A branch of Syria’s security services arrested Ghafran Barakeh, the widow of a former high-level official, on charges that she had collaborated with Israel. However, the security services appear to have fabricated the charges after an inheritance dispute.
Ms Barakeh, 44 years old, is a Druze woman from the town of Hazar in the countryside of Quneitra governorate. She has three daughters and one son from her late husband, Zeyd Hassoun, who was the governor of Idlib from 1984 to 2000. Hassoun also had several children from a previous marriage that ended in divorce.
In 2019, after Hassoun’s death, the dispute began over his estate, which consisted of two apartments in Jaramana in Rural Damascus, an apartment in the Al-Mazzeh neighbourhood of Damascus, a restaurant, a car, and agricultural land in Beit Jinn and Hazar, a source close to the family told The Syria Report.
Mr Hassoun bequeathed the Al-Mazzeh apartment and the farmland in Hazar to Ms Barakeh and their children. He bequeathed the remainder of his estate to his other children. The dispute appears to have centred around the Al-Mazzeh apartment, the highest-value item in Mr Hassoun’s estate, and the Hazar farmland containing 900 grapevines.
Article 307 of Personal Status Law No. 59 granted the Druze sect the right to regulate some of their own personal status matters, such as bequests. This right allows people to distribute or deprive people of their estates as they see fit.
In practice, the bequest must be registered as a precondition for its implementation. That is, it becomes legally enforceable only after a court ruling is issued in that regard. Beneficiaries of a bequest must file a court case requesting that they will be registered before the Doctrinal Court of the Unitarian Druze in Suweida or the Second Doctrinal Court in Ashrafieh Saynaya, in Rural Damascus.
According to the family source, Mr Hassoun’s children from his previous marriage objected to registering the bequest. Should the judge reject registering the will, the principles of Islamic inheritance will be applied instead, meaning all the heirs will share the entire estate.
However, the arguments and defence of Mr Hassoun’s children from his first wife did not appear to convince the judge. So they turned to security officials in Damascus with whom they reportedly enjoy a good relationship. Those officials intervened to stop the judge at the Court of Cassation from issuing a ruling to register the will.
Meanwhile, the children of Mr Hassoun’s first wife offered to give Ms Barakeh an apartment in Jaramana instead of the one she was meant to receive in Al-Mazzeh, hoping to settle the dispute. Ms Barakeh rejected the offer. Immediately afterwards, in September 2022, Barakeh received a summons from security services in Damascus, without any charges.
Then in October, a mediator from the same security service contacted Ms Barakeh to tell her that one of Mr Hassoun’s daughters from his first marriage requested mediation between the two sides to resolve the dispute. He added that he would solve her case with the security services if Ms Barakeh agreed to meet him.
She agreed to meet with the mediator at the end of October near Jaramana in Rural Damascus. But after the meeting, Ms Barakeh disappeared. A week later, her daughter filed a notice against the mediator and her half-sister to the police, accusing them of kidnapping her mother. It is not yet clear whether the police have launched an investigation.
Several days ago, Ms Barakeh’s family requested notables, religious leaders and armed faction commanders in Druze-majority Suweida to intervene and mediate on her behalf and find out what had happened to her. After this intervention, the security services decided to detain her on charges of “collaborating with the Israeli enemy.” But the mediators rejected this accusation, stressing that the issue was related to an inheritance dispute and warning that they would escalate if security services continued to detain Ms Barakeh illegally.