AMMAN: In the wake of government advances against opposition fighters in Syria’s southwest Daraa province, household furnishings reportedly looted from captured towns are being sold in the streets of neighboring Suwayda province, residents tell Syria Direct.
“Stolen goods began to come in with the start of the battles in Daraa, and especially after areas fell to the Syrian army,” Malak Abu Khayr, a journalist from government-held Suwayda’s eponymous capital city, told Syria Direct on Wednesday.
The appearance of stolen items—everything from refrigerators and television screens to couches, pots and pans—at shops and markets across Suwayda, east of Daraa, sparked local backlash this week. Religious leaders in the majority-Druze province demanded that government officials take action against looters, and media activists campaigned for a boycott of the items.
Pro-government forces battling opposition factions in Daraa captured the majority of the province’s eastern countryside this past week, the most significant advances since the multi-fronted offensive in Syria’s southwest launched on June 15.
A truck loaded with reportedly looted items in Suwayda on Sunday. Photo courtesy of Suwayda 24.
During the fighting, Daraa residents have fled the frontlines in droves, leaving their homes and gathering near the region’s borders with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. More than 270,000 residents have been displaced since the hostilities began, the United Nations reported on Monday.
Following the government advances and civilian displacement, trucks loaded with furniture, kitchenware and appliances began to cross into Suwayda, a handful of residents told Syria Direct this week.
Suwayda city native and activist Jozef a-Souri, using a pseudonym for fear of reprisals, accused “some weak souls, groups within the army” of responsibility for the looting. Syria Direct could not independently confirm his claim, which was echoed by a handful of other residents on Wednesday.
The Syrian Organization for Human Rights (SOHR) conflict monitor also reported looting by pro-government forces in Daraa on Monday.
Syrian state media did not appear to report on any looting taking place in Daraa in recent days.
Earlier this year, however, Russian and Syrian military police arrested more than 20 pro-government fighters for looting homes and commercial buildings in recently recaptured southern Damascus, pro-government media reported.
In the central Suwayda city of Shahba, traders set up makeshift markets this week where a variety of used household items are being sold at discount prices, Mazen Murshad, a local agricultural worker, told Syria Direct on Tuesday.
“There was [initially] some demand for the markets,” he said, but interest declined after local authorities in Suwayda province—held by the government but largely ruled by local spiritual leaders and tribal law—publicly condemned the buying or selling of looted goods.
Residents of Suwayda city burned a vehicle reportedly carrying looted goods from Daraa on Monday. Photo courtesy of Suwayda Heart of the Event
“We and the people of Daraa are family and neighbors,” a spokesperson for the Men of Dignity—a collection of Druze religious leaders who maintain the largest armed group in the province and call for reform without actively opposing the Assad government—told Syria Direct via Facebook on Wednesday. “We will not accept Suwayda becoming a market for their things.”
The Men of Dignity released a statement on Sunday officially condemning the sale of looted goods, forbidding their purchase or sale and demanding that local political and security leaders “contain the problem.”
The government-aligned Sheikhs of Reason—another religious body with political and social sway in the province—published a similar statement to its Facebook page on Monday.
“The Sheikhs of Reason call on the official bodies not to allow to passage of these goods or the establishment of centers or markets for [their] sale in the region,” the statement read.
Meanwhile, Suwayda media activists took to social media to campaign for a boycott of any stolen items, using hashtags including #NoToLooting and #IWontBuyItIfTheOwnerIsCrying.
In Suwayda city, residents reportedly burned a vehicle carrying looted items on Monday evening, and on Sunday people in the southern Suwayda town of Urman forcibly closed a store selling goods taken from Daraa.
Despite local efforts to halt the sale of stolen goods, Shahba resident Murshad noted that the low prices of such items are appealing, especially to residents struggling financially.
“People are still going” to the markets, he said.