Daraa at Crossroads with the End of the Settlement Agreement
Daraa governorate is today anticipating an unknown fate, now that the settlement agreement/legalization of status of men required to join the Assad forces has ended. The legalization of these men’s status was reached under the settlement agreement, sealed last year, amidst so much concern that its deadline will not be extended.
In June 2018, the Daraa Central Committee and the Syrian regime signed a deal specific to men required to perform mandatory military service, who are either defectors, service evaders or required to perform the reserve military service.
The deal provided for offering the men under these three categories a fixed time limit – a year- with an official card that prevent their arrest at the checkpoints.
However, the year ended and refrain from renewing it places Daraa’s wanted men before arrests and compulsory recruitment, especially with the confrontations the fronts in northern Syria are witnessing. The prosecuted men, for their part, reject the situation, demanding a civil disobedience to challenge the security pressures that aim to forcefully drive them into the ranks of Assad forces.
Prior to the deadline, the regime demanded that all the men prosecuted place their thumbprints on the military service’s documents and refer to the Recruitment Departments, for they have to join the forces in a week at the maximum. The regime also alluded to penalties of a military sort in case men do not show up, in addition to lists with hundreds of names that have been posted on the walls of several municipalities in the past two weeks.
Violations Despite the Deal
The governorate bore witness to massive violations last year, for the UN has documented the arrest of 380 persons in the governorate between June 2018 and March 2019, according to a statement by Marta Hurtado, UN Human Rights Office spokesperson, released last May.
Hurtado added that among the detainees were employees affiliated with governmental bodies in the governorate, including civil councils, who have all been victims of what appear to have been “targeted killings.”
The organization noted that the detentions were on the charge of “terrorism,” without any clarification from the Syrian regime, adding that 150 detainees were released while 230 others are still considered detainees or forcibly disappeared.
“In some cases, we know that they have been arrested for the sake of extracting information, either about former events or to get a hold of the mechanisms that the opposition works according in the meantime. However, the reasons for the arrest are generally not disclosed,” the organization explained.
Attempts at Extending the Settlement’s Duration
The Central Committee in Daraa is attempting to extend the settlement agreement’s duration to the next six months, after it managed to keep it in force for a whole year on two stages, aiming at protecting the prosecuted persons from being thrust into the confrontations and to avoid the tension the governorate is expected to suffer.
On the condition of anonymity, a member of the Central Committee, delegated to conduct negotiations, said that the Committee has demanded the extension of the settlement’s duration to a whole year and the demobilization of the defectors. Nonetheless, no official decision has so far been made in the approval of the extension.
In an interview with Enab Baladi, the member said: “The Central Committee has filed its demands to General Nasser Deeb, head of the security committee assigned running the settlement in southern Syria.”
“The Russians and the regime need the pacification at the current phase,” he added.
For his part, lawyer Ali al-Salkhadi, the former governor of Daraa in the wake of the opposition’s control of the area, ruled out the regime’s refusal to extend the settlement’s duration as it has “to save its face, because it is going through its worst conditions and is witnessing a state of confusion and decentralization when it comes to making its own decisions.”
“Even if the regime refuses to extend the settlement, it is incapable of invading the area and forcefully recruiting the men,” he added in an interview with Enab Baladi.
The Syrian regime has not yet officially commented on the renewal of the agreement or implementing some of its terms while its forces continue with the arrest raids and calling the wanted people to join their ranks.
Any Substitutes for the Settlement Agreement?
The member of the Central Committee believes that the regime’s refusal to extend the settlement will have several consequences against its interests, for the rejection “represents a declaration of war and a return to square one.”
These discussions are accompanied by the civil preparations that started late in June 2019 for disobedience in refusal of all sorts of arrest campaigns, through leaflets that activists pasted on the walls of certain neighborhoods in rural Daraa, calling the people to refrain from sending their sons to serve under the Assad forces.
The leaflets said: “Idlib’s people have revolted for our sake, let us make sure that we do not send our sons to fight them […]. We will continue, God willing, until we uproot this criminal regime and avenge our martyrs, the epitome of sacrifice.”
These calls were initiated first of all by the former opposition leader Adham al-Krad, who posted the following on his “Facebook” page: “Three youth categories have been affected by what happened: Defectors, required to perform reserve military service, and others demanded to join mandatory service. Since the battles in Idlib are yet ongoing and our sons were tricked to believe the pardon’s decree and hastened to join the forces, Daraa will never surrender its dearest sons, to turn them into firewood for your [the regime’s] projects. It is at the verge of civil disobedience; so, it is better that you play a different game.”
Leaders Backing the Central Committee
The Central Committee was founded following the regime’s control of Daraa governorate in June 2018 and its actions have resulted in the legalization of thousands of residents’ status, who are prosecuted by the regime on several charges, aiming to bring back stability to Daraa.
The Committee consists of anti-regime figures, some of whom are leaders of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), civil activists, religion scholars, and lawyers, including the following: Lawyer Adnan Masalmeh, scholar Faisal Abazaid, scholar Ahmad Bqairat, Abu Murshid al-Bardan, engineer Yaroub Abu Saeifan and Musa’ab al-Bardan, among others.
The Committees’ work focuses on Daraa al-Balad city and the areas of Tafass and al-Yarmouk Basin in the governorate’s rural parts, which are all partially out of the Syrian regime’s grip.
In 2018, the Committee worked on preventing the arrest of women and the release of others from the Syrian regime’s detention facilities, in addition to its keenness on protecting young men from arrest.
Its role also includes meeting regime and Russian leaders, being the guarantor of the agreement, to channel the people’s demands, represented by ending the arrests, lifting the security grip of the area and resolving the affairs of detainees and defectors.
The Committee has popular and revolutionary support from the people and the opposition, represented by former FSA leaders. This has been expressed by the former commander Adham al-Krad on “Facebook,” as he posted a statement signed by several leaders and activists.
“We, the popular, civil and tribal entities of Daraa al-Balad, Tariq al-Sadd and the camps, announce our full advocacy of the Daraa City Committee, after it proved its capability at handling a critical phase, which saved the people and the area many a disaster under conditions that are known by those near and far,” the statement said.
The statement also stressed: “We authorize it to do all that it believes fit and required by Daraa’s people general interest. We also urge it to work sincerely and faithfully as to realize our rights, true demands and mitigate corruption and oppression as to achieve equality and justice.”
Grassroots’ Position on the Committee
In his interview with Enab Baladi, Lawyer al-Salkhadi commended the officials of the Committee and described them as owners of a revolutionary record. However, he said that “they became the victims of the regime’s lies and procrastination.”
Commenting on the committees’ major role, he noted: “its resolute role concerning the spread of the regime’s checkpoints in the western area, for the committee has forced the regime to remove them.”
On his turn, activist Yassin Qadah criticized the Committee, telling Enab Baladi that “it did not protect the young men and failed to have a crucial role in preventing their joining the regime’s military service, which thrust them in the armed confrontations in Northern Syria.”
“The Committee is restricted to Daraa al-Balad and the western area; it is in need of expansion and organization, as well as including persons who have not played a role in surrendering southern Syria,” he added.
“My two sons are held at the regime’s detention centers since 2014; I was hoping that the committee will lobby to release them. But the regime arrested others, and the committee is demanding [the release] of all,” Abu Mahran, 70-year-old, told Enab Baladi.
He added: “It is still important to mention what the Committee has done as to prevent the arrest of women and release a sufficient number of them earlier on.”
Alaa, 32-year-old young man, who defected from the Assad forces in 2012, said: “Through issuing a presidential pardon for the defectors, the regime tried to lure youths into joining the military service under its forces without accountability or penalty.”
“This decree, however, did not trick many young men, for fear of arrest and in refusal of performing military services in the ranks of the regime,” he added, explaining that “we firmly hope that the Central Committee will defend the defectors and provide a temporary deferral, while demanding ultimate demobilization.”
His colleague Ahmad, a 25-year-old mandatory military service escapee, believes that the Committee has played a major role in deferring his recruitment.
He told Enab Baladi that “the Committee is trying to extend the deadline. It deserves to be thanked for this, and we hope that it seeks to get an extension, as we prefer dying to go and fight alongside the regime.”
Though the Russians are the guarantors of the agreement, they are still silent about the violations the regime is committing.
Commenting on this the Committee’s members said that the members have met the Russian side several times, reporting the repeated violations, but the “Russians are very good at making promises.”