Syrian regime’s settlements in Daraa challenged by reality on the ground

A banner held by an activist from al-Yadoudah town in solidarity with Daraa al-Balad - 25 June 2021 (Facebook)

A banner held by an activist from al-Yadoudah town in solidarity with Daraa al-Balad - 25 June 2021 (Facebook)


Enab Baladi – Khaled al-Jeratli

The Syrian regime has long sought to promote its settlement agreements in Daraa as a victory for its forces in the governorate, re-establishment of control, and a means to return to normal life. However, the reality on the ground revealed a contrary perspective than that of the regime, as assassination attacks returned strongly to the forefront, amounting to a daily number of about five operations against elements of the regime forces.

Areas outside the scope of settlement agreements, such as the town of Busra al-Sham, which lies under the control of the former opposition faction and current Russian-backed 8th Brigade, are experiencing relative security stability.  

This reality, if anything, shows that Daraa governorate’s areas outside the regime’s control are the regions witnessing relative stability and security, unlike what the regime has been promoting over recent years. 

The 2018 settlement failed to ensure the Syrian regime a full domination over Daraa 

After the regime regained control of the governorates and areas of southern Syria in July 2018, it started comprehensive security settlements in Daraa, which included thousands of locals and former fighters in opposition factions.  

The 2018 settlement agreement required locals to surrender their medium and heavy weapons and allow regime forces to enter state buildings in return for the release of detainees from Daraa governorate, lifting of security claims against those wanted for political charges, and withdrawal of the Syrian army to its posts; however, the regime did not fulfill its promises to Daraa locals. 

Military analyst Brigadier General Abdullah al-Asaad told Enab Baladi that the 2018 settlement had weakened the popular uprising in Daraa governorate, but it did not completely finish it, as opponents of the regime resorted to assassination operations targeting regime forces and elements positioned in different parts of the governorate. Thus, the regime’s claim that security settlements established full control over Daraa governorate is misleading, according to facts on the ground.   

Similarly, the settlement agreement of September 2021 failed to ensure the regime a complete control over the southern Syrian region based on the field situation and assassinations in Daraa governorate, al-Asaad said.  

Despite the settlements in Daraa, the regime feels threatened by the governorate’s residents and hesitates to enter some areas. For that reason, the regime recruited covert agents and turned the battleground in Daraa into an ongoing assassination arena, believing that it could re-establish its control over the governorate.        

Lawyer Suleiman al-Qarfan, the former head of the Free Lawyers Syndicate in Daraa, told Enab Baladi that the settlements failed because their success required essential factors such as peace and security, which were absent in settlement areas. 

The governorate witnessed increased daily assassinations against former members of opposition factions and officers and elements of the regime’s security services or forces.  

Retaliation against civilians, Syrian regime adopts “reckless policy” in Daraa

Any attack against regime forces in Daraa is met with either random bombing on civilian concentrations such as markets and busy quarters, leaving several deaths and injuries, or with arbitrary arrests like what happened in the city of Nawa in Daraa governorate on 29 November. 

A military vehicle carrying regime forces was attacked by unidentified individuals on the Nawa-Sheikh Saad road, leaving deaths and injuries among the regime’s elements. Hours later, the city of Nawa, northern Daraa, was bombed by the regime leading to two deaths and the injury of nine civilians.  

The regime’s artillery shelling also targeted on 26 August the city of Tafas to the west of Daraa with over 50 shells that hit civilian neighborhoods. The offensive came after anonymous individuals targeted one of the regime’s military vehicles.

Lawyer al-Qarfan commented that these attacks are primarily retaliatory against locals who dared to rebel against Bashar al-Assad’s rule in 2011.

Al-Qarfan added that the regime considers Daraa residents his first enemy, and that is why it adopted a policy of tightened security measures and assassinations to force its opponents out of their areas and empty Daraa of its sons, who are a source of a constant threat to the regime in case they reorganized their ranks to fight back again.

The lawyer added that retaliation acts against locals would not benefit the regime, pointing out that they are part of a “reckless policy” to spread its influence over the region.  

As for al-Asaad, he said that assassinations carried out under the supervision of the regime’s Military Security Branch against civilians from Daraa are sometimes performed just for the sake of causing havoc in the region, nothing more. 

It is worth noting that assassinations in Daraa are happening daily and on both sides (the regime and the locals) as a reaction to each side’s targeting of the other. 

However, the regime is responding to individual attacks against its forces by mass killings through the bombing of entire civilian neighborhoods.  

On 29 November, the regime forces targeted Nawa city in the western Daraa countryside with heavy artillery shells, killing three civilians and wounding over another ten after an attack against a regime’s military vehicle, which caused it to lose three elements. 

Where are things heading in southern Syria?

After finalizing the settlement process in the al-Sanamayn city, the regime withdrew some of its forces from security checkpoints set in the area. However, before long, it redeployed forces on three checkpoints once again, according to Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Daraa.

The regime also brought reinforcements to the al-Rai military post to the north of the al-Yadoudah town and deployed forces on the Saqr fuel station barrier in Nawa city in Daraa governorate.  

Last November, the regime repositioned its forces in the al-Saher building in the center of the al-Sheikh Maskeen city, the Horan Free League reported. 

Al-Qarfan said that the regime is likely to set new security barriers in Daraa to “save face” before its supporters and send a message that it has Daraa under its full control after taming its people by force of arms. 

While researcher al-Asaad said that the security tension in southern Syria would not be limited to Daraa in reference to As-Suwayda, which received a new governor linked to the regime’s inner circle.    

Al-Asaad added that the southern region’s security tension would not be eased; instead, the coming stage will witness increased tension.   

Assassinations in Daraa increasing despite settlements

The Daraa Martyrs’ Documentation Office issued a report on 1 December saying that 48 assassination incidents were carried out in Daraa during November, because of which 30 people were killed and 16 injured, while only two survived their assassination attempts. 

The Office’s statistics did not include attacks on the regime’s security checkpoints and columns in Daraa.

According to the report, nine former fighters in the opposition factions, including four who joined the regime’s ranks after it regained control of the governorate in 2018, were targeted by the assassinations. 

The report added that 20 persons were subjected to direct shooting, including two who were killed in field executions after being kidnapped, five killed by explosive devices, and three with grenades.

The Office documented 32 assassinations in Daraa’s western countryside and 16 in the governorate’s eastern countryside.

The Office did not report any assassination operation in Daraa city.

The assassinations of civilians, former opposition fighters, and military personal in the regime’s ranks did not stop even after the regime re-established its control over the governorate with the help of the Russian Air Force in July 2018, under a settlement agreement. 

Assassinations in Daraa are attributed to unidentified groups who might be associated with any of the conflicting forces of Iran, Russia, the Syrian regime, or the so-called Islamic State (IS)’s sleeper cells. 

Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Daraa Halim Muhammad contributed to this report.

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