Three Security Axes For The Syrian Regime In East Of Euphrates
The Syrian regime still maintains security axes in the east of the Euphrates, which is an area under the control of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (NES) represented by its military arm, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
The regime’s control is limited to security squares in the centers of the cities of al-Hasakah and Qamishli, within limited understandings with the SDF, in addition to taking over a number of villages in the seven kilometer-area of Deir ez-Zor countryside.
During the last two weeks, Deir ez-Zor countryside has witnessed popular demonstrations calling for the withdrawal of the regime from the towns under its control in the east of the Euphrates, in an attempt to return the inhabitants of these areas. To these demonstrations, the SDF turned a blind eye and the regime remained silent, too.
The Syrian regime considers the NES represented by its military and political branches as “separatist militias supported by the US-led international coalition,” according to the regime’s official discourse and it insists, through official statements, on the necessity to regain influence over the east of the Euphrates, as the NES forces are illegal.
Control with Russian support
The regime forces are located in the seven-kilometer area of Deir ez-Zor countryside, east of the Euphrates River, with the Russians’ support, enabling the military presence of their ally, at the expense of US-backed SDF forces, in light of Russia’s commitment to remain in those areas.
According to Syrian journalist Suhaib Jaber, Deir ez-Zor local, the Russians are controlling the towns taken over by the Syrian regime in Deir ez-Zor, pointing out that the Russian forces are stationed in those towns to prevent a clash between the regime and the SDF.
In an interview with Enab Baladi, Jaber added that the Russian-Syrian alliance insists on staying east of the Euphrates, with no intention of withdrawing from these areas, despite the fact that the Russians expressed their readiness to leave the east of the Euphrates during a meeting held in the past few days between representatives of the International Alliance and Russian forces in the region.
The journalist believes that the possibility of the regime’s withdrawal from the region is still weak as the Iranian militias are the ones refusing to withdraw in reality and strengthening their military presence in the area despite popular protests and international negotiations.
In Qamishli, which is considered the political capital of the NES, east of the Euphrates, the regime maintains a security axe, represented by government and security institutions under its supervision, as well as controlling the Qamishli airport.
The regime also controls a small security axe in the city of al-Hasakah, represented by Army Artillery Base Kawkab, some government departments and schools located in the city within unspoken understandings and agreements between the SDF and the regime.
Omar Abu Layla, the executive director of Deirezzor24, told Enab Baladi that the regime’s presence in the security axis in Qamishli and al-Hasakah is contingent upon understandings with the SDF, which is reflected in the movement made by the fighters of both parties in those areas at a regular basis.
These security axes witnessed conflicts between the two parties, during last year, were direct clashes between the regime forces and Internal Security Forces (Asayish) took place, resulting in casualties in the ranks of both sides. However, the battles quickly subsided after an official apology was issued by the Asayish to the regime. Thus, the incident was considered as an individual act.
Calls for withdrawal from East Bank
The northern countryside of Deir ez-Zor has witnessed angry popular demonstrations over the past two weeks, during which the protesters called for the withdrawal of the Syrian regime forces and the Iranian militias from the east and west of the Euphrates, in addition to handing these areas over to the SDF and the International Coalition.
The latest demonstrations took place on Friday, 27 September, under the slogan Friday of Salhiya Martyrs, centered in the roundabout of the industrial zone, which is under the control of the SDF, and on the outskirts of the seven- kilometer-area, taken over by the Syrian regime and its allies.
The demonstrators held, for the second week in a row, banners demanding the regime and the Iranian militias to withdraw, in addition to condemning the assassination and arrest of a number of people in the region by elements of the regime a week ago.
The area under the regime’s control, witnessed angry popular protests, on September 20, as a result of a rising wave of indignation to the military threats menacing the region and its inhabitants.
The demonstration included the towns of Salhiya, Husayniyah, Marrat and Khasham, under the slogan Friday of Liberation, to which the regime responded by firing at the demonstrators, who in turn attacked checkpoints and security barriers, particularly Al-Saqr checkpoint, near the Salhiya crossing.
The demonstrations resulted in the death of three civilians and a member of the Internal Security Forces of the SDF (Asayish), while he was wearing civilian clothes among the demonstrators, in addition to the injury of a dozen of civilians and the arrest of several others, according to Hawar News Agency and Deirezzor 24.
The demonstrations followed the release of video footage by leaders of militias affiliated to the regime, threatening the inhabitants of the area, which were reported by local media including the Euphrates Post, which published last week videos that included threats to storm Deir ez-Zor areas under the control of Deir ez-Zor Military Council (affiliated to the SDF).
The most prominent of these videos was the one featuring leader of the Baqir Brigade, who threatened to raid the western countryside of Deir ez-Zor, accusing and insulting the people of the region in the presence of Russian officers.
The field commander of Deir ez-Zor Council, Mohammed al-Khalil, responded on behalf of the SDF, in the presence of Ahmed al-Khabil, the Sheikh of al-Bakir tribes, that the SDF is ready to counter any attack initiated by the regime forces and its allies against areas under its control.
The SDF also closed the Salhiya crossing following threats and destroyed water crossings on both banks of the Euphrates in the region with the support of the International Coalition, in a move to prevent any attempts by the regime to attack its territories.
The town of Salhiya, which is an economic centre for the people of the region enabling them to transport commercial goods and other commodities, separates the areas of control of both sides.
The regime adheres to “legitimacy”
For its part, the Syrian regime has not officially commented on the demonstrations calling for its withdrawal from the east of the Euphrates, while talking through its official media outlets about popular protests rejecting the control of the SDF of several areas, and documenting what it describes as “ongoing violations” towards the population of the region.
On September 20, pro-regime Facebook pages, including Deir Al Zour News, posted pictures of popular counter-demonstrations in Deir ez-Zor, chanting anti-SDF slogans and glorifying the Syrian regime.
The Syrian regime accuses the SDF of committing crimes against the residents of the areas in the east of the Euphrates, describing the SDF as “separatist militias” and repeatedly calling on them to surrender the areas under its control. The most recent of these calls was through a statement submitted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the UN Security Council and the United Nations, on September 15, and quoted by the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA).
The SDF and its political arm, the Syrian Democratic Council, rejected the accusations and called on the Syrian regime to engage in democratic dialogue and abandon what it called the ‘tyrannical methods’ it is implementing.