Syria Military Brief: South Syria – 03 March 2022

A series of tit-for-tat killings left more than a half dozen dead in western Daraa in the aftermath of a high-profile assassination targeting a prominent local community figure that prompted a massive public outcry across the south. The dominant former opposition bloc in western Daraa is continuing to conduct operations against ISIS-linked cells led by radical commanders in the Tafas area who are accused of conducting the assassination that took place in early February, in turn prompting a slew of retaliatory attacks against the former opposition. As tensions worsen in the area, the regime has deployed its forces in western Daraa with its commanders implying that preparations for escalation are underway. Worsening security is a major concern across south Syria, particularly in key areas along the border where attacks have targeted regime forces patrolling the international highway and Nassib crossing with Jordan.

  

Attached Map: Military Situation in South Syria – 3rd March 2022

 

Recent Developments

  • Killing sparks anger: Tensions boiled in western Daraa after an ISIS-linked armed cell ambushed a convoy transporting prominent local leader Musab al-Bardan, mortally wounding him (10.2). Al-Bardan was a leading member of western Daraa’s reconciliation committee and closely linked to the area’s dominant former opposition bloc headquartered in Tafas. The killing sparked a public outcry and an outbreak of violence: thousands of Tafas residents attended his funeral and a subsequent protest (13.2), while former opposition forces launched four retaliatory attacks targeting members of an ISIS-linked armed group believed to have carried out the assassination.
  • Western Daraa tensions: Tit-for-tat killing between ISIS cells and the former opposition threaten to transform mounting tensions into armed conflict. So far, retributive killings between Abu Morshed’s forces and ISIS cells have left more than a half dozen dead. In response, the regime has intensified deployments of its forces around western Daraa, sending troops and armor to several key positions amid threats by leading regime figures of escalation (15.2-24.2).
  • Nassib crossing violence: The international highway linking Damascus with the Nassib crossing in south Syria continues to see disruptive violence and security incidents, with open clashes and attacks against regime forces taking place regularly. The regime has recently stepped up patrols in the area following several attacks on its forces there, most notably the high-profile killing of an intelligence officer who was in charge of security for the highway (27.2).
  • Emigration: At least 1,500 men departed south Syria during the month of February, part of a larger movement of Syrians out of the area amid poor security and economic conditions (14.2).
  • Kidnapped child released: A six-year-old child from Daraa province, Fawaz al-Qatifan, was released from captivity after being abducted by a criminal gang more than three months ago. Months of negotiations resulted in al-Qatifan’s release after his relatives paid a $105,000 ransom to the kidnappers, with the child then transferred into the custody of a top regime police commander, who received a portion of the ransom money as a “gift” for his assistance (12.2). Although the kidnapping proved to be a more high-profile incident than usual, for-profit kidnappings remain a consistent cause of concern for residents of south Syria, with many locals remaining in the custody of armed groups with families remain unable to pay exorbitant ransoms.
  • Major Suwayda protests: Significant protests erupted in Suwayda province, with at least 400 demonstrators gathering in the provincial capital in addition to some 100 others who protested in other towns and villages (11.2). Suwayda province is home to Syria’s largest Druze community and the majority of its residents are members of the sect, with clerics and Druze community militia groups playing key roles in both local governance and security provision. Several members of prominent Druze militias as well as pro-opposition activists were in attendance, with demands including improved living conditions and the release of detainees. The protests lasted two hours before they were dispersed without violence. This week’s demonstrations are the latest in a series of protest movements in the Druze-majority province in recent years, primarily in response to economic issues.

Violations & Arrests

  • Bedouins arrested: Regime forces arrested some nine local Bedouins in separate raids in Athman in western Daraa (17.2) and near El Karak in eastern Daraa (24.2).
  • Former opposition arrested: Regime forces arrested six residents of El Taebah in rural eastern Daraa province, including several former opposition members, transferring them to the Military Intelligence branch in Daraa city (18.2). Regime forces had previously arrested five former opposition fighters in the first two weeks of February.
  • Women arrested: Regime Military Intelligence launched a series of raids in Umm Batnah in rural Quneitra, arresting three women who had recently returned to the area from north-west Syria (24.2). Local community leaders would later pressure the regime to secure their release.
  • Killed in prison: The regime informed relatives of an El Harah resident and former opposition fighter arrested following the 2018 surrender agreement that he had died in prison (26.2).

Humanitarian Developments

  • Coronavirus infections: Healthcare professionals in Daraa recorded at least 11,000 new coronavirus infections during the last reporting period (1.2-28.2), a significant increase from the previous reporting period as Daraa grapples with high caseloads.
  • Theft causes blackout: Local communities are facing serious issues with access to electricity, with service access worsened by recent copper theft. A group of men stole copper wiring from two electrical stations in Sheikh Maskin and Al-Kawm in northern Daraa and Suwayda province, causing a major blackout (26.2). Theft and petty crime have increased in recent weeks as economic conditions continue to worsen.