Southern Damascus Settlement Yet to be Implemented… What Do the Days Ahead Hold?
regime insisted on implementing the terms of an initiative it put forward concerning a settlement in southern Damascus. This comes as part of regime efforts that began months ago with the aim of adding opposition-held towns and cities to the areas surrounding Damascus that have reached a settlement with the regime, and some of whose residents and fighters left to move to the “liberated” areas.
Until Saturday 7 January, the regime was waiting for the fulfillment of its demands to hand over lists of weapons, hardware and names of fighters, officers and soldiers who would like to regularize their status in the region, as well as lists of displaced people and civilians who have not fulfilled their mandatory military service and those who rejected the initiative. The regime has given the factions a deadline of 12 January to fulfill these demands.
Conditions: handing over weapons and lists of names
“There are a number of opposition factions in southern Damascus, the most prominent of which are: Jaysh al-Islam, Jaysh al-Ababeel, Liwaa Sham al-Rasul, Ahrar al-Sham, Ajnad al-Sham Islamic Union and others.”
The Political Committee’s meeting with the regime’s representatives resulted in 46 terms, to which the regime refuses any amendment. These terms include handing over to the regime the surplus of weapons from the battles against ISIS and Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (at least 60–70% of weapons).
The terms also include handing over the arms and hardware (heavy, medium and light, as well as ammunitions) located in the towns of Babeela, Beit Sahem, Yalda and the area of Sdi Miqdad, in addition to the names of fighters, officers and soldiers who had absconded from each faction and those who had not performed their military or reservist service and would like to regularize their status in order to postpone joining for six months.
The regime request the handover of the names of wanted civilians, employees who had left their jobs and students who had dropped out of school or university, in addition to those who wanted to move to regime-held areas and those who rejected the initiative, in order to “examine how to get them to other areas”.
Once the deadline has passed, the proportion of arms to be handed over to the regime will be defined, as well as the number of people rejecting the settlement and where they will go, which is expected to be the countryside of Idlib.
Factions to be turned into “militias”
Enab Baladi obtained a hard copy of the 46 terms on Wednesday 4 January. Under these terms, the Free Army factions will become militias fighting under the regime’s command, under the name “Brigade of Southern Commandos”.
After forming the “Commandos” militia by bringing together defecting officers and fighters, it will be sent to fight against Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and ISIS, under the supervision of the “National Defense” militia in southern Damascus. Meanwhile, the town of Aqraba will join the settlement process, as well as Babeela, Yalda and Beit Sahem. In these areas, only the Syrian flag will be raised and official institutions will return to work as normal.
“Relief, medical and service” committees will be formed in the towns that are part of the settlement, under the supervision of military intelligence and the Republican Guard. Meetings will be held between these committees and those in nearby Sayyida Zeineb, which is under the control of Iraqi and Iranian militias.
“Among the negotiators on the local committee in southern Damascus are Sheikh Anas Tawil, Sheikh Salah Khatib, who has been calling for the need to break the siege on southern Damascus since 2013, even appearing inside the Russian base of Khmeimim on the regime’s channels last March. In its statements, the committee reiterates its support for a Syrian-Syrian solution and asserts that it will do what it can to protect the area and its residents.”
According to the proposal, the Syrian regime will be in charge of providing all kinds of support needed by the militia that will replace the factions in southern Damascus (ammunition, clothing, hardware, treatment, food), while the “reconciliation committees” will be the ones responsible in the abovementioned towns if one of the factions breaches the terms of the settlement. The proposal also warns against closing any of the checkpoints or crossings that lead to these towns.
According to the current map of areas of control, Free Army factions control southern Damascus, including the towns of Yalda, Babeela and Beit Sahem, which signed an open truce with Assad’s forces in February 2014. This is in addition to the areas of Port Said and al-Madiniyya in al-Qadam neighborhood, and Zuleikha in al-Tadhamon neighborhood.
Residents of southern Damascus refuse to leave the area, as seen during a demonstration on Friday 6 January in which protestors held signs saying “Dissidents are the crowns on our heads and we will protect them, even with our blood” and “We are here to stay”.
Enab Baladi surveyed the opinions of a number of activists from southern Damascus, who are of the view that the area may witness an escalation if the factions refuse the terms the regime is imposing, even though the “fragile” ceasefire is still in force since Friday 30 December.
However, a few consider that the solution is a settlement in the region in order to avoid the harm that may be caused by a refusal. This solution is similar in some ways to that adopted in Qudsiyya, al-Haama, Khan al-Sheikh, Zakya, al-Derkhbayya and, most recently, Saasaa and other nearby towns.