Syria Military Brief: South Syria – 06 November 2022

The former opposition in the south launched an unprecedented series of raids against ISIS cells in the north-western Daraa town of Jasim, greatly reducing ISIS’ capacity in the area. The operation marks an unprecedented level of coordination between former opposition groups across Daraa province, with only the former opposition—without assistance from the regime or Russia—carrying out these operations. ISIS cells across Daraa have waged a devastating campaign of assassinations against the ranks of the former opposition in recent months, with these security concerns the main impetus for the sweeping operation. Although the raids were successful in limiting ISIS’ influence, the radical group still maintains a significant presence across the south and is a major threat to local stability.

Attached Map: Recent Developments in South Syria – 6th November 2022

ISIS in Daraa

  • Joint operation: Several hundred former opposition fighters from western and eastern Daraa launched a major incursion in the early morning hours of October 14 into Jasim in western Daraa, striking at several ISIS command centers in the city. A day of intense clashes followed, with ISIS elements conducting at least four separate suicide attacks against the former opposition in Jasim and the surrounding area. Jasim is home to a prominent ISIS cell, and this operation limits their operational effectiveness.
  • Regime & Russian neglect: The regime and Russia played virtually no role in the operations in Jasim, contributing no forces or support to the anti-ISIS raids. This follows years of neglect and mismanagement by the regime that has allowed ISIS to continue its presence in areas under its control, with the regime often using ISIS as a means to weaken the former opposition. Although Moscow has regularly portrayed itself as a custodian of the south’s stability, Russian forces have also turned a blind eye to the presence of ISIS.

Recent Developments

  • Daraa-Suwayda tensions: Armed men from Suwayda blocked a major road leading to Daraa province, barring traffic from passing outside the town of Al-Bustan in the Lajat region of rural north-east Suwayda province (13.10). The gunmen—incensed by the kidnapping of four Suwayda residents by gangs from Daraa a day earlier (12.10)—halted all traffic for several hours in protest. The captives were ultimately released days later following negotiations that involved high-level tribal notables from Suwayda (17.10). Retaliatory, tit-for-tat kidnappings between rival gangs in Daraa and Suwayda have repeatedly stoked inter-province violence that sometimes takes on a sectarian character.
  • Pro-ISIS graffiti: Regime Military Intelligence conducted patrols in the town of Al-Rafeed in rural southern Quneitra after vandals spray-painted pro-ISIS slogans on building walls in the area (14.10). No arrests resulted from the Military Intelligence patrols.
  • Detainees released: The regime released three detainees from south Syria, the latest releases under the framework of a presidential amnesty decreed earlier this year (11.10). The released had all been arrested during 2020 as part of criminal cases. Although some reacted to this year’s amnesty announcement with optimism, hoping that some of the estimated 100,000 political prisoners disappeared or missing within Syria’s detention system could be released, the last several months have seen only a handful released—with virtually none of those released having been detained on political charges.
  • Unsafe international highway: The last several weeks have seen a major increase in carjackings along the highway connecting Damascus and the Nassib Crossing with Jordan. Criminal gangs with affiliations to the regime’s Air Force Intelligence have targeted dozens of civilian vehicles traveling along the highway in south Syria, taking possession of cars and trucks before moving them to the Lajat region of eastern Daraa. From there, the cars are sold to criminal groups operating in both Suwayda and Daraa provinces. This enterprise is lucrative, and its emergence underscores the instability in the south now worsened by a massive uptick in criminal activity.
  • Men flee Daraa: At least 60 men originally from Daraa province arrived to Italy in early October, part of an increasingly large number of Daraa residents who made the dangerous crossing from Libya to the shores of Italy in recent weeks. More than a thousand men have left Daraa province since September, fleeing towards Turkey, Libya and other countries.

Humanitarian Developments

  • Coronavirus monitoring: Healthcare professionals in Daraa province recorded 126 new coronavirus infections during the most recent reporting period (25.9-22.10).
  • Crowdfunding services: Residents of Nahtah in rural eastern Daraa province raised more than $200,000 in donations to cover operating costs for the town’s schools (29.9). Years of mismanagement and neglect from the regime has forced members of the community to take provision of the most basic of services into their own hands, gathering money from residents and Syrians abroad to pay for utilities, repairs and even salaries for school teachers.