The transition to opposition control is a period with the potential for chaos.
Theft of public property is a concern that immediately comes to mind. However, for many countryside towns in the Aleppo province, the more pressing danger is the lack of administrative structure.
This administrative vacuum of a newly “liberated” territory means no basic services for residents and no established channels for humanitarian relief.
In this pivotal stretch of time, the Committee for the Return to Stability (CRS) has found its calling.
In the northern and eastern Aleppo countryside, the CRS, formed in 2015, aims to reach out to local councils before the opposition arrives so it can implement stabilization projects as soon as Syrian regime or Islamic State (IS) forces are ousted.
As opposition control expands in northern and eastern Aleppo province, the Committee is emphasizing its goal of stability by cultivating new local councils in these regions and preempting the tumultuous transition to opposition control.
The Committee’s new approach
“The Committee’s work is limited to four key items: putting together studies to assess need, keeping statistics of residents and displaced persons, setting up infrastructure in the region, and securing roads,” Munther a-Silal, chairmen of the Committee, told the Syrian Voice.
To date, the Committee has completed 550 reports for villages in the Aleppo countryside on administrative and humanitarian need. These reports were all generated prior to the liberation of these territories, according to chairman a-Silal.
If there is no local council, the CRS forms a regional body which will eventually take control of the administrative responsibilities when opposition forces take over the region.
In July, the CRS held a conference in Gaziantep, Turkey (125km from Aleppo) which established ten new councils and restructured the existing councils in the northern and eastern Aleppo countryside.
“The Committee works toward a return to stability by securing the needs of a village for no more than three months after it is ‘liberated,’ and then, they move to another area,” the chairman, a-Silal, told a Syrian Voice correspondent.
During this three-month period, the CRS launches projects in conjunction with the local councils they have formed to manage the town’s affairs.
“The Committee came at a time when we desperately needed its assistance,” Ahmed Khoja, a council member in Hawar Kilis, located in the northern Aleppo countryside, told the Syrian Voice.
He explained that these projects are centered on proving basic services to civilians.
“The committee has provided a range of services, including a daily tank [of water] after the main water line was cut off, a generator to supply free electricity to civilians, an ambulance to transport injured residents to the Turkish border, and mobile schools,” Khoja explained.
Once these services are available, awareness campaigns are launched to encourage residents to return to their homes, according to what Khoja told the Syrian Voice.
There are several obstacles to the CRS’s work, according to Mustafa Hamdo, secretary general of the Committee.
These difficulties include delayed implementation of projects when the Committee is unable to connect with the existing local councils before they fall under opposition control.
There is also the issue of unexploded mines and other explosives that must be dismantled before any projects can begin.
‘It’s not a 9 to 5 job’
After securing basic services for residents, the Committee for the Return to Stability (CRS) bolsters the administrative structure of the area and secures the flow of humanitarian aid.
In countryside cities such as Souran and Azaz, the CRS promotes cooperation between local councils and acts as a link with donors who provide relief.
“The most important activity is the meeting of the councils in the city of Azaz,” Sami al-Ali, a field advisor to the CRS, told the Syrian Voice.
The meeting is attended by the largest local councils in the region: Manbij, a-Rai, Marea, al-Bab, Tell Rifaat, Der Jamal, a-Safira, and Hawar Kilis.
“The meeting takes place twice a month to reach out to relief and support organizations as one bloc,” explains al-Ali.
In the process of overseeing these projects, the CRS establishes these local councils as the representatives of these regions that were previously under the control the Syrian regime or IS.
“There is a lot of pressure on the members of the committee. It’s not a 9 to 5 job,” al-Ali told the Syrian Voice. “The work they’re tasked with is huge: preparing projects, assisting the local councils, and exchanging experiences.”
As for the long-term effectiveness of the Committee for the Return to Stability, only time will tell. With an increasing pressure on its members, a clear picture of their work organizing and administrating “liberated” regions is just beginning to appear.
Translated by Tariq Adely