By Abdelrahman al-Hourani and Justin Clark
DARAA: Idle opposition fighters in Syria’s south are spending less time on the frontlines with the Syrian regime and more time engaged in local inter-rebel turf wars, while others are turning their guns on the local populace, looting abandoned homes and robbing civilians in broad daylight, locals tell the Syrian Voice.
The southern province of Daraa is in a “state of chaos,” says resident Muhammad al-Ahmed.
“Young men will often pull out their guns when they get into a fistfight,” he says. “These personal disputes then turn into factional turf wars when each guy calls up his group.”
While the rebels face off, local bandits—some of whom are themselves former or current rebel fighters—are exploiting the “chaos” to rob civilians and loot abandoned property, sometimes literally ripping out the floors of empty homes.
The thieves “steal electrical cables and water tanks and pull out marble and tile floors,” Mahmoud al-Hourani, another Daraa resident, tells the Syrian Voice. “They’ll take anything that can be sold for scrap,” he says.
Southern rebels, most of whom are affiliated with the either the US- and Jordan-backed Free Syrian Army’s Southern Front or Islamist groups like Ahrar a-Sham and Jabhat Fatah a-Sham, have not launched a major offensive against the Syrian regime in more than nine months.
“In times of revolution, war, and the absence of power and authority, lawlessness prevails,” Sheikh Osmet al-Absi, Chief Justice of the Daraa Court of Justice, tells the Syrian Voice. “But recently, the chaos has worsened due to the pause on the frontlines. Now the armed men are preoccupied with one another,” says the Chief Justice.
Local Islamic State-offshoot, Jaysh Khalid Ibn al-Walid, has also sought to exploit the lack of law and order, conducting a number of assassinations and suicide attacks. Last month, chief justice al-Absi was injured in one such suicide bombing on a police headquarters in the north Daraa town of Inkhil.
While some factions have misused military power and contributed to the present lawlessness in Daraa, al-Absi says that “others are trying to restore law and order, breaking up fights and bringing wanted men and thieves to court.”
But Daraa resident al-Ahmed says the opposition groups cannot intervene effectively, as most are “confined to their local villages.”
“Local commanders have turned their militias into a personal guard, to protect themselves, their belongings, and their headquarters,” says al-Ahmed.
“Sometimes the checkpoint guards harass civilians for entertainment.”