On September 26, the Syrian state news agency SANA published an article about the recovery of Khan Sheikhoun, which was retaken by regime in late August this year. The article boasts of refugees returning to the town and life returning to normal.
SANA quoted a person it described as a returnee, Mohammad Knaisawi, as saying: “After several years of leaving our city due to the attacks launched by the terrorist organizations, today we have returned to practice our normal life and we are overwhelmed with hope to rehabilitate what have been destroyed at the hands of terrorists as workshops of the service institutions are rehabilitating the service facilities.”
Polygraph.info cannot confirm the identity of the reported returnee or veracity of the quote attributed to him. However, the quotations cited by a regime-owned media outlet must be taken in context of the regime’s well-established, decades-long history of repression and torture of dissidents. Since the uprising in Syria started in spring 2011, approximately 100,000 people have disappeared in regime-operated detention centers and prisons. The regime is most to blame for the destruction of Khan Sheikhoun, which was described as a “ghost town” just days before regime forces captured it.
Rebels took control of Khan Sheikhoun early in the Syrian civil war and since then it has been a frequent scene of violence. Up to the time in it was retaken by regime forces, the town was the target of conventional artillery and aerial bombs, and, in 2017, Khan Sheikhoun was the scene of a regime chemical attack using the nerve agent sarin that killed an estimated 89 people. The UN attributed the chemical attack to the Bashar Assad regime. The hospitals that treated the chemical attack victims were also bombed afterward.
The chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun prompted a U.S. military response in April 2017 with 56 cruise missiles launched at a target believed to be the source of the regime’s attack.
On August 19, shortly before Khan Sheikhoun fell to regime forces, a Turkish military convoy headed for observation posts in the town was attacked by regime jets. Turkish military forces said three civilians were killed and another 12 wounded in that attack.
While according to the official Damascus, many Syrian refugees have begun to return to government-controlled territory, “liberation” does not accurately describe life under the regime. Independent reports surfaced in June that Syrian authorities detained as many as 2,000 returnees to regime-controlled territory. Other returnees have reported being interrogated and pressured to inform on family members and acquaintances.