The regime is preparing to auction off agricultural lands belonging to forcibly displaced residents of parts of rural Hama and Idlib governorates that were formerly controlled by the opposition.
The governorate administrations in Idlib and Hama formed two types of committees for that purpose at the end of the harvest season in early June.
The first type, called “spatial technical” committees, must determine ownership of farmlands in areas recaptured by regime forces during battles against opposition forces in 2018-2020. Essentially, these committees count and identify lands owned by people who were displaced to opposition-held territory and are no longer able to cultivate it.
Representatives from the local Baath Party branches, the Farmer Leagues, the Agricultural Directorates, and the Governorate Executive Offices are members of these “spatial technical” committees, according to a correspondent for The Syria Report in the area. A leaked recording of a member of the Hama committee indicated that the governor of Hama had issued a directive to inform farmers in Al-Tamanaeh they must be physically present on their lands when the committee tours the area. The farmers must also possess real estate registration documents for their lands. The audio recording went on to say that the land of farmers who failed to present real estate documents would be listed as belonging to individuals residing “outside state territory” and may be put up for auction. Administrative affiliation of the committees is unclear; the Al-Tamanaeh area belongs administratively to the Maaret Al-Numan district of Idlib governorate, while the committee responsible for the area works under the Hama governorate.
The Syria Report spoke with an official from the Farmer Leagues in the Abu Al-Dhuhour area in the western countryside of the Idlib governorate, which is under regime control. The official said that the committees had begun to visit farmers east of the former Hijaz Railway line, a zone regime forces recaptured in 2018. In the presence of the mukhtar — a neighbourhood mayor — the committees requested farmers submit ownership documents for their lands. Farmers who had cultivated lands belonging to displaced people were also required to inform the committees of the properties’ surface area and location. According to the official, the Idlib governorate would begin investing in these lands in the coming agricultural season. A correspondent for The Syria Report in the area added that a portion of the displaced farmers’ lands east of the railway line were being used by local tribal militias loyal to the regime, without permission from the original owners. Other lands are being cultivated by displaced farmers’ relatives, who share in the proceeds.
Another committee has also been formed to allocate the farmlands for investment, according to pro-regime social media accounts. At the head of this central committee is the governor of Hama. Members include representatives from the local Baath Party branch, the Hama Police Command, the Agriculture Directorate, the governorate executive office and legal department and the Hama Farmers League. According to the social media reports, investment in displaced farmers’ lands will take place under the contract farming type of agreement, with priority given to the sons of killed regime soldiers and soldiers from the area.
The inventory process so far this year appears to be more organised and comprehensive than last year’s. In 2020, the farmer leagues held public auctions on orders from the Military Security committee to invest in lands belonging to displaced farmers and those who were living in areas under the control of “armed terrorist groups.”