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Leading Raqqa official dies amidst string of assassinations targeting members of northern Syria’s Kurdish-led government

AMMAN: A member of the Raqqa Civil Council died this […]

AMMAN: A member of the Raqqa Civil Council died this week under unclear circumstances, following a string of assaults and assassinations targeting officials in northern Syria’s Kurdish-led government since the beginning of the year.

Ibrahim Mohammad al-Diyar, a lawyer and high-profile member of the Raqqa Civil Council (RCC), died on Tuesday at a hospital in the Kurdish-held city of Qamishli, one of the deceased’s relatives and a RCC spokesman told Syria Direct on Wednesday.

Al-Diyar, an Arab resident of Raqqa, was one of the first members to join the RCC, an administrative body formed by the United States-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in April 2017, read an obituary posted by the RCC on its official Facebook page Wednesday.

The Raqqa native served as the president of the RCC’s Social Justice Committee and oversaw “the collection and preservation of all documents for civilian property ownership,” the statement added.

Roughly 24 hours after al-Diyar’s passing, two distinct narratives have emerged about the cause of his death, with RCC officials attributing it to a bout of illness while a family member and two local activists in Raqqa told Syria Direct they believe he was poisoned.

Undated photo of Ibrahim Mohammad al-Diyar (right) at Raqqa Civil Council meeting. Photo courtesy of Raqqa Civil Council.

“Ibrahim al-Diyar had suffered from a respiratory diseases for a long time,” Osama al-Khalaf, a spokesman for the Raqqa Civilian Council, told Syria Direct on Wednesday. “His health began to deteriorate roughly 15 days ago…he died in a hospital bed after a long period of suffering.”

The RCC’s obituary for al-Diyar also attributed his death to “a battle with illness.”

But one of the late lawyer’s relatives, who now lives in Turkey, told Syria Direct on Thursday that he and Diyar’s family members in Raqqa city—with whom he has been in contact over the past several days—suspect foul play. He asked not be identified by name, fearing for his personal safety.

The relative also told Syria Direct that al-Diyar’s health deteriorated in recent weeks, but alleged his decline was result of “poisoning.”

A spokesperson for the medical facility in Qamishli where al-Diyar was hospitalized was not immediately available for comment.

Several pro-opposition Syrian news outlets have framed al-Diyar’s death as an assassination, with one outlet going so far as to claim that the lawyer was given a “piece of chocolate” laced with poison.

Syria Direct could not independently verify either account of al-Diyar’s death. As of Wednesday, no individual or group had claimed responsibility for the RCC member’s death.

Since the US-backed SDF capture of Raqqa city in October, the RCC has overseen civil and administrative affairs in the former Islamic State (IS) stronghold.

“We are aware of reports of the death of Raqqa Civil Council member Ibrahim al-Diyar, and are collecting information about the circumstances of his death,” a US official told Syria Direct via email on Wednesday.

“We obviously condemn any violence against civilian actors,” he added. “The US government expresses our condolences to the family of Ibrahim al-Diyar.”

The official’s death comes in the wake of a string of assassination attempts this year, both successful and unsuccessful, on members of local governing councils affiliated with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Raqqa province and nearby regions.

Residents and security personnel outside Omar Alloush’s home in Tal Abyad in March. Photo courtesy of Raqqa RWB.

All the attacks—against military commanders, media spokesmen, and local mediators —have occurred in Arab-majority areas of northern Syria where the SDF and affiliated councils have witnessed fierce backlash from residents against their policies and alleged rights violations.

The same day as al-Diyar’s death, unknown assailants shot and killed an Arab SDF commander named Ahmad al-Kobani on a road in the western countryside outside Raqqa city, pro-opposition media outlet Orient News reported.

Earlier this year, two officials affiliated with the SDF and Raqqa Civil Council were shot and killed by unknown assailants: Omar Alloush, a high-level Kurdish official in Tal Abyad, and Ibrahim al-Ahmad a-Salameh, an Arab mediator in Tabqa.

The spokesman for the SDF-affiliated Manbij Military Council as well as the vice president of the Raqqa Reconstruction Committee were also targeted in unsuccessful assassination attempts this year.

Syria Direct contacted SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali for comment on al-Diyar’s death on Wednesday but did not receive a response by time of publication.

No party has claimed responsibility for the series of assaults and killings.

However, as the SDF has consolidated control over a large expanse in northern Syria over the past two years, two main insurgent groups have formed in opposition to the Kurdish-led, multi-ethnic coalition of fighters.

Harakat al-Qiyam, an anti-SDF insurgent group formed in August 2017, has launched a series of attacks on the Kurdish-led coalition’s members over the past six months, including an IED attack which injured a member of the SDF-affiliated Manbij Military Council.

The Popular Resistance in the Eastern Region, a pro-government, Raqqa-based insurgent group formed in February 2018,  has also identified Kurdish fighters aligned with the US “enemy” as targets.

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