March saw the 11-year anniversary of the Syrian uprising marked by small demonstrations in towns and cities across south Syria, though observers noted much smaller crowds than in previous years. Major tensions persist between the former opposition and regime in several areas in Daraa, with the regime building up its forces around former opposition communities in Jasim and Daraa al-Balad, threatening to escalate militarily. These standoffs between the regime and former opposition come amid rising tensions along the border between Daraa and Suwayda, where rival armed groups conducting retributive kidnappings threaten to provoke sectarian tensions. Amid these poor security conditions increasing numbers of young men have chosen to flee Daraa province, with some 800 individuals departing the province in the first three weeks of March alone.
Attached Map: Military Situation in South Syria – 6th April 2022
- 11-year anniversary: Syrians commemorated the 11th anniversary of the Syrian uprising (18.3), with small demonstrations taking place in several towns and cities across south Syria. Dozens took to the streets in Daraa al-Balad, Tafas, Busra a-Sham, Dael, Nawa, Tel Shihab, al-Hrak, and Jasim to mark the anniversary. Participation in these demonstrations declined sharply compared with last year and previous years, however, with only small sections of the populace joining the marches.
- Jasim escalation: The regime is intensifying its military presence near Jasim in rural western Daraa after issuing threats to community leaders that a military escalation against the area is due to take place soon. Schools and stores closed in Jasim in anticipation of regime raids after regime negotiators issued their threat (15.3).
- Emigration: Residents of south Syria, particularly young men, continue to depart the area in increasing numbers. Some 800 individuals—mostly those wanted by the regime’s intelligence forces—departed Daraa in the first three weeks of March alone (22.3). Of those departing the province, more than 30 recent regime deserters then went on to leave Syria altogether for Lebanon (23.3). Some 100 former opposition fighters reached Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan—potentially before they attempt to reach Europe. At least 18 men from south Syria also drowned at sea in March as they attempted to reach Europe through smuggling routes across the sea (23.3).
- Regime-ISIS tensions: The regime’s Military and Security Council in Daraa issued demands to community leaders in Daraa al-Balad that they reveal the locations of ISIS members purportedly hiding out in their areas (7.3). The demand comes amid ongoing regime threats to conduct a security operation in Daraa al-Balad. The regime later issued wanted lists explicitly naming individuals with ISIS ties in south Syria (16.3).
- Daraa-Suwayda tensions: Clashes erupted between Druze and Bedouin armed groups along the provincial border separating Daraa and Suwayda, a violent deterioration in relations between the two provinces. No casualties were recorded as a result of the clashes, which took place near Al-Qrayya (8.3). Sectarian tensions have been building in the area for months. Al-Qrayya was previously the site of clashes between Druze groups and members of Ahmad al-Awdeh’s 8th Brigade in 2020, prompting months of charged rhetoric and tit-for-tat kidnappings. While the situation has yet to deteriorate to a similar level of unrest, Bedouin kidnapping groups have recently made attempts to kidnap Suwayda residents in the province’s west—a worrying trend that could incite sectarian violence.
- 8th Brigade clashes: Members of Ahmad al-Awdeh’s 8th Brigade clashed with a local armed group in Um Elmiathin in rural eastern Daraa province (19.3).
Instability in South Syria
- Attacks: Regime forces come under repeat attacks in the wake of continued popular anger:
– Patrols targeted: Gunmen attacked a regime police patrol along the road connecting Dael with Khirbet Ghazaleh in rural western Daraa province, killing two police officers and injuring two others (30.3).
– Highway bombings: Attackers detonated four separate bombs targeting regime patrols along the international highway linking Damascus with the Syrian-Jordanian border zone, without causing any casualties (17.3).
– Checkpoints attacked: Armed groups attacked two regime checkpoints in Daraa province (27.3, 31.3).
- Coronavirus outbreak: Healthcare professionals in Daraa recorded at least 6,590 new coronavirus infections in the province (6.3-2.4). Although coronavirus remains a major public health concern, the total caseload and number of fatalities have steadily decreased in recent weeks.