The Factional Rift Finalizes the File of Eastern Qalamun
A week after the US-led Coalition’s attack on nine Assad’s forces’ positions, the military state on the ground seems to lack sufficient changes, for the Syrian regime has focused on two major files ــــ Eastern Qalamun and Damascus’ southern neighborhoods.
With a rapid pace, in a manner similar to that followed in Eastern Ghouta, the Syrian regime managed to spread its control all over Eastern Qalamun, after it conducted an agreement with the area’s factions and their departure to Northern Syria.
In addition to Qalamun, the scenario applied to Eastern Ghout for two months, intensified shelling and siege, is witnessed by the areas in southern Damascus, after the “Islamic State” (ISIS) has refused the Syrian regime’s conditions.
Al-Dumayr, the First Area to Witness Displacement
Russia, the guardian of the reconciliation agreements between the opposition and the Syrian regime, has worked to accelerate the control over Eastern Qalamun, for undeclared reasons, which include US’ command over some of the area’s factions. Accordingly, Moscow, with being close to seizing Eastern Ghouta, late in March, started to contact the Qalamun factions, resorting to threats and promises of a fate, similar to that of Eastern Ghouta, against which it had conducted unprecedented military campaign, leading to thousands of casualties, both dead or injured.
The first area to show consent for the settlement agreement’s conditions was al-Dumayr, which was living a truce between its factions and Assad’s forces for four years and witnessed violations on the part of military aircraft and helicopters in 2016. The area, formerly, has also suffered battles against the “Islamic State” (ISIS).
From al-Dumayr, which has a distinct “strategic” position, as it is located at the beginning of the international highway, linking Damascus to the two cities of Deir ez-Zor and Palmyra, as well as the Syrian Desert, reaching the Iraqi borders, about five thousand people, (Wednesday) April 18, left towards the city of Jarabulus, in the northern countryside of Aleppo, including 1500 fighters, under the agreement which a committee from the city has signed with the Russian side, after “Jaysh al-Islam” members have surrendered medium and heavy weapons, including five machines supplied with machine guns and a soldier carrier to the regime, within the frame of the agreement’s implementation.
A factional Rift Ended Qalamun
The rest of the areas of Qalamun (al-Ruhaybah, Jayrud and al-Naseriyah), were not actually forgotten from Russia’s and the regime’s calculations concerning the area; however, their fate was postponed until al-Dumayr has been finalized. In these areas, a number of factions had positions, on top of which is “Jaysh al-Islam”, in addition to “Forces of Martyr Ahmad al-Abdo” and “Lions of the East Army,” that have been on a truce with Assad’s forces for two years.
With the intensification of the Russian threats in the area, the factions formed what is called the “Unified Leadership of Eastern Qalamun,” joining all the area’s military formations, except “Tahrir al-Sham,” which refuted its connection to the Leadership, in a statement, on April 15, saying that it does not follow the Leadership, “we are not related to it in any form; we are not coordinating with it also.”
The Unified Leadership stressed its commitment to the fundamental constants and its refusal of forced displacement of the area’s people; it also showed acceptance concerning the negotiations with the other side (Russia), highlighting its obligation to defending the area against any attack by extremists or other militias.
Only three days after its formation, the Leadership conducted an agreement with the Russian side, containing 13 articles, providing for the departure of those who wish to leave the area, surrendering medium and heavy weapons, in addition to registering the names of those who desire to legalize their situation and preparing lists with the names of the people who intend to leave the area.
Weapons Trigger the Anger of Opposition Figures
According to Enab Baladi’s sources about 2500 fighters of the “Liberation Army”, with their families have left the area, on (Saturday)April 21, towards the city of al-Bab, then to Afrin in the northern countryside of Aleppo.
In sync, pro-regime media outlets have published images of the heavy weapons that the factions have surrendered to Assad’s forces, showing a number of Grad missiles and “107 missile” launchers, which ranges cover between seven to ten kilometers, in addition to military machines and “T62” and “T52” tanks. The pictures also showed a “Strela” missile launcher for medium-range ballistic missiles, as well as the local made “Islam5” and “Islam3” that “Jaysh al-Islam” possessed, 82 millimeter mortar shells, Jahanam (hell) mortar shells and “B10” anti-armour weapon.
The weapons’ photos were received with oppositions figures’ anger, who accused the Unified Leadership of surrendering the area and not using the weapons to open fronts against the Syrian regime, especially that the leader of “Tahrir al-Sham Army,” Capitan Feras Bitar, has showed readiness to fight the regime and Russia, in case the weapon stores, controlled by “Jaysh al-Islam” and “Forces of Martyr Ahmad al-Abdo” back then, were to be opened.
The Opposition’s Last Stronghold Near Damascus
As for the southern part of the capital Damascus, the Syrian regime took action as to finalize the file of the areas out of its control, represented by the opposition-held areas and neighborhoods and other areas controlled by the “Islamic State” (ISIS).
Assad’s forces started to prepare reinforcement and mobilized military forces in the surrounding of the neighborhoods, particularly Yarmouk Camp and its vicinity, meaning the areas seized by ISIS. Assad’s forces have offered ISIS 48 hours to exist the area, on (Wednesday) April 18.
ISIS controls about 70% of the Yarmouk Camp’s space and focuses its forces in the al-Hajar al-Aswad (the headquarters), al-Asali area in the al-Qadam neighborhood, in addition to its control over parts of the Damascene neighborhood of Tadamon.
On (Friday) April 20, the Syrian regime announced sealing a cease fire agreement in the towns of Yalad, Babbila, Beit Sahem and al-Hajar al-Aswad in southern Damascus, conditioned by the departure of portion of fighters to the Desert and another to Northern Syria. However, Enab Baladi’s media sources in the area has negated the agreement and described the situation of Southern Damascus as “tragic.”
On the same day, Assad’s forces have launched an attack at the axis of al-Slaikha area in the Tadamon neighborhood, controlled by the opposition factions; they managed to advance to various points, as informed sources in southern Damascus have told Enab Balai, stressing that the progress has corresponded to the initiative action that addressed the neighborhoods held by ISIS.
“Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham” damaged four of Assad’s forces tanks while they tried to progress to its positions in the area of al-Rijeh in the Yarmouk Camp.
Does the Shelling Aim to Demolish the Area?
Activists have spoken about an intensified shelling that has been targeting the area for days, in sync with integrating it to the “Basilia City” regulatory plan.
The government of the Syrian regime took a proactive step prior to the operation in the area with announcing a new regulatory plan for a project that extends from the southern side of the Almotahalik Aljanobi to al-Qadam, al-Asali and al-Thalatheen street, according to the what Damascus Governorate Department has stated on its meeting, on March 26.
The area of “Basilia City,” an Assyrian name that means heaven, is about 900 hectares, equal to nine million square meters, that will include four thousand assets.
Part of the new regulatory plans falls under the control of ISIS according to Enab Baladi’s information; the area has not yet suffered destruction. Formerly, economic analysts have predicted battles in the area, as to destroy it and to utilize the destruction as a pretext to prevent the people from returning to it, similar to what happened in other areas, such as parts of Darayya, which have been included in the regulatory building plans.
By controlling Eastern Qalamun, and being close to seizing southern Damascus, the Syrian regime would become in control of Damascus and its countryside ultimately, after years of the opposition’s control over them.