AMMAN: Gun violence and clashes have killed seven residents of the north Aleppo city of al-Bab and injured dozens more this week as local authorities work to curb the spread of firearms and attacks by competing factions in the opposition-held city.
The al-Bab Local Council announced in a statement published via Facebook Monday that it was opening an investigation into what it called “an attack on the city” by the Free Syrian Army (FSA)-affiliated rebel faction Ahrar a-Sharqiya the day before.
The statement accused Ahrar a-Sharqiya of “using all sorts of weapons, cutting off roads and terrorizing civilians” during an attack on members of the al-Waki family in al-Bab city on Sunday.
Seven civilians were killed and more than 50 others injured in the crossfire of Sunday’s clashes, pro-opposition media outlets reported.
Ahrar a-Sharqiya claimed, in a statement circulated online on Sunday, that the clashes broke out after the al-Waki family refused to hand over members of the household who shot at two members of the Jaish Asoud a-Sharqiya faction, a recent arrival to northern Aleppo from East Qalamoun.
Al-Failaq a-Thalath fighters enter al-Bab Sunday. Photo courtesy of al-Bab Eastern Countryside News.
Factions Ahrar a-Sharqiya and Jaish Asoud a-Sharqiya are linked by the fact that the majority of their respective fighters hail from the same area in eastern Syria.
After the al-Waki family’s refusal, “we had no choice but to send a contingent to take the accused by force,” read the Ahrar a-Sharqiya statement.
The dispute then escalated into clashes around al-Bab in which FSA fighters allegedly used heavy weaponry and mortar shells.
“It was a terrible situation for civilians,” Amer al-Halabi, a 23-year-old resident, told Syria Direct on Monday, adding that he “couldn’t go out into the streets.” Two other residents gave similar accounts.
Syria Direct contacted media representatives from Ahrar a-Sharqiya on Monday for comment but did not receive a response by time of publication.
Al-Failaq a-Thalith, a brigade of Turkish-backed rebel fighters, reportedly entered al-Bab to break up the fighting and separate the warring parties on Sunday. The city was reportedly calm on Monday.
Al-Bab is largely controlled by a patchwork of Ankara-backed FSA rebel factions while an opposition-run local council handles civilian affairs.
Turkish-backed rebels captured al-Bab from the Islamic State in February 2017 following a months-long battle as part of Ankara’s Operation Euphrates Shield, Syria Direct reported at the time.
But in the past year since Turkish-backed forces took control of al-Bab, the city and its surroundings have seen regular clashes between rebel groups and other armed parties, with violence often spilling over into civilian life.
As recently as this past Saturday, members of the Turkish-backed faction Firqat al-Hamzah reportedly stormed and assaulted medical personnel at two hospitals in the city of al-Bab, sparking a temporary work stoppage and civilian protests.
“What happened in al-Bab is a combination of two issues: the spread of firearms and incursions by military factions into civilian matters within the city,” Mohammad Faris, a member of the legislative office for the al-Bab Local Council, told Syria Direct on Monday.
Faris and other council members are working to resolve both issues, he says.
The opposition-run body is “currently coordinating with the civil and military police” as well as Turkish authorities to prevent future incursions by rebel factions into civilian areas, Mohammad al-Najjar, a spokesman for the local council, told Syria Direct on Monday.
On May 1, a local council decree went into effect requiring all civilian residents of al-Bab to register their firearms. The ruling aims to “curb the spread of unlicensed firearms and their misuse within the city,” said Faris.
The decree, which is being implemented in conjunction with the civilian-staffed Free Syrian Police, also requires gun owners to be at least 21 years old and bars any individual convicted of a gun-related crime from owning a firearm.
However, as the new guidelines only apply to civilians, rebel factions themselves remain responsible for authorizing their fighters to carry weapons in the city, said local council member Faris.
Syria Direct contacted the branch of the Free Syrian Police in the city of al-Bab on Sunday and Monday for comment on the clashes as well as the firearm registration initiative. A spokesman for the civilian police force said he could not provide comment at the time.
With additional reporting by Fatima al-Abdullah.