Syrian regime vs. IS: Game of death in Daraa

​​Two civilians riding a motorcycle in the destroyed neighborhoods of Daraa governorate (edited by Enab Baladi)

​​Two civilians riding a motorcycle in the destroyed neighborhoods of Daraa governorate (edited by Enab Baladi)

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Enab Baladi – Khaled al-Jeratli

Notable figures and former armed opposition fighters have been subjected since February to a series of assassinations in the southern province of Daraa. The perpetrators are often unknown amid the absence of any warring side claiming responsibility for death operations in the regime-controlled areas.

Bashar al-Assad forces backed by allied militias took control of most of Daraa in 2018 following a Russian-brokered reconciliation settlement, so-called by analysts a full surrender deal.

For the first time in years, the former leader of the opposition factions, Abu Murshed al-Bardan, appeared during the funeral of a member of the Central Committee, Musab al-Bardan, who was assassinated by unknown assailants on 10 February.

Through video footage posted by local social media accounts, al-Bardan threatened to pursue and kill Islamic State’s (sleeper) cells in the southern region, which is led by the former leader of the opposition factions, Abu Tariq al-Subaihi, he claims.

Al-Bardan’s statements, which was published by the Tafas Coordination on Facebook on 17 February, revealed that the Islamic State (IS) stood behind the assassinations of the Central Committee members, such as his relative Musab al-Bardan, Sheikh Ahmed Buqairat, Sheikh Abu al-Baraa al-Jalam, and other members within the Central Committees.

Abu Murshed utterance

Abu Murshed’s threats unfold two conflicting parties in Daraa, the first affiliated with the Central Committee, which is accused of loyalty to the Syrian regime, and the second affiliated with the Islamic State.

As a result of this strife, a source from Tafas town revealed to Enab Baladi, on condition of anonymity, the formation of a committee of notables and senior local figures on 21 February, whose mission is to prevent a slide into tribal conflicts, in addition to ensuring that Daraa clans are prevented from housing IS jihadists.

As for the party accused of being loyal to the organization, the source did not expect the committee to be able to reach solutions because the subordination of these groups is only to its leadership, where no influence to tribal customs and traditions, unlike the other side.

What is currently required of the committee is to lift the clan protection from these “cells” and to relocate them outside Daraa governorate, a demand that the Central Committee abides by in the western countryside of Daraa, according to the source.

Discords turned clashes

The mainstream of the opposition in Daraa province is witnessing deep disputes, which sparked at the end of 2021 into military clashes, resulting in the killing of a former leader of the opposition factions, following a fight between a member of the Central Committee and a group opposing the Syrian regime.

Clashes renewed on 23 December 2021 in the Tareeq al-Sad (al-Sad Road) neighborhood, one of the main neighborhoods of Daraa al-Balad town, leaving three people dead, including Ahmed Harfush, brother of the former leader of the opposition factions, Muayyad Harfush, dubbed: Abu Ta’ja, who was previously used by the Syrian regime as a pretext to impose a siege on Daraa al-Balad.

At the time, Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Daraa reported that a former leader of the opposition factions, dubbed: Abu Shalash, who is the representative of the Central Committee for Daraa camp, attacked Abu Ta’ja in his house where clashes erupted for hours, killing three people, one of whom was a civilian.

A source close to the Central Committee in Daraa camp said the dispute was over accusations to Abu Ta’ja of plotting assassinations tracked figures close to the Syrian regime and former rebels who agreed on the security settlement with Damascus.

Who benefits from neutralizing former commanders?

After the end of the settlement agreements in Daraa in November 2021, the rate of assassinations increased, targeting former commanders of the opposition factions, whether those operating with the regime forces due to the settlement terms or those who preferred to live a civil life.

Former commander in the opposition factions told Enab Baladi that the assassinations in Daraa revealed two conflicting parties with “hidden support” from the Syrian regime.

First Lieutenant Naji al-Majarish believes that the assassinations revealed the presence of IS loyalists, such as the former leader Ismail al-Daraan, who was assassinated by unknown assailants in February, in addition to those affiliated with the regime, such as the member of the Central Committee Musab al-Bardan, who was assassinated shortly before al-Daraan.

The only beneficiary of these operations is the Syrian regime, which is seeking to neutralize all those who came out against it, but through someone else’s gun, al-Majarish said.

Al-Majarish added that according to information he was acquainted with, orders reached Islamic State cells in southern Syria in January to assassinate all the leaders in Daraa, which is now being implemented.

It is surprising that the conflict, which was targeting officers and members of the regime army, has turned into targeting of leaders and people affiliated with the opposition, al-Majarish said.

For his part, political researcher Hassan al-Nifi believes that the assassination wheel in Daraa is rolled by the Syrian regime but in different means.

Perhaps it is natural for the regime to attribute these crimes to the Islamic State or other organizations, as this has become the regime’s way of dividing ranks, enabling sedition and a spirit of revenge among the residents of the same region, al-Nifi added.

The researcher considered that the recent settlement did not lead to law enforcement in Daraa but rather was a “Russian deception” to enable the regime against its opponents after taking control of the province to circumvent all forms of opposition. After the settlement trick, the regime forces took a new approach represented in ‘liquidating’ opponents, arresting them, and restricting their movements.

Most wanted figures

An unknown armed group targeted the former commander of the opposition factions, Ismail Shukri al-Daraan, while he was attending a football match in the eastern town of Mleiha on 20 February.

Al-Daraan was famed for his rejection of the settlement deals over the past years, and he was also accused of targeting the regime forces.

The regime forces had previously raided the town of Nahtah in search of him and his group. In revenge, the regime blew up his house, arrested one of his brothers, and killed another.

A day before that, the leader Abu al-Zain Sharaf was assassinated in the town of Nawa, in the northern countryside of Daraa.

Before settling his situation, Sharaf was the leader of the ‘Ahel al-Azm’ faction, he later joined the regime’s military security, activists from Nawa town told Enab Baladi.

Unidentified assailants also targeted on 10 February, a vehicle belonging to the Central Committee in the western countryside of Daraa in Atman roundabout in which a member of the Committee, Musab al-Bardan, and his companion were killed and another wounded.

Sheikh Ahmed Buqairat and the leader Abu Hassan al-Bakr were also assassinated in the town of Muzayrib in January.

Omar Hariri, a member of the Martyrs Documentation Office in Daraa, told Enab Baladi that chaotic security conditions lead to assassinations and criminal acts with multiple parties behind them. Each operation has its own circumstances, whether the Syrian regime was involved or not, he added.

The assassinations and arrests of civilians, former army troops, and opposition fighters have not stopped since the regime forces, backed by the Russian air force, took control of Daraa in July 2018 due to the settlement agreement.

The Martyrs Documentation Office in Daraa documented the killing of 15 civilians and former rebels in assassinations and direct targeting with bullets during last January, according to a statement issued in February.

 

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