Political Security, Revolutionary Youth Union tighten noose on relief campaigns in Homs
Homs – Orwah al-Mundhir
Seven days ago, the Syrians joined efforts in relief operations, volunteering to help and collecting donations for the victims of the magnitude 7.7 earthquake that struck southeastern Turkey and northern Syria, killing over 36,000, with the toll expected to rise.
Among the areas that contributed to these campaigns was the central governorate of Homs, where activists suffered persecution by the regime’s Political Security branch.
According to activists from the governorate who were contacted by Enab Baladi, the owners of civil initiatives in the governorate of Homs started, from the first day of the earthquake, collecting foodstuffs, blankets, and money to distribute them to the affected people.
The individual relief activities in Homs came due to the “inability of the regime’s institutions to respond to the disaster,” activists say.
Volunteer teams began to form in various cities and towns of regime-controlled areas to collect aid and cash after launching appeals and donation campaigns through social media.
The campaigns were popular in Homs governorate, despite the difficult living conditions that the people of the governorate suffer from.
The regime’s intelligence, represented by the Political Security, forced those in charge of the volunteer teams in Homs formed after the earthquake to obtain security approvals from one of the four intelligence branches to allow them to collect aid and transfer it to other regions.
Despite the horror of the humanitarian catastrophe that followed the earthquake, the regime’s intelligence did not loosen its security grip on those wishing to help.
The founder of a group of activists working to collect donations in Homs told Enab Baladi that a large group of teams had been formed in Homs and started posting on social media about their readiness to transport aid and foodstuffs to the people affected by the earthquake.
Mahmoud, in his thirties, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons, stated that after the end of the first phase of collecting aid, an officer from the Political Security branch came asking the campaign coordinators to visit the branch to obtain security approval to transfer the aid to another governorate. In addition to obtaining the approval of the rest of the branches and the branch of the Baath Party in Homs, along with submitting a paper that includes all the contents of the vehicle carrying aid.
Mahmoud added that those in charge of the campaign had to empty the car and open the bags and carton boxes in it in order to count its contents and present them to the security branches and the Baath Party branch.
He pointed out that the vehicle set off after reloading its contents towards Hama governorate, but the group was harassed at the security checkpoints, which delayed them from reaching their destination for some time.
Volunteers interrogated by security
The regime forces arrested the young Ahmed al-Haj Ali, who was responsible for one of the volunteer teams active in fundraising operations, two days after the earthquake, then he was released after an hour spent in the Political Security branch after the intervention of notables from the city of al-Rastan.
Enab Baladi contacted a relative of al-Haj Ali, who said that the arrest of the activist came after he published an announcement on Facebook expressing his willingness to receive donations and transfer them to the affected areas.
Despite obtaining verbal approval from the head of the Baath Party division in the city of al-Rastan, a joint patrol of the Political Security and State Security arrested him so that the city’s notables intervened to release him.
The source pointed out that the patrol confiscated the materials collected by al-Haj Ali and his group and handed them over to the Revolutionary Youth Union affiliated with the regime, which in turn transported them to the sheltering center run by the Union in Hama and took al-Haj Ali with them to supervise their distribution.
Regime forces have previously arrested activists supervising relief collection operations, including regime loyalists in the coastal Latakia governorate, and then released them hours later.
The most recent of these cases was the activist Moeen Ali, who was arrested by the regime forces while distributing aid to those affected by the earthquake in Latakia streets, according to what Ali’s friends posted on Facebook.
Aid workers under scrutiny
The security regime’s wariness of the relief activity extended to the Syrian Red Crescent teams in the affected governorates, as the team’s volunteers in the center of Homs were subjected to repeated harassment while they were heading to the city of Hama to support the other teams there.
A rescue worker of the Red Crescent told Enab Baladi that the security checkpoint stationed at the entrance to the city of Hama requested the “license” for the task carried by the team, and insisted on obtaining a copy of it, and checked the names of all the team’s members, even though their campaign towards Hama governorate was an “emergency.”
The Red Crescent volunteer, who asked not to be named, stated that officials of the Revolutionary Youth Union prevented him and his team from reaching the shelter center in Hama and asked the team to hand over the aid to them so that they could distribute it themselves.
He added that it took a lot of intervention and communication between the Red Crescent and the Revolutionary Youth Union branch in Hama until they allowed the Red Crescent volunteers to enter the center to distribute aid.
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