Syria Military Brief: South Syria – 04 April 2023

Anti-regime demonstrations took place across more than a dozen towns and cities in Daraa province in March, marking the 12th anniversary of the 2011 Syrian uprising. The protests are the latest evidence of enduring anti-regime sentiment in Daraa. The province’s civilians are suffering from the cumulative hardships of an ongoing fuel crisis, rampant corruption as well as a lack of basic services such as water and electricity. The desperation characterizing daily life in southern Syria is pushing a new wave of emigration of young men from the country. Amid the dire living situation, Iran and Hezbollah continue to flourish in the south and build their clandestine operational capacities.

Demonstration in Daraa al-Balad, March 18, 2023. (Source: Horan Free League)

Demonstration in Daraa al-Balad, March 18, 2023. (Source: Horan Free League)

Political and Humanitarian Developments

Thousands of Syrians protested the regime in March to mark the 12th anniversary of the 2011 uprising. In Daraa, more than a dozen communities witnessed protests over the course of four days—the most widespread anti-Assad protests there in months. The region, which shares a border with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, was the site of initial anti-regime protests and a brutal crackdown in 2011. Much of Daraa was held by opposition forces until 2018, when a settlement agreement was imposed on the area through a Russian-mediated deal between the regime and the opposition.

The protests were exacerbated by the ongoing fuel crisis taking place across the country, which has prompted more than 1,000 young men to flee southern Syria for Lebanon in recent weeks. The regime’s ongoing and aggressive recruitment campaign is another significant factor driving emigration.

Security Developments

Multiple armed actors continue to compete for authority in the south. Regime forces have increased their patrols in eastern Daraa, targeting individuals wanted for mandatory military and reserve service. Russian patrols, meanwhile, conducted an inspection of the area around a newly established regime checkpoint, signaling a resumption of patrols after a period of suspension. Additionally, Russian warplanes have increased their presence over eastern Daraa, coinciding with Russian Air Force operations against a number of targets in the central Syrian desert. Iran also continues to maintain an operational presence in the area despite the ongoing threat of Israeli airstrikes.

During the reporting period, several generals from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) visited strategic assets in Quneitra as part of its continued operational presence in the area. Tehran’s ally Hezbollah has meanwhile continued its recruiting efforts in the south, most recently reaching out to young men in the northern Daraa countryside. In the southern neighborhoods of Daraa, members of ISIS cells have reportedly returned and are anticipated to carry out operations in the area.

Amid the ongoing struggle for central authority over southern Syria, crime and general lawlessness are sharply on the rise. Both armed groups and unaffiliated individuals are responsible for a recent surge in kidnapping and robberies. This past month, at least three kidnappings targeted prominent local professionals and civil servants, while numerous individuals were killed amid a rising wave of robberies sweeping the south.

Narcotics smuggling remains rampant across southern Syria as organized networks continue to transport drugs to and across the Syrian-Jordanian border. The 8th Brigade, which is comprised primarily of former opposition forces who settled their status with the regime following July 2018, carried out extensive anti-smuggling raids between Daraa’s eastern countryside and western Suwayda –an area known as a hotspot for drugs and weapons smuggling –and arrested five people in mid-March. While the 8th’s Brigade’s stronghold is south-east Daraa, primarily Busra al-Sham and surrounding areas, it remains an influential security actor in the south, carrying out anti-ISIS and anti-smuggling operations, in addition to counterbalancing regime aggression in the area.

Attached Map: Recent Developments in South Syria – 4th April 2023
(For a high-resolution version of this map, please use the form at the bottom of the page)

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