Fri 27 Nov 2020

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Between Hauran’s plain and mountain… fraternal relations unaffected by infighting

An old man building a wall for his house in As-Suwayda city- 2020 (Suwayda24)

An old man building a wall for his house in As-Suwayda city- 2020 (Suwayda24)

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Daraa – Halim Muhammad / As-Suwayda – Rayan al-Atrash 

“With a happy and smiley face, he told me, “welcome, my brother, As-Suwayda is your home and place.” These words were enough to soothe the young man from Daraa province, who was prevented by the snow from returning home in one of the cold nights of winter.

It was the end of the seventies when Mohammed al-Mustafa stood shaking in the As-Suwayda streets, looking worried and strange. Al-Mustafa was on a trip from his hometown in Daraa, neighboring the As-Suwayda governorate, to sing up for high school. He did not anticipate the sudden snowfall and got stuck by the snow. However, al-Mustafa was approached by a local man called “Abu Fadi,” who inquired the young man about his situation.

Abu Fadi received al-Mustafa in his house for four days, during which he served him “mansaf,” traditional local food in As-Suwayda made of rice and meat. Al-Mustafa was astonished by the similarity of the mansaf dish between Daraa and As-Suwayda, as the mansaf is also popular in the Daraa governorate.

The now sixty-year-old, al-Mustafa, recounted to Enab Baladi laughingly that he did not know much of his neighbors in Hauran’s mountain during his young days in As-Suwayda province.

Nevertheless, the sweet memories were replaced with a state of anger towards the current reality of the fighting, pointing accusations, mutual kidnapping, and looting operations. This unfortunate reality between the two neighboring provinces prevented al-Mustafa from visiting his friends as he used to do before. The Haurani sheikh, al-Mustafa, told Enab Baladi with a sigh, “since when have we started killing each other?”

 Fraternal relations awaiting the calm

Jayed followed his father while watching the swaying loads on the donkey that his father was leading. The donkey was carrying an egg basket from one side and cheese on the other. The walking trip took half an hour to the Daraa trader’s house, from whom they bought their family’s needs of goods from the Hauran plain’s street markets. During the trip to Hauran’s plain, Jayed and his father also visited his father’s friends.

Jayed Azzam, a man in his thirties, said to Enab Baladi, “in my personal opinion and based on the story of my trip with my father, no matter what problems and conflicts between the two provinces are, the only right thing to do is to reach a settlement between them. Our shared memories are rooted in our minds and hearts.”

The trade between the residents of the plain and mountain of the Hauran region was suspended following earlier military operations and later kidnappings after the Syrian regime regained control of Daraa in mid-2018.

Al-Mustafa recounts a time not long ago when people from As-Suwayda were going to the “al-Hal” street markets in the city of Daraa, Tafas, and Nawa to buy vegetables and fruits.

On the other hand, Daraa residents were heading to the mountain of Hauran to buy apples, grapes, and molasses. Al-Mustafa indicated that the two sides are now heading to Damascus for fear of going to each other’s area.

Member of the secretariat general of the “Social Commission for National Action” in As-Suwayda, Moayad Fayyad said to Enab Baladi despite the security concerns, the infighting between the two provinces “is not between the people of the plain and mountain of Hauran region.”

Fayyad added, “what happened in these two areas was the result of military interventions of foreign countries moving their military formations there as they wanted.”

 Years before the infighting months

The two provinces’ administrative boundaries did not separate the people of the two regions, as they shared traditions, commercial activity, and intertwined relations.

However, the recent years deepened the borders between the two regions, as people lost security on each other’s’ boundaries and feared being kidnapped by the other party.

Over the past years, the regime’s security apparatus in As-Suwayda has kept silent and passive regarding the kidnapping gangs’ practices, which increased their activity in the governorate.

The Syrian regime could not extend its control on As-Suwayda; instead, the province was managed by civil forces seeking to exclude the province from the conflict and protect the residents from the conflict parties. Nevertheless, the spread of weapons made the scene of kidnapping gangs a familiar phenomenon.

In many kidnapping cases, the kidnappers’ identities who practiced their activity inside and outside the province were known and Daraa province was a scene of many kidnapping incidents.

Sometimes, the kidnappers were contacted by civil mediation to release the kidnapped people. These attempts were successful at times and failed at other times, but the kidnappers’ intentions and motives were “clear.”

“Abu Samer,” one of the mediators to release two kidnapped persons in Shahba city in As-Suwayda, said that members of the kidnapping gangs had security members’ identities. He added the weapons they had were delivered by a security branch that shared with them the kidnappings and lootings’ profits.

According to a source close to the kidnapping gangs, the kidnapping groups fought the security forces for justified reasons. In the western countryside of As-Suwayda and al-Ariqah town, the gangs clashed with the security apparatus “over splitting the profits,” the source said.

The source, who asked not to be named for security reasons, pointed out that the disagreement with the security forces led to the killing of some gang members and besieging the town until the two parties reconciled in the al-Baath Party leadership building in As-Suwayda. After the reconciliation, the gangs were allowed by the security forces to continue their kidnapping and killing activities.

The kidnapping cases between Daraa and As-Suwayda provinces had counter kidnappings as a response. These kidnapping cases included hefty ransom payments and soon turned into open fighting between the two regions in the al-Qarya town at the end of last March.

The fighting in the al-Qarya town ended with the control of the “8th Brigade” affiliated to the Russian-backed “Fifth Corps” over some areas of the town and turned it into a stage that witnessed successive battles, the last of which was at the end of last September.

 The allies’ conflict in southern Syria

The latest fighting, which left 16 dead and more than 65 wounded people in As-Suwayda by the “National Defense Forces (NDF)” militia prompted the commander of the “8th Brigade” faction, Ahmed al-Awda, to warn against “evil hands” that intervened to “disturb the calm of the two neighbors.” Al-Awda noted that Iran is supporting the militias affiliated with the Syrian regime.

According to Ghassan al-Mufleh, a Syrian writer from Daraa province, what is going on between As-Suwayda and Daraa are attempts to perpetuate the distortion of the Syrian situation by the United States (US) and the international community.

Al-Mufleh added the situation between these two areas is “a result of America’s vision of managing the crisis in Syria, on the one hand, and of the interplay of the Syrian file with other files, such as the Lebanese, Iranian, and other files.”

Al-Mufleh said to Enab Baladi that the infighting aims to leave the region under direct military control by international forces through local militias, by Russia through the “Fifth Corps,” and Iran through the NDF to maintain the “no war, no peace situation” like the situation in the occupied al-Golan Heights.

Meanwhile, the former “Free Syrian Army (FSA) leader, Adham AL-Krad, believes that the near Syrian presidential elections are the regime’s motive for promoting opposition “fragmentation” and plunging the region into fighting.

 The residents are helpless regarding the situation between the two regions

According to al-Mufleh, the people of Hauran’s plain and mountain were not deceived by the ongoing infighting because the local militias’ attachment and objectives are exposed, but people are helpless in this situation.

He added, stopping the skirmishes between the two regions is not up to their residents, as long as Iran, Hezbollah, Russia, and the Syrian regime want the fighting to continue.

“In return, al-Awda shares the responsibility for occupying sites from the al-Qarya town, which should be returned to their owners immediately,” al-Mufleh said.

He referred to the symbolism of the town that was the hometown of Sultan Pasha al-Atrash, the leader of the “Great Syrian Revolt” in 1925.

For al-Krad, the conditions in Syria’s southern region have been “more difficult and harsher than the current ones over the past nine years,” but the peace mediators from both sides have repeatedly tried to extinguish the sedition whenever it was ignited.

Al-Krad noted that “great” efforts are also underway today to reconcile the two sides.

Mohammed al-Mustafa hopes for a reconciliation between Daraa and As-Suwayda while flipping the white and black old photos, reminiscing about the past when he was a young man spending his days in the Mountain of the Arabs (As-Suwayda).

Back then, al-Mustafa did not always wear the ghutrah (a traditional Arabian headdress) and the “sherwal” (a wide loose pants wore by men in Daraa) like he does today, but his love of his neighbors remained the same.

Al-Mustafa is waiting for peace to be re-established between Daraa and As-Suwayda to visit his friends in As-Suwayda and eat their “mansaf” dish.

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