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IS families lose their homes in Syria’s Akhtarin

The local council of Akhtarin, in the Aleppo countryside, is confiscating the properties of former IS and regime fighters to benefit victims of the war.
A rebel fighter takes away a flag that belonged to Islamic State militants in Akhtarin village, after rebel fighters advanced in the area, in northern Aleppo Governorate, Syria, October 7, 2016. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi - S1AEUFQKOSAA

ALEPPO, Syria — The local council in the city of Akhtarin, in the northern Aleppo countryside, announced on Jan. 2 that it would confiscate the property of people and families who had joined the ranks of the Islamic State (IS) or fought alongside regime forces. The decision took immediate effect. The money generated will go toward the orphans created by the war and their caregivers.

The Free Syrian Army (FSA) took Akhtarin in early 2012, after expelling regime forces. The FSA then lost the city to IS, which took control of it on Aug. 13, 2014. On Nov. 2, 2016, the FSA recaptured Akhtarin as part of Operation Euphrates Shield, the cross-border operation launched Aug. 24, 2016, by the Turkish military and largely FSA-affiliated, allied Syrian militias. The campaign moved across the northern and northeast countryside of Aleppo.

Khaled Dibo, head of the Akhtarin local council, told Al-Monitor that the seizures so far include 110 commercial real estate properties and residences in addition to dozens of hectares of agricultural land. As for the former owners, Dibo remarked, “Those people have left the city with their families for good.”

According to Dibo, the local council has formed a committee to determine and document the properties, which are to be leased.

The decision to seize property, Dibo revealed, was made after properties of those who had joined IS or the regime remained empty for some time. Dibo said he also felt that those who had fought against their own, i.e. the citizens of Akhtarin, should also be penalized. The local council, he said, will be managing the affected properties. The proceeds will cover the expenses of the 350 or so children whose fathers were killed in fighting or in regime airstrikes or IS attacks. Many male residents took up arms to fight in FSA militias.

Some children lost both parents to the conflict. Dibo noted that the city's current population now stands at 20,000, because of those displaced from other parts of Syria. The prewar population, he said, had stood at 15,000.

“The relatives of the people whose properties are confiscated for belonging to IS and the regime forces have the right to file a lawsuit in the Akhtarin court against the council, which will be providing proof before the court,” Dibo said. “Should the charges against said people be baseless, the defendants’ properties will be returned.”

An estimated 80 people from Akhtarin joined IS, while some 20 others fought with the regime, Dibo said. The local council’s decision to seize their property is the first of its kind in FSA-controlled areas in the Aleppo countryside. 

Kasi Najar, a lawyer and activist from Akhtarin, criticized the decision. “In a sovereign state, where the situation is stable, the governing authority has the right to make such a decision against those who have betrayed their country. In this way, they can be deprived of their nationality or have their properties confiscated,” Najar said. “The council, however, is a local authority with limited powers and is subject to the Local Administrative Ministry in the pro-opposition interim government. Thus, it is not the local council’s prerogative to make such a decision. It does not have the authority to confiscate the properties of Syrians, as it is the prerogative of the judiciary, and in certain exceptions, of the political establishment in a stable state. Therefore, the decision is illegal.”

Several Islamic scholars in the area agree with the principle that the council’s decision is unjust, asserting that it is not in line with Sharia and is therefore impermissible.

Sheikh Ali Hussein, a Sharia court judge in Azaz, denounced the decision. “The council’s decision is not permissible [under Sharia] as long as such properties can still be passed to the children and relatives of the accused,” he said. “In case the accused does not have any relatives or heirs, the property could be used for the public good.”

The council's decision is not likely to be imitated by other areas in the countryside of Aleppo, given its conflict with Sharia provisions. This is the case even though the considerable numbers of people from the cities and towns in the area of Operation Euphrates Shield who fought with IS and the regime are yet to return, and perhaps never will, most likely out of fear.

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