Nearly two years after pro-Iranian Shia militias seized farmlands west of the city of Mayadeen in Deir-ez-Zor governorate, owners of the lands are still barred from access.
The militias seized some 150 palm and olive groves owned by Mayadeen residents in the “Farms Area,” located 20 kilometres outside the city, in April 2019. The properties were converted into a closed military zone surrounded by an earthen berm, with owners prevented from entering. Prefabricated rooms and water tanks were set up on the farms, in addition to a large mosque.
The Farms Area was divided into a number of sections, each assigned to a militia: the southern section for the Fatemiyoun Brigade from Afghanistan, the northern section for the Pakistani Zeinabiyoun Brigade, the eastern section for the Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Forces, and the western section for the Local Village Security militia. These militias are all affiliated with Iran’s Quds Force.
Heavy weaponry has been deployed to the area, including tank units, artillery and rocket launchers. Preparations are also reportedly underway to set up training camps for new militia recruits.
The farms are situated within an elevated area, isolated from urban developments and residents, making them desirable for military use. The area is also less than 25 kilometres from Ayn Ali, considered to be among the most important Shia shrines in Deir-ez-Zor. The farms have been connected to Ayn Ali by a new asphalt road built by the occupying militias, which are now charged with protecting the shrine.
The owner of one palm grove in the area told a correspondent for The Syria Report in the area that, for the second year in a row, he has been deprived of visiting his land to supervise it and harvest his crops. This is because he has not obtained the approval of the militias stationed there, despite having submitted more than one request. The response to his last request, he said, was that “the area has become a military zone and it is forbidden for civilians to enter”.
The region was under Islamic State control from 2014 to 2017, before it was captured by regime forces with support from Iranian militias. The Iranian militias rebuilt the Ayn Ali site, which had been detonated by the Islamic State. A dome was erected over the shrine’s spring, and a husseiniyeh (a congregation hall for Shia Muslim worshipers) was built nearby in late 2018.
Ayn Ali shrine.