Syria Military Brief: South Syria – 03 May 2021

Southern Syria is currently experiencing a period of tension, coming after a regime escalation in Quneitra and the partial breakdown of a deal to avoid hostilities between the regime and former opposition in western Daraa. Regime forces targeted the Quneitra town of Umm Batnah with mortar rounds, deploying army forces to the town’s outskirts and threatening to launch a military operation inside the city, pushing hundreds to flee the town. The escalation came following an early 4th Division reticence to adhere to a deal with the former opposition to withdraw its fighters from western Daraa, further raising tensions in the region. While concerns of increased violence continue in south Syria, mounting popular anger against the regime has resulted in a noticeable increase in attacks on regime personnel and targets across Daraa and Quneitra provinces in recent weeks.

 

Attached Map: Recent Developments in South Syria 3rd May 2021

Military & Political Developments

  • Regime escalation in Quneitra: Hundreds of local residents have been displaced from their homes following a major regime escalation in Umm Batnah in rural central Quneitra province, with the regime threatening to launch a full operation in the town should local authorities refuse to expel nearly a dozen individuals from the area (2.5). Regime forces issued a 72-hour ultimatum to local former opposition authorities in the town to expel several figures from the town who the regime deemed ineligible for settlement of status, subsequently launching mortar shells into the town in an attack that injured three civilians (1.5).
  • Tribal clashes: Violent clashes erupted between armed members of the al-Baeira and Musleh families in al-Jisri, a small town located in the Lajat region of rural eastern Daraa province (27.4). The confrontations resulted in the injury of several local civilians, with the 8th Brigade intervening in a bid to mediate and halt the violence.
  • Family dispute: Clashes broke out between armed members of the Abu Nabout and al-Akrad tribes in Daraa al-Balad, injuring three civilians before the local reconciliation committee was able to halt the fighting (27.4).
  • Russian mediation fails: Russian’s recent attempts to mediate between displaced Bedouins and members of Druze militias in the town of Al-Qrayya in western Suwayda have failed, with Druze representatives backing away from the Russian-led reconciliation process. Tensions remain high between Al-Qrayya residents and Bedouin fighters after intermittent clashes over the last several weeks that resulted in numerous incidents of violence.
  • Western Daraa prisoners: The regime issued further promises to western Daraa’s reconciliation committee to release a new batch of detainees in regime prisons next week (18.4), with former opposition officials having previously requested the release of 53 individuals arrested following the 2018 surrender agreement by name. Although infrequent releases of the recently detained do take place, the regime continues to ignore popular demands to release political detainees arrested prior to 2018, whose whereabouts remain unknown.

Instability in South Syria

  • Attacks on regime forces: The frequency and lethality of attacks against the regime have increased in recent weeks, with the regime sustaining mounting casualties in light of growing popular anger:
  • — Intelligence attacked: Gunmen attacked a Military Intelligence checkpoint between Nawa and Tasil in rural western Daraa province (25.4), injuring two elements. Days later, gunmen attacked a Military Intelligence patrol in Daraa al-Balad, killing a fighter (29.4). A week earlier, a regime Air Force Intelligence officer was killed and two others injured when an armed group attacked a checkpoint near Dael in rural western Daraa.
  • — ISIS strike:: ISIS claimed responsibility for an earlier attack on a regime 15th Special Tasks Division checkpoint near El Sahoah in rural eastern Daraa province that killed two (26.4). An ISIS cell announced responsibility for attacking a regime Military Intelligence patrol in Nawa in rural western Daraa province (18.4), the first such attack claimed by ISIS in months.
  • — Deadly attacks: Gunmen opened fire on a Military Intelligence patrol near Nawa in rural western Daraa province, killing two regime elements (30.4). A day later, an armed group targeted a Military Intelligence patrol in Saida in rural western Daraa province, killing two regime fighters (1.5).
  • — Deadly bombing: Attackers detonated an IED near a regime checkpoint in downtown Inkhil in rural northern Daraa province (20.4), killing a local child and injuring two others.
  • Patrol attacked: Two members of regime Air Force Intelligence were killed after gunmen attacked a patrol near Ghadeir al-Bustan in rural central Quneitra province (21.4).
  • Assassinations: Assassinations underscore popular anger and the competition of various entities for local influence:
  • — 8th Brigade targeted: An 8th Brigade commander survived an attempt on his life between Kharaba and Mia’rbah in rural eastern Daraa province after a bomb detonated near his vehicle (25.4).
  • — Firefighter killed: An armed group shot and killed a firefighter in Daraa province as he traveled between El Naemah and Umm Elmiathin in rural eastern Daraa province (26.4). The slain was not affiliated with any group or entity in Daraa.
  • — Mukhtar targeted: Khaled Ali a-Deiri, the mukhtar of Sheikh Maskin in rural northern Daraa province, was injured following an assassination attempt by unknown gunmen (29.4).
  • — 4th Division killed: An armed group assassinated a 4th Division fighter in Tal Shihab in rural eastern Daraa province (22.4). The attack also injured one other 4th Division element.
  • — Medical worker killed: Unknown gunmen shot and killed Ahmad Fayez al-Hashish, a local medical worker, in Tal Shihab in rural eastern Daraa province (22.4). Al-Hashish had worked in a medical point in Tal Shihab prior to the 2018 surrender deal, and was a well-known figure.
    — Soldiers killed: Two regime soldiers from Suwayda province were shot along the Sahwat al-Qameh road in rural eastern Daraa province (24.4).
    — Customs employee killed: An armed group shot and killed an employee of the regime’s customs division in Al Sheikh Maskin in rural northern Daraa province (21.4).
    — Intelligence assassinated: An armed group killed two regime Military Intelligence fighters in Sanamayn in rural northern Daraa province (22.4).

Violations & Arrests

  • Dael raids: Regime Air Force Intelligence carried out a series of raids in Dael in rural western Daraa province after once of its patrols in city came under attack by an armed group (29.4).
  • Prisoner standoff: A Daraa resident who worked at several health points in the province prior to 2018 was arrested by regime forces for several hours in Daraa al-Balad (27.4), prompting demonstrations in Daraa camp where the detained is from. The prisoner was ultimately released hours later after a local armed group abducted a regime officer and four soldiers to barter for his release.
  • Sheikh Maskin raids: Regime Air Force Intelligence raided homes in Sheikh Maskin in rural northern Daraa province, arresting two former opposition fighters (28.4).

Humanitarian Developments

  • Coronavirus: Local health officials in Daraa province recorded 9,200 new coronavirus cases and 164 new deaths over the last two weeks (18.4-1.5), with the province still reeling from an ongoing spike in cases. Local health workers remain poorly equipped to grapple with the crisis, with the regime continuing its negligent policy of obscuring the severity of the crisis and providing little support to health workers.
  • Vaccines arrive: Daraa’s Directorate of Health began issuing vaccines to medical workers in the province after some 150,000 doses of Chinese-manufactured vaccines arrived in the province (25.4).
  • Fuel crisis fluctuates: The regime increased the total fuel allocation in Daraa province to 150,000 liters per day—a marked increase from the previous 30,000 per day of recent weeks—somewhat alleviating overcrowding at fuel stations (18.4). Daraa province remains in the grips of a severe fuel crisis, with fuel either unavailable for prohibitively expensive for most local residents.