Daraa returns to Syrian regime’s control by forced settlement agreements

One of the entrances to the city of Daraa al-Balad - September 2021 (edited By Enab Baladi)

One of the entrances to the city of Daraa al-Balad - September 2021 (edited By Enab Baladi)

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Enab Baladi – Khaled al-Jeratli

The Syrian regime has completed the settlement procedures in the western and northern Daraa countryside and launched similar procedures in Daraa’s eastern countryside starting from the perimeter of the Jaber- Nassib crossing on the borders with Jordan. 

Former opposition leaders based in Daraa told Enab Baladi that the regime’s settlements are mere formalities to avoid armed confrontations in southern Syria, especially with the approach of the implementing date of the energy deal stipulating the transfer of gas from Egypt to Lebanon through Jordan and Syria.  

The regime’s settlements in Daraa countryside are similar to those established in Daraa al-Balad after a siege and military clashes for over two months. The situation in Daraa al-Balad was settled at the beginning of last September following the signing of a reconciliation agreement between the regime-affiliated Security Committee (SC) and the Daraa Central Committee (DCC) formed by the region’s dignitaries.

On 9 October, the regime forces initiated new settlements in the eastern Daraa countryside that covered the villages neighboring the Nassib border crossing with Jordan. These villages are under the influence of the former commander in the Yarmouk Army faction, Imad Abu Zreik, who now heads a group working for the Military Security Services after settling with the regime.  

Matching sources told Enab Baladi that the regime forces had set security points inside settlement areas starting from Daraa al-Balad all the way to the towns and villages of Daraa countryside. In addition, the forces are working on reaching understandings with the locals to avoid future attacks.   

Daraa’s western countryside: First region to settle with the regime in Daraa

On 13 September, the regime’s SC started settling the wanted persons’ situations in the al-Yadoudah town in the western Daraa countryside after it finished the last phases of the settlement agreement in Daraa al-Balad. 

The al-Yadoudah settlements began after negotiations were held between the town’s dignitaries and the regime’s SC headed by Major General Hussam Luka. The settlement stipulated the entry of regime forces to the town, conducting an inspection, and settling the wanted persons’ status.  

The security tension in al-Yadoudah was not limited to the presence of wanted people that the regime sought to settle their situations, as regime forces bombed the town on 29 July and left deaths and injuries among its people.   

On 27 July, local fighters from the al-Yadoudah town attacked security checkpoints and military posts for the regime in Daraa’s western countryside in an attempt to break the siege imposed by regime forces on the city of Daraa al-Balad. 

The al-Yadoudah town was the regime’s entrance to Daraa’s western countryside. As soon as the regime made a settlement with the al-Yadoudah townspeople, it undertook similar agreements in the areas of Muzayrib, Tafas, Tal Shihab, and the Yarmouk Basin. 

Daraa’s northern countryside: A fast shift from military escalation to settlements 

The city of Jasim, the key to settlements in the northern Daraa countryside, witnessed military movements in the city’s environs on 29 September after the stumble of negotiations between the city’s dignitaries and the regime’s SC.   

Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Daraa reported back then that regime’s military reinforcements, including tanks and military vehicles loaded with troops, were advancing towards the city of Jasim coming from the Nimr and al-Faqi’ towns to the north of Jasim city.

The reinforcements were centered on the Kom Musleh checkpoint and some private-owned farms to the city’s northern side. Army vehicles carrying forces were also advancing from the city’s western side, the correspondent said.    

Events escalated in Jasim city and ended up in a siege similar to the one imposed on Daraa al-Balad, with the main roads to the city closed down as its residential neighborhoods were bombed with mortar shells. 

According to Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Daraa, the escalation resulted from a disagreement on the number of arms to be handed over by locals to the regime. The regime forces demanded the surrender of 250 new weapons after receiving half of this number at the early phase of the settlement.     

The military escalation in Jasim city ended after a series of negotiations that put the city under a settlement on 3 October. From there, the regime continued its chain of settlements in Daraa’s northern countryside. 

Over the next three days, the regime forces settled the security status of hundreds of people from the Daraa northern countryside, with the city of al-Sanamayn being the last to join the settlements with the regime. 

The settlements application mechanism

Under the settlement agreements, locals are handed settlement cards with their holders’ photos, enabling them to wander freely and pass security checkpoints without being arrested. 

Nevertheless, locals in Daraa governorate do not trust the settlements because every security branch of the Syrian regime has its own rules in the governorate, Enab Baladi’s correspondent said. 

Defected army personnel are given a valid mission order for three months starting from the settlement date to join their military units during this period. 

According to information obtained and verified by Enab Baladi, the settlement procedure is limited to some questions, including:

  • Did you flee the army with your weapon?
  • Have you ever joined the armed opposition factions?
  • Did you leave the country illegally?
  • Do you have a weapon of any kind?

After answering these questions, the regime’s security branch runs a security check for the wanted person and then hands him a settlement card that acquits him of any security-related charges.

The card protects its holder from prosecution for evading compulsory military service for six months, to be prosecuted after the end of this period.

The Syrian regime forces regained control over Daraa and Quneitra in July 2018. Former opposition fighters who opted to stay in Syria’s southern region were forced to settle their situations and surrender their medium and heavy weapons in return for certain promises under Russian guarantee. 

The locals demanded the lifting of security prosecution over people, the withdrawal of the Syrian army to its posts, the release of detainees, and the return of fired employees to their jobs. 

The locals’ demands were not met in the years following the first settlements in Daraa, which contributed to the latest military escalation that the governorate witnessed during this year. 

Last May, the city of Daraa refrained from participating in the Syrian presidential elections and held demonstrations prompting the regime to launch a vengeful military operation against it.

 Hussam Luka: The agreements designer

The settlement agreements are shaped by the regime’s SC, headed by Major General Hussam Luka. This committee uses the same intimidating approach used by the regime in all Syrian governorates. 

The security powers granted to Luka in Daraa have enabled him to achieve significant gains for the Syrian regime, as he supervised the handing over of the largest quantity of weapons kept by locals after the 2018 settlement agreement.     

Luka is originally from Khanaser town in Aleppo’s southern countryside. As a senior official, Luka was appointed head of the Political Security Branch as a successor to Major-General Mohammad Khaled al-Rahmoun, who served as the Interior Minister in the regime’s government.

Luka’s service to the regime was not limited to the southern region’s boundaries, as he had a primary role in controlling the al-Waer neighborhood in Homs city in 2017. Luka was part of a settlement agreement that stipulated the eviction of former fighters and residents to northern Syria under Russian auspices.  

In April 2012, Luka was named the head of the Political Security Branch in Homs, succeeding Brigadier-General Nasr al-Ali, and was known for using force against the city’s first peaceful protests against the Syrian regime. 

In 2012, the European Union (EU) designated Luka on its sanctions list for his involvement in torturing protestors and civilians in areas where he served as a security arm to the regime.

Luka was also among 17 names listed on the United States Treasury’s sanctions within the framework of the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, also known as the Caesar Act.

In 2019, Luka took over the management of the Security Committee in Daraa governorate, succeeding Major-General Qahtan Khalil.

Luka was responsible for recruiting mercenaries to assassinate opponents of the settlement agreement, the local news agency Nabaa reported.  

Luka gave orders to bomb al-Sanamayn city, leaving many deaths and injuries. He also facilitated drug trafficking in southern Syria, the agency said.

When Luka took over the management of the regime’s SC in Daraa, he gave additional powers to military elements on security barriers, who arbitrarily arrested hundreds of civilians in Daraa governorate. 

Luka is headquartered in the 132 Brigade in the Airport neighborhood in Daraa governorate, according to the Nabaa agency.

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