A Syrian woman waits for a refill in front of a gas lorry provider in Kfar Nubul, Idlib province
A Syrian woman carries her gas canister on her head as she waits for a refill in front of a gas lorry provider in Kfar Nubul, Idlib province, on July 12. In Syrian towns, villages and provinces "liberated" from government control, residents are experiencing new rule -- with tribal or revolutionary councils led by military and political chiefs taking over. © LO - AFP/File
A Syrian woman waits for a refill in front of a gas lorry provider in Kfar Nubul, Idlib province
Marc Bastian, AFP
Last updated: July 25, 2012

"Liberated" Syrians look to tribal or revolutionary councils

In Syrian towns, villages and provinces "liberated" from government control, residents are experiencing new rule -- with tribal or revolutionary councils led by military and political chiefs taking over.

The city of Binesh, in the northwestern province of Idlib, has been "free" for nine months, but like many of their compatriots, the city's 45,000 residents suffer food, water, fuel and medicine shortages, as well as electricity outages.

In the past 16 months, the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad has become increasingly bloody, as his troops wage a campaign of repression against rebels who have taken up arms against the government.

The conflict has thrown the country into an economic crisis, but "there is no famine, we help each other," says 43-year-old Abu Obeid, a local activist.

In a bid to keep the town going, its men have elected "a revolutionary council of around 100 members," says 25-year-old Wassim, a former student who now publishes a bimonthly local newsletter.

In the course of a week spent in the provinces of Aleppo in the north, Idlib in the northwest and central Hamas, AFP found numerous towns that have established similar bodies.

Most often the residents are now under the rule of a "revolutionary council," headed by a military chief and a political chief.

In a street in Karnaz, a town of 22,000 near to Hama, military chief Taysir Shaaban and his civilian counterpart Aderrazek al-Hamdu are in constant consultations about the problems of the day.

"I've put guards everywhere to prevent another massacre like the one that happened in Treimsa," Shaaban tells his colleague, referring to a regime attack on a small village that reportedly killed at least 150 people on July 12.

"When we pushed out the regime, we took over. It's gone well since then," says Hamdu, a doctor whose face betrays his exhaustion.

"But we don't have medicine or money. How can we treat the wounded?"

Government forces generally still control hospitals in cities across the country, placing wounded fighters seeking care at the institutions at risk of arrest, or worse.

Instead, opposition forces have set up improvised hospitals in anonymous homes with whatever equipment they can find. Essentials are often in short supply or completely impossible to come by.

Bread is also in short supply, forcing dramatic measures to ensure no one goes hungry.

"Every family has the right to a ration calculated on the basis of the number of family members," grumbles a local man who gives his name as Abu Nasser.

The town faces the same problem when it comes to running water, made all the more problematic by the searing heat of the Syrian summer.

"We store it up in old tanks because the regime would cut it for days at a time. We always have to boil it," Abu Nasser says.

When it comes to electricity, residents say it comes and goes every three hours.

In Jebel Shashabu, the Sunni villages that cling to the arid mountains around Hama have a "revolutionary council" that deals exclusively with military action.

Civil affairs are handled by a tribal council. At the beginning of the week, around 30 local sheikhs wearing white or grey robes met to discuss power outages, schools, punishing criminals, the rationing of bread.

"There are representatives from the big Sunni tribes, Bani Khaled, Wissat, Naim, Mawai, Smati," one sheikh says.

The discussion continues late into the night, with the leaders smoking hundreds of cigarettes and drinking litres of hot tea as they talk.

In the night air outside, every half hour or so, the Syrian army stationed nearby fires rockets into the mountain, seemingly at random.

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