3 min read  | Damascus, Interviews, Politics

‘Happiness’ in Beit Sahem after residents force Nusra retreat

January 27, 2015

January 27, 2015

The southern Damascus town of Beit Sahem agreed to a truce with the regime a year ago after facing months of a total blockade and looming starvation.

More than 200 civilians died from malnutrition and a lack of adequate medical supplies before the truce finally allowed in humanitarian supplies.

Beit Sahem, along with the adjacent towns Babila and Yelda, form a strategic line next to the road from Damascus proper to the Damascus International Airport.

Despite the truce, Nusra fighters stayed in the town, giving the regime reason to continue bombing the area, and increasing tensions between them and local residents.

On December 30 of last year, Beit Sahem civilians began a series of daily demonstrations against Nusra, demanding that they withdraw, according the Local Coordination Committee of Beit Sahem.

No longer welcomed by the locals and pressured by the protests against them, Nusra fighters finally left Beit Sahem two weeks ago, reported pro-opposition news agency Syria Mubasher. 

Immediately after Nusra’s departure, the regime announced that it would allow the Red Cross to distribute humanitarian supplies once again to the town.

Still, the residents of Beit Sahem are still against the regime, but not pro-Nusra either, says Mohammed Sweidan, a member of the opposition Local Coordination Committee of Beit Sahem.

Now, Sweidan tells Syria Direct’s Firas Abd, “people are not worried about Jabhat a-Nusra and their poor behavior, and they are no longer anxious about unpredictable arrests.”

Q: How is the town after Jabhat a-Nusra’s retreat?

There is a sense of happiness. People are not worried about Jabhat a-Nusra and their poor behavior, and they are no longer anxious about unpredictable arrests.

Beit Sehm protest Beit Sahem residents protest against Nusra in December. Photo courtesy of mhd syr.

Q: Why did civilians protest against Nusra?

People started to oppose Nusra when they began raiding the town with hundreds of fighters and arresting young men on the accusation of apostasy. There was also a Nusra-affiliated group that was known for kidnapping and stealing.

Q: Did Nusra have a base of support in the area before? Do the people who protested against them represent a majority in the area?

Yes, Nusra [initially] had a base of support in the area because many of the Nusra fighters were from Beit Sahem, but residents lost their patience with them after repeated violations.

Those who did protest against Nusra represent the majority in the town.

Q: It is rumored that the crowds in the protest were cheering for Bashar al-Assad. Do people in Beit Sehm support Assad?

First, you must know that the town is entirely pro-opposition, but at one rally a child began cheering for Bashar Assad. Afterwards the women in the rally began to [sarcastically] repeat the child’s cheers [for Assad], reflecting their frustration and anger with all of the opposition groups [including Jabhat a-Nusra].

Q: Did any battalion or armed group try to intervene and resolve the issues between Nusra and the residents of Beit Sahem?

No. No battalion directly intervened to solve the problem. The Sharia Council stepped during the beginning of the problems and demanded Nusra deliver members who were wanted [accused of crimes], but Nusra did not respond to that request.

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