Government forces in Douma city arrest dozens of young men wanted for military service, residents say

AMMAN: Government forces in Douma city detained a number of young men wanted for mandatory military service this week, residents say, in what appears to be a violation of a surrender agreement that brought state authority back to the former rebel stronghold east of Damascus.

A surrender agreement reached between rebel faction Jaish al-Islam and Assad ally Russia last month provided for a series of evacuations and a transitional period of six months in which residents choosing to remain in Douma would not be prosecuted or forced into military service.

Nonetheless, a handful of Douma residents—all requesting to be identified by pseudonyms—told Syria Direct on Thursday that Syrian government forces at military checkpoints across the city began to detain young men wanted for military service on Tuesday.

Three buses carrying “dozens” of young men later departed Douma for an unknown destination, pro-opposition media reported. Two residents estimated that 150 men were taken on Tuesday. Syria Direct could not independently verify the claims.

Syrian government forces in Douma on April 15. Photo courtesy of SANA.

Syrian state media did not report any arrests in Douma this week.

A government-affiliated reconciliation committee in Douma informed residents on Wednesday that the young men arrested the previous day were only those wanted for mandatory military service—required of all Syrian males between the ages of 18 and 42—and that they would be given the choice of serving immediately or after a six-month delay, Yaseen a-Doumani, a 29-year-old Douma resident, told Syria Direct.

But a-Doumani, who completed his military service in 2010, still worries he may be taken for reserve duty. “Since Tuesday, I’ve been afraid to walk through any regime checkpoint,” he said.

Tuesday’s arrests came as “a huge surprise,” added a-Doumani, noting that they were the first seen in the city since April’s rebel surrender brought relative calm to a city that witnessed nearly five years of bombardment and a crippling government siege.

And despite reassurances from the local reconciliation committee, it remains unclear how long those detained on Tuesday will be held.

“As we understand it, the [men] will be brought back within a few days,” Muhammad Hassan, 42, told Syria Direct from Douma. “But I haven’t seen anyone return yet.”

Ammar Hamou

Ammar Hammou is from Douma city in outer Damascus. He studied journalism at Damascus University and left Syria in 2011. Follow Ammar on Twitter: @Ammar_Hamou.

Avery Edelman

Avery Edelman graduated from Tufts University in 2014 with a bachelor's degree in Arabic and International Relations. Follow Avery on Twitter: @averyedelman.