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Terrorism

Tahrir al-Sham reintroduces 'hesba' police in Idlib

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

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The Tahrir al-Sham alliance has reintroduced al-hesba patrols to parts of Idlib province, according to local activists. [Photo circulated on social media]

The Tahrir al-Sham alliance has reintroduced al-hesba (religious police) in some areas in rural Idlib province, Syrian activists and residents told Diyaruna.

Al-hesba patrols have been seen in the city of Idlib as well, they said, months after the apparatus was suspended following opposition by the local population.

The patrols had disappeared completely after battles broke out between Tahrir al-Sham -- which is dominated by the former al-Nusra Front (ANF) -- and other armed factions in the region, said Idlib-based activist Musab Assaf, who asked to use a pseudonym for safety reasons.

The patrols are now back, he said, noting that al-hesba's work was previously suspended after it met with complete rejection from residents, who refused to comply with its orders.

Tahrir al-Sham has deployed al-hesba elements in the town of Salqeen in rural Idlib, he said, adding that they have started raiding shops in order to prevent the mixing of sexes.

They also forced clothing shop owners to cover the head of mannequins or remove them altogether, said Assaf.

"Al-hesba elements have informed shop owners that a first offense would yield a fine of $50," he said, "and in case of repeated offense, the store will be shuttered and the owner will be brought before a religious court."

Al-hesba also has prohibited the sale of cigarettes and the use of water pipes, threatening coffee shop and store owners of being summoned to a religious court in case of violations.

Al-Hesba patrols roamed the city of Idlib on Sunday (November 19th) but without engaging citizens, Assaf said.

"The city's residents considered their appearance as a warning that the patrols will return," he said.

'Complete rejection'

Al-hesba's return has met with complete rejection from the population, said Idlib teacher Ghada Hussein, who preferred to use a pseudonym out of fear for her safety.

"The group's orders to impose Islamic law and hold citizens accountable through its al-Hesba apparatus are categorically rejected by the people of Idlib and its surrounding area," she told Diyaruna.

"Al-hesba's mere existence is rejected, let alone its practices, provocations and imposition of behaviour that is alien to our society," she said, adding that many women work in various types of jobs, and with such measures, their mobility and job options will be very limited.

School principals have been informed of the need to separate boys from girls at their schools, Hussein said.

The prevention of gender mixing also extends to public venues, she said, noting that women and girls are prohibited from being in public without a mahram (male guardian).

Al-Nusra's actions are similar to what the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIS) imposed in its areas of control, Hussein said, when it would attempt to impose Islamic law with force and threat of imprisonment, flogging and other sanctions.

But this only helped increase their rejection by the local population, she said.

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