The city of Idleb, the olive capital, stronghold of rejection of the Assad regime and one of the first cities outside its control, is now a shelter for other exhausted rebels, rearranging their lives after the bombardment upon them has stopped, as they organize the devastated water supply, squares, hospitals and electricity infrastructure.
The city left regime control in March 2015 and has since been administered by Jaish al-Fatah (Army of Conquest) groups, which have been broadly criticized for allowing the militants to penetrate the services administration and its inability to contain the administrative chaos.
In January of this year, elections were held for the city council giving a ray of hope that there might be an administration capable of managing the city better. But the Jaish al-Fatah, which approved the city authority, is still yet to hand over full control to it.
The security force
A security force was formed after the liberation of Idleb in April of 2015 from among the groups which participated in the Jaish al-Fatah operations room with the aim of ensuring security and deploying checkpoints under the supervision of the group's shoura council.
Last March, the security force in Idleb city also formed the special forces as one of its branches, who have the basic mission of protecting civilians in Idleb city and its environs, maintaining the roads, and settling disputes which may occur between civilians, according to a statement.
The security force defined its mission as protecting events and gatherings and setting up moving checkpoints in and around the city 24 hours a day, in addition to inspecting and searching people, property and violations, as well as carrying out special arrest operations and pursuing groups which aim to upset the city’s security.
Regarding the security force’s working mechanism, member Abou al-Harith Shantout told Zeitoun: “We are working to protect public and private property through the deployment of eight checkpoints distributed in and around the city. These checkpoints are overseen by the office to arrange shifts and related issues. The rebel groups are forbidden from tampering with these checkpoints or deploying new ones without the permission of Jaish al-Fatah.”
In traffic-related matters, controlling chaos and preventing overcrowding in Idleb city, Abou Mohamad al-Jayid, an official in the security force's traffic and market guard authority, said: “Traffic members are working in two rotations from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. overseeing the regulation of traffic, monitoring violations and implementing measures to guarantee security, especially when there is gunfire in the market. This is in coordination with the security force's patrols in the city.”
Jayid added: “There is a market guard at all times, and they are able to cut off the roads leading to it and to surround it with the assistance of the security forces in the event that there is any threat to life or property.”
Proceedings, investigations and trial
The city’s judicial council receives all complaints and suits submitted by citizens regarding various types of criminal offenses and personal status issues. Lawsuits are submitted through the security force's office which then transfers them to the complaints department, where they are addressed through conciliation if possible. If there is no response from one of the parties, it is transferred for investigation and then the judiciary to be sorted according to the relevant court.
The investigation mechanism is determined by the evidence. Beatings and severe forms of interrogation are not permitted, except by judicial order. Permission will only be granted in the case that the crime is proven and the person denies it, according to Shantout, who told Zeitoun: “There are levels of investigation. If the crime is proven and the defendant denies it, the judge can order that he be beaten to extract information. The beatings are at various levels of severity, depending on the crime and the denial.”
The executive force implements the rulings issued by the judges, courts and judicial council, which is considered the high authority in the Jaish al-Fatah judiciary.
Difficulties and problems
The city continues to witness periods of security breakdown and escalations in operations targeting several groups. The commander of the security force believes that several groups are behind the destabilization with a single aim, which has been identified in Islamic State (ISIS) and regime agent cells. Security forces have been able to contain the chaos despite the shortfall in personnel, who lack preparedness and security experience.
Shantout says the reasons for the chaos is the proliferation of rebel groups and the distribution of weapons among civilians. He added that the forced displacement of Syrians from various areas to the city has highlighted divides and differences in loyalties, as well as the presence of sleeper cells and sympathizers of various hostile groups, as he put it.
Shantout said that the security committee had been able to arrest five ISIS sleeper cells, each containing five members, while arresting 25 others charged with spying for the regime, including some who were executed after being proven guilty. Others were detained pending investigation.
“The state of war imposes many problems, including the fact that drivers are not restricted by a traffic system and shop and stall owners can move into the streets, which leads to more traffic,” Jayid told Zeitoun.
The traffic official called for cars not to park in public places and for shop and stall owners to stay in the limits allotted for them, while believing there was a need to speed up work on putting up traffic signs for all cars and motorcycles in liberated areas in order to control violations and, in the event of any theft, make it easier for the relevant authorities to arrest the perpetrator and return property to its owners.
Within the conditions and capacities available, retired warrant officer Suleiman Abou Mohamad said that the security force's situation was “acceptable” for these conditions, and that it needed moral and material support and independence in its work. He added that it was important to facilitate night patrols in the city and to control theft which becomes active late in the night, in addition to increasing traffic patrols at appropriate times to decrease the severity of traffic and to organize the work of the markets.
The Idleb city council at the time of its formation promised that a liberated police authority would take over the city’s security administration, but this has not yet been implemented, like the rest of the service institutions in the city. Some see it as the best solution to the security problem in the city which has been in chaos.
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.