As-Suwayda residents fear new Jordanian strikes, Calls for coordination

Fighters from the Men of Dignity Movement in As-Suwayda governorate, southern Syria (Suwayda 24)

Fighters from the Men of Dignity Movement in As-Suwayda governorate, southern Syria (Suwayda 24)

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The repeated targeting by Jordanian aircraft of populated areas in As-Suwayda governorate, southern Syria, has resonated in the local community, impacting the lives of civilians in the southern and eastern countryside of the province.

The attacks, which Jordan has not officially claimed responsibility for, most recently targeted the towns of Arman and Malah in southern As-Suwayda, on January 18, resulting in the death of ten individuals.

The raids also caused material damage, including the destruction of targeted homes and damage to neighboring buildings, leaving residents fearful of their recurrence.

Fears, Psychological impact

The airstrikes have caused anxiety among residents, especially children according to locals surveyed by Enab Baladi.

Murhaf al-Abdullah, an activist in the As-Suwayda popular movement and one of the coordinators of the protests in Arman, told Enab Baladi that residents’ fears are based on their perception that the bombing is “random,” especially since the house that was targeted in the town has no relation to the inhabitants engaged in drug trade, but another house involved in these operations is located adjacent to it.

Ten people, most of them from the Hedeh family, including women and children, fell victim to the bombing.

The aerial bombardment is a new occurrence for the As-Suwayda province in particular, as the province has not experienced airstrikes over the past years, unlike other Syrian governorates that have been continuously bombed by the Syrian regime and Russia for years.

Al-Abdullah added that apprehensions have formed among the people of Arman town, where he resides, especially among children, due to similar operations that may be repeated in the future, and the sight of dismembered bodies has affected their psyche amidst fears of continuous targeting in its current form.

The activist from the As-Suwayda popular movement, Lubna al-Baset, told Enab Baladi that the fears of the region’s inhabitants center around the repetition of bombings because the drug traders live among civilians.

She added that the major drug dealers in the area fled their homes days before the targeting, leaving the residents to fall victim to their activities in the drug trade and the randomness of the Jordanian bombardment.

Ghassan al-Safadi, a resident of Arman town, told Enab Baladi that the damage suffered by the residents of the villages of Malah and Arman resulted from an “unjustified” targeting by the Jordanian aircraft, causing civilian deaths and destruction of their homes.

Resentment in As-Suwayda

While the Syrian regime continued to ignore the targeting of civilian homes in As-Suwayda by Jordanian planes, activists in the peaceful popular movement condemned the repeated targeting under the guise of combating drug dealers.

The political researcher Jamal al-Shoufi, residing in As-Suwayda, told Enab Baladi that this targeting is “morally and legally condemnable” as it occurred against civilians and children.

He added that targeting small-time dealers is not effective even if it achieves its objectives of eliminating the names listed by Jordan as involved in drug trade operations since the manufacturer and “big-time smugglers” can continuously produce shipments and recruit new smugglers.

Al-Shoufi pointed to the Syrian regime’s ignoring of the bombing, linking it to Syrian-Jordanian meetings and agreements on providing intelligence information, and not opposing Jordan’s bombing of targets inside Syria, considering it a step by the Syrian regime to rejoin the Arab fold.

Activist Lubna al-Baset believes that the Syrian regime, through its security components in As-Suwayda, sought to spread drugs and make the province a gateway for smuggling, supporting armed gangs with weapons and security cards, which led to Jordan violating As-Suwayda, making it a partner of the regime in killing civilians.

She added that it would be more prudent for Jordan to deal firmly with the drug trade from its original source, such as the Syrian regime, Lebanese Hezbollah, and the Iranian-backed militias in the region, and not through political routes that reward the regime.

Smuggling networks southeast of As-Suwayda

The main responsible for drug trading and smuggling operations in southern Syria are armed groups primarily affiliated with the Syrian regime’s security detachments, a structure not hidden from the region’s residents.

These gangs spread in the southern and eastern villages of As-Suwayda due to their proximity to the Jordanian border, among them al-Shieab, Malah, Arman, and Salkhad.

According to activist Lubna al-Baset, there are prominent names in drug trade and smuggling, including the Nasser al-Saadi gang in Salkhad city, one of the most prominent drug smuggling gangs in the southern countryside of As-Suwayda, which is security-wise affiliated with the Military Security branch.

Al-Saadi’s house had previously been bombed by Jordanian aircraft, at the end of December 2023.

Among the known traders in the area is also Ayham Ghazala, a resident of the village of Malah whose house was bombed by Jordanian planes, on January 18.

In As-Suwayda as well, there are other drug dealers, including Hatem Ballan, one of the prominent traders supported by Military Security, in addition to Akram Ballan, Bashar Ayoub, Maher al-Jabr, Imad Abu Turabi, and Imad Ghayoum, according to Lubna al-Baset.

In addition to Issam Khair, who was killed on November 9, 2023, as a result of an airstrike and is one of the most prominent drug dealers in Arman town, and the smuggler Fares Saymoua from the same town.

In the village of al-Shieab, smugglers from the al-Ramthan family are active, most notably Marai al-Ramthan, who was killed in a likely Jordanian airstrike in mid-2022, after forming a network of young men from the region’s tribes to smuggle drugs across the Jordanian border.

Local anti-drugs calls

Activists from the As-Suwayda province, met by Enab Baladi, called for the cooperation of the Jordanian Kingdom with local factions to combat drug dealers in the area, to spare their children from the collateral damage resulting from the repeated bombing of the region.

The civil activist Kamal al-Shoufi, one of the organizers of the popular movement in As-Suwayda, told Enab Baladi that if Jordan provides the factions with name lists, they would be able to make progress in combating drug trade in the area, especially since the war on drugs is also a goal of the local community.

In July 2022, local factions in As-Suwayda were able to attack groups known as “Fajr Forces” in Shahba city, dismantling them, and handing over their members after the seizure of drug-making machines, quantities thereof, and security cards among the elements.

The political researcher Jamal al-Shoufi, on the other hand, sees the ultimate solution to combating drugs is to establish a political settlement in Syria and remove Bashar al-Assad and the Iranian militias from power.

He added that combating drug dealers through factions is an applicable solution, but those detained for drug trafficking, and promotion are handed over to the Drug Enforcement Administration and to the “unfair” judiciary of the Syrian regime over this issue, which follows a system that protects, support, and endorse drug dealers, so how will its members be prosecuted in the end?

Men of Dignity Movement’s initiative

On January 20, the Men of Dignity Movement, the largest local armed military factions in As-Suwayda, launched a nine-point initiative addressed to Jordan to avoid civilian casualties.

The Movement announced its readiness to prosecute all those involved in drug smuggling and trading after the Jordanian side submitted lists of the implicated names.

The Movement criticized the Syrian regime in its statement and held it directly responsible for the drugs file, facilitating the transformation of southern Syria into a storage and smuggling area, and called on the local community, dignitaries, and religious authorities to stand up to their responsibilities.

The Men of Dignity Movement mentioned that it had arrested over 30 drug traders, promoters, and smugglers during the past two months.

It considered that attacking civilians will not be a solution that deters drug traders and smugglers but will have adverse and undesirable outcomes.

 

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