar Khalifa writes for the pro-opposition site Enab BaladiNiz about the confiscation of property, by hardline jihadist factions such as Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, in Idlib Province in northwest Syria:

“We have nothing left in Idlib, no properties, houses, or rents. The Sharia Committee seized everything.”

With these words, Issa (a pseudonym) from Idlib city described to Enab Baladi what happened to his family’s property years after the Islamic factions took control over the city.

Issa added, “We had a house, an agricultural land, and a number of stores, all of which, were rented through my father’s agent, who used to transfer the rents to us on a regular base.”

He said that in 2019 the Sharia Committee issued a decision providing for the confiscation of any property that was not managed or supervised by its original owners.”

Due to the decision, our properties were confiscated, while the rents were paid to the committee.

We tried so hard to restore our properties through our agent who had a general power of attorney; however, we recovered nothing.

We also tried to move our house furniture to where we live currently in another province, but the committee refused to remove anything outside of Idlib, especially from the Christian-owned properties.

The confiscation of property owned by Christians in Idlib was not limited to those who left the province.

Whenever Issa’s 86-year-old grandmother, who lives by herself in one of the Christian villages in Idlib, left her one-room house to visit her children in other governorates, she found the house door’s lock broken and the house inhabited by a foreign family on the pretext of being displaced.

Issa said his grandmother filed a complaint with the Sharia Committee. Nevertheless, she had to sleep outside her house for at least a month each time until the committee found another housing alternative for the displaced family.

Many faction leaders and elements have taken over civilians’ houses and lived in them without the consent of their owners.

Issa recounted an incident in 2015, after the Islamic factions established control over Idlib city. His father and uncles went to visit the family home and bring some belongings. To their surprise, they discovered that the house was inhabited by a Tunisian and a Frenchman along with their wives, who refused to let Issa’s family enter the house.

“Absent Christian”

Rental fees were imposed on the residents, displaced from other provinces, of the Christian villages of the Idlib countryside. They had to pay rents to the Sharia Committee, according to Mazen (a pseudonym), one of those who were displaced to the Christian village of al- Yakubiyah in Idlib countryside after the former Free Syrian Army took control of it in 2012.

Since Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham controlled the village, it imposed rents on people who live in houses owned by Christians. According to Mazen, the HTS regarded confiscated properties as “spoils of war”

The committee has rented all the houses, lands, and shops of the three neighboring villages of al- Yakubiyah, al-Jadidah, and al-Qaniyah. Civilians were forced to pay rents to the committee, including the widows and female members of families of “martyrs”. The Sharia Committee excluded HTS fighters from paying rental fees.

Mazen added that the committee charged rents even for the unfinished houses. It counted the number of years the owners inhabited the still uncompleted houses and told them that the “investment period” has ended, and these houses are no longer considered their property.

Enab Baladi obtained a photo of a “civil lease” issued by the General Directorate of Real Estate, the branch of Jisr al-Shughour administrated by the HTS.

The lease shows that the directorate has rented a house owned by a Christian citizen in al- Yakubiyah village for three months.

The HTS refers in the contract to the original owner of the property as an “absent Christian” without mentioning the owner’s real name.

The village’s original Christian residents were displaced to other regions and their properties were confiscated by the Sharia Committee under the pretext of their absence.

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