Relatives appeal to Syrian rebels over kidnapped activists

Relatives appeal to Syrian rebels over kidnapped activists
2 years after four Syrian activists were kidnapped, relatives appealed to rebels suspected of the abduction for information about their loved ones fate.
3 min read
09 December, 2015
After her abduction, Razan Zaitouni (top) was given the Francoise Giroud Award in 2014 [Getty]
It has been two years to the day since masked gunmen abducted leading Syrian human rights lawyer Razan Zaytouni and her husband Wael Hammadi, along with two other prominent activists, Samira al-Khalil and Nazem Hammadi, in Douma, a rebel-held Damascus suburb.

Although the secular quartet had a long history of anti-Assad activism and were regular inmates in Assad's prisons, it is widely believed they were abducted by Syrian rebels.

They had fled to the Eastern Ghouta after it was liberated from Syrian regime control. There, they documented the regime's daily violations and were involved in organising protests against the Syrian government.

However, they were also leading critics of extremist Islamist groups, including Islamic State (IS).

Many Syrians, including Yassin Hajj Saleh, prominent Syrian dissident and husband of Samira al-Khalil, have long accused Saudi-backed Jaysh al-Islam of being involved in their disappearance.

Jaysh al-Islam denies the charges, but it was -- and remains -- in control of Douma at the time of the abduction.

Individuals close to the rebel group, commanded by Zahran Alloush, reportedly issued death threats against Zaytouni in the months leading up to her disappearance, as Hajj Saleh explained in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on Wednesday.

Hajj Saleh was giving an update of the latest on the case of his missing wife and her companions.

There has been no news of their fate or whereabouts since 2013.

Mediators who have some sway over rebel groups in the area have failed to obtain any information or make progress in the case, and Jaysh al-Islam has been largely uncooperative.

Jaysh al-Islam is taking part in the Riyadh Syrian opposition conference, and could play a prominent role in post-war Syria given its military weight.

The rebel group has tried to deflect blame for the activists' disappearance, in the direction of al-Qaeda-affiliate the Nusra Front. But friends and supporters are unconvinced.

Friends and relatives have recently launched an "arbitration" initiative, urging Jaysh al-Islam to cooperate and agree to an investigation to determine their fate as well as the party responsible for their kidnapping.

They also urged Syrian opposition groups meeting with Jaysh al-Islam in Riyadh to pressure it to accept their initiative.

Ziad Majed, a Lebanese activist closely acquainted with the disappeared, wrote that the kidnapping was part of wider efforts by extemist rebel groups to strike secular and democratic components of the Syrian revolution inside Syria.

Majed said many secular activists fled the country, as the Syrian revolution came to be largely dominated by religious factions since then.

Scores of anti-government activists have disappeared in the past five years, many in areas dominated by extremist groups.

This is not to mention the thousands missing or killed in areas controlled by the Syrian regime.

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