Wednesday 18 October 2017

Syrian informer 'warned' before rebels killed him

Supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad attend a celebration, organised for Russian President Vladimir Putin after he was sworn in as president yesterday, in front of the Russian embassy in Damascus.
Supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad attend a celebration, organised for Russian President Vladimir Putin after he was sworn in as president yesterday, in front of the Russian embassy in Damascus.

Richard Spencer in Dera'a, Syria

Amid the fog of war, two things are certain: rebels shot Abdulhamid al-Taha in Dera'a last week; and no one could say he wasn't warned.

Three months ago, a phone caller told him to stop passing information on opposition activists to the feared Air Force Intelligence. The next day, eight houses belonging to him and his extended family were torched.

Still, he refused to stop working for the regime. He was a devout Baathist, his brother, Afif, said. An activist briefed on the operation to assassinate him did not disagree.

"Many people died because of him, including families and children," the activist said. "It was explained to him that he had to stop giving information to the Intelligence. They burned his house first, but he carried on doing what he did."

Mr Taha was a candidate in President Bashar al-Assad's much derided parliamentary elections, which passed off yesterday with little incident -- or likely effect on the uprising against him.

They are part of reforms decreed by Mr Assad last year, too late to win over the opposition, which boycotted them. While state television showed voters at polling stations, activists and online video suggested empty streets in many cities.

One complaint was that the new parties and their candidates were fronts for the old, single-party regime. Mr Taha, his family admitted, though not campaigning under its banner, was a long-standing member of the Assads' Ba'ath party.

Activists also say that he was a senior official with the air force, though police said he was a businessman.

Unusual

Apart from that, there is nothing unusual about what happened to him.

The intense shelling of towns has lessened, partly because of the arrival of United Nations peace monitors and mainly because it has served its purpose.

But in its place Syria is torn by a classic insurgency, with large areas of territory held only tenuously by frightened troops who themselves use fear to quell a hostile population.

The same day that Mr Taha was killed, a man named Moussa Masalla, a 50-year-old father, died. He had been shot in his home in the old town of Dera'a, where the uprising began, two weeks earlier.

According to a resident, troops were searching for suspects when a random shot came through the window.

Though the old town is closed to reporters, it was possible to visit with UN monitors, who drove through deserted streets where only children ventured out, scanned by nervous soldiers from heavily sandbagged outposts.

A handful of young men were brave enough to pour out their grievances, and describe army onslaughts that have left shop fronts and houses pockmarked with bullet and blast holes.

Dera'a's police chief, Maj-Gen Mohammed Adib Assaad, claimed the rebels were "agents of foreign hands".

Mr Taha's family are a microcosm of a society now being asked to achieve reconciliation. "On the side of the rebels there are no sophisticated people," his brother, Maher, said.

His cousin, Ibrahim al-Fares, though, said that a few months before his house was burned down by rebels he had been arrested by the regime after a raid on a funeral.

"For either side, you have to be for them or against them," he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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