Syrian government, opposition swap 18 more prisoners

Small exchanges of prisoners between the Syrian government and opposition continue in Aleppo province, showing some progress but indicating more cooperation is needed.

al-monitor Pro-regime Syrian fighters sit in a vehicle during a prisoner exchange between the Syrian regime forces and pro-Turkish rebels, near al-Bab, northern Syria, Feb. 12, 2019. Photo by GEORGE OURFALIAN/AFP/Getty Images.

May 7, 2019

ALEPPO — The Syrian regime and the armed opposition recently conducted their third prisoner exchange in six months, swapping nine detainees from each side, as hundreds of thousands are thought to remain imprisoned.

The exchange took place April 22 at Abu al-Zandeen crossing, near al-Bab in northern Aleppo province. The crossing separates the opposition areas from the government-held ones.

Turkey's state-run media, Anadolu Agency, cited an April 22 statement by the Turkish Foreign Ministry confirming the swap was the third to be carried out under the auspices of a working group formed as part of the Syrian peace talks led by Turkey, Russia and Iran, and with the participation of the United Nations. The group addresses releasing detainees and abductees, recovering bodies and identifying missing persons.

On Feb. 12, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Damascus government exchanged 20 prisoners from each side. The first exchange took place in November, when Anadolu Agency reported, “The regime forces released 10 prisoners in exchange for the FSA releasing 10 detainees as well.”

There is great international debate over making the detainees part of the discussions on the Syrian conflict amid demands from many parties to keep them removed from any political compromises.

There are no official figures for the number of detainees in Syrian regime prisons. The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) has documented 117,000 Syrian detainees, though it estimates there are more than 215,000 in government prisons. The regime continues to arrest people daily in areas it controls. The SNHR publishes monthly reports on the number of people arrested and imprisoned by the Syrian regime. For March, it documented at least 357 cases of detention, most of which were made by the regime. In a May 2 report, the SNHR said it recorded at least 459 arbitrary arrests (325 by government forces) in April.

Maj. Yousef Hamoud, a spokesman for FSA-affiliated opposition group the Syrian National Army, told Al-Monitor, “We are constantly working with our allies in the Turkish government to release more detainees under prisoner exchange deals with the regime. It's true that the number of released prisoners through such swaps are minimal compared to the actual detainees in regime prisons, but it's better than nothing. We need the support of the international community on this issue.”

Activist Yahya Mayo told Al-Monitor, “The majority of those released from prisons have been arrested over the past two years, mostly women and men who have committed any political or criminal offense. They were arrested by regime security forces at checkpoints all around Syrian cities, [and their release] can be negotiated with their families in exchange for money. Meanwhile, some are put on the swap lists for future exchange deals with the opposition.”

Mayo noted, “Some detainees were arrested back in 2011 and put in prison, and the fate of tens of thousands remains unknown — they could either still be alive or have died under torture.”

Mohamed Nour, media director of the FSA-affiliated Sultan Murad Brigade in Aleppo province, told Al-Monitor, “The detainees who were released from the regime's prisons during the [April 22] exchange were Salih al-Qadi, Mohammed Kurdi, Khaled al-Tufran, Muhammad al-Hamoud, Mustafa Awainat, Ihsan Taha, Ghayath al-Sheikh, Yusuf Muhammad Ali and Abdul Majid al-Jumuah. They were arrested by the regime during the past few years on various charges, most of which were not clear. Some were detained because they are related to FSA fighters; others were arrested once they entered regime-held areas on their way from FSA-controlled ones.”

Nour added, “Those released from FSA prisons were Musleh Al-Abd, Ahmad al-Jabali, Ahmad al-Abdullah, Rayyan Jizan, Zidan Jassim, Walid al-Mohammad, Ibrahim al-Jumaah, Maher al-Abdullah and Mohammad al-Kamsha. They were all members of the regime forces whom the FSA captured during the battles in Aleppo’s countryside and detained over the years.”

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