Major challenges face the local councils in the cities and towns of the northern and eastern Aleppo countryside, or what are known as the Euphrates Shield areas, which have seen heavy destruction of infrastructure and buildings, as well as security and military chaos and a shortage of power due to an inflow of displaced people from surrounding areas.
The challenges these areas face are not limited to the work of the councils, but also extend to the absence of functioning institutions, especially in connection with dealing with Turkey — the party backing and monitoring the work of these councils — amid an absence of any Syrian government role.
Observers point to the lack of clarity in the Turkish vision around the future for this area, despite what it announced at the end of February about the end of military operations for Euphrates Shield.
“Political decision-making is absent” — this is the most prominent point which the head of the local council for the city of Mare, engineer Fouad Abbas, stopped upon when he addressed the reasons for the “partial failure” which still prevailed over the work of the local councils.
Abbas told Sada al-Sham: “Before talking about a revival of the economic and services situation, there needs to be united political decision-making to deal with the other party — that is, the Turks.”
He added: “We fully appreciate the Turkish efforts, however, we need a legal institution able to deliver our voices and our independent decisions.”
Abbas noted the absence of the government institutions which the local councils had appointed to perform their tasks, saying that: “It is difficult for the local councils to administer these areas without a national government agency able to carry some of the burdens, given the huge influx of people which the cities and towns of the area have seen.”
The head of the local council for Mare pointed to the fact that the local councils and the Turkish side had not reached an institutional cooperative formula yet, because of the absence of political authority representing these councils.
Waiting for support
Despite the presence of Syrian interim government offices inside Syria, it is clear that their role is limited, and that the work of their staff is restricted to offering some technical services from communications and civil status departments.
This seems natural given the extent to which the interim government has suffered from the cut-off of financial support, confirmed by Syrian National Coalition President Riad Seif. It was Seif who called on the United States to support the interim government and its staff working in the liberated areas with the aim of providing services to residents and improving their living conditions, during his meeting with the American envoy Michael Ratney on Friday in Geneva.
Also in this context, Abbas, the head of the Mare local council, called on the Turkish side to enhance the role of the interim government and offer support, stressing the need for it to be present before speaking about administrative and economic needs in the area.
The previous interim government, which was headed by Ahmad Tomeh, had prepared a study in 2015 and developed a comprehensive plan for this year.
The former minister who oversaw the study, Mohamad Yasin Najjar, faced major problems, including a lack of access to basic economic resources that do not rely on the regime, especially water and electricity.
He said that he relied on previous studies in developing these plans, adding that the report focused on the need to expand the area to include the Tishreen Dam and the industrial area of Aleppo city to ensure the area was provided with enough power.
Najjar also noted that the study focused on developing plans to rebuild cities in order to avoid people settling in unplanned living areas.
The stable security situation that these areas is witnessing is also unlikely to last, as they suffer from a lack of established borders and there are signs suggesting the probability of military clashes between opposition groups and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), as well as with the regime.
Among these signs is the failure of every previous round of negotiations aimed at preventing any military confrontation between the opposition and the YPG through reaching a formula for the Kurdish forces to withdraw from the city of Tel Rifaat and the towns around it.
The city of Al-Bab is seeing the latter of the scenarios with the presence of regime forces outside the city on the eastern side in the town of Tadef.
Najjar said that it is too early to talk about real stability, with the major power rivalry present in northern Syria. Najjar told Sada al-Sham that the danger of the area being penetrated by the Islamic State (ISIS) was still there, especially given that the organization is skilled at carrying out such incursions.
The security issue
In parallel with this, the security issue has ignited concern among residents of the Euphrates Shield areas and has obstructed the creation of a good climate for investment.
Najjar rejected talk about ways to advance the area’s economic situation before providing a strong united basis to guarantee security. He added: “This area includes major cities, the size of existing Syrian governorates, from Al-Bab to Azaz, and this will not see commercial or economy activity without settling the security issue, which needs to be worked upon as quickly as possible.”
He continued: “Even the entry of experts and skilled employees is linked to this need.”
The area suffers from repeated security penetrations targeting some of the main cities with car bombs and disputes between militant factions.
But despite all this, some cities of the area have recently seen economic and construction activity, breaking the previous stalemate including, for example, the project establishing a market and building apartments in Mare. However, this is still not enough given the lack of stabilization, including in all areas from which ISIS has been expelled.
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.