EDLEB, Syria — Footage circulating on social media showed a celebration of Saint Anna’s Day in Al-Yacoubiyah town, north of Jisr Al-Shughur in the Edleb (Idlib) countryside in northwestern Syria, in areas of control of armed Islamist groups.
According to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), Sunni Islamist group Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) recently expelled the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) and related families from the church and monastery in the northern countryside of Jisr al-Shughur and handed them over to the Christian clergy. The church was renovated for holding the celebration, which took place under heavy guard of the HTS General Security Service.
Armed groups control five Christian villages in the same area, namely Al-Jadida, Al-Yacoubiyah, Quniyah, Al-Ghassaniyah and Halouz, which were left vacant after military escalation in the area. Few Christian families remained. They were prohibited from publicly holding prayers, ringing church bells, and celebrating holidays by the jihadist groups active in the area.
Publicly allowing the celebration of Saint Anna’s Day and ensuring a media presence is an effort by HTS to reform its image after years of oppression and property seizures targeting the Christian communities in the areas under its control.
According to International Christian Concern, “Christian properties are considered as spoils of war, and thus fall under the civilian wing of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham.”