Accusations of forced displacement as rebel infighting splits East Ghouta in two

AMMAN: Reports of forced displacement in the encircled east Damascus suburbs where rival opposition factions are clashing for the second month are “fabricated,” a rebel spokesman told Syria Direct on Thursday. 

Hundreds of families who have relatives in a rival rebel militia are reportedly being driven out of their homes in territory controlled by Hay’at Tahrir a-Sham (HTS) and Failaq a-Rahman, sources on the ground told Syria Direct on Thursday. Residents are allegedly heading north, to an area of East Ghouta controlled by Jaish al-Islam.

  Makeshift shelter set up by displaced family in East Ghouta. Photo courtesy of Douma Revolution

In the north of the divided rebel enclave, East Ghouta’s strongest military and political faction, Jaish al-Islam, controls the pocket’s de facto capital of Douma city. To the south, also referred to by residents as East Ghouta’s “Central Section,” are Failaq a-Rahman and Hay’at Tahrir a-Sham (HTS), an Islamist coalition that includes Al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat Fatah a-Sham as a leading member.

Inter-rebel clashes broke out in April when Jaish al-Islam attacked HTS headquarters in what the former later called a campaign to eliminate “Jabhat a-Nusra,” the former name of Jabhat Fatah a-Sham, from East Ghouta.

Douma Revolution, a pro-Jaish al-Islam news page, posted a video on Sunday purportedly showing families who had been kicked out of their homes.

“What can I say—my sons are in Jaish al-Islam…now we’re displaced,” one woman named as Umm Tariq is quoted as saying

Syria Direct spoke with a handful of other residents from East Ghouta’s “Central Section” on Thursday who said they were told by members of Failaq a-Rahman to leave because they had relatives fighting for Jaish al-Islam.

  a family reportedly displaced from East Ghouta’s “Central Section.” Photo courtesy of Douma Revolution.

Failaq a-Rahman denies driving anyone out.

“There might be cases of families leaving the Central Section for Douma, or vice-versa because of fighting,” Failaq a-Rahman spokesman Wael Alwan told Syria Direct on Thursday.

“Regarding the forced displacement of almost 400 families, it is nothing more than exaggeration by the media and complete slander.”

A source within Jaish al-Islam, who asked to remain anonymous, said nearly 600 families had been forced out of territory controlled by Hay’at Tahrir a-Sham and Failaq a-Rahman.

“They drove them out of their houses deliberately,” the source said, speaking of HTS and Failaq a-Rahman.

The ongoing rebel row is not the first for East Ghouta. Last spring, rebel factions took up arms against one other for two weeks, culminating in the loss of large swathes of agricultural area to regime forces, Syria Direct reported at the time.

Kristen Demilio

Kristen Gillespie Demilio has more than 10 years of experience reporting from the Middle East while based in Amman. She regularly contributed to news outlets including CBS News Radio, NPR, The Jerusalem Report and PBS and is a graduate of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism as well as the Institut Français des Etudes Arabes in Damascus.

Bahira al-Zarier

Bahira is from Damascus. She studied business and marketing before moving to Jordan in 2013. She did volunteer work in support of many refugee organizations before joining Syria Direct.

Majdoleen a-Zouabi

Majdoline is from Daraa province. She studied journalism in Syria before moving to Jordan in 2013.

Tariq Adely

Tariq Adely graduated from Brown University in 2014 with a bachelor's degree in comparative literature and translation. He continued his studies at the Qasid Institute and the Institute for Critical Thought in Amman, Jordan.