Wed 23 May 2018

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“Khalid Army” Attempts Opening a Passage in Daraa for Damascus’ Fighters

Members of “Khaled Army” in a battle to control al-Shaykh Saad town in western Daraa- April 2018 (Khaled Army)

Members of “Khaled Army” in a battle to control al-Shaykh Saad town in western Daraa- April 2018 (Khaled Army)

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“Khalid ibn al-Walid Army,” accused of pledging loyalty to the “Islamic State” (ISIS), has taken the initiative once again from the opposition factions in the Yarmouk Basin area in the western countryside of Daraa and conducted a new attack, seeking to seize the town of al-Shaykh Saad and its neighboring area, Masaken Jalin.

Through the attack that lasted for hours, the jihadist faction managed to control the area, almost entirely, before the opposition factions could reseize all that they have lost. The battle, however, caused the two sides several casualties, which spurred questions about the goals behind the attack and its timing.

In terms of the last attack’s location and timing, the opposition factions found a single explanation; they linked the military action to Assad’s forces attack against the “Islamic State’s” areas in the neighborhoods of southern Damascus.

In an interview with Enab Baladi, “Hisham Abu Hozifah,” a leader in “Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham,” said that “Khalid Army,”  through controlling the town of al-Shaykh Saad, seeks to connect its areas of control in the city of al-Shaykh Maskin, to help Assad’s forces, which control the latter area, transfer the army’s fighters from southern Damascus to the Yarmouk Basin.

The opposition factions’ leaders believe that “Khalid Army” is attempting to enforce its presence with the fighters from southern Damascus, who are likely to chose safe departure, instead of the scorched land policy which Assad’s forces are resorting to in their attacks.

The two years of siege over the Yarmouk Basin and the attrition of the “Islamic State’s” resources, forced the “Islamic State”, according to “Abu Hozifah,” to strengthen its ranks and bringing the southern Damascus fighters to the Yarmouk Basin is, currently, the best available choice.

Aborting the attack and the persisting military campaign against Southern Damascus have both pushed the opposition factions into a state of anticipation of a similar attack in the upcoming few days.

If the worst of the suggested scenarios was actually to happen, meaning “Khalid Army’s” success to open the hypothetical road to the areas under Assad’s forces control, the ability to transfer ISIS’ fighters from Southern Damascus to the Yarmouk Basin remains a hypothesis, hindered by many obstacles.

According to the leader, the opposition factions have the right to snap the bargain, providing for the “Islamic State’s” fighters passage, if it were to take place, by targeting the point where the buses will be gathering or even their track, or by resorting to a third method, which is attacking Assad’s forces’ positions in al-Shaykh Maskin to abort the operation.

A number of the opposition factions’ fighters see that they are entitled, even more than Assad’s forces, with “Khalid Army’s” reinforcements, backed by a massive obsession that the opposition factions fear, which centralizes on Assad’s forces manipulation of the contact points with “Khalid Army,” to militarily progress towards the Yarmouk Basin.

“Abu Hozifah” explained that Russia and Assad can simply resort to the allegation of the “Islamic State’s” control over the Yarmouk Basin, to advance and take it over, accordingly mutilate the liberated areas, upon which the opposition factions would not have a lot to do.

 

The Most Violent Battle in Daraa

The goals’ conflict between opposition factions and “Khalid Army” turned the battle into one of the most violent military actions that Daraa governorate has witnessed in the past a few months, resulting in the death of 50 fighters from the two sides, according to Omar al-Hariri, a member of the “Martyrs Documentation Office in Daraa.”

Al-Hariri attributed the massive number of deaths to “the ferocity of the attack and “Khalid Army’s” usage of a car bomb and its dependence on sleeper cells.”

He told Enab Baladi that the town of al-Shaykh Saad which witnessed the most violent confrontations has lost 11 of its people from both sides; the office has documented the killing of two “Free Army” fighters and one from “Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham.”

It has also documented the death of four fighters under “Khalid Army,” who all belong to the same town.

The “Documentation Office” member believes that the Yarmouk Basin battle has turned into fighters’ attrition point in Daraa governorate.

Since the beginning of 2018, the death of 100 fighters from both sides was documented, in addition to hundreds who were killed in last year which means that there are not any indicators of an intention to stop this battle any soon, meaning that the attrition state will continue.

The control map in Daraa governorate has not been changed since the announcement of the “de-escalation” agreement in last July, under the three actors’ preservation of their positions on the ground.

Despite the fact that the opposition factions classify “Khalid Army’s” positions as enemy areas, similar to those under Assad’s forces, the factions are afraid to make any unexpected changes in the map, which might force them to undertake new military proceedings, with which they might not be able to deal in the current phase.

 

ISIS Battles in Damascus Are Not Yet Resolved

To the day, the military confrontations persist between Assad’s forces and ally militates and the “Islamic state,” which controls about 70% of Yarmouk Camp’s area, focusing its forces in the Al-Hajar al-Aswad (its main headquarters), the Asali area in the al-Qadam neighborhood, in addition to its control over a part of the Damascene Tadamon neighborhood.

In the past a few days, “Amaaq” Agency, ISIS affiliate media outlet, has published videos of the Assad’s forces killed members, while trying to progress towards ISIS areas, stressing the steadfastness of its military fronts without any form of advancement on the part of Assad’s forces, which are trying to go deeper in the southern parts of the besieged neighborhoods, at the line separating the ISIS control areas from those held by the opposition factions.

The past years have witnessed many negotiations between the “Islamic State” and the Syrian regime, addressing different levels; however, none were completed.

 

Yarmouk Camp, Threatened by Sharon and Destroyed by Assad

“Sharon left, and Assad stayed,” a phrase circulated by activist on social media platforms, summarizing the situation under which the Palestinian refugees Yarmouk Camp is striving, in Southern Damascus, after Assad’s forces and ally militias have launched a military operation against it, following a massively destructive policy by using high powered weaponry, the last of which were explosive hoses.

Linking Assad and Sharon was not a form of literature, for in the eighties of the last century, the latter has threatened to storm Yarmouk Camp, saying his famous phrase: “A black day awaits you, Yarmouk Camp,” to be made a reality by Assad today, through its forces, which were backed by Palestinian militias, which these time were not seeking the “right to return;” rather, taking the rode which the Syrian regime has allocated to them in Syria.

The “capital of the Palestinian diaspora,” “the return icon” and “the other homeland,” are names given to the camp 36 years ago, whose sons fought against the Israeli army in southern Lebanon.

The camp’s case is similar to that of other Syrian cities that were out of the Syrian regime’s control. But the privacy of its situation arises from the fact that its people are facing displacement for the thousand time, since they left Palestine.

Reports contrast in their estimations about the number of the Yarmouk Camp’s population. In 2002, “UNRWA” estimated the number of the camp’s residents with 112 thousand persons.

But these numbers do not cover the dozens of thousands of refugees who arrived in the sixties of the last century, which pushed the number of the residents to 220 thousand people.

The origins of the camp’s people go back to the area of Galilee and the coastal cities in the occupied land, as well as the Lake Tiberias, Hula Valley, Haifa, Acre, Nazareth, Safed, Lod, Ramla, Hebron and Jerusalem; many of the camp’s neighborhoods and streets were given the names of Palestinian areas.

“Yarmouk” is one of the largest Palestinian camps in Syria; it was constructed in 1957 on an area of about 2.11 square kilometers to accommodate Palestinians after the 1948 Palestinian exodus, also known as the Nakba.

Even though it is not official, according to “UNRWA,” it has a massive symbolic value compared with other camps.

It attains its strategic importance from its geographical location, for its bordered with the two neighborhoods of al-Midan and al-Shagour in the north, and from the east it runs along the Tadamon neighborhood. Its southern part is bordered with al-Hajar al-Aswad and al-Qadam neighborhood in the west.

In the first year of the Syrian revolution, the camp was a shelter to many people from rural Damascus, in particular from the cities of Babbila and Yalda, as well as the neighborhoods of al-Qadam, al-Hajar al-Aswad, Asali and Tadamon.

In December 2012, Assad’s forces initiated a military campaign against the camp, following the progress of the opposition factions to the southern neighborhoods of Damascus. The campaign was accompanied by air raids that targeted al-Carmel School and Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni mosque which used to house a large number of refugees from the neighboring areas, which led to casualties, deaths and injuries.

Air raids did not stop since 2012, and Assad’s forces have cooperated with Palestinian forces, affiliates to Ahmed Jibril, to bombard the camp with missiles and barrel bombs, reaching the siege that was applied in June 2013 to the day.

The siege caused an acute lack of food-related materials and a massive inflation of prices, to which the images of the people who suffered malnutrition are a living proof.

Early in April 2015, the “Islamic State” succeeded in storming the camp and controlled major parts of it, that constitute 70% of its area, while “Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham” controls 10%, leaving the rest of it to the Palestinian militias which support Assad’s forces.

Since ISIS managed to control the mentioned area, executions of civilians were recurrent upon accusations that varied between dealing with the opposition factions or for breaking its rules.

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