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Opposition-led government in Syria's Idlib increases taxes on motorcycles

Civilians in northwest Syria, where motorcycles constitute a common and inexpensive method of transport, are struggling to pay several new taxes imposed by the HTS-led government.
Idlib motorcycle

A police officer confiscated Amer al-Dioub's motorcycle when he was on his way to work in Al-Dana city in the northern countryside of Syria's Idlib province on Nov. 10.

Dioub, a construction worker, bought his motorcycle four years ago. It spared him the hassle of finding a taxi and paying a daily fee to go to work.

However, the General Directorate of Transport in the so-called Salvation Government of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) issued a decision in early 2018 requiring that all motorcycles be registered within one month, with a penalty of doubling the registration fees and impounding the motorcycle. On April 4, 2021, the Salvation Government ruled that unregistered vehicles would be confiscated.

The "Salvation Government" is the de facto government of the Syrian opposition in Idlib, formed in November 2017 by HTS. The latter is the most powerful Islamist group in Idlib and is considered a terrorist organization by much of the international community.

Dioub, who got displaced from Maarat al-Numan in the southern Idlib countryside to the Kelli Mountain camp, north of Idlib, said that his motorcycle was impounded because it was not registered.

“The motorcycle was the only means of transportation I had," Dioub said. "I can no longer go to work to make ends meet. I have a wife and six children. I have no other choice now but to register the motorcycle and pay a fine. I will have to borrow the money.”

Dioub said his job pays 30 Turkish liras a day, or approximately two US dollars, which is hardly enough to provide for his family.

“The system of violations imposed by the Salvation Government is unfair to citizens, as the motorcycle registration fees are illogical and unaffordable,” he added.

Salah al-Tohmeh, 40, from Harem, north of Idlib, registered his motorcycle for fear of having it impounded. He paid 76 Turkish liras ($5.50 according to the exchange rate on Dec. 21). Since he had no purchase contract, he had to forge one. After the directorate staff inspected the motorcycle to approve its shape and specifications, he received a card and a metal plate for his vehicle.

Tohmeh said that the police affiliated with the Salvation Government in Idlib are confiscating and impounding dozens of unregistered motorcycles every day.

“Fines are weighing on motorcyclists at a time when the prices of bread and fuel are jumping amid rampant unemployment,” he added.

Statistics published by the Sham News Agency affiliated with the Salvation Government in Idlib governorate revealed that 14,500 motorcycles were registered during the month of October.

Local activists explained that the sums paid for these bikes during the month of October amounted to 725,000 Turkish liras.

Director-General of Transport Mohammad Asaad Belsani said in a statement to the Sham News Agency, “We have recently started registering motorbikes because of the severe congestion they cause in and outside the city and the traffic accidents they cause. The number of registered bikes until the beginning of November reached 15,688. … We will continue to register all vehicles and motorcycles in the liberated north in order to organize the country and reduce the chaos.”

Hussein al-Maarawi, a 35-year-old activist from Idlib, told Al-Monitor that motorcycles are popular in the refugee camps of northern Syria because they are relatively cheap, less fuel-consuming, and less prone to breakdowns than cars as a result of dilapidated roads.

He said that the HTS Salvation Government has a long history of imposing royalties and taxes on civilians, and the Directorate of Transport and Communications is one of its sources of funding. 

HTS, which began as an Al-Qaeda affiliate, is designated by the United States and the UN Security Council as a terrorist group.  

Civilians in Idlib Governorate, northwest of Syria, are facing harassment and living pressures due to taxes imposed by the Salvation Government. According to local sources who spoke to Al-Monitor, HTS raised the fees for importing basic foodstuffs from the Aleppo countryside. At the Ghazawiya crossing into Idlib, a new tax amounting to $30 is imposed for each ton of materials covered by customs duties. And seems that these won't be the last of taxes to be added.