In the originally Druze area of Jabal al-Summaq in north Idlib countryside, one of the more controversial issues is the settlement of 'muhajireen' (i.e. foreigners who came to Syria on the insurgent side) in homes that have been confiscated from original inhabitants who have left the area. Besides the issue of fairness with regards to the settlement of these foreigners in these homes, there is also the problem of how some or many these foreigners interact with both the remaining original inhabitants and Syrian IDPs who have come to the area.
I broached the subject of the muhajireen in an interview with a local notable who had been among those who met Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham leader Abu Muhammad al-Jowlani in June, but unfortunately the subsequent controversy that arose- which apparently involved an extended meeting between the muhajireen in Jabal al-Summaq and Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham's security apparatus- meant this portion of the interview had to be redacted.
Even so, local concerns about conduct of some muhajireen have not ended. Recently, there have been additional complaints about the behaviour of Uyghurs who have long been settled in the village of Qalb Lawze (sight of a massacre in 2015). For example, one incident I came to know about recently is that certain Uyghurs seriously assaulted a local boy in Qalb Lawze apparently following a dispute that arose. The assault meant that the boy had to be hospitalised.
In this post, Abd al-Majeed Sharif, who previously served as head of the local council of the Jabal al-Summaq village of Kaftin (i.e. before Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham made the local council become affiliated with its administrative wing, currently embodied in the Salvation Government), voices his concerns about the recent conduct of certain Uyghurs in Qalb Lawze in a message he directs to Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham and its leader Jowlani.
It should be stressed here that, contrary to what some in Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham's security apparatus who are aware of my writings, interviews and translations might imagine, the goal here is not to stir up 'fitna' and highlight negative news simply to bash Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham and insist the group remain an international pariah. Nor is there a call here for the group to get international approval by somehow handing over foreigners in Idlib and its environs en masse to their home countries. Rather, it is reasonable to ask whether foreigners should be settled in confiscated homes, and debate whether it may be better to create special living accommodation for them elsewhere, and if such measures cannot be taken, then it is reasonable to ask whether the Hay'a should be doing more to address transgressions by muhajireen against the remaining original inhabitants of Jabal al-Summaq. Concerns about 'fitna' and painting malign pictures of me and other people on the basis of alleged sect affiliation should not be used to silence legitimate calls for policy reform and change: rather, a willingness to deal with controversies is a hallmark of greater political maturity and approval. I thus urge the Hay'a to listen more carefully to the issues raised by Abd al-Majeed Sharif and others.
Below is Abd al-Majeed Sharif's message translated by me. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.
Urgent call to Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham and Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Jowlani personally:
I ask all my friends and all those concerned for the interest of the homeland to share this so that it should be spread as far and wide as possible.
The daily acts of harassment by the Turkistanis [Uyghur]s against the people of Qalb Lawze are increasing and to a lesser degree in the other villages, and despite the fact that the people of the village have not responded to any harassment, the acts of harassment are continuing. The most recent of them was today when a group entered the mosque before the Friday sermon should begin and one of them began screaming: you are disbelieving Druze. He tried to load the rifle but his companions stopped him and most of the people of the village left the mosque.
Before this they entered into the presence of more than one person in their homes and struck said persons and no one could deter them, and we fear that they will commit a massacre in the village like the one that happened before [in 2015], before the Hay'a could intervene. If a massacre happens, we hold the Hay'a completely responsible for that, since it is responsible for security of the area and we believe that it can place an armed force in the village to deter attacks directly. As for waiting for the complaints to come to them, then summoning the perpetrator such that the latter goes to them or does not go, this does not prevent what should be stopped. If the Hay'a cannot deter them, we are prepared to receive the people of Qalb Lawze in our homes for lives and honour are more precious than wealth, but I believe that there is no interest for anyone in forcing the departure of the people of Qalb Lawze and the interest is in deterring the transgressors.