Why southern Tafas city is a regime’s frequent target?
Enab Baladi – Khaled al-Jeratli
On several occasions, the Syrian regime took the presence of Islamic State (IS) cells as a pretext to storm the city of Tafas, west of Daraa, the most recent of which was on 27 July.
During the year 2021, the regime besieged the city for the same reasons, demanding the deportation of wanted persons to northern Syria, as it held negotiations with the Central Committee under these accusations, which ended with the end of the siege. Meanwhile, the regime gave up its only condition of deporting the wanted in return for the dignitaries vouching to control the behavior of the wanted at the time, in addition to the handover of a number of individual weapons by the residents of the area and the “formal” entry of the army into the city without fixing checkpoints.
The regime besieged the cities of Daraa in search of wanted persons several times. It also threatened, at different periods of time, other cities to besiege and storm in search of wanted persons in every governorate over which it was unable to establish effective control despite its military presence there.
Since the security settlement of July 2018, the agreement between former leaders of the opposition factions and the Syrian regime, mediated by Russia, has provided for allowing regime forces to enter the city without installing checkpoints in it in exchange for factions handing over their heavy and medium weapons and keeping individual weapons.
With the implementation of the agreement, the city witnessed a state of stability that enabled its residents to move between Daraa’s districts.
Given the state of stability in Tafas, unlike the rest of the areas in Daraa, the region has become a safe haven for those wanted by the regime and those who reject the settlement processes, as there are no regime forces or security barriers there.
Regarding the importance of the region, political analyst Hussam al-Baram told Enab Baladi that the city of Tafas is geographically considered the gateway to entry to the western countryside of Daraa all the way to Quneitra governorate.
Added to that is the political and social composition that was formed after July 2018, which was manifested in the Central Committee of the western countryside. This committee was able to engage in negotiations with the regime that led the area from the western countryside to the Golan’s borders to some sort of stability.
The city of Nawa represented the center of gravity of Daraa governorate during the opposition’s control of the southern region. However, this equation changed following the regime’s control of the area and the emergence of the Central Committee in Tafas, according to al-Baram, who hails from Daraa.
Over time, and with the regime’s inability to control the governorate due to the rejection of its presence in it, residents of the western countryside of Daraa perceived that the fall of the city of Tafas represented the complete fall of the western countryside.
Regarding the recent regime siege of Tafas, al-Baram said that the regime was experiencing an economic crisis, namely, its inability to meet the demands of its supporters first and foremost, and thus a societal crisis represented in the residents of the Syrian coast complaining about the assassinations that occur in Daraa. The regime wishes to win this incubator on the pretext of fighting terrorism.
Hardly a day passes in Daraa without targeting elements of the Syrian regime by unknown persons.
In the latest statistics issued by the Daraa Martyrs Documentation Office, targeting operations across the governorate left 18 people dead, including members of the regime forces and other ex-combatants with opposition factions.
Region’s residents on front lines
On 24 July, the Syrian regime’s Security Committee met separately with dignitaries from the cities of Daraa al-Balad, Tafas, and al-Yadouda to demand the extradition or deportation of persons wanted by the Syrian regime in these areas to northern Syria.
According to information obtained by Enab Baladi from a meeting insider, the officers of the Security Committee told the dignitaries that there were IS cells working to attack checkpoints and elements of the military and security forces, demanding that they be expelled from the governorate.
According to the source, whose name was withheld for security reasons, the regime threatened the dignitaries of the aforementioned areas with military action against Daraa al-Balad, Tafas, and al-Yadouda if its demands for the deportation of specific names to the north of Syria were not met.
These meetings were repeated at the request of representatives of the regime at different periods of time. During said meetings, the regime called on the region’s inhabitants, through dignitaries, to fight IS cells so that it would not have to launch a security campaign targeting cities and areas in Daraa.
Although the regime’s recent crackdown on Tafas ended with the departure of wanted persons without knowing where they went, others who were said to be IS leaders were killed by local combatants.
However, the regime, in turn, claimed responsibility for targeting IS cells, which was denied to Enab Baladi by local fighters who participated in targeting these leaders, especially since the only registered fatality among local fighters during the siege of Abu Salem al-Iraqi (the military leader of the IS organization in the south) did not have any security or military status affiliated with the regime.
Siege impact on Tafas farmers
Since regime forces advanced to the southern neighborhoods of Tafas on 27 July, farmers in this area have not been able to carry out their normal agricultural activities after their crops were damaged. This resulted in losses estimated at hundreds of millions, according to what some of them had told Enab Baladi.
On 5 August, a delegation of Tafas farmers visited the Baath Party branch to demand the withdrawal of the regime forces’ checkpoints, which advanced during the recent military campaign due to the disruption of their agricultural work.
The delegation met with Hussein al-Rifai, Secretary of the party branch, who promised farmers a solution to the problem. The promises ended up unfulfilled.
Mohammad al-Zoubi, an owner of an agricultural project south of Tafas, told Enab Baladi earlier that the recent tensions prompted the farmers of the area to abandon their crops for fear of indiscriminate targeting by regime forces deployed in close proximity.
He added that the continued deployment of regime forces in the area and the abandonment of his agricultural crop results in a loss of about 100 million Syrian pounds since the crops need to be irrigated and provided with the necessary agricultural medicines, especially since said crops were at their peak production during the siege period.
Farmers’ fears were accompanied by pressure from regime barriers to force them to pay at least 500,000 Syrian pounds (121 USD) to allow them to load a single vegetable car from the area.
Fears have doubled because of the presence of agricultural equipment in these farmlands that are worth hundreds of millions, such as solar panels, pumps, and drip irrigation systems. Owners of such agricultural equipment are afraid of it being stolen.
Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Daraa Halim Muhammad contributed to this report.
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