Syria Military Brief: South Syria – 16 February 2021

Former opposition forces in rural western Daraa are set to surrender a portion of their weapons and allow the regime to conduct wide-scale searches and raids in the area following a Russian-mediated agreement. The deal halted a weeks-long regime escalation against former opposition forces in the area—the most recent example of the regime’s aggressive policy to establish total control of south Syria. As the western Daraa tensions eased, the regime released more than 100 detainees to former opposition officials in two prisoner releases in south Syria. As with previous detainee releases, the majority of those released had been arrested within the last 12 months, and the regime continues to ignore demands to free political detainees arrested prior to the 2018 settlement deal.

Attached map: Recent Developments in South Syria – 16th February 2020

Military & Political Developments

  • Western Daraa agreement: Regime forces and former opposition figures in rural western Daraa reached an agreement to halt hostilities following Russian mediation (9.2), with the former opposition agreeing to several regime demands. The deal is set to see the former opposition surrender medium and light weapons to the regime and allow regime forces to conduct a campaign of searches and raids in western Daraa province.
  • Sanamayn escalation: The regime issued threats of a renewed regime escalation in Sanamayn in rural northern Daraa province (13.2), deploying reinforcements to the city. Regime forces cited the presence of ISIS cells in the city as the motivation for the deployments, with ISIS frequently used as an excuse to justify the regime’s aggressive military policies.
  • Regime mass SMS: Residents of Tafas in rural western Daraa province received SMS messages to their cell phones delivered en masse from the regime demanding the surrender of weapons (4.2). The text, the first such communication from the regime of this type since 2018, read: “Good people of Tafas: Surrender your weapons and live in freedom on your land.”
  • 8th Brigade drug seizure: Members of Ahmad al-Awdeh’s 8th Brigade intercepted a shipment of drugs near the Syrian-Jordanian border (7.2). The regime and Hezbollah utilize south Syria as a crucial corridor for the drug trade, with illicit goods produced in Lebanon transported via Jordan to buyers in the Gulf States.
  • Kanaker tensions: Tensions have escalated between the regime and armed former opposition groups in Kanaker, located west of Damascus (7.2). The escalation came after the regime-backed assassination of a member of a local armed group prompted a series of attacks on regime positions on the outskirts of the town. The regime continues to work towards consolidating its control of south Syria and eliminating armed groups in the region.

Assassinations: Targeted killings underscore the south’s instability, with regime assassinations often striking the former opposition:

– Mukhtar assassinated: Gunmen shot and killed Jihad Sultan a-Nameh, mukhtar of El Karak, opening fire on his vehicle in rural eastern Daraa province (1.2). A-Nameh is the latest of several local municipal figure to be assassinated, and had previously survived a number of attempts on his life.

(For a detailed report of instability in south Syria, see ETANA’s memo: “Attacks & Assassinations in South Syria”)

Arrests & Violations

  • Regime prisoner releases: The regime released 58 Syrians held in detention following a meeting between leading regime generals and the head of Russia’s reconciliation committee in Daraa (8.2). Days later, the regime released 53 detainees from rural western Daraa (12.2). The releases mirrored previous ones in south Syria, with nearly all of those leaving regime custody having been arrested less than a year prior. The regime continues to ignore requests by the former opposition to release political detainees arrested prior to the 2018 settlement agreement.
  • Regime standoff: The regime arrested seven men wanted for military service at a checkpoint in Izraa, igniting a standoff between local armed men and regime forces (10.2). Gunmen blocked roads in the city, demanding that the regime release the seven detainees in response (12.2-13.2).
  • (For a detailed report of arrests and violations in south Syria, see ETANA’s memo: “Arrests in South Syria”)

Humanitarian Developments

  • Coronavirus: Local health officials recorded 878 new cases of coronavirus and at least 29 new deaths in Daraa province (31.1-13.2). Local healthcare professionals continue to grapple with decaying health infrastructure as the regime continues to obfuscate actual case totals.
  • Doctors rejoin union: Some 65 medical doctors from south Syria were allowed to rejoin Syria’s union of doctors after being dismissed between 2012 and 2016 for their activities inside former opposition territory (2.2). The move is likely in response to a dire shortage of licensed medical professionals in south Syria.