Syria Direct: News update 9-1-15

Local Islamic State fighters block expulsion order in Deir e-Zor

Conflict between local and foreign IS fighters in Deir e-Zor province resulted in the group backtracking on a decision to order residents of the western countryside suspected of smuggling to leave their homes, a Deir e-Zor citizen journalist told Syria Direct Tuesday.

The Islamic State governor of Deir e-Zor province issued a decree Sunday ordering residents of the western countryside to leave their houses within 48 hours after accusing them of smuggling goods into besieged regime-controlled areas in the eponymous capital, said Muhammed Hasan.

Following “tense confrontations” between local IS members who opposed the decision against the foreigners who supported it, “IS revised the decree to only include four villages,” Hasan said. The LCC's confirmed the issuance of a revised decision, as did pro-opposition agency Sound and Picture.

Hasan said he suspects that IS's real reason behind the evacuation order is to plan an attack on remaining regime-controlled pockets in northwest Deir e-Zor city, noting that IS is summoning large reinforcements to those areas included under the evacuation order.   

Reconciliation begins with dissidents, peaceful protestors turning themselves in

Twenty young men from the regime-encircled town of Qudsiya turned themselves in to regime forces on Monday in accordance with a reconciliation agreement to lift the “stifling blockade” of 500,000 people there and in neighboring al-Hameh since late July, a member of the al-Hameh Coordination Council told Syria Direct on Monday.

Those who turned themselves in were “the first group of those wanted by the regime for compulsory military service, defecting from the military and holding peaceful protests,” said Abu Ali, an administrative member of the al-Hameh Local Coordination Council.

The Qudsiya residents “pledged not to challenge regime forces,” he said, adding that the regime would not lift the blockade by opening roads to Damascus, roughly 10km away, preventing the entry of food and fuel to the towns until two other groups of wanted individuals from the cities hand themselves over.

Other terms of the agreement include installing a pro-regime Popular Committees checkpoint at the entrance of a main street and closing all streets connecting the two cities to one another, Abu Ali said.

Negotiations with the regime to end the blockade began 40 days ago, when the regime claimed FSA fighters kidnapped a soldier from a checkpoint, triggering a ban on the movement of people and goods to and from the towns, save for government employees and students.

Many of those in al-Hameh and Qudsiya are already displaced from East and West Ghouta and southern Damascus, the London-based pan-Arab news agency Arabi 21 reportedon Monday.

The rebel-controlled towns regime just Damascus are a weak point for the regime due to their slight elevation overlooking areas including the majority-Alawite al-Wurour district and Syrian army officers’ housing, the pro-opposition Hizb al-Jumhuriyah news site reported Monday.

Higher electric bills for the poorest following energy ‘reform’

The Syrian Ministry of Electricity announced the “reform of the residential electricity pricing” system on Monday in which the previous eight-tiered billing system would fold households using the least amount of electricity into one more expensive tier, doubling the power bills for the poorest Syrians.

The new reform eliminates the bottom two tiers, lumping together all households that use between one and 400 kilowatts per hour on average into the same price bracket with  a cost of 50 cents per kilowatt consumed.

The eight tiers will be reduced to a six-tiered system, thereby doubling the price of electricity for households that use the least amount, reported the official Syrian Baath Party daily A-Thawra.

The multi-tiered system divides residential electricity users into price brackets based on the amount of kilowatts per hour the household consumes on average over a two-month billing period.

The government denied it was raising prices in a post Monday on the Syrian Ministry of Electricity’s official Facebook page: “This measure is not classified as a price hike, but rather is merely a reform of the tier system for household consumption of electricity.”

Facebook users voiced their anger over the measure by commenting on the Syrian Ministry of Electricity’s post.

“There isn’t any point in raising prices given there hasn’t been any electricity in the first place…where do you get the nerve to talk about prices?” asked one commenter.

Another wrote: “Ok, no problem. In the one hour out of the every 30 hours [that I have electricity], I am going to use all the appliances is my house, whether I need to or not, to see what my consumption will be… what a joke.” 

 In the courtyard between the Umayyed Mosque and Souq Hamidiyeh on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Damascus Now.