Syrian regime raids on 'small-time drug dealers' a 'cynical move' to appease Arab League

Syrian regime raids on 'small-time drug dealers' a 'cynical move' to appease Arab League
The Syrian regime has carried out a spate of arrests targeting drugs traders in southern Syria but critics say it will not target it's own security services who are entrenched in Syria's drug trade.
3 min read
22 May, 2023
Halting captagon smuggling has been a key topic in Arab League discussions over Syria's re-entry to the body [Omar Haj Kadour/AFP via Getty]

Last week, the Syrian regime carried out a spate of arrests targeting drug dealers across the southern province of Deraa in a move some say aimed at appeasing Arab League members' conditions for Syria's re-entry, while safeguarding its own drug-trafficking networks.

According to the Horan Free League (HFL), an independent media platform based in Daraa province, on 14 May, Syrian security raided the Al-Salem compound in Kharab Al-Shahm belonging to alleged drug dealer Hamad Mahawish al-Khalidi and two arrests were made. In the same week a farm near Maaraba village belonging to alleged drugs trafficker Rafi Ruwais was raided, with two more detained.  

These events follow the Arab League's decision to readmit Syria to the fold, with one condition being that the Assad regime act to curb the captagon trade, which since 2018 has blighted the region and has reportedly become Syria's largest source of income.

However, critics downplay the arrests in light of the regime's own security services' reported role in the trade, which has been Syria's lifeline during a period of crippling sanctions and isolation.

'Not serious'

The regime "is not serious in the slightest" about ending the production and export of captagon, a spokesperson for the HFL, Abu Mahmoud Al-Hourani, told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic language sister edition.

"[The regime is] combatting drug traffickers in Daraa using other traffickers," he added:

"The raids against drug dealers carried out by the military-security services were led by Imad Abu Zreik, himself accused of drug trafficking and who appears on the US sanctions list."

Hourani said powerful figures in the drugs trade, "like Rafi Ruwais", were instructed to leave Syria for Lebanon, and believes the regime will only target minor dealers for "media-related aims".

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Curbing Captagon - one condition of Syria's re-entry to League

On 7 May, the Arab League agreed to readmit Syria, in consolidation of a regional push to normalise ties with the Syrian regime.

A priority of the League's member states is ending the influx of drugs from Syria, which has come to be known as a narco-state and the world's number one producer and exporter of the amphetamine captagon.

After suspected prominent drug trafficker Marei Al-Ramthan was killed in a suspected Jordanian airstrike in Suweidah province on 8 May, a string of arrests have been enacted by Syrian security.

Ibrahim al-Jabawi, a member of the opposition's Syrian Negotiation Commission, downplayed the importance of the raids, saying those targeted represent the tail-end of the captagon trade and that the major dealers are inside Iranian and Hezbollah militias, as well as the Fourth Division.

The Fourth Division is led by President Bashar Al-Assad's brother, Maher, and is one of the most prominent bodies accused of drug production and trafficking.

Mohammed Salem from the Syrian Dialogue Center believes the regime would carry out raids on small-scale traders to show it was cooperating with Jordan and Saudi Arabia after being allowed back in the League.

"The big merchants and manufacturers are part of the system and are protected by it," he added.

This article is based on an article which appeared in our Arabic edition by Mohammed Amin on 18 May 2023. To read the original article click here.