Afrin: Opposition Factions Fight Over Properties of Displaced Residents

Fighting broke out on 10 December between opposition factions in the Jandares district of Afrin in northern Aleppo governorate due to a dispute over a house located in the town.

Fighters from the NourEddine Al-Zanki group, which is part of the National Liberation Front (NLF), detained a displaced person from East Ghouta who refused to evacuate a house that he had occupied in Jandares. In response, fighters from the Cham Liberation Army, which includes men from East Ghouta, attacked a NourEddine Al-Zanki military base. NourEddine Al-Zanki includes fighters who were forcibly displaced from the rural western part of the Aleppo province in early 2019 by the hard-line Islamist Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham group.

The dispute quickly developed into armed clashes between the two sides, leading to the deaths of four fighters. The fighting did not stop until forces from the National Army intervened, forcing the two sides to cease fire. The National Army operates in northern Aleppo, while the National Liberation Front operates in Idlib. Both are funded by Turkey and represent an umbrella of various factions.

Infighting between rebel factions is common in Afrin, mostly due to disputes over the homes and properties of Kurdish residents from the area who have been displaced. Those homes are now occupied by people displaced to Afrin from other parts of Syria. The factions’ harassment of the current occupants, and attempts to seize the homes, do not specifically target displaced people from East Ghouta, but rather represent a policy that extends to all current residents of Afrin—whether they are from East Ghouta or elsewhere.

All the factions have economic offices to manage the properties of residents displaced from Afrin, especially those belonging to people affiliated with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), or those who cooperated with them. These economic offices have taken stock of and invested in the properties of displaced Kurdish residents, compelling the current occupants of these properties—who are themselves displaced from other areas of Syria—to pay monthly rents. Usually, the factions impose monthly rents of 100-200 Turkish liras, or the equivalent amount in SYP. Occupants who refuse to pay and do not vacate the property are faced with arrest.

The Turkish-backed rebel factions took control of Afrin in 2018 as part of the Operation Olive Branch military campaign. The area was divided into different zones of influence. The faction in charge of each zone oversees that area’s security and civilian affairs and is involved in providing public sectors and intervening in the work of local aid organisations and municipal councils. Each faction in charge of a zone has its own administrative, economic and security offices.

Administratively defined by the Syrian government,Afrin is one of the largest areas in the rural parts of the Aleppo governorate. It includes Afrin city and around 340 towns, villages, and farms, which are divided along administrative areas into six districts. Most people displaced to Afrin from East Ghouta live in the sections under the control of Failaq Al-Rahman and Jaish Al-Islam, while fighters from NourEddine Al-Zanki are concentrated in the Jandares district.

The Sultan Suleiman Brigades group, which is part of the National Army, dominates the centre of the Sheikh Al-Hadid district. The group is led by Muhammad Al-Jassem, nicknamed Abu Amsha, who has been accused of carrying out various rights violations against local residents. Displaced people from rural northern and eastern Hama province also live in this area. Meanwhile, Afrin city, where a mixture of displaced people live, is divided between the Jabhat Al-Shamia, Firqat Al-Hamza and Sultan Murad groups.

The result of clashes over a house in Afrin