A Hayat Tahrir al-Sham administration in Syria’s last major insurgent stronghold of Idlib handed over a four-year-old girl to her Belgian mother on Monday after a custody dispute following her father’s death.
An AFP journalist saw the tiny girl named Yasmine, dressed in a bright pink coat and clutching a gift-wrapped teddy bear, being led to the Turkish border to meet her mother.
Her handover was overseen by the civilian branch of the powerful Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) alliance, which is led by the fighters of Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate.
“Yasmine was handed over today to her Belgian mother Hajer after the dispute was solved between those who were her guardians here and her mother,” Fawaz Hilal, head of the administration, told AFP.
“There was communication with the Turkish side to hand over the girl to her mother who was in Turkey,” he said.
Ibrahim Shasho, another member of the administration, said the mother “filed a petition for custody of her daughter after her father died”.
The father’s “friends” had looked after Yasmine since his death and insisted she remain in their care, Shasho said, without providing any further details on their identity.
“The (HTS) judiciary looked into the case and found in favor of the mother,” added the bearded man, who brought the wide-eyed child into a press conference to have her photo taken.
The officials did not say whether the child’s father was a fighter, or to what armed group he might have belonged.
There was no immediate information from the Belgian or Turkish authorities.
HTS controls more than half of the Idlib region, but other extremists including the Al-Qaeda-linked Hurras al-Deen group are also present in the northwestern region bordering Turkey.
Turkey-backed rebels hold most of the rest of the region.
Idlib has since September been protected from a massive regime assault by a fragile truce deal between regime ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey.
Thousands of foreign fighters are present in the region, where they are members of HTS but also other extremist groups.
Some of them have banded together to create what is known as the “French battalion”, which is close to Hurras al-Deen, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
In February, two Canadians -- a man and a woman -- were released to Turkish authorities after being held by HTS for several weeks.
Jolly Bimbachi and a male friend had crossed into Syria from Lebanon, searching for her two sons, she told AFP.