Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), the fundamentalist Islamist organisation that controls most of the Idlib governorrate, is continuing to restrict so-called ‘jihadist emigrants’ in the territory under its control, preventing them from residing in certain areas, including the neighbouring towns of Kafraya and Al-Fuaa.
HTS has barred jihadist emigrants and their families from renting homes or residing in Kafraya and Al-Fuaa, or even from living with relatives and acquaintances there.
In February, HTS sent a one-month notice to jihadist emigrants and their families residing in the two towns to evacuate the homes. In March, it evicted dozens of residents from their homes, while some families were given until Eid Al-Fitr, that is, by early May 2022, to leave. According to a local correspondent for The Syria Report, HTS’ security forces singled out jihadists from Tunisia and Morocco in its eviction campaign, ordering them to move out to any other place in the governorate except Idlib city.
‘Jihadist emigrants’ define themselves as foreign fighters who came to Syria during the war to support the Islamist cause. Today HTS is seeking to seize the homes currntly inhabited by those jihadist emigrants and put them at the disposal of the Syrian Salvation Government (SSG), in line with similar steps the group took in Idlib city in February.
In an attempt to justify the evictions, HTS issued a statement on February 19 saying that most of the homes slated for eviction were actually public properties, while some were private properties whose owners were demanding they be returned.
Most of the ‘jihadist emigrants’ who had been notified of eviction are those who are known as ‘independent’ – that is, they are no longer affiliated with any militant faction after HTS dismantled many other jihadist organisations in the past two years. HTS focuses much of its evictions on these ‘independent’ former fighters, most of whom oppose the hardline group, according to the local correspondent.
Most of the original residents of Kafraya and Al-Fuaa were Shia Muslims. They were expelled from their homes in July 2018 as part of the “Four Towns Agreement” that was reached in Doha in April 2017 between Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), HTS and the Islamist Ahrar Al-Sham group. The agreement stipulated the simultaneous expulsion of residents in the besieged twin towns of Madaya and Al-Zabadani in the Rural Damascus governorate, as well as Kafraya and Al-Fuaa in Idlib.
After the expulsion of residents, opposition and extremist Islamist factions split control of Kafraya and Al-Fuaa. The Islamist factions considered the properties of expelled Shia residents to be spoils of war and split them amongst themselves, distributing some of the seized properties to jihadist emigrant fighters among their ranks. Many people who had been forcibly displaced from other, formerly opposition-held areas such as Homs and the northern countryside of Hama also took over the houses left behind by expelled Shia residents.