Sun 07 Jun 2020

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After Syrian regime increases troops in Syrian city of Tafas, residents grow fearful

Syrian-regime controlled checkpoint- 2018 (AP)

Syrian-regime controlled checkpoint- 2018 (AP)

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The Syrian regime has been sending major military reinforcements for several days to the vicinity of Tafas in the southern Syrian province of Daraa as tension arises with former opposition fighters and leaders who chose to stay in the province under the so-called reconciliation agreement signed in July 2018.  Indeed, these reinforcements marked the return of the file of southern Syria to the spotlights. 

In May of this year, new reinforcements of military vehicles and troops from the “4th Armored Division,” an elite formation of the Syrian regime forces led by Maher al-Assad, the younger brother of the President of the Syrian regime Bashar al-Assad, arrived from the Syrian capital, Damascus to the southern province of Daraa.

According to Enab Baladi’s correspondent in the province of Daraa, part of the military reinforcements was placed near Khirbet Ghazaleh Bridge, and some reinforcements were dispatched to the city of Daraa, and the checkpoints surrounding the town of al-Yadudah. Meanwhile, some of the Syrian regime forces were deployed significantly in the area between Tall al-Khidr and the military barrack in Tafas town, and between Tall al-Khidr and “Tablin” checkpoint, along with some military vehicles.

Additional reinforcements were deployed in the Daraa suburb, where the Syrian regime forces converted schools and health centers in the area into military units and headquarters. Furthermore, they drove some of the suburb’s civilian residents out of their homes, which they forcefully took over.

Through these reinforcements, the regime seeks to impose a cordon from the direction of the town of al-Yadudah until Tall al-Khidr to reach the vicinity of the city of Tafas from the east and southeast.

Two key events in Daraa prompted the influx of forces. First of all, a group of former “Free Syrian Army” (FSA) fighters seized the “Tablin” checkpoint and detained all the Syrian regime elements, including an officer, in response to the regime’s attack on the city of al-Sanamayn on 1 March.

Secondly, nine members of the Syrian regime’s internal security forces were killed in the town of Muzayrib in Daraa Countryside on 4 May, after they were kidnapped from the Daraa Police Command by the former leader of the FSA-affiliated al-Karama Brigade, Muhammad Qasim al-Subaihi in retaliation for the killing of his son. The body of the latter was found next to someone else’s body on Ej Jaaile-Ibtaa road in the central countryside of Daraa province. 

Russia moves to de-escalate the tension

In the face of these alarming developments, the commander of the Russian forces in southern Syria held a meeting on 15 May with the Central Negotiations Committee—the Central Negotiations Committee established following the Syrian regime’s takeover of Daraa in June 2018, consists of civilian notables and leaders in the FSA whose mission is to negotiate and represent the people as well as transfer their demands to the regime and the Russians.

Lawyer Adnan al-Masalmeh, the spokesperson of the Central Negotiations Committee, told Enab Baladi about the details of the meetings, which concluded with a review of all outstanding files and unresolved issues since the so-called “settlement” agreements were imposed while stressing the need for the Russian side as a guarantor of these “settlement” agreements in order to compel the regime to implement all their provisions. 

According to al-Masalmeh, a special emphasis was placed during the meeting on the recent military buildups of the regime forces at Tafas and other areas, to undermine what he described as “security and stability,” and the resultant anger and resentment among the local residents. 

The residents fear that the deployment of new military reinforcements in the area, which has a grave implication, means that the Syrian regime is planning to initiate a comprehensive military action that can drag the region into chaos and open warfare. With this regard, the “settlement” agreements, which Russians guaranteed, could go unheeded. 

Al-Masalmeh added that Russia is working seriously and intensively to prevent any accidents or military operations in the region, justifying the buildup of regime forces for other military reasons, not intended to break into the area.

It was also agreed that Russian military police would patrol throughout the whole province of Daraa, especially the western region, to monitor and limit the deployment of regime forces. The Russian side was also provided with the names of owners of homes, farms, and installations where the regime forces have recently been stationed, to work on their evacuation. 

Al-Masalmeh added that the Russian side obtained assurances from the Syrian regime that a large number of detainees will be released, especially those who were arrested after the “settlement” agreements.

Tafas on the news

Even though the last two events did not take place in the city of Tafas, the Syrian regime mobilized its forces there. The Syrian regime considers Tafas a center of gravity for former opposition elements that must be emptied, as it did in the city of al-Sanamayn months ago.

Tafas is a city in southern Syria, administratively part of the Muzayrib district, 13 kilometers (8 miles) from the center of Daraa province, with a population of 50 thousand. Its residents are well-known for growing vegetables and fruit trees. 

During the years of the revolution, Tafas was a refuge for many displaced families, especially after the regime forces were expelled from it by the FSA, through its two most prominent factions in the region: the Mu’tazz Billah and Fajr al-Islam. 

Over the past years of the revolution, Tafas has not been recaptured by the so-called Islamic State (IS), which controlled large areas in southern Syria;  there was no headquarters for al-Nusra Front in Tafas either. 

Tafas was included within the “settlement” agreement inked with the Syrian regime in July 2018. It is worth mentioning that the regime’s military control over Tafas remained weak, due to the presence of numerous former opposition fighters, who chose to stay and not be displaced to northern Syria, in addition to possessing many light weapons.

Tafas is now a resort for all ex-fighters of opposition factions fleeing the regime forces in Dael and Athman after the “settlement” agreement. 

During the war years, Tafas was under bombardment, which demolished a large part of buildings and shops. However, today Tafas sees an active commercial movement, and its markets are visited by the residents of neighboring villages. 

In Tafas, there is “Souq el Hal,” a fresh vegetable and fruit crops wholesale market, which is considered one of the most important and dynamic markets in Daraa.  There is also a hospital that was under the control of “the National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces,” which is being marginalized by the Syrian regime.

 

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