Daraa not the same after anti-IS campaign
Enab Baladi – Khaled al-Jeratli
Daraa governorate held the title “the cradle of the Syrian revolution” as the first city to stage protests against the Syrian regime in 2011, an image that it maintained after the Syrian regime took full control of the governorate in 2018.
The protests continued in the southern province as the regime took control, but security threats rose gradually until the voices calling for the overthrow of the regime faded away as Islamic State (IS) cells grew more active, and security detachments increasingly threatened to storm the city’s regions to pursue them. But these protests soon returned to the governorate with the completion of a security campaign against IS.
Local factions in the governorate launched a security campaign against IS that received support from the forces of the Eighth Brigade (formerly the opposition Shabab al-Sunna faction and currently affiliated with the Military Security) and led to the death of dozens of IS cells members, along with the IS leader Abu Hassan al-Qurashi in October 2022.
Protests are back
As soon as the security campaign targeting IS in Daraa was brought to an end, anti-Syrian regime protests returned to the forefront. The protests were particularly intense in the governorate’s northern city of Jasim, where protests continued for several days in a row, and flags and slogans of the Syrian revolution, which Daraa has always known, were raised.
Daraa-native political activist, Yasar Aweer, told Enab Baladi that the people of Jasim had cleared themselves from terrorism charges when their security campaign against IS ended.
The statement released by the US Central Command (CENTCOM) on 30 November 2022 was a “testimony clearing local factions in Daraa from such charges,” said Aweer.
The US CENTCOM reported in a press release on its official website that IS leader, Abu al-Hassan al-Hashimi al-Qurashi, was killed during battles against groups of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in Daraa in mid-October 2022.
Omar al-Hariri, a member of the Daraa Martyrs Documentation Office, told Enab Baladi that the regime has always used the pretext of “terrorism” to put pressure on the people of the governorate; although the Daraa factions are not under obligation to fight these groups to prove that they are not associated with “terrorism,” they were able to clear themselves of such charges.
Seeing that the regime has always employed, and will continue to employ, the pretext of “terrorism” to “suppress the revolution and demonstrations,” thus adopting it as a permanent approach, we must not be surprised if it repeats talk once again that “terrorism” has returned to Jasim, for instance, to suppress the protests there, according to al-Hariri.
Since mid-December 2022, protests have returned to the city of Jasim, north of Daraa, extending to other areas calling for the overthrow of the Syrian regime and the release of detainees.
Dignitaries from the city of Jasim, with whom Enab Baladi had communicated, said that these protests were a “pressure message” on the regime to release the detainees after stalling for years and ignoring lists of detainees wanted for release under the “settlement” agreement.
Under the “settlement” agreement, the regime-controlled southern Syria with Russian mediation. The release of the detainees from Syrian regime prisons was a condition for the Daraa dignitaries, which was met by several conditions on the Syrian regime’s part. However, there were only a few released detainees in the governorate compared to the real numbers of detainees languishing in Syrian prisons.
What has changed?
The return of popular rejection of the Syrian regime in Jasim more than a year after threats of storming several areas in the city and the occasional armed skirmishes prompted the question: What has the security campaign against IS changed in southern Syria?
In this regard, the researcher specializing in jihadist groups, Pr. Abd al-Rahman al-Hajj told Enab Baladi that the “settlement” agreement in southern Syria in 2018 was a “necessity-dictated agreement”.
Although the Syrian regime lacks interest in the application of the said agreement’s provisions, it could be argued that it created a “margin” for apparent acceptance and subjective rejection of the regime, said al-Hajj.
The researcher also reckons that the city of Jasim is one of the cities that has always represented a “revolutionary hub in Daraa governorate.” Based on such a view, the regime is attempting to subdue the city and dispose of former military commanders in a variety of methods.
One of the methods utilized by the regime in the south was the use of the IS pretext to justify its assassinations of opponents in Jasim, not to mention its repeated attempts to storm the said city.
Based on the regime’s preferred method, it can be argued that the city’s rejection of it had strengthened and that tension against the Syrian regime had increased.
On the other hand, local factions’ elimination of IS showed that the city’s people were “fierce combatants against extremism and terrorism embodied by the Islamic State,” according to researcher Abd al-Rahman al-Hajj. Meanwhile, the people of the city took off the terrorism cloak that the regime wanted them to wear in order to storm the city and subdue it by force.
This security campaign showed that the military movement of anti-regime groups still exists in the city and that subjugating the city is “no picnic” nowadays, stated the researcher.
Like other towns, especially in Daraa al-Balad, the people of Jasim deliberately raised revolutionary slogans and symbols to indicate that the regime was a pariah in the region and that it would not be able to alter this reality.
The regime had a good knowledge of the city and the extent to which the FSA groups were deployed in it, noted al-Hajj since it had long been trying to subdue it. But it seems that the Syrian regime’s way towards such a goal is not exactly paved.
The regime has little choice because a massive crackdown on Jasim could lead to broad solidarity in the countryside and neighboring cities that would be difficult to control, as was previously the case in Daraa al-Balad, particularly in view of the “extremely dire” economic conditions, al-Hajj pointed out.
On 23 December 2022, regime forces stationed at Jasim’s Cultural Center used live ammunition against a peaceful demonstration calling for the release of detainees as agreed upon under the “settlement” agreement.
The local Ahrar Horan gathering said that military security forces in the city of Jasim used live ammunition against a peaceful demonstration that raised the Syrian revolution flag.
The most recent statistic issued by the Daraa Martyrs Documentation Office showed the continued targeting and assassination operations throughout the city, although it has been a while since the completion of the security operations against IS.
On 1 January, the said office stated that there were more victims of assassination operations and attempts in the governorate after more than a year since the second “settlement” agreement in September 2021.
During December 2022, the Daraa Martyrs Documentation Office documented 54 operations and assassination attempts, which killed 33 people, including 17 civilians and a former opposition fighter, along with 16 fighters affiliated with the regime’s forces.
These operations have also left 13 people wounded, while eight others have survived targeting operations.
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