Syria rebels say looting fighters to be punished

BEIRUT Fri Mar 1, 2013 8:48pm GMT

Men on a motorbike ride past the damaged al-Shifa hospital in Aleppo February 27, 2013. REUTERS/ Giath Taha

Men on a motorbike ride past the damaged al-Shifa hospital in Aleppo February 27, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/ Giath Taha

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian rebels say they have detained six fighters accused of looting from a Palestinian district in south Damascus, warning that those fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army will be held accountable for any crimes.

They said the fighters had been caught stealing goods in the Yarmouk district, home to many thousands of Palestinian refugees and the scene of heavy fighting late last year.

Their arrest was announced in a video released by Suqour al-Jolan (Golan Hawks) brigade and confirmed to Reuters by a rebel commander in another fighting unit, the Hajar al-Aswad brigade.

The move highlights the challenge rebels face in maintaining order in areas which have fallen under their control, as well as the deep rivalries within the ranks of fighters trying to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.

The issue is costing rebels support among civilians who see corruption and greed overtaking the revolution against Assad, and also blame the rebels for failing to restore order and services in areas they have controlled for months.

A Suqour al-Jolan commander in the video released on Thursday said the arrested men had defected from the ranks of Palestinian faction chief Ahmed Jibril, a veteran pro-Assad leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC).

He said they raided houses on the pretext of searching for hidden weapons, acting under the name of the Suqour al-Jolan, and then looted the properties. They also seized weapons from Jibril's headquarters, he said, including rockets, Kalashinikov rifles 6,000 rounds of ammunition.

"They sold (the weapons) to unknown parties while the fighters of Suqour al Jolan and Hajar al-Aswad brigades were fighting ...in the area and suffering martyrs and casualties," said the commander, known as Abu Fahd.

In another video showed the goods which the fighters were accused of looting, including carpets and electrical appliances like fridges, heaters, radios and televisions, as well as a number of gas canisters - all of which were returned to their owners, according to the soundtrack of the video.

"We warn every armed group that is saying that it is from the Free Syrian Army that we will punish everyone who perpetrates illegal acts," Abu Fahd said.

A rebel in the Hajar al-Aswad Brigade said the six arrested men were being held in the central prison of Hajar al Aswad, another district to the south of Assad's capital which is under rebel control.

"After a week of surveillance ... they were arrested red-handed. Ten of them managed to escape and they are wanted now and we are looking for them," he said. "After the investigation is complete and the others are arrested they will be punished."

(Editing by Dominic Evans and Michael Roddy)

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