The Syrian regime returns to protect the borders of Golan Heights, occupied by Israel, after seven years of its retreat from the area in favor of the opposition factions, which held a wide area of Quneitra governorate in the past years until they reached a deal under a Russian auspice following understandings with the Israeli side.
The deal came after Assad’s forces and allied militias’ control over large areas in the western countryside of Daraa, paved for by “reconciliation” agreements, which enabled them to penetrate deep into the area, entering the administrative borders of Quneitra, in sync to the Russian air forces’ riads which invaded the occupied Golan’s airspace with its overflights.
The fighters’ departure and approving the reconciliation on the part of those wishing to stay are terms that headed the agreement’s terms, imposed on the opposition factions in a scenario similar to the ones applied in the majority of the Syrian governorates; however, the discrepancy in Quneitra’s scenario lies in Israel’s gains after the Syrian regime’s return to the borders prior to 2011 while Russia is assigned to be a monitoring party of the “disengagement agreement”.
|Israel has occupied the Syrian Golan Heights in 1967, and the Syrian forces are not allowed to enter the disengagement zone due to the ceasefire deal signed in 1973.
For the past a few years, the Syrian regime has been accusing Israel of supporting the opposition factions at the borders of the occupied Golan and running these factions’ battles inside Syria, especially in rural Quneitra and its adjacent areas.
Military Positions Included in the 1974 Deal
The Quneitra deal was put into force on July 20, with the departure of more than two thousand troops of “Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham” (HTS) accompanied by their families to Idlib governorate. In parallel, Assad’s forces controlled large areas in the governorate, including the towns and villages of the Eastern Ahmar and Western Ahmar hilltops, in addition to the villages of Rasm al-Qutaish, Rasm al-Zawyia, Ain Ziwan, Ain al-Abd, Kudna and al-Asbah, in the area extending between the rural parts of Daraa and Quneitra.
In addition to the deal’s general guidelines announced by the Syrian regime and the opposition, hidden terms showed up, giving the complete image of the map-to be of Quneitra, adjacent to Golan, which basically took its shape by the Russian-Israeli understandings, following several meetings that joined the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Quneitra file is highly sensitive if compared to other areas in Southern Syria, being an adjacent area to Golan, occupied by Israel.
According to the terms published in the “Asharq Al-Awsat” newspaper, “Brigade 90” and “Brigade 61”, affiliated with Assad’s forces, alongside the Russian police forces shall enter the area reaching the cease-fire line and the demilitarized zone under the 1974 agreement. The negotiations delegation is responsible for the admission mechanism and coordination in the southern and northern sectors.
The deal has also provided for the formation of a committee to conduct a follow up of the detainees’ file and guarantee freedom of opinion and expression under the roof of the law.
Following the departure of the buses, boarded by fighters and those who refused the reconciliation agreement to Idlib, the UN supervision point in the town of Umm Batnah will be surrendered and the Russian police will enter the UN point in the town of Rwihinah.
These terms are the deal’s first stage and the second stage will be agreed upon after the above-mentioned terms are implemented.
The “disengagement agreement” between the Syrian regime and Israel was signed on May 31, 1974, after the October War, in Geneva and in the presence of UN, America and the Soviet Union.
Back then, the agreement provided for the retreat of the Israeli forces from the areas which they controlled during the October war, exchange of war captives, cease-fire and abstinence from all military operations by land, sea or air.
Earlier, the Israeli Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman has warned Assad’s forces from approaching the buffer zone near the borders as reported by the Israeli “Yedioth Ahronoth” newspaper on July 10.
Strategic Hilltops Controlled by Russia
What distinguished Assad’s forces’ military operations in the western countryside of Daraa is that they targeted the strategic hilltops in the area, the control of which means owning the joints of Southern Syria entirely. The key targeted hills are Tall al-Harra, Tall al Jābiyah and Tall al-Jumu’ that is yet captured by the “Islamic State” (ISIS).
Nonetheless, and according to the sealed deal, Assad’s forces are not militarily in control of the hilltops, which have been enlisted under the Russian auspices, in a step to supervise the implementation of the cease-fire deal at the borders separating occupied Golan from Quneitra.
The deal has also provided for the establishment of a three stripes buffer zone, 80 kilometers; the first sector is 10 kilometers wide, an area of 235 square meters, extending on the Syrian territories of the Golan borders. In this sector, “UNDOF” and the Russian military police will be positioned to conduct supervision.
In the second sector, Assad’s forces will position 350 tanks and three thousand troops with light arms. The third sector will be a place for 650 tanks and 4500 troops with light arms, in addition to a limited number of canons of a specific range that do not exceeded the first phase.
The deal allows the Russian-backed Assad’s forces to persecute the “Islamic State” troops in the Yarmouk Basin, on the condition that they return to their positions assigned by the “disengagement” understandings.
It also guarantees Russia’s control over the 1200 kilometers high Tall al-Harra, rural Daraa, to monitor the Southern part of Syria, northern Israel and supervise the implementation of the understandings.
Tall al-Harra is the highest hilltop in the northern countryside of Daraa, overlooking large areas of rural Daraa and Quneitra; it played a role in the rapid control over these areas after it was sized in October 2014.
“Fursan al-Golan” Brigade Protects the Borders
Late in January 2018, the American “Intercept” newspaper has published the details of a meeting that brought together factions from Daraa with Israeli representatives, during which various points were discussed, prominently a “safe zone” in the area.
Enba Baladi’s translation of the report shows that Israel intends to expand its presence in Southern Syria, as it seeks to create a buffer zone that extends from the occupied al-Golan heights to the depths of Daraa and Quneitra governorate.
The newspaper quoted Syrian opposition figures, Syrian government and Israeli sources and a non-government American organization, which all directly have a hand in the buffer zone project.
According to the newspaper, Israel has already started the second phase of the project by training over 500 opposition troops, which are supposed to be a border guard force and patrols will be activated, starting from the southern part of the town of Hader, with a Druze majority, through the towns held by the opposition, Jubata al-Khashab, which will be a force headquarters, Beer Ajam, al-Hamidiyeh and Quneitra.
During their tour, the involved officials have met with military leaders of the “al-Jaidur Brigade”, “Jaysh al-Ababil” (functioning with a Jordan-American support) and the “Fursan al-Golan” brigade.
In September 2017, a meeting took place in the town of al-Rafid, rural Quneitra, attended by military leaders, representatives of the civil and medical entities in the area, in addition to representatives of the “al-Jaidur Brigade”, “Fursan al-Golan” brigade and the “Syrian Revolutionaries Front” to discuss further cooperation according to the newspaper.
The details reported by the newspaper are literary implemented under the current Quneitra deal, for “Fursan al-Golan” brigade will stick to its positions on the borders with Golan, after a Russian consent and reassurances that prevent any military confrontations with the Syrian regime, providing that its work focus on the border areas after receiving suitable training.
The current scenario resembles what happened in the area of Beit Jinn after the opposition leader Iyad Kamal, dubbed “Morrow”, held to its positions in the area when Israel insisted that he stays as a local force that guarantee the protection of the borders.
The Yarmouk Basin Battle Has Not Yet Started
As for the battles in the southern parts of Syria, they have not yet started, as al-Yarmouk Basin, controlled by the “Islamic State” (ISIS), fate is to the day unknown, without a serious military movement towards it on the part of Assad’s forces and allied militias.
Corresponding to the implementation of the Quneitra deal, the “Islamic State” managed to progress towards areas that are administratively related to Quneitra governorate at the borders of al-Golan; “ISIS” announced control over the towns of al-Bakar, al-Abdali, al -Jbeliah, al-Maqraz, Sad al-Maqraz, El Malgah, al-Majaid, al-Deriat, Abu Hajar, al-Mshaideh, Ayin Zubida, Sad al-Jbeliah, following the “Free Army’s” retreat from them, in addition to the towns of Sida al-Hanout, Ghadeer al-Bustan, Um al-Luqs, al-Hayran and Ayin al-Qadi.
“ISIS” is in control of Tall al-Jumu’, the prominent military card in the area and one of the key strategic and military hilltops in the western countryside of Daraa, surrounded by strategic points held by the opposition, on top of which are Shaikh Saad and Nawa to the north of it.
Al-Jumu’ is higher than the rest of the areas in the western countryside of Daraa and overlooks all of Tasil town, while described as the most important hilltop surrounding the city of Nawa.
The “Islamic State” on July 12 managed to have complete control of the town of Hit after a massive attack it launched as a proactive step before Assad’s forces could penetrate it.
In sync to the “Islamic States’” progress, the Syrian regime’s air forces targeted the Yarmouk Basin with a number of air raids that forced hundreds of civilians out of the area towards the borders of the occupied Golan.
“ISIS” has captured the majority of the towns in the Yarmouk Basin after it launched a surprising attack last February, through which it captured a number of towns and hills, the most prominent of which are Sahem al-Golan, Tasil and tall al-Jumu’. Its troops are concentrated in several areas of the Yarmouk Basin: the towns of Jumelh and Abdeen at the borders with the occupied Golan, in addition to the Koayiah and al- al-Qaseer at the borders with Jordan.
The destiny of 50 thousand civilians, based in Yarmouk Basin, is indefinite, especially if the military operations were to start by the Russian-backed Assad’s forces following the finalization of the Quneitra governorate deal.