A Year into the Settlement: The Regime’s Fragile Control and Security Chaos Rule the Landscape
A year has passed since the opposition factions and the Syrian regime have sealed a settlement deal in southern Syria, during which the latter failed to deeply root its control, contrary to the rest of the areas that conducted a settlement or a reconciliation, eastern Ghouta included. The command is fragile there, and services are all stopped; but still, the security grip is all present, syncing with a state of security chaos, which the citizens are enduring, as they threatened with armed burglaries and assassinations, targeting civilians and militants alike.
Assad forces’ control of the southern area was not executive, as it never extended beyond raising the flag above public departments and spreading checkpoints in its eastern parts, while failing to conduct any incursions, despite the fact that the means deployed at these checkpoints are kidnapping and arrests, thus, exploiting the citizens forced to pass through them.
The situation, however, is different in the western parts of the area, where the regime is totally at a loss of power, to a greater extent than that in the eastern parts, given that the Assad forces have invaded the eastern area with the power of arms while they took over the western area through negotiation and handing in heavy weaponry.
Unlike the general image, which gives the illusion of Assad forces’ total control of Daraa governorate, many areas are yet out of their control, almost completely, including Daraa al-Balad, Tafas and the villages surrounding it.
In Daraa al-Balad and Tafas, no militant is allowed entry to the city, no matter what rank he possesses; though a Military Security Detachment is stationed in Tafas, the personnel operating it are all reconciled militants.
Protests and Wall Writings
Lawyer Sulaiman al-Qarfan, former Bâtonnier in Daraa governorate, told Enab Baladi that a year from the “fall” of southern Syria, the Assad forces failed to tighten control throughout the region, for several areas did not witness the advance of the forces, such as Dara al-Balad, Tafas and Busra al-Sham.
He added that the breakout of protests in certain areas and the writings on walls in public spaces are clear indicators of the citizens’ refusal of the Syrian regime’s politics in the south, as it lacks absolute dominance in the area. On this note, he referred to the photo of Bashar al-Assad which has been torn out at day by unmasked persons.
The attacks on the military pots of the regime, which a faction called “Popular Resistance” initiated, are also proof of the weak control, as noted by al-Qarfan.
The past a few months, following the settlement agreement, bore witness to several attacks, which targeted Assad forces’ posts and checkpoints in eastern and western rural Dara. The last of theses was a large-scale attack from three axes on the Air Force Intelligence Detachment and the Dael Police Station.
“The Guarantor is a Liar”
Upon signing the settlement agreement, in July 2018, Russia, being the guarantor, promised to ensure the safety of the civilians who refused to leave to northern Syria, along with the military leaders, who signed the agreement and were former militants in the ranks of armed opposition groups. Nonetheless, the promises have not actualized, for the regime continued with the arrests, based on the claim of “personal prosecutions” and “affiliation to the Islamic State.”
Al-Qarfan added that the Russian guarantor has violated the pledges it made, as the arrests are yet ongoing and the status of the defectors has not been legalized, pointing that Russians are aware that their withdrawal from the southern political landscape means that things would return to their familiar rhythm, the revolution would be reignited and the regime’s forces sent out, as he put it.
The regime has followed a special policy for the arrests it initiated in the past months, as it the maneuvered the settlement card with the Criminal Security which conducted raids and arrests on the claims of personal prosecutions, filed by the relatives of the people killed during the war in the past a few years.
The prosecutors filed lawsuits against leaders of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), due to which many of them were arrested; others were arrested despite operating under the military formations of the Assad forces.
On the condition of anonymity, a former FSA leader told Enab Baladi that the lawsuits should have been dropped as they come in the context of war. “The killing was mutual. However, the Syrian regime has adopted them to rid of the leaders of the factions on the one hand and take revenge on those who carried arms and developed ideas against it on the other.”
The leader added that the murder lawsuits allow the regime to hold captive the prosecuted person and legally demand his/her presence before the court, where the sentence might amount to death or hard labor, believing that a difference should be marked between the personal prosecutions outside the war’s timespan and others initiated during the “settlement” phase, which is supposed to erase all that belongs to the past.
Since the signing of the settlement agreement to February 20, as the Daraa Martyrs’ Documentation Office reported, the number of the people arrested by the Syrian regime in Daraa has amounted to 312 persons, out of whom 132 are FSA militants, including 26 commanders who died under torture and due to arrest-related conditions.
The settlement phase, during its first year, was marked with security chaos and proliferation of crimes, the perpetrators of which are “unidentified.” Under this, former FSA leaders and militants were assassinated, including a commander of the “Death rather than Humiliation” battle, al-Amouri Abu Hamzah al-Ghezlan, the commander Abu Nour Zaid al-Bardan and a leader of the al-Muta’az Billah Army, among others.
On the other side, unidentified persons assassinated the directors of three of the regime’s municipalities, in addition to Mohammad Shamdeen al-Hari, head of the reconciliation committee in Athman, the death of whom was blamed on the Central Committee by the Syrian regime’s security Committee, not to mention the assassinations that targeted persons accused of affiliation to the Lebanese Hezbollah.
The chaos was not the result of assassinations only, for Daraa has been suffering an increase in armed burglaries and thefts, which are also committed by unidentified gunmen.
Abu Hassan (45 years old), an owner of a restaurant in the city of Daraa, lost ten gas cylinders in a theft in the last month.
“I cannot stay [in the restaurant] at night, given the upsurge in daily thefts,” he told Enab Baladi.
Abu Hassan added that the commercial flow in the majority of the areas is yet weak, especially in the central parts of Daraa city, considering the deteriorating security circumstances.
In the same context, the Daraa Local Council demanded that the owners of industrial workshops renovate their shops in the Industrial Area, adjacent to the Air Force Intelligence Service building and threatened to seal the shops if the decision is not met. Nonetheless, the decision was met with a thorough rejection for fear of equipment thefts.
Refusing to Fight for the Regime
In the case of defectors, this issue has been a matter of controversy, leading to disputes between the Central Committee and the Syrian regime, which is trying to thrust the area’s young men in the ranks of its forces to participate in the military operations in Northern Syria and other hot zones.
The Central Committee has, earlier on, managed to provide six young men with deferrals that ended early this June. This triggered the Syrian regime to notify the concerned parties of the need to get the thumb prints of the young men, required to perform military service, on documents. The young men were also ordered to refer to their recruitment departments in a duration of seven days at maximum. In case they failed to do this, the disobeyers will be considered deserters and would become liable to the military rulings applicable to deserting military service.
This procedure was answered with a popular rejection. On his “Facebook” account, Adham al-Krad, a former SFA leader, posted that the sons of Daraa “would not fight against their brothers in Idlib,” directing his speech to Assad forces.
In Sync, activists in Daraa called for disobedience in the governorate, a dimension of which was reflected through writings on the walls of the Ihsem town, which stressed that the opposition factions in Idlib, northern and western rural Hama would not be fought against.
Under the provisions of the settlement agreement, activists, humanitarian organizations’ staffers and members of local councils managed to obtain a document of “status legalization.” Referring to the Real Estate Registry, recording sales and purchases, they were surprised with the cautionary seizure imposed on their properties. They were demanded to show up at the Damascus Terrorism Court.
The seizure covered the majority of the activists, humanitarian organizations’ workers, members of the Provincial Council, members of the People of Houran Association, directors of the major cities’ local councils and some expats, who have properties in Syria and who have been charged with offering support to the Syrian opposition by the regime.
The seizure also covered the movable and immovable money of FSA leaders.
Lawyer Suliman al-Qarfan explained that the seizure included the properties of the majority of activists – members of the Provincial Council, local councils and staffers of humanitarian organizations, UN-affiliated ones as well.
He added that these resolutions have been made since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution, under Law No. 11, which provides for canceling the real estate record and establishing a new one, as to write off the ownership of anti-regime persons.
Several laws and decrees serve this end, depriving these persons of their proprieties, including Decree No. 66. The laws of cautionary seizure, according to al-Qarfan, were not limited to the personal properties of activists, for they extended to their ascendants and descendants, “which is a legal violation because the right to ownership is one that all international constitutions protect, and it is prohibited to break an international constitutional convention.”
One of the things that defined the settlement phase was the State’s establishments’ inability at providing people with the minimum of services needed, for the establishments that were out of the Syrian regime’s control are yet destroyed and the authorities have done nothing so far but rising a flag above them.
The public services, once supervised by the local councils which humanitarian organizations backed, are stopped; trash is everywhere on the streets, debris is not removed and destroyed building are not renovated.
A member of a former local council, on the condition of anonymity, told Enab Baladi that with their lacking resources in the past years, the local councils managed to remove trash and collect it in dumpsters outside the towns.
“Once the regime’s municipalities gained control, procrastination has been noticed concerning the removal of the trash. The regime has not yet started paving the roads, or even repairing bumps and holes. Its affiliated units, for their part, did not work on maintaining water networks, which need major maintenance and renovation.”
A former staffer of a humanitarian organization, whose name is not mentioned at his request, said that the services offered by the regime’s establishments did not exceed 10%. In addition to this, they are applying partial and short-term solutions, limited to the installation of a few power generators and general maintenance activities.
The humanitarian activist stressed that most of the public services, especially electricity and water-related, are provided by the towns’ people themselves via the funds they collected from residents and several immigrants.
He also pointed out to the deterioration of the healthcare services after the regime’s control, given the fact that medical posts and hospitals proliferated throughout Houran. Today, however, people are seeking healthcare services at the Izra’a National Hospital and Daraa National Hospital, while the rest of the medical posts that operated under the control of the Syrian opposition are either marginalized or closed.
Even for the simplest surgeries, the activist said, citizens are forced to travel for long distances towards Izra’a or Daraa, during which they might be subjected to arrest at the Syrian regime’s checkpoints, which citizens, especially the prosecuted ones, tend to avoid.
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