On December 2, the Assad regime took control of al-Tal, 11 km (7 miles) north of Damascus, as Syrian rebels and their families left under a capitulation agreement.Nicknamed the “City of a Million Displaced,” al-Tal has grown from 100,000 before the 2011 uprising to 900,000. It was beseiged since 2015.In November, the town was given an ultimatum, according to citizen journalist Omar al-Dimashqi: “The rebels could either agree to the ceasefire, or the regime would burn the city.”
Syria Direct speaks to some of the residents, who express their regret about the capitulation:
The Media Activist
Ahmed al-Bayanuni, director of the al-Tal Local Coordination Council, an opposition media organization:
There are no guarantees with the regime, which plays by the rule “either you’re with me or against me”. As soon as the fighters left, [officials] began asking for men who reconciled with the regime to join the reserves. More than 30,000 residents are now wanted for reserve service.Two days after fighters left for Idlib and the regime officially entered the city on December 10, security forces stormed opposition headquarters and residential buildings. They established checkpoints. They ordered the closure of all small roadside stands, which many residents rely on to make a living. They also ordered the removal of revolutionary slogans from the walls and demanded that electricity bills from the past five years to the present be paid.After the regime terminated al-Manfoush’s contract on January 15, it immediately imposed additional taxes on goods entering the city. Commercial trucks, which can only enter though the Qaws al-Madina checkpoint, are taxed anywhere between SP3,000 ($14) and SP10,000 ($47) upon entering the city.
[Editor’s Note: Abu Ayman al-Manfoush, a trader appointed by the regime in August to control the flow of goods into the city, charged SP100 ($.50) on each kilogram of food, medicine, or any other good entering al-Tal. He continued to impose this tax — most of which he presumably pocketed, until January 15 — when regime officials removed him from the checkpoint and took over the monopoly.]
What role did a-Tal’s own reconciliation committee, which negotiated with the regime, play in the truce?
Part of the reason the regime isn’t holding up its side of the truce is that the reconciliation committee didn’t make the necessary arrangements to ensure that all terms of the agreement would be met. Whether or not it was intentional, the committee aided the regime by encouraging residents to expel fighters from the city. If residents did this, according to the committee, the regime would bring security to the city. So residents agreed, even though they’re aware of the regime’s dishonesty. They agreed to this truce because they were afraid of shelling and death.Since it took control, the regime has held up the Syrian Arab Red Crescent’s delivery to the city more than once. The government doesn’t care about the agreement or its stipulations. The way I see it, this most recent delivery on January 12 is an anesthetic, it’s a way to keep people silent about the regime’s violations.People thought that once rebels left, they would be able to live a pleasant life. They were patient once regime officials returned to the city, but they haven’t benefited at all from the agreement.