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Inside the newsroom: The Raqqa story that wasn’t

November 28, 2013 By Kristen Demilio and Abdulrahman al-Masri AMMAN: […]

28 November 2013

November 28, 2013

By Kristen Demilio and Abdulrahman al-Masri

AMMAN: The idea for a story on A-Raqqa province emerged following a series of news tidbits in recent days: Unknown parties possibly kidnapping Jabhat a-Nusra fighters, the Syrian air force targeting an elementary school in Mansoura, reportedly killing “many” children, reported violent clashes between Jabhat a-Nusra (JAN) and ISIS in the capital city and the ongoing rebel struggle to capture Division 17, one of the regime’s last military posts in the province.

Reporter Abdulrahman al-Masri began working his contacts in A-Raqqa to follow up. One after the next, activists in the ISIS-controlled province hung up almost immediately, saying there was no electricity.

“We might not have electricity for days,” explained Mohamed Abu Ibrahim, 25, a citizen journalist in the northern Syrian province, adding that power cuts are both frequent and unpredictable.


Following a day of research and reporting, al-Masri’s headed his compiled file as: “NO ELECTRICITY, NO NEWS!!”

Part of the problem, al-Masri found, is that while JAN and al-Qaeda affiliate ISIS control the province, Ahrar al-Sham fighters control the power grid, even charging the public for it.

Ahrar a-Sham is also a hardline Salafist umbrella alliance with an estimated 100 groups under it. Founded by former prisoners who were released in an amnesty in 2011, it is widely considered among the more important rebel groups across Syria.

Regarding the stalemate around Division 17, which has been going on for the past eight months, Ahrar fighters told online daily Zaman al-Wasl on Thursday that the struggle for Division 17 continues, with rebels controlling an estimated 60 percent of the sprawling regime base. The rebels said they cannot vanquish the base without additional weapons.

Before cutting the line, activist Abu Ibrahim said JAN fighters were not being kidnapped in the province, contradicting a report in Zaman al-Wasl that JAN has issued a flier warning its fighters not to move around the region unaccompanied. The paper added that Ahrar a-Sham had distributed a similar flier, a report that could not be verified.

Meanwhile, in front of the Governor’s Palace in the provincial capital claimed by JAN, ISIS and JAN reportedly opened fire on each other earlier this week, as reporter al-Masri notes, “with no one to tell us why?!”

Despite a fight with their frenemies, ISIS found the time to bomb a home in the village of al-Khameseh. The owner, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “dealt with the regime and recruited agents for the regime.”

The final thread in what can only be described as a series of news ranging from bad to worse over the past week in Syria’s only rebel-controlled province is the shelling of the Imam Ghzali School in the small city of al-Mansoura. Regime forces shelled the school, the reason for which remains unclear, as state media has not commented. The Local Coordination Committees report that “many” children were killed.

While we are unable to bring you the full story from A-Raqqa at this time, our reporting clearly indicates violence on the ground, from the air, in the schools and on citizens’ homes.

The Salafists seized power from the FSA in A-Raqqa earlier this year, planting the black flag of their movement on the province’s municipal building. The facts are that they have been unable to stop killing each other, arbitrarily arresting and holding citizens without charge or trial and unable to provide security and basic services, with no end in sight.

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