Daraa – Enab Baladi
The last few weeks were tough for the Hiteen neighborhood (al-Sahari) in Daraa. The “Death Over Humiliation” rebel battle in al-Menshia neighborhood has put this small neighborhood in the eye of the storm, and with the significant advance of the opposition factions in this neighborhood, large parts of the Hiteen neighborhood have been exposed to the battle’s fire. In one night, the residential buildings have turned into military barracks.
Displacement for the First Time
Enab Baladi has reported the displacement movement that the Hiteen neighborhood witnessed for the first time and talked to Abu Ayed Al-Masalma, a resident of the neighborhood who was displaced.
“Unlike the other neighborhoods, the presence of the military barracks around the “Sahari” made it vulnerable to unselective and random bombing from time to time. We have been living in these conditions for years.” explained Abu Ayed.
Despite these conditions, the neighborhood had not witnessed a large displacement movement. “We do not have another place to go to due to the population density in Daraa. In addition, the Assad forces have prevented the residents from taking out their belongings. These reasons forced many of us to stay in their houses.,” said Al-Masalma.
In the recent weeks, the neighborhood witnessed a rapid development, coincided with the outbreak of fighting that began in Al-Menshia on February, 12th. “In the past, the neighborhood used to witness a shell every few days, no more, but the outbreak of the battle exposed the neighborhood to dozens of missiles a day, killing and wounding dozens of people.”, said Al-Masalama.
The Sahari neighborhood, or as administratively named “Hai Hiteen”, is one of Daraa Station district’s neighborhoods, Daraa, Syria.
It is located in the west of Daraa, gathering more than ten thousand people (according tolocal sources).
It has a strategic location, overlooking the Zidi Valley.
On the opposite side of the Valley, there is the Al-Menshia neighborhood, partially controlled by the Assad forces and is witnessing a broad attack from the opposition factions in order to control it.
This neighborhood is of a military importance for the Assad forces, as it is closely associated with the “132 Mika” Brigade and the military security branch.
These factors have led the Assad forces to seize it, since 2013, close all its entrances and restrict its residents’ movements “for maintaining the security of the nearby military sites”.
Reinforcements Turn the Neighborhood into a Military Barrack
The progress reached by the opposition in the battle of Al-Menshia neighborhood has led the Assad forces to bring military reinforcements to the Hiteen neighborhood in order to clash the opposition on the other side of the Zidi Valley. In one night, the Assad forces deployed the tanks and the rocket launchers in the neighborhood and the artillery lockers in Al-Muhameen garden. Since that night, the Feell missiles’ rockets have not left the neighborhood.
The Syrian opposition accuses the Assad forces of using civilians as human shields, as they deployed the artillery lockers between the residential buildings and this is what happened in the last battle of Aleppo, before being controlled by the end of the last year.
In that battle, the opposition leaked the pictures of the vehicles that were placed in the Western neighborhoods of Aleppo. However, in the battle of Daraa, the Syrian regime’s affiliated military media published official pictures of vehicles and recordings of the bombings that occurred inside the Sahari neighborhood.
These developments coincided with a massive deployment of the Assad forces on the Valley’s both sides. They stormed many houses where the snipers were stationed. Al-Masalama assured that the neighborhood had turned into a military barrack. “The neighborhood is now at the heart of the battle, and this forced dozens of families to migrate, although we do not know where to go.”
“Taa’fish” and the Fear of the Future
The Assad forces deployed the “Taa’fish” (furnishing) groups in the neighborhoods. “Despite the attacks and sniping that the neighborhood is witnessing, the regime’s forces continued in furnishing the houses left by their owners.,” said Al-Masalama. He also estimated that 30% of the residents have left their houses, saying that “the rest have no other choice but stay in their houses, they decided to challenge the regime forces through steadfastness in their homes and lands.”
“Concerning the people who decided to stay in the neighborhood, the fear of the future will remain their biggest concern. The Assad forces are trying to repeat here what they have done in Al-Menshia neighborhood, and they achieved it through turning it into a military barrack, occupying its buildings and displacing its residents.” said Mostafa Abu Ahmad, a resident in Sahari neighborhood, in his statement to Enab baladi.
This scenario is frightening Mostafa, as well as other residents. In his statement he addressed to the opposition “Today, the factions have to take this issue into consideration and expand the battle, so that it exceeds Al-Menshia neighborhoods and include all Daraa, or else the Assad forces will not settle till they put their full control on all neighborhoods, one after one.”
This young man said that the Syrian regime has effectively started advancing in this direction with practical steps. “They closed the schools in the neighborhood to force people to leave it. They are also conducting stop and searches and arresting people, only to spread terror among people.”
The opposition factions managed, after more than a month from the beginning of the “Death Over Humiliation” battle, to control more than half of the neighborhood, continuing its strive to break the Assad forces’ control, that lasted for years.
On the other hand, it seems that the regime forces are preparing for the next battle, after Al-Menshia neighborhood, as they started displacing the residents of Hiteen neighborhood’s and turning it into a military barrack. This puts the opposition forces in front of many challenges, such as working on completing its current battle and blocking the Assad forces’ advancing to the Sahari neighborhood.