Syria Military Brief: South Syria – 01 July 2021

A tense standoff is underway in Daraa city after more than a month of aggressive regime deployments cut off all but one entrance to the former opposition-controlled neighborhoods of Daraa al-Balad, with invasive security procedures severely limiting the free movement of civilians in the area as the regime demands the former opposition surrender all light weapons. The escalation in Daraa al-Balad underscores the regime insistence on employing violence and pressure to wrest control of all of south Syria from the former opposition’s grip, with similar threats of violence issued to communities in Lajat, Quneitra and western Daraa in recent weeks.


Attached Map: South Syria 30th June 2021

Daraa Escalation

  • Daraa city standoff: Tensions continue to rise in Daraa city, with the regime deploying reinforcements, increasing security and employing its allied militias to intimidate communities in the former opposition-held neighborhoods of Daraa al-Balad. The regime closed down all but one checkpoint linking Daraa al-Balad to the rest of the city, with civilians passing through subjected to an invasive security check. Hundreds of fighters and several pieces of communications-disrupting equipment have been deployed to the periphery of Daraa al-Balad, with the area cut off from the rest of the province. Aggressive regime deployments have remained consistent for more than a month, with the regime now demanding that the former opposition surrender the entirety of its light weapons.
  • Movement halted: The regime’s deployments now prevent civilians from moving freely between neighborhoods in Daraa city, with the regime forcing passers-by to submit to invasive security procedures at the single remaining crossing out of Daraa al-Balad. Currently, any resident seeking to enter or exit Daraa al-Balad must do so by crossing through this regime checkpoint on foot, with motorbikes banned across the city and vehicle movement restricted.
  • Lajat escalation: Fears of an impending regime escalation in the Lajat region of eastern Daraa prompted more than 500 residents to depart the area (20.6, 22.6). Numerous reports indicate that the regime intends to launch an operation in the region, prompting the flight of residents.

Military Developments

  • Family tensions: Armed men belonging to the al-Khatib and a-Zoubi families in the western Daraa town of El Jeezah exchanged gunfire (16.6), killing one and injuring three others. Clashes between the two rival families have erupted intermittently in recent months, with the 8th Brigade regularly intervening as a peacekeeping force. The regime has previously cited tribal violence as a justification for expanding its presence in western Daraa, and routinely works to encourage rifts between families.
  • Tribal dispute: In a separate tribal row, rival Tafas families, the al-Zoubi and al-Kiwan tribes, continue to clash with one another in western Daraa amid escalating tensions (25.6). Members of the a-Zoubi family accuse armed men from the Kiwan family of assassinating Murad a-Zoubi, with the regime currently threatening to launch an operation in western Daraa should tensions persist. The regime’s Military Intelligence frequently intervenes in this conflict, maintaining affiliate groups comprised of members of both families.
  • 8th Brigade-regime tension: Dozens of fighters from Ahmad al-Awdeh’s 8th Brigade deployed to Mhajjah in rural northern Daraa province after the regime carried out a series of raids and arrests in the town (13.6). The arrests came in response to an attack on regime forces in Mhajjah two days prior, with the regime holding an 8th Brigade group responsible for the targeting.
  • Suwayda tensions: Members of the Rijal al-Karama Movement, (Men of Dignity) deployed fighters to several public squares and streets in Suwayda city after the arrest of two Suwayda residents and their wives (15.6). The armed deployments, in addition to negotiation between Rijal al-Karama and the regime, prompted the release of female captives. The detained men both remain in regime custody.

Instability in South Syria

  • Anti-regime demonstrations:
  • — Daraa al-Balad: Dozens of protesters demonstrated against the regime’s escalation in Daraa city, condemning the demand that the former opposition in Daraa al-Balad surrender its light weapons to the regime (25.6). The following days saw additional demonstrations in solidarity with Daraa al-Balad, with dozens protesting in Muzayrib (26.6), Ash Shajarah and Tal Shihab (27.6).
  • Attacks on regime forces:
    — Intelligence attacked:
    Gunmen attacked a regime Air Force Intelligence detachment in Tasil in rural western Daraa province, striking with light weapons and fleeing without causing any damage or casualties (20.6). Days later, another armed group attacked an Air Force Intelligence detachment in Daraa city, injuring one regime soldier (25.6).
    — State Security targeted: An armed group attacked a regime State Security detachment in Jasim in rural northern Daraa province (26.6). No casualties were reported in the attack.
    — Botched raid: Two members of a Military Intelligence affiliate group were shot and killed during an attempt to raid a home in Mamtinah in rural Quneitra province (25.6).
    — 4th Division attacked: An armed group attacked a regime position in Muzayrib in rural western Daraa province, utilizing several RPG rounds in the attack, which did not result in any casualties (13.6).
    Daraa bombings: Unknown attackers conducted a series of bombings in Daraa city, with the explosions coming amid ongoing tensions between the former opposition and regime in Daraa al-Balad. Unknown attackers detonated an explosive device near a government building in Daraa city (29.5), before a second a second bomb exploded near the home of Daraa Provincial Governor Marwan Sherbak days later (2.6). Neither attack resulted in any casualties or significant damage.
    — Building torched:  Gunmen attacked and subsequently burned down the local municipal council building in Umm Batnah in rural Quneitra province (3.6), with the bloodless attack on a regime building coming weeks after the regime forcibly displaced dozens of local residents to north-west Syria weeks ago.

Arrests & Violations

  • Local figure arrested: Regime forces arrested a former head of the local council of Jasim in rural northern Daraa province prior to 2018, at a checkpoint in Daraa city (22.6). He was released days later (24.6).
  • Druze cleric arrested: Several armed militias blocked roads in Suwayda city, firing rounds into the air, after a Druze cleric was arrested at a checkpoint in Damascus (8.6). Ultimately, the cleric was released by the regime hours later.

Humanitarian Developments

  • Coronavirus: Local health officials in Daraa province recorded 5,190 new coronavirus infections and 117 new deaths (30.5-6.26). Although case numbers have decreased in recent weeks, long-term protection from the virus remains a challenge in light of an absence of vaccines and a neglected healthcare infrastructure.
  • Community-funded hospital: Residents of Al Hrak in rural eastern Daraa province have begun gathering donations in order to repair the local government hospital, with approximately $150,000 raised as of early June (7.6). The fundraising drive comes after the regime’s Ministry of Health refused to repair the hospital, which sustained serious damage from regime bombardment prior to the 2018 surrender agreement. The situation in Al Hrak is indicative of a larger issue: in light of persistent regime negligence and disregard, many communities must fund and operate basic services themselves.
  • Medicine shortage: Pharmacies in Daraa province are experiencing a major shortage of medicine, the result of a country-wide shortage of production materials that has seen several major Syrian pharmaceutical facilities close (13.6).