Although far smaller than protests currently sweeping neighboring Suwayda, anti-regime demonstrations have continued in Daraa on an almost daily basis since 20th August. Instead of attempting to quell the dissent with force, the regime so far has been working quietly behind the scenes to contain the wave of protests. Publicly, officials have dangled the offer of issuing up to 9,000 new passports to communities in the south and opening the gates to a new wave of emigration; other incentives have included detainee releases, improved service provision and military service exemptions. At the same time, officials have threatened to reassign reconciled individuals on regime wanted lists. They have also applied pressure on civil society groups as well as armed factions in local communities, attempting to enlist them in an effort to undermine the popular movement. While the protests have not diminished in size or scope, the regime’s efforts have proven partially successful at keeping the demonstrations in check and preventing their further spread across the south-west.
Attached Maps: Recent Developments in South Syria
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Daraa has witnessed persistent public demonstrations against the regime and deteriorating living conditions for several weeks now. These protests have taken place on an almost daily basis, attracting thousands of participants in numerous locations across the province since 20th August. While protest numbers appear to have plateaued for the moment, they have not diminished in size or scope despite strenuous efforts by regime officials to undermine the popular movement. Regime-offered incentives have included back-channel entreaties to local armed factions as well as offers to issue more passports to residents of protesting regions, but also threats to reverse recently completed reconciliation process by re-issuing arrest warrants for reconciled individuals.
In Suwayda, there is almost unanimous Druze support for the movement’s socio-economic demands. However, community leaders disagree on the political aspect of the movement—i.e., the extent to which protesters should, if at all, demand systemic political changes from the regime or attempt to broaden the movement beyond Suwayda’s especial ethnic, religious and political context.
To counter the spectacle of a popular protest movement with legitimate grievances against regime corruption and rising prices, the regime has used local officials as part of a media blitz aimed at discrediting protestors. The emergent propaganda narrative portrays Israel and the US as responsible for the unrest by launching a campaign to divide and weaken Syria.
While the regime continues to play up its purported counter-smuggling operations, raids have yielded few arrests and officials continue to profit handsomely from bribes and complicity in the narcotics and arms trade industry. Meanwhile, the names of more than 1,000 newly wanted individuals from Daraa and Quneitra were circulated at regime checkpoints in the northern Quneitra countryside and in the eastern Daraa countryside.
Iranian-Backed Militia Activity
Hezbollah leaders held meetings in northern Quneitra in mid-august where leadership asked local commanders to intensify recruitment as the group steps up its recruitment efforts in the province.
Instability in South Syria
An absence of law and order continues across much of south Syria, with rampant criminality and instances of extortion reported regularly in Daraa and Quneitra provinces. Abductions and demands for ransom remain commonplace in south Syria, with smuggling gangs, Military Intelligence and an array of armed groups all engaging in the practice. At least seven kidnappings were recorded in recent weeks, with some demanding ransoms in excess of $75,000 for the release of individuals.
Targeted killings have continued at elevated levels across south-west Syria over the past month. Assassinations claimed the lives of over 16 individuals, among them civilians, regime soldiers, Military Intelligence officers, drug traffickers and a local town mayor. Additionally, dozens of other assassination attempts were recorded across the region.
Regime forces suffered two armed attacks in recent weeks that targeted checkpoints in the Daraa countryside. In one incident, an explosive device detonated next to a regime military vehicle, killing one regime soldier and injuring three others.
Facing an economic crisis, the regime raised prices for basic foodstuffs and commodities, setting the price of sugar at 12,500 Syrian pounds, meaning the average public salary in Syria now equates to the price for 12 kilos of sugar. Landline fees were also raised by 50%. Amid ongoing economic collapse and the rising threat of a violent crackdown against protesters, young men continue to flee southern Syria for Europe in record numbers. Many face arrest by Libyan authorities while trying to seek passage.
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