Fri 17 Aug 2018

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“Black Wednesday” Announces New Phase in Sweida Governorate

Members of “Rijal al-Karama” (Men of Dignity) movement in the city pf Sweida (Internet)

Members of “Rijal al-Karama” (Men of Dignity) movement in the city pf Sweida (Internet)

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The Syrian governorate of Sweida has entered a new phase following July 20, referred to as “Black Wednesday,” on which the “Islamic State” (ISIS) launched a surprising attack on a number of its neighborhoods and villages, leaving behind hundreds of casualties both civilians and members of the local armed groups.

The attack is viewed as a “turning point” in the history of the governorate, as it never witnessed similar action before or the shock that such an action usually echoes, at the level of its suddenness and the massive death toll, which constituted of civilians basically.

The talks about the new phase that the governorate has been admitted to relates to the circumstances with which the attack corresponded, as it followed Assad’s forces’ finalization of Daraa governorate’s file and their intention to head towards Sweida to rearrange their civil and security issues, or to change the current status of affairs, knowing that Sweida, since 2011, has proposed itself as a model of “disassociation” policy and alienated itself from what is taking place in other Syrian governorates, this is in addition to the mandatory military service, which is yet a controversy.

Today, various questions are raised about the attack’s repercussions in the a few coming days, especially after the accusation that have been direct at the Syrian regime for playing a role in the offensive, attested by its forces’ abstinence from participating in combating the attack for the resistance was solely undertaken by the governorate’s leading local military groups.

 

Earlier Indicators

At the dawn of July 25, the “Islamic State” attacked a number of villages in the eastern countryside of the governorate, which corresponded with four suicide bombings in random areas of the city; the situation sprawled out of control developing into a direct armed confrontation between the civilians, local armed groups and ISIS troops, while Assad’s forces did not indulge in the fighting.

The attacks have led the death of more than 220 civilians, among whom are women and children, as stated by the city’s Health Directorate. One of the directorate’s official medical sources told Enab Baladi that none of the dead people’s bodies, they received in the early hours, belonged to Assad’s forces.

The “Islamic State” has adopted the attack, reporting it through its official news agency “Amaq,” stating that it targeted Assad’s forces positions, considering all the actualities military figures. However, the medical source has affirmed that all the casualties were civilians, some of whom were executed immediately after ISIS troops stormed their houses.

Activists from Sweida accused the Syrian regime of planning the attacks implemented by ISIS, under the many indicators that suggest this, including the military reinforcements that the regime has formerly withdraw from the desert towards the eastern countryside od Daraa, a step that was preceded by transporting ISIS troops from Yarmouk Camp, in southern Damascus, to the eastern desert of Asweida under an unannounced deal.

The attack also followed two visits by the Russian delegation to the city, during which the delegts met with the al-Akl Sheikhdom of the Druze denomination, pointing to the presence of armed groups and factions, they referred to as “terrorist,” in a direct allusion to “Rijal al-Karama” movement. They demanded that the Sheikhdom withdraw indiscriminate weapons from the local groups.

A few days after the Russian visit, Assad’s forces addressed the villages’ leaders asking for decommissioning the weapons held by their men on the pretext of resolving the issue of proliferating discriminate weapons and putting an end to the danger that Daraa poses to the governorate.

Shaikh Nazih Jarbou, a leader of an armed group, was the first to answer, for he ordered his men to surrender the weapons they received from him in the past a few years. The people of As Sweimreh, one of the areas targeted by the “Islamic State,” were the second to give up their weapons.

 

 Why Now?

Despite the “massive” and surprising attack implemented by the “Islamic State” against the city, the active local armed groups managed to incubate the hostilities and regain control; nonetheless, a number of questions are so far being asked, including accusations against the Syrian regime, driving their force from the above-mentioned indicators.

A civil activist from the city, on the condition of anonymity, told Enab Baladi that the “Islamic State” is the wining card the Syrian regime is utilizing to enter the governorate as a “savior,” after it lost much of its influence within its borders, turning into a mere title, in addition to stressing its role as a “protector of minorities” in front of the international community.

“There is a great fear of bloodier attacks if Sweida continues to resist and insist on refusing to claim that the army had a role in combating the attack, as well as expanding the dimensions of the campaigns revealing the lies of the Syrian media among activists,” said the activist.

The people from the city of Shahba and the village of al-Shabki have expelled the mayor of Asweida Governorate Amer al-Ashi from the funeral procession of the victims killed by the “Islamic State,” while social media platforms witnessed different responses that refused the narrative adopted by the Syrian regime concerning its participation in facing the attack.

Journalist Malek Abu al-Khair from Sweida proposed a different set of reasons that highlight the attacks, considering that ISIS has conducted the offensive to rearrange the southern area’s cards.

In an interview with “Al-Arabiya,” TV channel, that he posted on his “Facebook” account, he said that Sweida has, for five years, been having a political war with Iran, under the table; however, today the conflict has been turned into an open military war through the “Islamic State.”

According to Abu al-Khair, Iran is seeking to deepen its presence in the governorate, and tried, in the past a few years, to open Hussiniat, Shiite religious centers, “a thing that the people refuse;” they then tried to exploit people’s poverty, buying lands and convincing some of the Druze young people to become Shia and join the Lebanese militia of “ Hezbollah”, which they also failed to achieve.

Abu al-Khair linked the Iranian efforts to the latest kidnapping incident, where Ahmad Jafaar, Iranian personality and affiliate to “Hezbollah,” was abducted and killed by “Rijal al-Karama”, pointing out that ISIS troops which attacked Sweide included the Bedouin groups that deal in drugs; these groups are affiliated with the Syrian regime and their activities mostly take place on the Syrian-Jordanian borders.

 

Ambiguous Destiny

Throughout the past years, Sweida was neutralized by the decisions and negotiations undertaken by both the regime and the opposition, it was also dropped out of the concerns of the states involved in the Syrian issue, to ordain it an ambiguous destiny after seven years of armed conflict, a destiny that have been intensely questioned lately.

Following the attack, a number of speculations addressed the future of the governorate in the upcoming period; it will either re-live the “black Wednesday” or will change to have a completely new civil and military structure.

In a statement, to days after the attack, “Shaikh al-Karama Forces” faction declared general mobilization and war at the “Islamic state,” asking all the local armed groups in the governorate of Sweida to close their ranks, forget about their disputes and combat readiness to protect the governorate.

The statement pointed to the complacency of the entities that claim protecting the governorate, stressing the necessity that the denomination’s people join their efforts to face the “Islamic State,” and calling on all the leaders of the denomination to stand in solidarity with the governorate, support and armed it with all the required defense tools, while efforts shall persist as to release the women, whom ISIS has kidnapped during the attack.

According to information that Enab Baladi managed to get, a number of the city youth have applied to join “Rijal al-Karama” movement and are waiting for a reply.

“The governorate would not calm down until it manages to get the kidnaped women back,” whose photographs have been posted on social media platforms, against a background of ISIS black flag, a military source informed Enab Baladi.

Today, Sweida is living a state of anticipation, amidst a caustics clam while a large number of random checkpoints have been spread at the crossroads of major and minor streets, where young people of the area are positioned. At the same time, civilians, despite their varying orientations, are overcome by a massive wave of anger against the Syrian regime, for some of them believe that the “Islamic State” is part of its intelligence forces, while others view that Assad’s forces showed reluctance to resist the attack.

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