New strategy to empty Daraa of opposition fighters
Enab Baladi – Daraa
The Syrian regime is working to impose a new reality in the Daraa governorate, by controlling the areas incubating the opposition factions’ fighters who refused to leave, withdrawing their weapons through negotiations and truce, and deporting those who reject the agreement to the Syrian north.
Recently, the regime has implemented this strategy in several areas of Daraa, which allowed al-Assad to enter new territories, control it, and redeploy his forces there, in addition to deporting several people who refused to accept the regime’s presence in the governorate.
First attack after “settlement”
On 1 March, the regime forces, backed by artillery and tanks, attacked the city of al-Sanamayn in the northern countryside of Daraa and imposed a siege on it after cutting the roads and entrances of the city.
The military campaign against the city came suddenly without warning its residents to evacuate the area.
This military measure is the first of its kind, as the regime forces used artillery in Daraa for the first time since signing the settlement agreement in July 2018.
The military campaign against al-Sanamayn ended with seizing the rest of the city’s neighborhoods that were still out of the regime’s control. Thus, the Russian-backed Fifth Legion mediated to deport 21 armed opposition fighters to northern Syria and sign a second settlement agreement with those wishing to stay after handing over their weapons.
Lawyer Ali al-Salkhadi, who previously served as the governor of “the liberated Daraa,” said in an interview with Enab Baladi that the regime was able to recruit and use informers among those he described as “the wicked souls” in the city of al-Sanamayn against the opposition fighters who rejected the presence of the regime forces in the city.
Al-Salkhadi explained that the regime formed dormant cells and assigned its elements to exert pressure on the locals, demand the exit of the opposition fighters, and urge the regime to carry out a military campaign. The activities by the dormant cells led to enabling al-Assad to re-control the city and evacuate the rebels, holding their heads high, as he put it.
He added that the regime will now start sending the sons of the al-Sanamayn city to fight with its forces in northern Syria, noting that they will return in coffins.
The attack on the city of al-Sanamayn outraged those who rejected the regime’s presence in most areas of the Daraa governorate, where they surrounded the regime forces’ checkpoints and barracks and attacked some of them.
At a time when the regime was attacking the al-Sanamayn city, the opposition forces imposed a siege on the town of Muzayrib, the military barrack in Tafas, and al Tala’a Camp and al-Shabiba camp. Besides, the opposition factions attacked a regime forces’ checkpoint in Jasim city, in which two elements were killed, and several others were wounded, as well as a security checkpoint in Jalin Masaken, in western Daraa countryside, and arrested 50 fighters and confiscated their weapons.
In parallel, tens protested in Daraa (al-Balad district), condemning the storming of al-Sanamayn, and demanded the regime to withdraw immediately from the city. Additionally, other angry demonstrations took place in the town of Giza in the eastern countryside of Daraa and the city of Bosra, in support of the population of the al-Sanamayn city.
New “settlements” and disarmament
Before storming the al-Sanamayn city, the regime, represented by the head of the Security Committee, Major General Hossam Luke, and the head of the Military Security Branch, Brigadier Louay al-Ali, in cooperation with the notables of Nahita, imposed a truce in exchange for handing over 20 weapons and ammunition, making settlements for the second time in the town, and releasing some of the detainees.
The regime’s media took advantage of this truce. They promoted at the time that the people demanded the army to withdraw the opposition fighters’ weapons and impose security measures in the southern region.
A member of the Central Committee— the Central Committee was composed of civilian notables and leaders in the Free Syrian Army, whose task is to negotiate and represent the people as well as transfer their demands to the regime and the Russians, after the regime forces’ entry into the southern region—told Enab Baladi, on condition of anonymity, that the government is striving to establish a “fake victory” after losing the battle in northern Syria.
The Committee member added that the regime is trying to impose a new reality in southern Syria, by deporting fighters and seizing their weapons, which is considered as a great guarantee in the hands of the opposition, as he put it.
He explained that the regime is trying to push the world to believe that the southern area is under its effective control, and to appear as the initiator and the holder of power there, for fear of facing the resistance of the southern population.
He asserted that the regime is trying to reverse the balance of power in order to avoid a counter military campaign by the opposition that might take its forces by surprise and reveal that what has been promoted about al-Assad’s control of the cities of Daraa is untrue. As such, the committee member indicated that the regime is far from being in control of the region and has no power there.
The official continued: “Yesterday, the Syrian regime unleashed its military machinery in al-Sanamayn, and before that, he had promoted a truce and the withdrawal of the fighters’ weapons in the town of Nahita, and now it is promoting another truce in the city of Jasim.”
He pointed out that the matter requires the Central Committee and the revolutionary elites to unite to counter the regime’s attempt to tear up the Syrian territory and impose its control over the different regions. Several military initiatives are currently underway to counter the regime’s advancement on the ground, in addition to the many anti-regime demonstrations.
He indicated that if the regime succeeded in imposing a truce in Jasim city, then its future target will be either Tafs or Daraa al-Balad.
The official considered that the deportation of the opposition fighters and the seizure of their weapons is an Iranian demand in order to control the southern region and spread the Shiite doctrine there, as it did in Deir Ez-Zor earlier.
Threats to the city of Jasim
During the military campaign aimed at controlling the city of al-Sanamayn, many opposition fighters coming from Jasim city attacked a regime checkpoint, killing two soldiers and wounding others.
After seizing al-Sanamayn, Major General Hossam Luke demanded the notables of Jasim city to identify the attackers of the checkpoint, hand over their weapons, and integrate them into the settlement accord, without mentioning anything about deporting them to the Syrian north. Thus, Luke gave the prominent personalities of the city a ten-day deadline to meet his requests.
In an interview with Enab Baladi, media activist Ahmed al-Ammar stated that these measures are “dangerous” because they are designated to empty the city of oppositionists. He noted that this strategy is a part of a “pernicious” scheme to seize the fighter’s weapons.
Al-Ammar added that al-Assad authorities pushed the families of the regime’s dead soldiers to file lawsuits against the opposition fighters. Thus, the number of those currently wanted by the authorities for attacking the security checkpoint is estimated at between 30 and 40 fighters.
He expected a similar scenario in the al-Sanamayn city that will start with besieging and bombing the city. Then the notables would intervene and deport whoever wanted to northern Syria.
Regarding the negotiations on the city of Jasim, al-Salkhadi said that the regime, and behind it Russia, seeks to control the south in particular and all of Syria in general, following the old British policy “divide and conquer.”
Al-Salkhadi indicated that al-Assad is planning to control parts of the rebellious regions like Nahita and al-Sanamayn while trying today to negotiate with the people of Jassim city. Once he manages to impose his conditions there, he would move to the rest of the regions.
He concluded: “The regime’s policy, based on seizing and controlling parts of the land, needs to be stopped by a unified front consisting of free spirits, who are willing to coordinate their efforts and take appropriate steps to stand up to the regime’s plans.”
Daraa saw the conclusion of a settlement agreement in July 2018, under Russian sponsorship, whereby the regime tightened military control over the governorate. However, the regime forces’ grip on the area has not been firm enough, especially with the presence of armed and rebellious areas that rejected its presence.
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